The Transit Empowerment Fund was established in 2011 through a partnership between Capital Metro, Austin’s regional public transportation provider, and One Voice Central Texas, a coalition of more than 100 health and human service nonprofit organizations. The goal was to address the impact of rising public transit fare costs on low-income individuals. Capital Metro contributed $250,000 in seed funding in 2012 and in 2013, they increased their annual contribution to $350,000. An independent volunteer board representing nonprofit agencies, the business community, and Capital Metro oversees the work of the Fund.
Since 2012, the Fund has distributed Capital Metro transit passes to local nonprofits for use by their clients. This has resulted in more than 7 million rides.
In 2016, the Fund began offering microgrants that are designed to provide additional opportunities to meet the mission of enhancing access to transportation for low-income, transit-dependent individuals in the Austin area. They can be used to support an event or short-term innovative project that advances the TEF mission by assisting individuals access education, employment, healthcare, or social services.
Additionally, the Transit Empowerment Fund Board has funded the following demonstration projects to expand transit services in underserved areas:
- In 2013, the Fund invested in a demonstration project that provides transportation to clients of AVANCE living in Far Northeast Austin and Del Valle in order to access Parent-Child Education programs. This program provided transportation for 70 clients at a cost that was lower than the provision of special transit services. The program was such a success that the Manor and Del Valle Independent School Districts are working with AVANCE to continue the services.
- In 2014, the Fund partnered with AGE of Central Texas to identify gaps and resources, and create a plan to address the transportation needs of older adults in the Austin area. The report was completed in February 2015 and is guiding the future work of the Board to expand transportation access for seniors in our community.
- In 2017, the Fund provided a grant to Ride Austin, a local app-based, on-demand transportation service. This grant allowed the non-profit rideshare organization to partner with Community Care Collaborative for a pilot program in which those without the means to pay for healthcare are able to request no-cost rides medical appointments or pharmacies within the Collaborative’s network.
- Also in 2017, the Fund awarded the Housing Authority of the City of Austin funds intended to expand and enhance the impact of its Smart Work, Learn Play-Mobility Equity Program. With the funds, the program was able double the number of residents served and add supplemental transportation literacy classes to its offerings.
- In 2019, the Fund awarded United Way for Greater Austin a planning grant to explore and create collaborative and innovative transportation solutions for food-serving nonprofits. This included planning for a centralized hub.
- In 2020, the Fund awarded Equidad Express/Live Well Vive Bien a demonstration project grant to create a mobile ecosystem to coordinate access to services in underserved communities in the Eastern Cresent. Services included prepackaged meals, culturally appropriate food, diet-sensitive foods, and hygiene products delivered by buses.
- In 2020, the Fund awarded Sendaride/United Way support for medical rides for five local nonprofit organizations: United Way for Greater Austin, Senior Access, Meals on Wheels, Family Eldercare, and WellMed.