New Austin nonprofit centers focus on ensuring transit equity with Project Connect


Huston-Tillotson University student Jeffrey Clemmons addresses the need for transit equity in Austin. (KXAN Photo/Kelsey Thompson)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — On Wednesday, an alliance of transportation advocates and community members gathered in downtown Austin to celebrate the launch of Transit Forward. The newly created nonprofit’s focus centers around ensuring equitable and accessible public transit via the city’s $7.1 billion Project Connect.

Patrick Rose, president of Corridor Title and board chair of Transit Forward, referred to Project Connect as a “once in a lifetime, generational investment” that, when implemented, will help broaden the city’s mission on connectivity and accessibility for its residents.

Austin voters approved the project in the November 2020 election, an endeavor outlining an expansion of the city’s rapid bus and rail services, along with an underground subway system. This Friday, leaders from Capital Metro, the city of Austin and Austin Transit Partnership will execute the joint powers agreement behind Project Connect.

For residents like Jeffrey Clemmons, this is a necessary step forward in repairing inequities in Austin. A student at Huston-Tillotson University, he said he’s seen discrepancies firsthand in terms of the reliability and infrastructure gaps in Austin’s public transit offerings.

“If we’re talking about moving forward, we cannot afford to leave anyone behind,” he said Wednesday. “Equity is central to our considerations and it’s something we always have to keep in mind. There’s another saying that if we want to go fast, we can go alone, but if we want to go far, we have to go together. I think that’s what embodied in this project, that we are going to go forward together.”

Disparities in Austin’s public transit system have led Clemmons and many of his fellow students to become reliant on owning cars for efficient mobility. With more than 100,000 students currently studying in the city, they make up a large portion of stakeholders who would benefit from better public transit access.

In visiting cities around the country, Clemmons said his experience using Washington, D.C.’s metro system this summer has further sparked his excitement over the prospect of Project Connect and how it can better the lives of Austinites. He also noted the measures enhanced public transit can have on addressing climate inequities and lowering the city’s carbon footprint.

“Seeing some of the transit here in Austin being some of the best in Texas but then going to a completely state, and in Washington, D.C. and seeing how well it works there, it definitely inspires me to want to see this project come to fruition.,” he said.

Fang Fang, president and CEO of the Greater Austin Asian Chamber of Commerce, said the enhancements made to Austin’s mobility initiatives now will help the city’s continued efforts in attracting and diversifying its workforce. She said a strengthened transportation system will build on the city’s status as an “economic hub” for the region.

She said it isn’t by accident that all the major cities in the world feature accelerated, robust transit systems. Transportation directly correlated to opportunities, she said.

“There is a popular Chinese proverb that says, ‘the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now,’” Fang said. “That visionary mindset also applies to Project Connect. The best time to build a better transit system in Austin was 20 years ago, but the second-best time is now.”

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