Breaking down barriers in public transportation
In her new role, Elvira Méndez will work to strengthen SEPTA's relationship with the Philadelphia region's Hispanic community.
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Elvira Méndez knows what it's like to feel lost in a new place.
A well-traveled immigrant from Spain, Méndez lived in a number of different cities in the U.S. and Europe before settling in Philadelphia about nine years ago. She knows firsthand the challenges members of immigrant communities face in using public transportation.
“I know how it feels to arrive in a country where you don’t speak the language or you don’t understand the logistics,” Méndez said.
It's one of the reasons why Méndez is thrilled to join the Public and Government Affairs Division at SEPTA as the Multilingual Constituent and Community Relations Coordinator, serving the Philadelphia region’s growing Hispanic community.
In 2015, Méndez began her career with SEPTA in the company’s Customer Service and Advocacy Division, where she served as Outreach Coordinator for English as a Second Language (ESL) Communities. In this role, Méndez worked to enhance SEPTA's understanding of the transit needs of these communities through numerous outreach initiatives. She built relationships with stakeholders, including business owners and government representatives. She went to schools to teach children about public transportation safety and visited senior centers to help residents better understand the system.
In her new position, Méndez will expand and increase these efforts, strengthening existing relationships and broadening SEPTA's message to the region's Hispanic community.
"This is a natural fit for Ms. Méndez, who brings such passion to our diverse group of riders," said Fran Kelly, Assistant General Manager of SEPTA. "She is innovative and creative and we look forward to her implementing and leading even more programs for our communities."
Méndez said she and her colleagues at SEPTA are working on a "robust plan" to enhance collaboration with the Hispanic community. One aspect of this plan will involve working closely with Hispanic media outlets to ensure important messages from SEPTA are available in Spanish.
Kelly said it’s a priority for Jeffrey D. Knueppel, who became SEPTA’s General Manager in 2015, to break down any barriers that exist between the transportation authority and the region’s Spanish-first residents,
“The last thing we want is people not using the system in this community because they might not understand things,” Kelly said. “When people don’t understand, they’re afraid. We don’t want people to be afraid.”
While aiming to increase ridership, Méndez will also continue advancing SEPTA’s commitment to build a more diverse workforce. She said plans are underway to work with Latino-serving institutions to enhance SEPTA's recruitment from the region’s Hispanic community to fill positions at all levels of employment. Currently, less than four percent of SEPTA’s workforce is Hispanic.
Méndez received this year's Women of Excellence Award from SEPTA's Women in Transit. Before beginning her career with SEPTA, Méndez managed content for Latin American TV stations. She earned her degree in linguistics from the University of Santiago de Compostela in Spain. She speaks five languages.
Since settling in Philadelphia, Méndez has come to recognize the area's Hispanic community as a "driving force," advancing many positive changes throughout the region, including the business sector. It's a community she's proud to serve, and she does not underestimate how crucial access to public transportation is: the farther a person can travel, she said, the more opportunities they can pursue.
“I want to help the community feel comfortable with public transportation,” Méndez said. “It makes a difference in people’s lives.”