Turning regulatory compliance from a box ticking exercise to an opportunity for achieving equity

Across the world government transportation programs and projects increasingly take place in the context of legislation aimed at improving equity, but how can we ensure that these can make a positive difference while ensuring that regulatory compliance is more than a box ticking exercise?

In the UK I spent many years helping public sector clients to comply with the Equality Act 2010, a landmark piece of legislation intended to close the gaps on inequality across the nation. Working mostly with local authorities, many of my projects involved working with clients to meaningfully consider the needs of all users when creating safer and more accessible streets in urban environments.

For example, the historic streets of the London may have charm and character, but they don’t always make a safe and accessible environment for those with disabilities, families and even those walking with luggage. With space in short supply in these built-up areas, it was important to work collaboratively with both clients and stakeholders to develop feasible options.

Steer’s role often involved considering the specific context of an area and its demography, engaging meaningfully with communities and ensuring that all voices (not just the loudest) were heard. What began as a box ticking exercise ended with better streets for all users.

On the other side of the Atlantic in North America, where I now work from Steer’s Vancouver office, equity legislation often takes a different shape. In contrast to the more centralized government in the UK, the US and Canada have a more varied approach which sees legislation made by each state or province intersecting with federal laws.

In the US, recent efforts at improving equity have focused on the country’s fraught history of race relations, while in Canada there is an emphasis on reconciliation with indigenous groups. In both nations the use of contemporary transportation policy to close the gaps of historical inequity has led to a mixed-methodology approach which moves away from solely using quantitative analysis and centres the voices and lived experiences of those that policies are designed to help.

For example, in Canada Steer has been helping clients to understand how much transportation costs vary for households across a major metropolitan area, providing insights into how the availability of non-car modes of transportation affect transportation costs.

Meanwhile in the US, we often take a deeper approach to data analysis that looks beyond the average user to identify nuances showing how people’s trip making behaviour differs. By examining different patterns in this way and combining quantitative analysis with meaningful community engagement, we are able to understand the needs of different groups, for example those who travel differently due to shift work or caring responsibilities.

Although we have a well-established, international Equity and Inclusion (E&I) team, we understand the need to learn and listen on every project, enabling us to reflect on how we can do better next time. Our technical and in-depth knowledge of transportation means that we do not consider equity in isolation, but can develop feasible transportation solutions informed by both quantitative and qualitative data.

A lot has changed in E&I since I started working on Equality Act-related projects in the UK, with governments and communities increasingly recognising that embedding equity within transportation programs and projects from the start leads to better outcomes. While complying with equity-related regulations was formerly treated as a chore by some, mainstreaming equity leads to opportunities to create more successful transportation solutions that advance equity.

The changes we’ve already seen in the sector signal an exciting hope for the future. I plan to keep working and learning, to play a small part in moving towards a more equitable society for all.


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