The majority of managers and top executives at transit agencies in the U.S. are White, says Latinos in Transit President Alva Carrasco. Organizations such as hers and the Conference of Minority Transportation Officials are working to change that, however, and diversify the transit management ranks to better reflect its front-line workforce, which predominantly consists of people of color.
Carrasco has been with Latinos in Transit since its inception in 2016. She started her career in public transportation 30 years ago, as an entry-level administrative assistant, when she was one of very few Latinos in administrative positions, she said. “Nobody looked like me.”
Today, in addition to leading LIT, Carrasco is vice president, transit and rail national business line, west region market lead, at transportation engineering and design consulting firm WSP USA. Smart Cities Dive spoke with Carrasco shortly before LIT’s Leadership Summit, Sept. 23-24 in Dallas.
The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
SMART CITIES DIVE: Tell me about Latinos in Transit.
ALVA CARRASCO: Latinos in Transit started very organically about 15 years ago. A very small group of Hispanic professionals would see each other every year at the major conferences. We would just talk about how great it'd be if we had some kind of a group that could get together on a regular basis to network and support each other and mentor each other throughout our careers because of the lack of [other] Latinos in the industry. We finally formed as an official nonprofit in 2016 with the help of some [industry] veterans and titans from the transportation industry.
What’s the organization’s mission?
We knew that we had to do a better job in attracting more Latinos, and more people of color in general, to the transportation industry. The other piece was also bringing in disadvantaged businesses, minority-owned businesses [and] women-owned businesses to help them connect with our transit members and our organizations.
And how are you going about that?
We are working on launching a mentor program for our members. We want to pair a junior person with someone that has some of the same interests that they're looking to experience or think they need. We have so many retired folks. We have former [Federal Transit Administration] officials. We have former CEOs and general managers. We really want it to be a senior person that will sponsor this individual and really be more involved than just a monthly call.
We're going to be announcing our scholarship recipients for this year in Seattle during the [American Public Transportation Association] conference. The scholarships are for a Latino who is either working in the industry or going to school or someone that is is pursuing a career in transportation.
This week, Latinos in Transit will hold its second Leadership Summit. What will that be about?
We have a dual focus at this summit because of all the things that have happened in the last two years. We're focusing on our member organizations and how to attract Latinos, [how to] recruit and retain them. The other focus is diversity, equity and inclusion in their organizations.
What are your goals for the organization?
We've always known that our front lines are mostly made up of people of color. That's just a fact, no matter what agency you look at. Then, as you move up the chain of command you see less and less. We have to work harder to prepare our local members to be ready for those positions when they come up in their area.
Our member organizations are really looking to us to help them attract Latinos. We're a resource for both our individual members and the organizations and small businesses that join our organization.