The National Academies

NCHRP 08-159 [Pending]

How to Assess and Address Equity of Access to Essential Goods and Services

  Project Data
Funds: $500,000
Contract Time: 24 months
Staff Responsibility: Jennifer L. Weeks

COVID-19 and a number of widely publicized events have brought to light substantial inequities in access to economic opportunities and essential goods and services, particularly by race and income. Transportation officials at state departments of transportation (DOTs) and other agencies seek to gain a stronger understanding of how accessibility differs among distinct demographic groups as they strive to improve equity in access as a performance outcome of transportation infrastructure and service provision. Such an understanding will help agencies define transportation policy, project funding, operations, and other strategies to bridge mobility gaps and ultimately improve the equity of access to essential goods and services among distinct populations and communities within their service areas.
While there is considerable research on accessibility and accessibility performance measures in transportation literature, common methodologies do not fully represent the full range of accessibility challenges faced by many low-income, minority, and other vulnerable populations. For example, traffic models have long used home-based work trips (commute trips) to forecast travel needs and agencies design infrastructure and transit operations oriented around “peak periods” that may not reflect all work schedules. Similarly, measures of accessibility tend to focus on the “availability” of infrastructure or services within a comfortable distance of an essential destination, such as a job site, medical facility, or grocery store. Such measures do not capture the quality, cost, hours of operation, or other factors that may reflect barriers of use by some populations.
For agencies seeking to deliver more equitable transportation outcomes that provide critical accessibility, it is important to gain understanding of the specific transportation challenges faced by vulnerable populations compared to the public-at-large. These challenges exist in urban, rural, and suburban areas alike. Research is needed to identify new and refine existing methodologies used to measure accessibility to better account for differences experienced by underserved vulnerable populations, particularly those with limited or no access to automobile transportation.
The objective of this research is to develop a guide that provides specific direction on how to advance equity in accessibility through transportation. The guide shall include appropriate analytical and instructional resources for agencies to use to identify gaps in equity of access and determine appropriate transportation solutions to bridge those gaps within their own service jurisdictions.
Proposers are encouraged to articulate their vision of what the contents or format of a guide might entail for meeting the project objective. At a minimum the guide should provide direction on how to:
1. Identify specific accessibility challenges experienced by underserved vulnerable populations and the causes of those differences with a focus on geospatial, temporal, financial, and other factors causing disparate accessibility outcomes that could be addressed by transportation improvements;
2. Identify and illustrate the implementation of verified analytical techniques for identifying accessibility needs during the transportation decision-making process with an emphasis on equity;
3. Include methods to measure accessibility performance through an equity lens;
4. Identify and provide direction on implementation of proven transportation policies, practices, methods, and strategies for mitigating specific accessibility challenges experienced by vulnerable communities and populations; and
5. Address the incorporation of accessibility equity analysis and decision-making during all phases of transportation decision-making and service provision.
The research teams proposing on this project shall demonstrate appropriate knowledge of accessibility as it pertains to the accessibility challenges experienced by different demographic populations. A research plan shall be proposed to develop a guide and other instructive resources for application by state DOTs and other agencies seeking to improve the equitable distribution of accessibility outcomes through transportation.
The research plan should (1) include a kick-off web conference to review the amplified work plan with the NCHRP project panel within a month of the contract’s execution; (2) address how the proposer intends to satisfy the objective of the research; (3) be divided logically into two distinct phases encompassing specific detailed tasks for each phase, including a description of all milestones and appropriate deliverables; and (4) provide ample opportunities for panel review, comment, and approval of project approach and milestone deliverables.
Phase I: Data Collection and Analysis
Phase I of the research plan should generate data and information that identifies the extent and causes of inequitable access to essential goods and services with a focus on the role of transportation. Proposers are expected to identify a set of detailed tasks designed to develop a comprehensive understanding of the problems articulated by this research, the state of practice by the industry and by similar industries that could be evaluated for application by state DOTs.
Phase I should at a minimum include the following tasks and products. Other activities, interim products, and deliverables should be included as part of the Phase I plan as determined appropriate by the proposers.
Task 1. Conduct an extensive review of literature to define accessibility, equity of access, and equity in transportation needs, investments, and services. The literature review should seek to identify similarities and differences in accessibility and equity in transportation necessary to provide accessibility experienced in a variety of contexts, including urban, suburban, and rural contexts. It should also be used to identify potential methods of addressing equity of accessibility.
Task 2. Conduct a state-of-practice analysis of methods in use by state DOTs and other transportation agencies to assess and improve accessibility equity. The data collected should be used to identify gaps in understanding and addressing the accessibility needs experienced by vulnerable populations and communities.
Task 3. Prepare a Phase II work plan that includes a plan for addressing the gaps in practice identified during Phase I and an annotated outline of the final guide and any other proposed products of this research.
Task 4. Prepare an interim report that documents the process and data collected in the previous tasks, includes observations and insights with respect to the state of practice, identifies specific gaps in knowledge and practical expertise in addressing accessibility equity within the industry, and documents both successful and unsuccessful methods and strategies for addressing accessibility equity through transportation.
The research team shall be prepared to present the interim report and guide outline to NCHRP and the project panel for discussion in an interim meeting. NCHRP approval of the interim report and guide outline is required prior to initiation of Phase II of the research plan.
Phase II: Product Development and Validation
Phase II of the research plan should focus on validation of proposed methods to measuring and addressing equity of accessibility through transportation, guide, and other product development.
Final deliverables should include:
1. Guide with supplemental resources, as appropriate;
2. Communication media, such as a Power Point presentation, flyer, or brochure that communicates equity of accessibility needs, issues, and opportunities to address these issues through transportation to a broad range of transportation stakeholders such as agency executives, elected officials, community stakeholders, and members of the general public;
3. Implementation plan that includes a detailed strategy for bringing the research to the transportation industry for practical application; and  
4. Conduct of research report that documents the research process, data collected, and analysis conducted to complete the research objective.

STATUS: Proposals have been received in response to the RFP. The project panel will meet to select a contractor to perform the work.

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