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How the MTA is Set to Address Racial Inequities in Los Angeles

By July 27, 2021 September 13th, 2021 No Comments

On Wednesday, July 7, the Los Angeles region witnessed a historic event as the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Agency (MTA) swore in LA County Supervisor Hilda Solis as the first Latina Chair of the agency. I was honored to be among a select few in attendance as Chair Solis was joined by Stephanie Wiggins, the first African-American CEO of the MTA. For the first time, America’s premier transportation agency has two women of color at the helm.

A New Vision for Metro

Beyond this major milestone, I was thrilled to hear Chair Solis and CEO Wiggins speak about their shared vision for the agency. This new leadership team is focused heavily on transportation equity, racial justice, accessibility, sustainable and green fleets, job training and opportunity for women and diverse businesses, ideas that are vitally needed as we emerge on the other side of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The pandemic has highlighted many societal inequities, including the fact that communities of color, particularly those in urban areas like Los Angeles, are more dependent on mass transportation than their white counterparts. As Metro services were scaled back at the height of the pandemic, many Black, and Latinx Angelenos struggled to access dependable, affordable public transportation. For those without a car, Metro’s public transportation is a lifeline for being able to get to work or school on time, accessing health care and obtaining basic needs, like groceries. All of these factors together demonstrate the inherent potential of the MTA to transform the lives of Angelenos across the region during the pandemic and beyond.

Training the Next Generation

As we look towards the future of the MTA, it’s clear that Chair Solis and CEO Wiggins understand the ability of the agency to be more than just a transportation provider, but an economic and health provider. As Chair Solis said herself, “The truth of the matter is that the pandemic exposed and exacerbated structural inequities across the county but also the country, from homelessness to housing to health disparities and more. And we have to ask ourselves, what role can Metro play in addressing these issues and what can we do better?”

One of the most exciting initiatives championed by Chair Solis in order to “do better” is an academy to train young people for careers building and servicing electric buses and trains. This program, which is up and running in San Gabriel Valley, compliments a training academy for electric transportation at Antelope Valley College, in part underwritten by Build Your Dreams (BYD), an electric car, bus, truck and train manufacturer and longtime Cerrell client. Over 800 employees, a majority of whom are from disadvantaged communities and former inmates, as well as aspiring trade students, have high paying union jobs at BYD’s massive Lancaster, California facility building the trucks, buses, forklifts and light and heavy-duty trucks of today and tomorrow for the public and private sectors.

Cerrell Clients Paving the Way

While the MTA is confronting equity issues with a renewed focus, Cerrell’s past and present transportation clients have been in the forefront of creating jobs and partnership opportunities for businesses, including women and firms owned by people of color, and those owned by disadvantaged and military veteran entrepreneurs.  Infrastructure giants like HDR Engineering, Kiewit, BYD and Bombardier and are currently working on major infrastructure projects, such as the new LA Union Station (LINKUS), the Gold Line Light Rail Line in the San Gabriel Valley, freeway and bridge projects, the LAX Automated People Mover (APM) and the Sepulveda Pass Transportation Corridor, with strong commitments to diversity, job training and opportunities and economic advancement for underrepresented communities.

LA Union Station
(LINKUS)
Gold Line Light Rail Extension
LAX Automated People Mover (APM)
Sepulveda Pass Transportation Corridor

Bridging the Transportation Gap

The LAX APM project team, of which Bombardier is a member, has a historic 41% Minority Business Enterprise (MBE)/Woman-owned Business Enterprise (WBE)/Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) component, and our other transportation clients have similar commitments ranging from 25% to 35%. Projects such as these demonstrate how the transportation and infrastructure industries can not only better serve communities of color, but also provide the training and economic opportunities needed to break cycles of poverty.

In addition to her job training initiative, Chair Solis wants the MTA to focus on affordable housing, explaining, “Many bus riders have an average annual income of $18,000. These are the residents who also need affordable housing the most. By increasing transit services and tapping into affordable housing projects, we can help prevent displacement of vulnerable communities and give support to riders that need it the most. Metro has always done more than move residents to and from their destinations. I commit to collaborating with local and community stakeholders, residents and businesses to develop projects that serve everyone and especially our most vulnerable.”

Metro is already making good on this promise by working with partners in the private sector to build affordable housing near transit for those in need. A recent MTA project, in partnership with Abode Communities, will include 76 income-restricted affordable apartments in Boyle Heights.

During their speeches, both Chair Solis and CEO Wiggins reiterated their shared vision to make the entire transit system more accessible and equitable for all Los Angeles County residents by potentially expanding a pilot program of free fares for students to include low income and homeless riders. As Angelenos of color disproportionately make up our low-income and unhoused populations, this initiative demonstrates another key way the MTA can address racial disparities at the local level.

Ahead of the Los Angeles Olympics in 2028, the MTA has plans for tremendous growth, presenting enormous opportunities for under-represented businesses to help design, build and supply these projects. CEO Wiggins said she wants “a system to be a world class experience in time for the 2028 Olympics when people from all over the world will visit the Southland.”

As Chair Solis and CEO Wiggins seek to create world class job and business opportunities in diversity, equity and inclusion for our world class transportation system, Cerrell is proud of our clients who are literally paving the way for a more equitable future in Los Angeles.

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