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Photo by Capital Metro

Cap Metro deploys ‘tricked-out’ electric vehicle to help drum up community enthusiasm

Friday, June 24, 2022 by Samuel Stark

MEEP isn’t just the sound made by a popular Muppet; it’s also Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s new portable community engagement vehicle created to involve Austinites in programs like Project Connect, the expansion of Austin’s municipal transit system.

The Austin Transit Partnership, the entity overseeing Project Connect, relies a great deal on community engagement, such as meetings, events and workshops, to find out what community members think about various aspects of the ambitious transit project. But despite efforts to include residents from a wide variety of demographic backgrounds, there is still room for improvement, according to data presented last week at the ATP board meeting.

The hope is that MEEP – which stands for Mobile Engagement and Event Pop-up – along with other initiatives, will help increase engagement and narrow some of the gaps. The vehicle hasn’t been taken out quite yet but will be featured at events soon.

“We look forward to using (MEEP) to go out to different places and talk” to community members, ATP spokesperson Jackie Nirenberg said. “But also meeting people where they are emotionally, psychologically and culturally.”

MEEP, according to Capital Metro spokesperson Blythe Nebeker, is a “fully electric, zero-carbon-emissions community engagement vehicle to be used as a portable setup with unique and interactive display stations.”

Meet MEEP, Project Connect’s very cute community engagement vehicle.

The vehicle will be taken to local events to share information about programs and act as a “one-stop shop for materials, water, etc. for the community,” Nebeker said. It’s “fully equipped with a cooler, phone charging ports, microphone, speakers and a big-screen TV,” she added.

MEEP is one new strategy Capital Metro hopes will increase participation in marginalized communities, so the breakdown of participants is more reflective of Austin’s demographic makeup.

“We have a much higher proportion of those identifying as white in our meetings (than) we do in the community,” Nirenberg said.

According to census data, just over 41 percent of people in Austin identify as white. In their community engagement meetings, however, 69 percent of those who were willing to disclose their demographic information identified as white. Conversely, there are fewer Black and Latino community members participating in these events than are reported in Austin census data.

“There’s some work to do there, clearly,” Nirenberg said. “More so than the barrier to participation is there’s a trust deficit. It’s not just for us – ATP (and) Cap Metro – it’s also for other government entities.”

“So how do we chip away at that? We have to get at this in a number of ways,” she said.

In the presentation, Nirenberg pointed out that this data is not complete. “We do have about 40 percent of participants on the average who do not fill out those demographic questions. That leaves a little bit of a hole in our data set,” she said.

Regardless, Capital Metro is attempting to be more innovative in its approaches to capturing people in these engagement exercises. Another strategy raised at the meeting was offering financial compensation to people who participate.

Find out more about upcoming community meetings and opportunities to give feedback about Project Connect on the program’s website.

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