AECOM's Librera on Consultants Helping Inclusion, Bringing Back Ridership

Photo: AECOM

Sally Librera, SVP of North American Transit Lead at AECOM, discussed inclusion, equity, and ridership with METRO.

How are consultants helping transit agencies, if at all, with the idea of transit equity and inclusion?

I am proud that as an industry, we’ve matured beyond viewing equity and inclusion as a separate or discrete workstream. Agencies and consultancies now embrace it as key to the success of our work in building out infrastructure that connects communities, improves access for all, and addresses critical climate issues. At AECOM, we work with our clients to advance industry-leading environmental, social, and governance (ESG) practices with our Sustainable Legacies strategy. We are proud to partner with transit agencies to help instill equity and inclusion into every step of the process. We advance as an industry when we all collectively work through this lens and embed ESG principles into everything we do — how we engage communities for input, how we evaluate the benefits of alternatives, how we staff projects, and how we design for lower carbon emissions and a greater modal shift toward transit. 

Has transit’s focus on diversity and inclusion increased their desire to use DBE, WBEs, and MBEs for projects?

Absolutely. We live in a world where our infrastructure challenges get more complex by the day. To design effective solutions, we need as many perspectives as we can get at the table. We must encourage talent from diverse backgrounds to solve problems collectively and deliver the most value through infrastructure investment. We won’t get there without reducing barriers to entry for DBEs, WBEs, and MBEs, which bring more talent and diversity of perspective into the conversation. This will be crucial to identifying and implementing the best solutions.

What is your company’s biggest challenge and what are you doing to overcome them?

This is an incredibly exciting time for infrastructure: unprecedented levels of investment, key advances in decarbonization and sustainable mobility, and transformative transit projects all have the potential to literally change lives and communities and enhance access to wide ranging opportunities. We’re excited to work with our clients to help deliver this incredible wave of projects, seizing this once-in-a-lifetime moment to dramatically change the transit landscape in the U.S. At AECOM, we know our success is driven by our talented team. Our challenge is to continue to develop and grow our talent to best support our clients and respond to the magnitude of opportunities before us. That’s why we’re committed to fostering a safe, inclusive, and respectful work environment, where each employee is empowered to bring their unique talents, backgrounds, and expertise to work each day. We also strive to inspire leadership and career development at all levels through professional development programs, coaching, mentorship, and networking opportunities.

What will some keys be to transit being able to bring back ridership post-pandemic?

Building back ridership levels is critical — we need to do so to create vibrant communities, fight climate change, and drive economic recovery and growth. We see transit agencies across the country rightfully focusing on what matters most to riders — investing in a safe, reliable, frequent, pleasant, convenient, and affordable option for travel. I think travel patterns will continue to move closer to pre-pandemic levels, but the pandemic has undoubtedly changed how a significant portion of the workforce commutes. Transit systems will need to adapt to this change to continue to make transit attractive for all riders. This may mean shifting some services from a peak period central business district focus to enhanced off-peak service levels or different destinations. In short, our transit agency leadership across the country is focusing on the right thing: making transit as attractive as it can be. Understanding how the demand for travel has changed is key to that formula.

How does your firm work with transit agencies to decide what propulsion type could work best for their buses and railcars?

We recognize that selecting the best propulsion type goes well beyond a conversation about vehicles. Agencies face exciting opportunities as they transition to zero emissions fleets, but the transformation is complex, the field is evolving quickly, and the magnitude of the task at hand can be daunting. Effectively transitioning requires a multi-faceted approach, including analyzing and planning for alternative energy sources; adopting new technology; investing in infrastructure modernization, within and outside the agency’s jurisdiction; collaborating with local, city, and state stakeholders; adjusting service patterns and maintenance regimens; and readying a workforce to maintain and operate new technology. AECOM partners with agencies across these complex and interconnected aspects, providing experts in propulsion, technology, and systems who have guided transit agencies, cities, and utility providers through every facet of this planning and implementation process.