News | UC Davis Researchers present Transportation Equity Research

Stop the Video



by Jacob Wong, USC Master of Public Policy, 2023

On March 9, 2022, researchers Sarah Rebolloso McCullough and C. Sequoia Erasmus gave a virtual presentation on the status of transportation equity work in California as part of METRANS NCST Spring 2022 Speaker Series. The presentation was titled “Performative or Authentic? Assessing the Status of Transportation Equity Work in California.”  Seminar collaborators also included the Transportation Research Board Standing Committee (AME20), Women and Gender in Transportation and the Arizona State Difference Engine.



McCullough, Associate Director of the Feminist Research Institute at UC Davis, and Erasmus, Associate Deputy Director at the California Transportation Commission, collaborated on the project while Erasmus was working on a dual Master’s degree in Community Development and Transportation Policy at UC Davis. 


Sarah Rebolloso McCullough


C. Sequoia Erasmus


The researchers sought to examine how the transportation sector in California considers equity, particularly as it relates to active transportation and sustainability. As they conducted their research, McCullough and Erasmus made sure they were clear in how they defined equity in the study, identifying it as, “having the freedom to define what health and thriving is for you and your family.” “Very often, equity is not defined in conversations about this subject,” cautioned McCullough. The researchers also emphasized the role of dignity in this process, implying that an individual is not required to justify their own equitable treatment. 


McCullough and Erasmus acknowledged the unique societal conditions surrounding the study. Over the course of the year 2020, they conducted two rounds of interviews with 30 transportation equity professionals, a significant portion of whom were people of color, with 35% of interviewees identifying as Latinx and 21% as Black. Both presenters noted the significance of conducting an equity study during a year in which events such as the killing of George Floyd and public discourse around police violence entered the national consciousness. 


“It’s important context for this research to understand that, one, we were talking with long-time professionals in equity, and this was a moment when the nation was coming to recognize deep, long-standing inequities in our society,” noted McCullough.


McCullough and Erasmus divided their findings into three case studies on different transportation topics and their interactions with equity. In each case study, the researchers distinguished between examples of performative equity, which is characterized by limited community engagement and a consumer-based approach to equity efforts, and authentic equity, which describes a process that prioritizes historically disinvested communities and seeks to redistribute power to them.


The first case study discussed new mobility modes such as rideshare apps and autonomous vehicles, focusing on the lack of equity considerations in implementing these technologies. McCullough and Erasmus shared that these services are primarily driven by profit, resulting in less access for disinvested communities. Based on their conversations with transportation equity professionals, the researchers concluded that these disparities reinforce the need for expanded public transportation networks, as they provide the same transit access for a wide range of riders.


The next case study touched on the topic of recruitment versus retention, distinguishing performative efforts to increase BIPOC representation from authentic equity-based processes that feature community feedback and follow-up action. Lastly, the study focused on policing. McCullough and Erasmus shared that the standard narrative in transportation policy that more policing leads to safer outcomes contributes to a narrow definition of safety that disregards the experiences of disinvested communities. Rather, an authentic equity process in this context seeks to decouple police presence from safety, instead placing a greater emphasis on community policing.


“They weren’t trying to say, ‘let’s increase police presence.’ No, it was like, let’s increase our own presence and police ourselves. Just our presence alone will deter people from acting a fool,” shared Erasmus in a quote from one of their interview subjects.


Over the course of their presentation, McCullough and Erasmus reiterated the importance of community engagement in the transportation planning processes in order to achieve authentic, equitable outcomes. At the end of the presentation, they shared a “To-Do” list with the viewers of actions that contribute to equitable outcomes including maintaining ongoing relationships with disinvested communities and giving communities more power in the decision-making process.


The researchers made it clear that in addition to collecting feedback from disinvested communities, follow-up action is just as important in the engagement process. “Listening is foundational to all of this,” said McCullough. “I also think it’s important to follow up that listening with personal reflection and then moving from that space to action.”


More about the researchers:


Sarah Rebolloso McCullough is Associate Director at the Feminist Research Institute and holds a PhD in Cultural Studies from UC Davis.  She is PI on two NSF studies that integrate justice-oriented frameworks from feminist/critical race science studies into STEM graduate education. She researches mobility justice and applies her expertise in ethnographic methods, cultural analysis, and power dynamics to create community-driven research partnerships that span the disciplines.  


C. Sequoia Erasmus has nearly two decades of experience working in communities to promote safer streets for pedestrians and cyclists, improved connection to nature and parks, access to quality education, and an intersectional approach to public health.  Her research, focused on assessing equity, diversity and inclusion initiatives in California transportation agencies, helps guide her work as she supports interagency and community-based equity initiatives and policy/funding development. 


More about the research - from the researchers:


“We assess equity work within transportation in California by analyzing the expert perspectives of transportation professionals who also identify as Black or of color. Key findings center on the distinction between "performative" equity work and "authentic" equity work. Performative equity work privileges the comfort and perspective of dominant groups, reinforces status quo, stays in the realm of rhetoric, and often results in superficial changes only. Authentic equity work centers the experience of Black people and people of color, embraces discomfort, transforms dominant culture, and results in measurable changes to the lives of those historically oppressed. Key recommendations include supporting action-oriented equity work, especially around resource allocation and redistribution of decision-making power to communities. We include case studies of applying findings to new mobilities and policing, and visions for equitable futures.”


Access Slides Here

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About the Author:

Jacob Wong is a first-year graduate student pursuing a Master of Public Policy degree at the Price School of Public Policy. He is curious about issues in urban policy and transportation planning. He is a recent LA transplant, and in his free time he enjoys exploring the area and the local food scene.