On Board With... Tanisha Taylor, Executive Director of the California Transportation Commission

As Executive Director of the California Transportation Commission (CTC), Tanisha Taylor plays a major role in the CTC’s programming and allocation of funds for highway, passenger rail, transit and active transportation construction and improvements.

Transit California: You were appointed Executive Director of the CTC in June 2023. What do you see as critical priorities for the CTC? What are some challenges and opportunities you expect to face in the coming years, especially with regard to public transit? 

The Commission is focused on improving safety on the state’s transportation system, ensuring our policies and programs enhance equity, committing to climate action, and investing in a transportation system that supports economic prosperity. 

When it comes to public transit, there’s clear challenges and opportunities associated with all four of these priorities, whether its enhancing transit user safety, expanding mobility options in underserved communities, supporting the deployment of zero-emissions rolling stock, or investing in systems that make it easier for Californians to get to their jobs without having to drive. Obviously, all these topics are connected to the overall theme of transit funding. While the Commission primarily funds capital improvements made by transit operators, we’re keenly aware that a fully functional transit network that effectively and efficiently connects riders to destinations is critical to meeting our future vision of a multimodal, sustainable transportation system. 

We were pleased to see an infusion of state dollars for transit operations in this year’s state budget, but we know there’s more work to be done. Pursuant to Senate Bill 1121, we’ve started work on our State and Local Transportation Needs Assessment, which will help us understand the wide range of transit operator needs, including capital needs and operational needs, which will help the state prioritize transportation investments over the next ten years. 

We are going to rely heavily on our partners as we tackle these challenges, including local and regional governments, state agencies, and, of course, transit operators. One new group of partners I’m particularly excited to work with is our Interagency Equity Advisory Committee, convened with Caltrans and the California State Transportation Agency in late 2022. The Equity Advisory Committee will provide another forum for transit operators and transit riders to provide their input and inform our decisions with their experiences. 

Transit California: The CTC just held its kick-off meeting to discuss updating the state’s Transportation Needs Assessment, as required under SB 1121. What will this process look like, and what goals does the CTC have for this process relative to public transit? How can our members get involved? 

We intend to engage early and often with our state, regional, and local partners, including transit operators, as well as community-based organizations, non-governmental organizations, and the public. This means stakeholder meetings before we submit our interim Needs Assessment in January 2024, and even more conversations as we develop our final Needs Assessment ahead of January 2025. We welcome input from our transit operators both in the workgroup setting, and by reaching out to Commission staff. The short- and long-term financial planning information provided by transit operators as a condition of receiving relief funds in this year’s budget will help ensure our Needs Assessment accurately and thoroughly captures the needs of our transit operators. We’ll be monitoring the work of the Transit Transformation Task Force closely to ensure our work reflects what transit operators are reporting. We need this input from our partners, and the statewide picture of our transportation needs isn’t complete without it.  

Transit California: The CTC is currently involved in updating the State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) for 2024, a biennial five-year plan for future allocations of certain state transportation funds.  What are some key new features of the next STIP that will be of particular interest to public transit agencies and riders?  

In updating our 2024 STIP Guidelines, we have added some new and exciting areas to our policy areas, which indirectly benefit public transit operators and their riders.  

The Climate Action Plan for Transportation Infrastructure (CAPTI) was incorporated throughout the guidelines to ensure alignment with the state’s equity and climate goals. The Commission has been diligent when integrating these CAPTI goals into all of our applicable programs. 

We included two new sections in the 2024 Guidelines. One new section is for Community Engagement which requires regions and Caltrans to document and reflect community engagement activities that influenced the projects proposed in each Regional Transportation Improvement Program and the Interregional Transportation Improvement Program. The second new section is for Fact Sheets which will require each region and Caltrans to include a fact sheet summarizing the proposed investments and how these investments advance regional and state safety, environment, equity, and economic goals. 

Lastly, for our Active Transportation section, we added language requiring regions and Caltrans, to the extent feasible, to incorporate complete street elements on highway and local road projects. We also added language in our Interregional Transportation Improvement Program section for examples to be provided of standalone active transportation projects eligible for inclusion. 

Taken together, these changes will result in a 2024 STIP that more clearly reflects the needs of local communities in the form of projects included in individual regional plans, and that better aligns projects towards building an interconnected, multimodal system. 

We’re pleased regional plans are including more multimodal projects, and we want to see even more of this in the future. While there’s not as much funding available in future years for transit and intercity rail projects as we’d like to see, we still look forward to programming some of those types of projects when we adopt the 2024 STIP. 

Transit California: You’ve served with the CTC since 2020 as Interim Executive Director and Deputy Executive Director. What are some accomplishments from that time that you’re most excited about, and how is this experience informing your recent appointment? 

The team’s success in securing an additional $1 billion for active transportation projects throughout the state, the creation of the Interagency Equity Advisory Committee and the SB 1 equity program supplement have all been accomplishments I take great pride in watching our team shine. Incorporating CAPTI has also been an area where our time has shined, and I have enjoyed being able to engage stakeholders to strengthen our commitment to sustainable, equitable, and multimodal transportation solutions. 

With that said, my greatest pride is watching each member of our team’s personal growth. Seeing them each meet their personal career goals has been nothing short of phenomenal. 

Transit California: Prior to your time with the CTC, you served as Director of Sustainability at the California Association of the Council of Governments (CALCOG). How has this focus on sustainability informed your approach to transportation and public transit? 

My work with CALCOG clearly showed how public transit is one of the fundamental tenets necessary to meet our equity, climate, air quality, and congestion relief goals. The intersection of transportation, land use, and environmental stewardship and the power of transit to connect communities and change people’s lives has always been clear; however, while working at CALCOG, finding solutions to meet the unique needs of each region of the state through a truly collaborative approach became even more evident to me. Yes, there are some commonalities that can be highlighted, but the differences should also be celebrated as things that make our state great. 

Transit California: You served with the San Joaquin Council of Governments, a Central Valley Metropolitan Planning Organization with a mix of urban and rural areas including San Joaquin County and the cities of Stockton, Lodi, Manteca, Tracy, Ripon, Escalon, and Lathrop. What lessons did you take from this role with regard to public transit? 

Ensuring that our multimodal vision is planned in a way so that all segments of the population benefit is such an important message to keep at the forefront of everything we do. Asking “What did we do?”, “How well did we do it?”, and “Is anyone better off?”, are such important questions that help us find meaningful solutions that move us closer to solving our collective mobility challenges. 

I started my career with the San Joaquin Council of Governments, and my first assignment was the Unmet Transit Needs Study. Hearing the diverse and unique needs of stakeholders from each city and the unincorporated county, as well as hearing the needs of people representing differing demographics across the region helped solidify my strong belief that we need to plan with everyone in mind and be accountable to the people we serve. Hearing stories from past efforts that used local community-based organizations to conduct outreach in the preferred language of participants – a concept borne from prior public engagement efforts highlighting language as a barrier to participation — to stories from individuals with disabilities about the need for transportation solutions that can support travel from door through door, to stories of how important transit is to connecting our most vulnerable neighbors to employment opportunities has truly shaped how I engage communities and how I approach policymaking. 

Transit California: Throughout your career, you’ve been recognized for engaging diverse communities, including the award of Woman of the Year from the WTS Sacramento Chapter and the 2015 Certificate of Appreciation from the Stockton Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. What do you see as some of the most important ways that transit agencies can follow your example? 

Always include and celebrate the diverse voices at the table by removing the stigma associated with the expression of dissenting opinions. Everyone’s voice adds value to the conversation. 

Don’t overlook the quiet people. I was once the quiet person who was fortunate enough to have a leader that called on me, inviting me into the conversation at a time when I doubted my place at the proverbial table. My mentor supported me as I grew to find my voice, so any chance I get, I always ask people to remember the quiet ones. They have great ideas but may be too shy to speak; they may lack self-confidence; they may be intimidated by power dynamics in the room; or many other valid reasons; but by creating spaces for them, you may find a diamond in the rough waiting to shine. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of mentorship and knowledge sharing.  

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