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Making Strides Toward Transportation Equity: Highlights from an NADTC Panel Discussion

On July 13, 2022, NADTC held a meeting in Austin, TX, as an adjunct to USAging’s Annual Conference and Trade Show. Four local transportation experts were invited to share their insights and experiences with “Transportation Partnerships and Practices in Advancing Transportation Equity”. Panelists were:

  • Patricia Bordie, Director of Area Agency on Aging of the Capital Area, Austin, TX
  • David Marsh, General Manager of Capital Area Rural Transportation System (CARTS), Austin, TX
  • Richard Martinez, Chair of Governor’s Committee on People with Disabilities and Grant Manager and Compliance Coordinator of VIA Metropolitan Transit, San Antonio, TX
  • Sarah Sanford, Manager of Eligibility and Customer Service, Capital Metro, Austin, TX

 This blog is informed by the panelists’ varied perspectives, and the questions they answered are worth consideration by providers and stakeholders who are working to address transportation equity in communities across the country.

Working Together

Credit: Ridge Area ARC, Avon Park, FL

Panelists discussed how they approach their work on diversity, equity, and inclusion. To advance transportation equity, these organizations do not work alone but in partnership with others. The Governor’s Committee on People with Disabilities holds open meetings with public comment four times per year in different parts of the state. Martinez noted that some of their most viable solutions have come from stakeholders and people who share concerns at these meetings. The Capital Area AAA is located within the Council of Governments, the metropolitan planning organization for the organization (MPO) for the region. Together they host stakeholder meetings, and when issues come up, they reach out into the community to address them. CARTS and Capital Metro are both responsible for providing equitable transportation. Capital Metro works to engage the community where people are and with what they need, sometimes working within microtransit zones to ensure 100-percent accessibility and offering travel training. CARTS partners with Capital Metro and has the added challenge of reaching people in rural areas. CARTS has a full-time outreach staff person who engages with people in the communities where they live, bringing a cohesive approach to transportation services and filling gaps.

Austin panelists (from left) Richard Martinez, David Marsh, Patricia Bordie and Sarah Sanford

All panelists echoed the importance of strong partnerships. Capital Metro works with the Texas Office of Mobility Management and CARTS to examine and fill transportation gaps. The AAA of the Capital Area works across providers to link trips so that riders can shop, stop at the pharmacy, and more. From the perspective of the Governor’s Committee, Texas communities communicate well and share best practices.

Reaching Out

Panelists share a commitment to reaching underserved and underrepresented populations. They share a belief that ensuring public transportation is available is not the same as ensuring public transportation is accessible.

CARTS engages in rural communities at county fairs, city events, parades, and churches. Marsh said he knows from experience that being present consistently and on an ongoing basis is important to building relationships in rural communities. Martinez agreed that places of worship are often the heart of the community and noted that despite different ethnicities, all want to work toward the same goals. Bordie added that the AAA’s outreach efforts include extension agents, retired nurses, and rural libraries.

Outreach to achieve transportation equity is not without its challenges or even barriers, as Marsh cautioned. Observing that funders tend to focus on performance measures and “wasteful trips,” he shared a different point of view: “If Mrs. X gets her ride, that’s what’s important.” He believes funding should be based on funding formulas as well as performance measures, suggesting that if you live in any district, you deserve a ride. The Governor’s Committee deals with communities that do not want bus or paratransit services, which Martinez pointed out is a barrier to those people who need it. To overcome barriers, travel training and rider education were offered as two important outreach efforts for public transportation and paratransit riders to dispel fears and help them understand the limitations of different forms of transportation.

Sanford acknowledged that transportation providers like Capital Metro learned to pivot during COVID toward what’s needed. They have also developed a travel training team, which includes connecting with other transit systems. Bordie noted the AAA’s commitment to equity, from ensuring inclusion by timing its events appropriately to examining hiring practices. As one example, she pointed to a growing adult population of people who are deaf or hard of hearing. She said it is important to learn from them and recognize such diversity issues as language and disability. “One person, one community at a time,” she said.

Click here for more information on NADTC’s DEI Initiative, including a recent webinar featuring William Massey, president and CEO of the Peninsula Agency on Aging in Newport News, VA, who discussed how his agency got started with DEI.


This blog was written by Dave Somers, Senior Research Associate for the National Aging and Disability Transportation Center and USAging.

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