Metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) were empowered in recent decades to make transportation policy and planning decisions at the local and regional level. Leaving transportation planning issues in the hands of federal and state government appeared to contribute to social inequities by focusing primarily on highways (as opposed to mass transit), which provided greater access and opportunities to the middle class but often ignored lower-income and minority neighborhoods in urban areas.

Shifting the onus to MPOs was designed to foster transportation planning that would better reflect the needs of all residents in a specific area. But since these bodies are usually comprised of appointed – rather than elected – members, some are questioning whether all sectors of the population are being fairly represented.

“An Inherent Bias? Geographic and Racial-Ethnic Patterns of Metropolitan Planning Organization Boards”, released this month by the Brookings Institution, examines the voting structure and board characteristics of MPOs in 50 metropolitan areas across the country. In this report, Thomas Sanchez, an Associate Professor of Urban Affairs and Planning and fellow with the Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech, finds that most MPOs do not reflect the geographic distribution and racial diversity of their populations, and that this under-representation leads to an “inequitable distribution of transportation investments.”