Local group launches effort to enhance statewide transit funding
Friday, June 8, 2018 by Caleb Pritchard
The launch of a grass-roots campaign to expand transit funding across Texas kicked off in Austin Wednesday night with input from regional officials and activists, and, from the audience, some impromptu criticism of the local bus service.
Dubbed One Thousand Texans for Transit, the campaign is driven by the nonprofit organization Farm&City.
“We have a problem in Texas,” Executive Director Jay Crossley told the crowd of approximately 50 to 75 people gathered at the Google Fiber space in downtown Austin. “There’s not enough transit funding.”
In his opening presentation, Crossley meandered through a series of slides showing disparities in funding among U.S. cities, with Austin and its major Lone Star State counterparts ranking well below metros on both coasts as well as Denver and Chicago due in large part to the dearth of spending contributions from the Texas Legislature.
The aim of Farm&City’s campaign, Crossley said, is to convince state lawmakers to shake loose $300 million each year for spending on transit, an amount that he said “would get us up to Indiana standards.”
Crossley added: “We are leaving federal matching transit funds, and we’re sending them to California and New York because we aren’t funding transit here. When you build transit, the feds usually match it to some extent.”
He also said the group wants to push the Legislature to enable more local funding options for transit agencies and projects, a notion not unlike one floated by Mayor Steve Adler last year.
“This is Mayor Adler’s plan for funding Project Connect. It’s to ask the Legislature to let us do it,” he said.
The notion of expanded funding was endorsed by a small panel of officials assembled for the event. The lineup included Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority Director of Long Range Planning Javier Arguello, Austin Transportation Department Assistant Director Annick Beaudet, and Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization Regional Planning Manager Kelly Porter.
“I think we’ve got to see transit not just as a kitschy, nice thing to do or as just a social service, but rather as a utility like water or electricity,” Porter said.
Among the audience were several prominent transit supporters, including the Austin Alliance for Public Transportation’s Jeb Boyt, Pedestrian Advisory Council member Heyden Black Walker, Urban Transportation Commissioner Cynthia Weatherby, Bike Austin Executive Director Katie Smith Deolloz, and City Council District 9 candidate Danielle Skidmore.
However, also on hand were several critics of Capital Metro’s recent bus network redesign known as Cap Remap.
Two audience members interrupted Crossley’s opening monologue after he claimed the new transit map benefits minority residents. One pointed out that riders in some pockets now face longer walks to their closest bus stops.
“Yes, there are people who lost service this week,” Crossley replied. “And Capital Metro is very aware of that, and our elected officials are very aware of that, and there have been some efforts to fix it to provide new services.”
During a Q&A session with the panel of experts, one audience member accused Capital Metro of failing to address urgent needs of transit-dependent residents east of Interstate 35.
“You’re all talking about the next 20 years,” Chivas Watson said. “I’m talking about the next 20 days.”
“It’s not a perfect plan and we know that,” Arguello conceded. “We all know that changes are difficult for everybody. I can tell you that we have a responsibility to be responsive to community needs. But also we have a responsibility to use the limited resources that we have in the best and most effective way.”
Wednesday’s event also featured a panel of transit activists including Urban Transportation Commissioner Mario Champion, AURA member John Laycock and blogger Ryan Young. That discussion also resulted in lively comments by critics of the new bus network in the audience.
Farm&City plans to host similar events in San Antonio, Dallas, Houston and Taylor throughout the month of June.
Photo courtesy of the city of Austin.
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