Local, national leaders discuss transit equity in St. Paul


A sense of powerlessness on the part of transit riders, jobs and economic development, equitable and comprehensive transit in Minnesota — these were some of the issues up for discussion at a St. Paul transit forum that included national and local voices. On January 14, local community members, including politicians, community organizers, and transit leaders were joined by national union leaders for “Everyone Deserves a Seat:  Transportation, Jobs, and Equity Forum” at the Carpenters Local Union 322 in St. Paul.

Core to the panelists’ discussions were the ways in which they believe that Minnesota’s transit systems must develop. While some spoke in favor of many of Minnesota’s existing transit projects, including the Central Corridor, others including Kenya McKnight, a Bush Fellow, a member of the Transit Advisory Board, and a North Minneapolis resident, said transit equity is not just about planning and development, but also implementation and the impact transit has on the communities that depend on transit options. She also warned transit developers that transit-dependent communities, including low-income communities and communities of color, must be at the table when it comes to building transit equity.

Louis King, the President and CEO of Summit Academy OIC and a panelist, added that equitable and comprehensive transit development has the potential to be “our own new deal” for transit-dependent communities.

Larry Hanley, President of the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) and one of the keynote presenters, spoke to the crowd about his own experience in organizing transit riders in Staten Island for more busses, more routes, and a better bus schedule. He urged a partnership between union members and transit riders saying “our workplace is how you get to yours.”

Community members also spoke up concerning their own transit-related worries, which included the allocation of transit dollars, creating “SMART” transit, how to build transit that connect where people work and live, using lessons learned from past transit projects, working to build and invest in transit that is accessible for disabled communities, and the ways in which Minnesota can actually develop and implement comprehensive transit planning.

Laura Torres, a staff member with Summit Academy OIC (a co-sponsoring organization) as well as a member of HireMN, is an East Side resident who attended the event out of concern for the safety of transit riders in the East Side, as well as an acknowledgement of the connection between transit development and job development.

Vaughn Larry, a transit-dependent person and community organizer with the Aurora St. Anthony Neighborhood Development Corporation, also attended Tuesday’s transit equity forum. He said, “What makes this meeting important is we need equity. We need the people who work on transit to know that we need better and more routes” and not just discussions of other modes of transportation, like street cars or LRT. Larry also says that safety, the risk of displacement for low-income communities, and the placement of transit lines are three of the most important issues facing the development of transit equity.

Overall, the forum was well-attended. Russ Adams, Executive Director of the Alliance for Metropolitan Stability, one of the organizations that co-sponsored the forum, said the purpose of the forum was to connect and coordinate many of the organizations working on transit and transit issues. Adams said, “If we’re going to be successful in moving a bill, a major investment in our future, in our infrastructure, we need everyone working in a coordinated fashion.”

Other panelists includes Greg LeRoy, the Executive Director with Good Jobs First; Andrew Austin, Executive Director of Americans for Transit; Dorothy Maki, Vice President of ATU Local 1005; Todd Pufahl, Political Director at the Laborers District Council of MN and North Dakota; Barb Thomas, Executive Director of Transit for Livable Communities; and Peggy Flanagan, a board member of the Native American Community Development Institute and Executive Director of the Children’s Defense Fund.