A seat at the table? Transit representation in U.S. metropolitan planning

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

place - north america, organisation - governance


Regional transportation planning, Metropolitan planning organizations, Transportation funding, Decision-making, Public transit


Since the early 1990s, U.S. metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) have had increasing room to shape the extent to which public transit benefits from regional transportation spending. Federal law has given MPOs widening latitude over this period to use highway-oriented funding for transit investment. Yet, concerns that public transit operators—and, by extension, transit needs—have been underrepresented in MPO decision-making are longstanding. This paper reports on the first comprehensive inventory of transit representation on MPO decision-making boards. MPOs and the planning process they oversee allow metro regions to tap federal funds, and together MPOs approve billions in metropolitan transportation investment across the U.S. We study these important institutions in the transportation landscape and how they provide for transit participation. We find that transit's actual voting representation on MPOs is somewhat higher than previously estimated, suggesting that recent federal policies have modestly increased formal transit involvement in investment decisions. We also find that different forms of board representation for transit—direct and indirect—can produce disparities in transit's influence from one region to the next. These findings reveal the impact of federal transportation laws on metropolitan scale decision-making and highlight some of the enduring institutional challenges to broadening participation in regional transportation governance. They also pave the way for further studies of the impact of MPO representation on transit expenditures by MPOs.


Permission to publish the abstract has been given by Elsevier, copyright remains with them.


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