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Mobility for All: the Fight for Public Transit

CCAN honors today, February 4, Transit Equity Day and the birthdate of civil rights advocate Rosa Parks. In 1955, Ms. Parks helped spur a national movement against racist Jim Crow policies by refusing to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus, resulting in a year long bus boycott. 

CCAN is a proud advocate for frequent and far-reaching public transit to combat climate change and promote mobility for all. Access to reliable and safe public transportation directly leads to improved economic outcomes and quality of life, while reducing air pollution and mitigating climate change. The transportation sector accounts for more than half of our carbon emissions, yet here in the Commonwealth few options exist for those reliant on public transit. Freedom of mobility remains only for the privileged. 

A plan for democracy in transit decision-making

In the fall of 2021, I teamed up with RVA Rapid Transit to apply for the Virginia Walkability Action Institute (VWAI). This program is a joint project by the Center for Disease Control and the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) to promote active transportation and public transit in the Commonwealth. We came in with a broad intention to elevate the voices and lived experiences of bus riders to the rooms where the decisions about public transit are made. We went through a series of lectures led by VDH’s Dr. Milicent Miller and Equitable Cities founder Charles Brown. We eventually came up with an action plan for a multi weeklong program that mirrored a lot of the information that we had learned in this course to pass onto those in our community. We decided to begin a biannual Mobility University.

We took to the streets to collect stories and start building out our advocate base. This past summer, CCAN and RVA Rapid Transit canvassed Richmond city bus stops garnering feedback on public transit related issues, like increased frequency & coverage, essential infrastructure and remaining zero free for everyone. We were armed with voice recorders and surveys to collect data. We handed out water and fans as we discussed the lacking infrastructure to protect passengers from the heat of the summer. 

These videos and statements were brought forth to City Council meetings and Greater Richmond Transit Company (GRTC) board meetings, to put actual rider experiences in front of those with the power. Getting to 8 am board meetings (off of a bus line that only runs hourly) proves difficult for someone juggling multiple jobs, and we wanted to ensure that everyone’s voices were heard – even if they couldn’t commit to showing up in person at Mobility University. Additionally, from these encounters, we secured a group of 10 individuals from all over the city together to be a part of our inaugural effort.

Mobility University: a training ground for bus advocates

In the fall 2022, CCAN and RVART put on the first iteration of Mobility University, dedicated to educating and empowering bus riders for self advocacy in the transit world. We tackled topics like a history of transit, walkability, transit governance. We also worked to hone our skills as advocates with sessions like testifying and storytelling for change. By the end of our time, we held a graduation for our first class with representation from GRTC in attendance. 

All of our work has resulted in some major wins! Last month, the GRTC board, in response to our outpouring of support, decided to continue to fund the zero free initiative. Through a grant from the VWAI program, we created a standalone project that relates the experience of Richmond public transit to a diverse audience in an easy and palatable way. You can check out this video (in both English and Spanish) that highlights the rider experience and why well-funded transit systems are essential. The viewing party, which we co-hosted with RVART and VAIPL, was attended by over 50 people.

What’s left in the fight

We still have work to do. In conversations with the GRTC, RVART and CCAN are working to put together a transit riders advisory group, which would serve as a key consultant on decisions made in regards to transit in the Richmond metro area. We also need to take action now in the General Assembly session to ensure that we continue to prioritize public transit! State lawmakers are currently considering a great bill that would invest in transit funding, and you, regardless of where you live in the Commonwealth, can help.

Tell your state legislators to SUPPORT HB2338/SB1326. Ensure that we utilize all of the current public transit funding to the best of its ability. Send a quick message today!