Welcome. My name is Oni Blair, and I’m the executive director of LINK Houston. At LINK Houston, we advocate for a robust and equitable transportation network so that all people can reach opportunity. Many of you have worked with us to improve safety and access for people walking and biking; keep communities united in the face of highway infrastructure expansion, and – the reason we’re all here today – to ensure better transit.
As a college student home on summer break, I remember my father showing me how to use the bus to reach my first internship in Downtown Houston at the City Hall Annex. That bus and many other transit rides afterwards helped me to finish my education, gain other training experiences, and get to work.
That’s what transit is about: an affordable transportation option to connect people like you and me to opportunities. Those aren’t just places where we work, but also where we take classes, seek medical attention, shop for groceries, enjoy entertainment, and do everything else in our daily lives.
The equity part is understanding that, for some communities, there are real barriers to reaching those opportunities – barriers like distance, income, or physical ability. Over the long-term, the goal should be to lessen (or remove outright) the distances by increasing affordable housing, making complete communities, removing other systemic barriers. But even with time, no single community will ever offer every opportunity that suits every need of every person in it.
So, how do we get to where we need or want to be if we don’t have access to a vehicle? What do people do who can’t drive because of age – too young for a license, or aging and wanting to maintain their freedom? What do people do who can’t drive because they are in a wheelchair, blind, or on medications which impair their responses? What if a person loses a car to flooding or a crash? What if a family can’t afford to or doesn’t want to spend money on a car?
Transit equity is about acknowledging these barriers and placing transit in places where people need it the most. Transit equity is not a hand out. LINK Houston’s Transit Equity Demand Index helps us to understand the demand for public transit in a way that meets the needs of communities and makes economic sense by taking into consideration density and the built environment alongside personal factors. Based on our analysis using this index, 984,000 Houston area residents – about a quarter of the population living in the METRO service area – need more affordable transportation options.
Today, we hope you walk away with a clear understanding of what kinds of improvements will help meet that demand and improve the cost effectiveness of public transit – namely to:
- Improve the frequency of transit, so that every bus that’s classified as “frequent” comes at least every 15 minutes all day, every day; that the trains come at least every 15 minutes (even at night); and that no one waits an hour for a bus;
- Improve the availability of transit for late night and early morning service on 12 routes that connect under resourced neighborhoods to extended-hour destinations – like the airports, the Convention Center, the Galleria/Uptown, higher education institutions, and the Medical Center;
- Improve the reliability of transit so that local buses run 90% on time; and
- Improve the accessibility of transit so that all stops are reachable regardless of size, age, or ability, prioritizing stops where people have to wait longer.
These recommendations go beyond the public transit authority. We need a new paradigm at the federal and state government levels to focus on multi-modal mobility that benefits all people in Houston’s urban environment. We need our government at every level – as well as our metropolitan planning organization – to fund and prioritize equitable transit.
At the local level, we need elected leaders who care about high-capacity transit and consider equity in their decision making – elected officials like Houston City Councilmember Amanda Edwards, who will deliver remarks this morning. We need the Houston Mayor and the Harris County Judge to appoint METRO Board members who understand transit first-hand and have analyzed its impact and needed improvements – METRO Board members like today’s panelists Dr. Carol Lewis and Christof Spieler, who both previously served. We need researchers to help us and government understand transit equity – researchers like our panelist Dr. Alex Karner of the University of Texas at Austin. And we need practitioners, doers who understand how to translate ideas into action – leading practitioners like our moderator Linda Cherrington.
We also need more community leaders who are willing to speak out about the need for transit options – leaders like Ms. Paulette Wagner, Mr. Ed Pettitt, and Ms. Kathryn Nowlin. Could you waive as you’re able? Thank you for sharing your stories in the video that we will show momentarily.
Finally, we need more people like you – residents, decisionmakers, advocates, and voters – to demand more equitable transit to improve our region’s economic prosperity and the lives of people living and working here. Thank you for being here today for this program.