Today, Metro celebrates the birth of an American hero and recognizes our continuing commitment to her simple act of trying get from a place to a place.
February 4th is the birthday of civil rights hero Rosa Parks. Her quiet act of defiance—refusing to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama, bus to a white man in 1955 is one of the iconic moments in the breaking down of segregation in the south—and throughout America. It led to the Montgomery bus boycott, directed by a young pastor, Martin Luther King, Jr.
In recognition of Parks’ stance, February 4th is also celebrated as Transit Equity Day, a day dedicated to ensuring that all who use public transit are treated fairly and equitably.
Metro understands that equity can take many forms:
Equity is bringing mobility options to communities that have been underserved. Via to Transit is providing a vital link to residents in communities that need more than fixed-route service. People who live, work, or go to school in Seattle’s Othello and Rainier Beach neighborhoods, south King County’s Skyway community, the Renton Highlands, and Tukwila now have an on-demand transit option connecting to buses and trains that can also take riders to select community hubs, such as grocery stores, parks, and libraries.
Rosa Parks was coming from work the day she committed her act of civil disobedience. Equity is a reminder that for many low-income residents, public transit is a vital link, and sometimes the only source of transportation to and from their place of employment.
The residents of Kent’s East Hill neighborhoods told this to Metro as part of our public outreach for the Renton Kent Auburn Area Mobility Project (RKAAMP), designed to provide greater mobility options to Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) and underserved communities in south King County. We heard that access to swing and nightshift work at distribution centers in the Kent Valley was a primary entry-point into the workforce for immigrant and refugee populations in these communities. The result of listening to those who depend on transit was the launch of Ride Pingo to Transit, which provides access to transit hubs and work locations in the Kent Valley.
Equity has an environmental aspect, too.
This year, Metro will start running zero-emission battery-electric buses capable of traveling up to 140 miles on a charge. Those coaches, and the infrastructure needed to support them, are part of Metro’s commitment to transition to a zero-emission fleet by 2035. Equity is also part of our “Mobility Framework”—the blueprint for centering equity and sustainability in our work. Our obligation is to place the battery-electric fleet on routes in communities that have historically borne the brunt of health impacts from air pollution and climate change.
Finally, equity is belief that everyone boarding a bus is treated equally, but history shows that is not always the case. We know there are systems in place that continue to disproportionally impact communities already facing the challenges of systemic racism.
Metro is working to reimagine the role of transit safety, which is not only critical to our advancement to becoming an anti-racist mobility agency, it’s also the needed and necessary step to ensure that everyone who is on a bus, both passengers and our operators, feel safe AND respected. It’s called the Safety, Security, and Fare Enforcement (SaFE) Reform Initiative and you have our pledge to openness and transparency throughout this process.
By “sitting down,” Rosa Parks “stood up” for those who had been ignored for too long. As we celebrate her commitment to civil and human rights, Metro and its employees will honor Rosa’s memory by striving to ensure that safety, fairness, respect, and equity are at the forefront of all that we do in service to the public.
Terry White is General Manager of King County Metro