Transit Programs Increase Access to Voting
On March 7, 2021, President Biden signed an Executive Order directing each agency of the Federal Government to evaluate ways to promote voting registration and participation. Public transportation plays an important role connecting millions of Americans to jobs, vital services, and civic participation, including voting. Transit providers across the country are distinctly positioned to reduce some of the obstacles Americans face to exercising their sacred, fundamental right to vote.
FTA would like to acknowledge some of the approaches transit agencies have taken to increase access to voting, and how they are compatible with FTA’s grant programs. (Some of the suggestions below may be subject to state or local rules, or require coordination with state or local election authorities.)
FTA encourages transit operators to think creatively about how they can best serve their communities and customers. If you have any success stories or ideas for how transit systems or FTA can help remove barriers to voting, please let us know!
Fare-free election days
On election day in 2020, 10 of the nation’s largest transit systems—and many medium, small, and rural systems—offered free rides to the public. Such a fare-free day, where all passengers ride for free, would not be subject to FTA’s requirements for fare equity analysis.
Transit operators considering holding fare-free days on federal or non-federal election days should be mindful of the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Under the ADA, a transit operator may not discriminate on the basis of disability. If an operator is holding a fare-free day on its fixed route service, it should ensure the same fare-free policy applies to ADA complementary paratransit. FTA also encourages operators to implement the same policy on any other services offered, such as general-public demand-responsive service.
Information and registration materials
Transit stations in high-traffic locations may make excellent locations to place non-partisan election information and voter registration materials, or voter registration tables. As long as the placement or distribution of materials does not interfere with the transit service of the location, it generally will be regarded as a permissible incidental use of the station. Materials must be placed in ADA accessible locations. FTA recommends locations outside of fare gates, so they are easily reachable by the public.
Ballot and registration drop-off boxes
High-traffic transit stations may serve as controlled, monitorable locations to place absentee ballot or registration receptacles that are convenient to the public. As long as the placement of the ballot or registration receptacle does not interfere with transit service, it generally will be regarded as a permissible incidental use of the station. Receptacles must be placed in ADA accessible locations. FTA recommends locations outside of fare gates, so they are easily reachable by the public.
Temporary service changes
Providers may consider temporary service changes to make polling locations easier to reach. Changes might include more frequent service or extended service hours on days that polls are open, or special service to polling locations if they are not on an established route. Generally, special election service will not violate FTA’s charter rule if it is provided fare free (and not subsidized by another entity), or if existing fixed route service is made more frequent on a temporary basis. Vehicles used must be ADA accessible, and paratransit will be required for fixed routes. This type of temporary service change would not require an equity analysis.
Maps and wayfinding
Transit operators may consider temporary signage directing riders to stops located near polling places or where voter registration or ballot drop-off boxes are located. Operators with the ability to make temporary changes to maps, wayfinding devices, or mobile apps may consider doing so.
Transit operators should be conscious of Title VI and ADA obligations, and may have to make information available in a language other than English and in ADA accessible formats.
Coordination with election authorities
Early coordination between transit systems and local election authorities can be key, for example, by ensuring that polling sites are in locations that are easily accessible to transit.
Most transit operators interact with the public outside the transit system itself. At public engagement meetings or any event where written materials are distributed, meeting organizers can consider promoting voter registration and participation by bringing along some voter registration forms, for example.