The BREJT Project Team conducted an intense public outreach effort to community groups and community leaders throughout the Baltimore region. Although attendance at each Listening Session varied, overall attendance was very strong. The BREJT Project Team collected over 60 pages of written testimony from 80 Listening Session participants. The Team also produced over 20 pages of small group discussion notes and presentation summaries from 120 Community Dialogue participants. Sign language interpreters were available at the Community Dialogue at the request of a participant. This allowed that individual to participate and represent an organization of individuals with hearing disabilities. All of this information helped inform the BREJT Project Team’s recommendations and truly reflects the “bottom up” research approach originally proposed for the Project. The Listening Sessions identified the following key environmental justice concerns.
Air Pollution and Congestion
Participants at several Listening Sessions stated that two of their biggest transportation concerns were traffic congestion and air pollution from cars and trucks. Participants mentioned this throughout the region (in Annapolis, Columbia, Dundalk and Baltimore participants all agreed on this issue). Several participants noted the connection between traffic and air quality problems and hoped that improvements in mass transportation might reduce traffic congestion and decrease air pollution.
Access to Jobs
Participants at many Listening Sessions stated that bus and transit service couldn’t transport residents to many potential job opportunities in a timely manner (particularly job opportunities in the suburbs). Participants stated that the current transportation system better serves commuters from the suburbs traveling to downtown Baltimore for work than city residents who are looking for work in the suburbs. Public transportation connections to certain suburbs may take up to three hours (depending on the suburb). A few participants stated that employers do not want to hire job applicants from certain areas of Baltimore because they know the public transportation services in those areas are inadequate.
Access to Health Care
At every Listening Session, participants expressed concerns about whether seniors, individuals with disabilities and individuals with severe or chronic illness can access adequate health care services because of poor transportation services. Participants at all of the Listening Sessions stated that transportation is a major obstacle for low-income and minority citizens seeking adequate health care services. Participants complained of bad paratransit service at all of the Listening Sessions and buses with defective lift equipment or drivers that couldn’t be bothered to use the equipment.
Bus Schedule Restructuring
One of the most volatile issues at the Listening Sessions was whether low-income and minority communities are receiving their “fair share” of transportation services. In most instances, this discussion revolved around the frequency and reliability of bus service. Many participants believe that the most relevant environmental justice issue is whether their community receives good and reliable bus service. Many participants believed that they were not receiving the same level of bus service as more affluent areas and that there were fewer buses running in their community than in more affluent communities. Many participants suggested that bus supply and bus demand needs to be re-examined and bus schedules re-structured to meet actual demands.
Equity and Fairness in Funding
Participants at several Listening Sessions discussed their concern that their communities were not receiving a fair share of transportation funding. Members of the Transit Riders League provided detailed and insightful comments on the financial challenges MTA and other transportation agencies face while attempting to provide transportation services to a diverse constituency. However, participants suggested that there is no good system in place through which community groups and residents can compare the quality of bus services among different communities. Participants expressed a level of frustration that there is no objective source of information or data that might help them determine whether they are receiving their fair share of transportation funding.
Maintenance and Repair of Buses
Another volatile issue was whether low-income and minority communities are receiving adequate maintenance services for buses. In most instances, this discussion revolved around maintenance and repair of air conditioning or wheel chair lifts on buses. Many participants believed that they were not receiving the same level of bus maintenance service as more affluent communities. These participants believed that their communities had more buses with broken air conditioning, more buses with broken wheelchair lifts and more buses that would be likely to break down during normal bus runs.
Maintenance and Repair of Bus and Subway Stops
Several participants stated that low-income and minority communities experience poor maintenance services at bus stops and subway stations. Many participants believed that they were not receiving the same level of trash pick-up and repairs at bus stops and trash pick-up and elevator and escalator cleaning and repair at subway stops. Several participants noted that they use the Baltimore area transportation system and “we don’t see these same problems in other areas.”
Public Participation in Transportation Planning
Participants at most Listening Sessions stated that they were not satisfied with the public participation process for transportation planning (by jurisdictional and by modes). Several participants stated that when they had attended a planning meeting or filed a complaint with a transportation agency “it didn’t make any difference.” Several participants stated that when they attended public meetings they got the impression that the “major decisions had already been made.” These participants stated that they felt like they were only being asked to approve pre-ordained decisions.
Regional Transportation Information System (Schedules, Fares and Connections)
Many participants agreed that there is no single source of information about transportation schedules, fares and links in the Baltimore region. Participants at Howard County pointed out that the county maintains an excellent website listing connections within the county but that information about out-of-county links is limited. Similar comments were made in Annapolis. Several participants lauded MTA for attempting to set up a “trip planner” on its website, but stated that the technology did not work very well and had been pulled. All participants agreed that a regionwide map, website and call center should be a priority.
Community Dialogue Identifies Common Problems and Solutions
The BREJT Project’s November 6, 2004 Community Dialogue was designed to allow participants to discuss environmental justice and transportation problems and solutions in small group breakout sessions. The breakout sessions were divided into four sub-group discussions. The intent was not to rehash issues but to expose participants to other community and advocacy leaders and to allow them to offer potential solutions and next steps.
Breakout Session 1 – Environmental Justice and Transportation Problems-During the first breakout discussion session, there was a strong correlation between the problems identified in the small group discussions and the findings of the Listening Sessions. The first breakout discussions tried to focus on only the most important environmental justice and transportation issues. Each participant was asked to vote for the three or four most important issues to them whether they appeared on a prepared list or not:
Group 1 – Top Four Concerns
1. Air Pollution and Congestion (4 votes)
2. Equity and Fairness in Funding (4 votes)
3. Public Participation in Transportation (4 votes)
4. Format for Today’s Session Was Backward (4 votes)
Group 2 – Top Four Concerns
1. Access to Jobs (7 votes)
2. Accessibility to Service (signage & information) (9 votes)
3. Access to Health Care (6 votes)
4. Customer Service/Responsiveness to Public (5 votes)
Group 3 – Top Four Concerns
1. Equity and Fairness in Funding (7 Votes)
2. Public Participation (5 votes)
3. Bus Schedule/Route Restructuring (5 votes)
4. Air Pollution and Congestion (4 Votes)
Group 4 – Top Four Concerns
1. Air Pollution and Congestion/ Noise Pollution (10 votes)
2. Increased Reliability and Punctuality of Transit Services (Bus Schedule “Restructuring”) (8 votes)
3. Education and Training for Transportation Professionals/Customer Service (7 votes)
4. Dedicated Funding for Public Transportation (Equity and Fairness in Funding) (5 votes)
Of the 16 Issues of “Top Concern” selected in the four small group discussions, 12 were the same as those issues identified during the Listening Sessions. Community Dialogue participants stated that their top concerns – Air Pollution and Congestion, Access to Jobs, Access to Health Care, Poor Bus Service and Fairness in Transportation Funding – were the same as the issues highlighted during the Listening Sessions.
Breakout Session 2 – Environmental Justice and Transportation Solutions
The second part of the group discussions yielded a variety of ideas on how best to address the environmental justice concerns identified in the first discussion. Most of the suggested solutions fell into four broad categories:
Sensitivity Training for Bus Drivers-Many participants were concerned about rude bus drivers who pull away from stops before senior citizens can get to their seats or before individuals with disabilities have safely disembarked from the bus. In addition, some bus drivers seem either afraid or unwilling to tell school students that they should not sit in senior or priority seating when there are seniors or individuals with disabilities standing without a seat on the bus. Most participants believed that all drivers would perform better if they were provided with sensitivity training on how best to assist seniors and individuals with disabilities.
Quality Control/Customer Service Feedback System-Coupled with the call for better training was a request that drivers be more accountable for the quality of service. One method for creating accountability would be to create an anonymous “comment card” system on the buses using a locked box. In this manner, riders could submit their comments to an “Independent Review Board” comprised of transportation officials and citizen advisory councils to monitor which bus lines and drivers received negative comments on a consistent basis. In addition, several participants suggested that transportation agencies should employ “ghost riders” or paid staff that could ride the buses and report whether the buses were running on time and whether the driver provided good “customer service.”
Interactive and Informed Public Participation-Many participants suggested that there are currently few meaningful opportunities for public participation in transportation planning. Many participants believed that either the public participation opportunities are not well advertised or occur so late in the transportation planning process that participants are essentially asked to validate decisions that have already been made. Community Dialogue participants suggested that regularly scheduled public hearings or public meetings would greatly benefit the transportation planning process. These public hearings should be advertised early and on the bus routes and at bus shelters.
Better Information and Data for Planning-Several participants were under the general impression that wealthier neighborhoods receive better quality bus services. Several participants suggested that the public would have a lot more confidence in the planning system if they could learn the following:
· Where are the communities with the greatest transportation needs?
· What is the amount of money spent in those areas dependent upon?
· Who is dependent on these transportation services?
· How might these transportation services be improved?
Analytic Tool Proposed for Future Transportation Planning-The Listening Sessions and Community Dialogue confirmed that there is a perceived need for more public participation in the transportation planning process and that public officials need to respond to those comments. Listening Session participants also confirmed that community groups believe that there are no good sources of information that might allow low-income and minority areas determine whether they are receiving their fair share of funding for transportation services. The BREJT Project Team determined that transportation planners will need new data and analytic tools to then allow decision makers to make better informed decisions during the transportation planning process. As a result, the BREJT Project Team is developing a two pronged Action Plan proposal to address the concerns expressed at the Listening Sessions and Community Dialogue.
1. Expand Public Outreach, Public Participation and Public Comments on Environmental Justice and Transportation Issues
· Create an Environmental Justice Advisory Board
The BREJT Project Team recommends that an Environmental Justice Advisory Board be created. The Board should be composed of low-income and minority community representatives and transportation planners. The Environmental Justice Advisory Board should be assigned a variety of functions that relate directly to critical decision making functions in the transportation planning process. The assigned tasks should include:
o Updating the community outreach mailing lists
o Advising transportation planners on outreach activities
o Holding regularly scheduled Listening Sessions and Public Hearings
o Reviewing the annual transportation planning workplan
o Reviewing the annual Transportation Implementation Plan update
o Participating in any updates of the regional transportation plans
· Create a Comment Card/Quality Control System on Bus Routes
The BREJT Project Team believes that a comment card system would provide a very useful and low cost means for transportation planners to receive important feedback from the general public. The BREJT Project Team will work with area transportation planners and transit authorities to develop a comment card system for the general public. The Environmental Justice Advisory Board will be asked to review comments and make suggestions for changes and improvements.
2. Create an Environmental Justice and Transportation Planning Tool
· Develop Quantitative Methods for Assessing the Relative Distribution of Transportation Burdens and Benefits
Most Listening Session participants stated that they do not believe that transportation resources and services are equitably distributed in the Baltimore region. The Project Team believes strongly that the region needs a quantitative assessment method to determine if low-income and minority communities are getting an equitable share of the benefits associated with transportation programs. This quantitative assessment method could also help indicate whether low-income and minority communities are receiving a disproportionate share of the adverse impacts or burdens associated with transportation projects and programs.
The assessment method can be used for two primary purposes. First, it could be used to assess the final results of the transportation planning process and whether the sum of all the recommended programs and projects result in a fair and equitable distribution of benefits and burdens. If the assessment shows that the transportation plan is deficient in some areas, transportation planners could use the information to revise and improve future programs. Second, the assessment method could also be used in a pro-active way to guide the transportation planning process and assure more equitable results. The ultimate goal is to provide decision-makers with an equity assessment tool to evaluate the distribution of benefits before selecting a preferred option.
The BREJT Project Team proposes that it will develop the assessment tool during Phase II of the BREJT Project using census data to determine the target minority and low-income areas in the Baltimore region. The BREJT Project Team will then use GIS tools to determine how much of the transportation funds programmed in the TIP are allocated to projects that fall in the target areas versus how much funding is allocated to projects outside the targeted areas. In addition to this GIS based assessment of the allocation of transportation resources, the BREJT Project Team proposes the development of equity performance measures. Accessibility might be used as a measure of how easy it is for a person to reach a given type of destination such as employment areas, shopping centers, medical treatment facilities or recreational facilities. The BREJT Project Team proposes that accessibility performance measures be developed during Phase II.
Conclusion-One of the main goals of Phase I of the BREJT Project was to solicit comments from low-income and minority communities on transportation and environmental justice issues. Through a “bottom up” approach, the BREJT Project Team held a series of eight Listening Sessions and a Community Dialogue in geographically dispersed locations throughout the Baltimore region. Generally, the anecdotal information and data from the Listening Sessions and the Community Dialogue indicate that low-income and minority communities in Baltimore share the perception that: 1) transportation resources and services are not equitably distributed throughout the Baltimore region; 2) the public participation process for transportation planning needs to be improved; 3) transportation problems (air quality, access to jobs and health care, etc.) have a direct impact on low-income and minority communities; and 4) more information should be available to the general public on how transportation planners decide where resources and services should be targeted.
The BREJT Project was very successful in gathering and analyzing information from low-income and minority communities on transportation and environmental justice in a “bottom up” manner. The challenge now facing transportation planners in the Baltimore region will be how best to incorporate the anecdotal information gathered during the BREJT Project into the transportation planning process. The BREJT Project Team has proposed that the public participation process should be expanded and quantitative, data driven analytic tools should be reviewed for their applicability or developed to assist in accomplishing that goal.