L.A. celebrates Transit Equity Day, but more is needed, activists say

The Metrolink rail system offers free rides each year on the day, but some residents say more needs to be done to ensure Angelenos have access to equitable transportation.

The Metrolink rail system will provide free rides for Transit Equity Day this Friday.

In an effort to honor Rosa Parks, the Metrolink Board of Directors voted Jan. 28 to commemorate Transit Equity Day with free rides — a move mostly praised by transit riders and public transportation advocates.

Scott Johnson, Metrolink’s media spokesperson, said the decision to provide this free day of transit was to honor civil rights activist Rosa Parks who fought to make public transport fair and affordable.

“Metrolink prioritizes safety and affordability,” Johnson said. But this time, “they are taking that initial step, that additional step, to make rides free in recognition of Transit Equity Day.”

Transit Equity Day is meant to commemorate Parks’ civil rights activism in resisting segregated buses by refusing to give up her seat for a white passenger in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955.

“We recognize that, for many, public transportation is critical for people to get to work, to get to doctor’s appointments and other absolutely essential areas of their life,” Johnson said.

Raymiro Gomez-Galiano, a sophomore majoring in NGOs and social change, emphasized the importance of public transportation in his daily life.

Gomez-Galiano feels the resources and opportunities available to USC students in Los Angeles aren’t always accessible, especially to those without cars.

“It’s really hard to have transportation in general,” Gomez-Galiano said. “We have other things to pay, and we don’t have to worry about car insurance, even buying a car, maintaining a car. So typically, students don’t really have cars.”

Bakari Height is a transit planner for the Labor Network for Sustainability, a group focused on “building a powerful labor-climate movement.” Height said Transit Equity Day is a good start but more needs to be done.

“Transit Equity Day speaks to growing populations who actually ride transit, but L.A. needs to address where transit riders are because they’re not all concentrated in the city anymore,” he said.

Height also stressed the need for transportation equity in Black communities. He said that while some additions to public transportation across the city seem to benefit wealthy, white neighborhoods, transportation agencies must make a better effort to work with Black residents and provide them with adequate transportation services in their areas.

“Transit equity is important because we need the same amount of amenities and the same level of amenities everywhere, around the board,” Height said.

Michael Leon Guerrero, the executive director of the Labor Network for Sustainability, spoke about the sustainability benefits of transit equity.

“It’s a great way to address the climate crisis because of how it reduces overall greenhouse gas emissions in comparison to cars,” Guerrero said. “Public transit is a good vehicle for help.”

Guerrero said infrastructure investments from Congress can expand transit systems and build a strong workforce with good pay and benefits.

“Our bus operators do so much more than just drive, they do social service work,” he said. “For us to build up a robust and effective transit system, it means we’re investing in the workers who are making and building these systems, and also the ones that are operating and maintaining them.”

On Friday, riders at Metrolink stations will have access to 538 miles of track and 62 stations across Ventura, San Bernardino, Riverside, Orange, and Los Angeles counties. San Bernardino County Transportation Authority will also offer free rides throughout their county, including transfers with Metrolink.