U.S. DOT Volpe Center Helps Address Equity in Transportation
A top priority of the Biden-Harris Administration and U.S. DOT is to address long-standing equity issues across government programs.
One of the ways that the U.S. DOT Volpe Center supports this work is by leveraging existing data sources to address some of the most pressing transportation-related questions on the minds of policymakers and legislators. The U.S. DOT Volpe Center is providing expertise and technical support to multiple projects that research different aspects related to transportation equity.
Supporting Creation and Release of U.S. DOT’s Equity Action Plan
In April 2022, the U.S. DOT announced the release of the Department’s Equity Action Plan, a document developed in response to Executive Order 13985 that established a whole-of-government approach to advancing equity. This Equity Action Plan contains key actions that the Department will undertake to expand access and opportunity to all communities while focusing on underserved, overburdened, and disadvantaged communities. Since September 2021, U.S. DOT Volpe Center staff supported the U.S. DOT Office of the Secretary to directly support this effort by drafting content, developing graphics, and preparing web-based materials.
Reevaluating to Reflect Current Conditions
U.S. DOT’s Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) Program exists to remedy ongoing discrimination and the continuing effects of past discrimination against small businesses owned and controlled by minorities and women in federally assisted contracting opportunities. One of the program’s requirements is that business owners claiming disadvantaged status not have a personal net worth above $1.32 million. This cap was established nearly 10 years ago and has not been updated.
The U.S. DOT’s Department of Civil Rights engaged the U.S. DOT Volpe Center to determine how to update the cap in a manner that reflects current economic conditions and allows truly disadvantaged firms to continue participating in the program. The U.S. DOT Volpe Center used a fresh approach to support this effort, relying on data from the Survey of Consumer Finances.
Analyzing Distributional Tax Impacts
Mileage-based highway user fees are receiving increased interest from policymakers, but have raised concerns about their equity impacts relative to other sources of transportation revenue. The U.S. DOT Volpe Center is analyzing the potential distributional impacts across demographic and income groups of a revenue-neutral switch from a gas tax to a vehicle miles traveled tax using data from the National Household Travel Survey.
Assessing Demographics of Infrastructure Investments
Executive Order 13985 required government agencies to conduct equity assessments of a selection of government programs. The U.S. DOT Volpe Center assessed five discretionary grant programs using GIS techniques and the American Community Survey to report the demographic characteristics of locations where transportation infrastructure projects for ports, railroads, airports, highways, and transit are located. The analysis can be used to develop a baseline understanding on how some underserved communities may also be overburdened communities, potentially exposed to negative externalities from the transportation network.
Evaluating Infrastructure Grant Criteria
Infrastructure for Rebuilding America and Rebuilding America’s Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity are highly competitive grant programs that provide funding for freight and passenger transportation across multiple modes. An interdisciplinary team from the U.S. DOT Volpe Center is assisting the U.S. DOT Office of the Secretary with evaluating hundreds of project applications, including technical evaluation of merit criteria and/or benefit-cost analysis.
This evaluation will help to ensure selected projects are aligned with program goals and societal benefits and that scarce grant dollars are maximized. For 2021, program guidance incorporated addressing racial injustice and removing barriers to opportunity into existing selection criteria, which has informed the U.S. DOT Volpe Center team’s reviews.
About the U.S. DOT Volpe Center
Celebrating more than 50 years of federal service to the nation, the U.S. DOT Volpe Center’s mission is to transform transportation for all.
We’re Hiring: Learn more about our our open job opportunities, commitment to equity, and what it’s like to work at the U.S. DOT Volpe Center.