MetroAccess Drivers Making a Difference

One of the ways Capital Metro ensures that our system is accessible is by providing paratransit—parallel service—for those in our community whose physical or cognitive abilities limit functional use of our fixed route bus system. It works like this: once a person is enrolled in the program (information from the customer and a qualified professional, such as a doctor or caseworker, help us determine eligibility for the program), he can schedule trips on the Internet or by phone.  MetroAccess will pick him up and drop him off at his destination. It costs customers $35 per month for unlimited rides with a monthly pass.

Tito Hernandez, left, and Ted Ward are both working on their 20th year of driving for MetroAccess.

MetroAccess drivers collectively make about 2,000 trips each day. Two of those drivers are Ted Ward and Tito Hernandez. They both began working at Capital Metro in 1991. When I met with them last week, neither of them was aware that Monday was the 20th anniversary of the ADA. In a way, they’re celebrating the ADA everyday in the course of their jobs. Ted says, “MetroAccess is a great system because people can get around—go to the theaters, dinners on Friday nights—just like everyone else.” That’s the spirit of the ADA, equal access.

Tito and Ted recounted many stories of customers who left a lasting, positive impression on them about living a positive life and having a grateful heart. Once, a customer and her five-year old daughter were riding in Ted’s van, and when they reached their destination, the daughter kissed his cheek and said, “Thanks for taking care of us.” Continue reading “MetroAccess Drivers Making a Difference”

MetroRail gets nod from Austin Access Awards

Tomorrow, the Austin City Council will commemorate the 20th anniversary of the ADA by presenting a proclamation to the Austin Mayor’s Committee for People with Disabilities. This proclamation will recognize several local businesses (including Capital Metro) for their accessibility, welcoming attitude and spirit of the ADA.

The winners include Austin Community College South Austin Campus, Barton Creek Mall Customer Service, and Westgate Regal Theater II.

Capital MetroRail is receiving an Honorable Mention award for its station and vehicle accessibility. Some of the accessibility features of MetroRail include:

  • Station ramps and low-floor boarding
  • Station announcements are both audible and displayed visually
  • Braille signage on station platforms and ticket vending machines
  • Raised, textured border strip alerts passengers they are near the station platform edge.
  • Ticket vending machines are fully accessible by people in wheelchairs, and include visual (English and Spanish), audible (English and Spanish) and Braille information.

The presentation will begin around 5:30 tomorrow in City Hall Council Chambers. You can also watch live on Channel 6.

Mobility Training helps people be more independent, feel confident on the bus

Anna and Vivian at Harry Ransom Center
Anna Meisel and Vivian Picow arrive at the Harry Ransom Center after taking 1L/1M to UT Campus.

Austinite and Capital Metro rider Anna Meisel has expanded her transportation options over the past few months thanks to Capital Metro’s free mobility training program.

Every Thursday, Anna meets with Transportation Travel Trainer Vivian Picow for one-on-one training that has helped Anna become a confident bus rider to get to several places she enjoys for errands and entertainment.

Anna had been exclusively riding MetroAccess, and while she likes the convenience of getting picked up from home, she wanted to have the flexibility of coming and going whenever she wanted instead of being tied to a schedule. She says, “When you have a bus come directly to your door, of course it’s convenient, but you have to schedule it and everything. I want to be more spontaneous.”

After a few months of training, Anna has mastered the bus to get to the Arbor Cinema, the grocery store and post office, Harry Ransom Center, Blanton Museum of Art, and the dentist. When I met up with her and Vivian at North Lamar Transit Center, Anna whizzed onboard the bus and “parallel parked” her wheelchair without a second thought; but, it didn’t start out that easy. Continue reading “Mobility Training helps people be more independent, feel confident on the bus”

Happy Anniversary, ADA!

The following was written by community activist and retired Capital Metro employee Nancy Crowther. Read more from Nancy in today’s Austin American-Statesman.

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Once upon a time in America there was a wee little community of people with disabilities.  They were called “the handicapped.”

The phrase ‘handicapped” actually comes from a law passed in England in 1504 whereby only wounded solders could be on street corners to beg. They would often tip their hat from their uniform. They came to be known as “handy-cappers.” And so goes the phrase’s origin. Not the best of images but the label was used for people who had “something’ wrong with them.”   I actually thought, as I was growing up, that the only sports people with “handicaps” could play were golf, horse racing and bowling. I led a sheltered life.  I now find the h-word offensive.  I am one of “those” people.

I was taken to school by my father in the station wagon because there were no wheelchair lifts on the school buses. In junior high, still no lifts on buses or accommodations to help me get to school, my father, retired Army Lt. Col., arranged transportation through the US Army base at Fort Hood. I had an ambulance ride to school. Yup, a real-live ambulance with flashing lights so everyone knew when I arrived and left school, every day. That did a job on my social life! It worked!  Got me to school! Continue reading “Happy Anniversary, ADA!”

We Will Ride!

It’s hard to believe that buses didn’t always have wheelchair lifts, but even as late as the last decade, you couldn’t be assured you’d be able to board the bus if you were on wheels. A key victory for mobility advocates was the provision in the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 that mandated that transit authorities have wheelchair lifts on 100 percent of their fleet.

Monday, July 26, commemorates the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act. This sweeping, monumental legislation created greater opportunities and equal access to services for all people. It forever changed for the better how transit authorities do business and paved the way for greater mobility for all people.

To celebrate, we’ll be talking accessibility all week next week on Capital MetroBlog, beginning on Monday with a guest blog by community advocate and retired Capital Metro Accessible Transportation Specialist Nancy Crowther.

Nancy’s lifelong advocacy for accessible transportation (including 20+ years at Capital Metro) tells the story of the evolution of the Americans with Disabilities Act and of Capital Metro’s development into a transit system accessible to everyone.

It wasn’t always that way. Continue reading “We Will Ride!”

Better Ways to Reach Out

I will be the first to admit that public transit is less than intuitive. Timetables and routes and zones and fare structures are less than intuitive. And the harder it is to use something (like public transit or your cell phone’s latest features) the less likely people are to use it. In our business of public transit we are aware of the many barriers to using our system on a daily basis (despite what it may seem like from the outside). Working in the technology group there are however only so many of those barriers that we can address directly (much as I would like to I cannot make the buses come more often). But what we can do is try to make the effort to get information about the system as easy as possible. The theory being that as we knock down barriers to using public transit, more people will want to use it. In that vein, I came across a fascinating article about a little town right here in our neighborhood that has gone off and done something useful in a very ingenious way. While the connection to public transit may not be obvious, let me explain…

Out friends to the south in San Antonio did something smart about 10 years back by putting a unique number on every bus stop in their town. With that number, when someone calls into their phone system or when they visit their website they are able to access information specific to their bus stop simply by referencing the unique number at their stop. This makes it way easier to ask for the next bus to arrive at stop #5413 than to have to describe the bus stop (the one just north of 5th and Congress on the um I think it is the west side of the street… hold on a minute and let me ask someone which side of the street we are on…). This type of short hand is very useful for lowing the barrier to bus and train information. 

Realizing the advantage of this type of shorthand to reference points of interest within the Capital Metro world we have begun the long process of putting unique bus stop numbers at each of our stops as we roll out new signs (the problem with getting this done quickly is that we have to modify 3100+ bus stops and transit centers with a precise piece of information that can’t be in error). As we start to get this numeric shorthand in place you will see us roll out the new ability to get stop specific information from our web and IVR systems in this way.

What is exciting about the Manor experiment is that they have taken this concept of a simple reference link to a much deeper source of information and they have proven it can be done for a small amount of money and they have shown that a lot more information can be compressed into a relatively small space. The new form of short hand (in their case a QR code) can be used to convey much more information than a simple 4 or 5 digit number. Of course the hurdle now becomes getting people familiar with a new way of accessing information, but as camera phones become more popular this problem may be solved by other people. (To understand what the city of Manor did and to understand this new way of compressing more information please read the associated article here.)

And for those of you that would like to try this out, I have included a QR code jump below to e-mail me your thoughts. (If you need help deciphering this strange beast, read the article above. If that doesn’t work then post a comment on this blog and I will show you how to take advantage of these hieroglyphics.) As always, I would love to hear what you think on this topic and where you think shortcuts like these could best be used in our system.

MetroAccess makes a special holiday delivery in one of its shiny new "sleighs"

One of Capital MetroAccess’ brand new paratransit vehicles left the Capital Metro parking lot this morning for its first public outing and a very special holiday delivery to 49 Central Texans.


It’s not pulled by reindeer, but it was laden with gifts, and even Santa would be impressed by the roomy interior of the new MetroAccess vehicle.

The bus was loaded with care packages for clients of a local nonprofit, H.A.N.D (Helping the Aging, Needy and Disabled) of Austin. Capital MetroAccess staff adopted ten of H.A.N.D.’s clients, and gathered up gift baskets of personal care items, household goods, food, etc. Some talented MetroAccess staff members even crocheted scarves for the recipients. In addition to the ten we adopted, the MetroAccess “elves” helped H.A.N.D. by delivering baskets for another 38 of H.A.N.D.’s clients.

MetroAccess “elves” show off the gift baskets and the roomy interior of the new MetroAccess vehicle.

Earlier this year, Capital Metro purchased 47 new paratransit vehicles to replace older models that have outlived their useful lives. A handful of the new vehicles will go into service the first week of January, and all of the vehicles will be on the streets by February.

Some of the amenities of the new bus include a slew of safety features, more passenger comforts like a smooth ride suspension and a quieter engine, a larger seating capacity, and room for service animals underneath each seat.

The Facts on Bus Stop Accessibility

There seems to be some confusion out there about bus stop accessibility. On Fox-7 last night, it was suggested that Capital Metro is only going to spend half as much money as we used to on upgrading bus stops. Let’s set the record straight.

This year Capital Metro has budgeted and spent about $1 million on bus stop improvements. In each of the previous four years we spent about $750,000 per year. We are currently in the process of developing our budget for fiscal year 2009 which begins in October. In May our staff presented an aggressive bus stop improvement plan to our Board of Directors. If the Board decides to move in this direction, we would spend an additional $3 million per year (or a total of $4 million per year) over the next five years to improve bus stops.

There also was some confusion in the story about when existing bus stops must comply with the newest federal regulations. Again, let’s set the record straight:

According to the November 2006 federal regulation update, “…an existing facility that complies with the old standards does not have to be retrofitted to comply with the new standards. Of course, any future alteration to an existing facility would have to comply with the new standards.” You can read the whole thing by clicking here.

The bottom line is that we’re not required to upgrade existing stops to the new regulations unless we are making any alterations to the stops. But Capital Metro wants to move forward anyway and bring every stop up to the new standards to provide the best possible service to all of our customers.