Moving Forward Together: The Road to Transportation Equity in RVA with Joe Dillard
What is the role of transit in shaping equity for individuals and communities?
It’s a question Joe Dillard, Jr., Director of Equitable Innovation and Legislative Policy at the Greater Richmond Transit Company (GRTC), addressed during a virtual presentation on Feb. 23. Nakeina Douglas-Glenn, Ph.D., interim director of the Research Institute for Social Equity (RISE) and director of the Grace E. Harris Leadership Institute, served as session moderator.
Dillard discussed Richmond’s top transit priorities and how major employers like Virginia Commonwealth University can use public transit to connect their strategic efforts to improve economic, educational, social and health outcomes for surrounding communities.
“We want to be that community partner where we're not looked at as a social service, but actually a partner that benefits the entire community,” Dillard said.
“We want to be that community partner where we're not looked at as a social service, but actually a partner that benefits the entire community.” –Joe Dillard
Increasing access and equity
During the presentation, Dillard shared some disparate statistics on bus ridership. 50% of local bus riders make less than $25,000, and 70-80% of local route ridership is made of minority populations.
While bus ridership has returned to pre-pandemic levels, and in some cases even exceeded previous levels for certain months, Dillard is determined to find community strategies that not only expand ridership but foster relationships with community groups and local businesses.
Dillard highlighted the extension of the Zero Fare program, which has helped increase accessibility to riders during the pandemic. VCU is a participant in this program, contributing $1.3 million annually. He is passionate about making a financial case for the economic benefits of transit, which not only impact individuals, but local businesses and their communities.
“So when you talk about economic returns, when I'm talking to small business leaders, for every $1 that you invest (in transit) you have a $5 return on economic investment."
Looking to the future of transit
Dillard fielded audience questions on addressing service and route changes, sharing challenges related to service boundaries, infrastructure limitations and ongoing efforts to educate local policymakers about the need for continued advocacy on behalf of transit. He noted the interconnection of facilitating transit options to improve community health, food security and general wellbeing. He also looked to the future regarding the deployment of electric vehicles.
Dillard discussed present challenges in meeting workforce and staffing needs for drivers and planners, especially during the pandemic. He shared information about internship opportunities at GRTC for both high school and college students to help shape the future of transit in Richmond.
“The planners of our transit system today a lot of them are retiring, and they're looking to hand a torch over to someone else,” Dillard said. “The conversation that we're having at GRTC now is, ‘how do we move forward with resilience forever?’”