Cap Metro extends free rides to chill centers. Austinite homeless advocates are pushing for more.

Photo by Karina Lujan/KUT

Thursday, August 11, 2022 by Skye Seipp, KUT

The Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority said Tuesday it will provide free rides to cooling centers on days when a heat advisory is in effect — which is usually when the temperature hits 103 degrees or higher.

Previously, the transit agency offered free rides on days when the temperature was expected to be 105.

Homeless advocates say the change doesn’t solve the problem. They had pushed the agency to offer free rides in August and September to help people escape the heat.

Barry Jones, a member of the nonprofit Texas Harm Reduction Alliance, said heat is a public health issue for an already vulnerable population.

“I’d love to say I’m glad they lowered it, but really it’s not going to get it,” said Jones, who has been homeless for eight years. “You’re still putting people at risk by having them walk around in this heat, even up to 103. Two degrees isn’t that significant.”

Capital Metro communications specialist Blythe Nebeker said the agency had not waived fares for all rides because it was “unable” to do so. She also said it was “operationally impossible” to offer free rides on an individual basis to homeless people.

“We understand that the purpose of the requests is to help those who need it most and are confident that expanding eligibility for days with a heat advisory will reach a wider group of people in need without creating a additional burden on these organizations to distribute passes,” Nebeker said in an email. “We also believe this approach will go beyond homeless people to those who simply need a cool place because they don’t have access to air conditioning.”

To get a free ride, passengers must ask the conductor or conductor to take them to a cooling center when boarding.

Jones said THRA is meeting with the head of Capital Metro next week and will continue to push for free fares. A THRA petition collected more than 570 signatures on Tuesday.

Paulette Soltani, THRA’s organizing director, said one problem with the free service linked to a heat advisory is that some days you don’t get called despite temperatures hitting 103.

She also said homeless people were often unable to move around for free, even on days when an excessive heat warning was in place.

Nebeker said Capital Metro is working to ensure all operators are aware of the updated policy and will not refuse a ride or pass a stop where someone is trying to get on.

Soltani said many people in the community are not even aware of the program.

“We’re asking for free rides because the heat is killing people,” she said. “We are experiencing the hottest summer we have ever experienced. We need our transit agency to step in and help people in these dangerous conditions. »

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