Earlier this summer we finished recruiting new members for our Access for All Advisory Committee (AFA), a group first set up in 2001 to give a voice to people traditionally underserved by our region’s transportation system. The reconstituted committee met for the first time on June 23 to get to know one another and to talk about their top concerns about the region’s transportation system.
TPB Second Vice Chairman Charles Allen, a District of Columbia councilmember, chaired the enthusiastic kick-off meeting. “I am excited for this opportunity to bring together a variety of viewpoints and make sure that concerns about our transportation system are considered by the TPB,” Allen said at the opening of the meeting.
Who are the AFA’s new members?
The AFA’s new members are community leaders who come from a wide variety of backgrounds and represent the interests of many different groups, including low-income communities, minority communities, persons with limited English proficiency, persons with disabilities, and older adults. Some members themselves belong to one or more of these groups while others represent organizations that work with them.
Some of the AFA’s new members served on the committee prior to its relaunch this year. Some were very active with the committee and provided feedback at key moments in the larger TPB process. Other members previously served on the TPB’s Human Service Transportation Coordination Task Force, a temporary group set up in 2006 to oversee the development of a regional plan to address the needs of underserved groups. A number of the new AFA members are new to the TPB process altogether.
The committee also includes ex officio members from federal, state, and local transportation agencies, including transit agencies, as well as private providers of public transportation. The ex officio members play an important role on the committee. The open dialogue between agency officials and community leaders can lead to a greater understanding of each other’s perspectives and constraints, which can help lead to meaningful change.
What are the AFA’s top concerns?
Once members got to know each other and to talk about their interest in serving on the committee, they talked about the most significant regional transportation concerns facing underserved communities. In the past, the AFA has successfully advocated for such issues as consumer-friendly and cost-saving changes to Metro’s paratransit service MetroAccess, new wheelchair-accessible taxis in the District of Columbia, and Metrorail and Metrobus information in other languages, including Spanish and Vietnamese. The major themes from the committee’s roundtable discussion will inform discussion topics at future AFA meetings.
Here are some of the main themes of the AFA’s roundtable discussion on June 23:
- Safety: Many participants talked about different facets of safety for the communities they work with. This included concerns about providing safe sidewalks, especially for people with disabilities, violent crime while using transit, and safe alternatives to use during Metro’s intensive SafeTrack maintenance program. Chairman Allen expressed concern about the SafeTrack issue. “While SafeTrack will impact many people throughout the region, I am concerned that the impact for people who are transit-dependent will be even greater and I want to make sure we mitigate that impact by providing adequate alternatives for everyone,” he said.
- Transportation options: Several members also expressed a need for additional travel options, especially for persons with disabilities. Examples of such options include accessible pathways, more inclusive shared mobility services like Uber and Lyft, and specialized transportation for persons with intellectual disabilities. The committee also noted that aging seniors who stop driving often have few if any other options for getting around, people who work more than one job or work second or third shift need safe and reliable transportation options at off-peak hours, and traffic congestion slows cars and buses and harms air quality.
- Cost of transit fares: Many participants spoke about how individuals with limited incomes find bus and Metrorail fares unaffordable. They said that for the most economically vulnerable people in our region, Metrorail is simply not an option because of the cost of the fare.
- Jurisdictional coordination: Many members also noted the need for better coordination of transportation services and policies across jurisdictions. They said that many people make trips that cross county or state lines, but that specialized transportation services too often focus on limited geographical areas. The committee also noted that improved information about service areas and fare policies in different parts of the region would be useful.
What’s ahead for the AFA
The Access for All Advisory Committee is slated to meet five times a year. The committee’s next meeting is scheduled for Thursday, August 25, at noon. At its meeting in October, the committee will be asked to review and comment on the 2016 amendment to the region’s Constrained Long-Range Transportation Plan (CLRP), which the TPB will be considering for final approval in November. The committee will also help identify priorities for the TPB to consider when selecting projects to receive funding under the federal Enhanced Mobility for Seniors and Persons with Disabilities program in 2017.