Check out the MetroAccess Eligibility & Mobility Training Center this week

We’ve been re-configuring the offices behind the Transit Store downtown into a great training facility in conjunction with a planned new eligibility process for MetroAccess. The new process will kick in on Nov. 17, and TODAY you can come learn more about it and tour the new  MetroAccess Eligibility & Mobility Training Center at an open house, from 3-6 p.m. A second open house takes place this Thursday, Nov. 10, same time and place.

As the new four-step eligibility process will include a functional assessment for some customers, a significant portion of the new training center has been transformed to simulate various environmental conditions that would be faced by an individual trying to use Capital Metro. You may have heard about the indoor training bus, for example, but there is also a simulated bus stop.

In addition to their use determining a person’s eligibility for MetroAccess, the new tools provide us a terrific opportunity to train groups of people how to ride Capital Metro, from planning a trip, finding the bus stop, and boarding the bus and paying the fare.

We hope to see you at one of the events this week. Here’s a video overview regarding the new eligibility process for MetroAccess:

MetroAccess: Change is good

“You can’t expect to meet the challenges of today with yesterday’s tools and expect to be in business tomorrow.” 

That famous (but unattributed) quote is what I thought of when our MetroAccess staff gave a progress report to our operations and planning committee this month.

We have been systematically reinventing the service over the past two years, and the progress report showed dramatic improvements in terms of cost savings, consistency and quality of service. The biggest indicator is the improvement in our customer service metrics, which have been mostly exemplary for the past few months.

There’s one major change on the horizon, a new eligibility process, which will be implemented in November of this year. Here’s a video preview of that change:

I’ll go through all the changes and the compelling results in a moment, but first, a quick refresher on the service itself. MetroAccess is an on-demand, shared-ride, door-to-door service for people with disabilities who are unable to ride the fixed-route bus system. In the industry it’s called “paratransit” because it is a parallel service to the bus system.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires paratransit within ¾ of a mile of regular local bus routes. It’s also important to note that the existence of a disability does not qualify someone for this service. It’s how a disability affects your ability to use the fixed route bus system that determines eligibility.

Here’s a look at the changes and progress: Continue reading “MetroAccess: Change is good”

A bus in an office

Krystal maneuvers into the wheelchair seating on the mock bus.
Krystal is the first customer to practice boarding using Capital Metro's new "mock bus"--a full-size section of a real Capital Metro bus, installed at the downtown facilitly on Congress Ave.

MetroAccess rider (and future MetroBus rider) Krystal Cates is thrilled to be a new resident of Austin. Two months ago, she moved here from Liberty Hill to have better job and transportation access. She’s still on the lookout for a great job, but she’s loving the transportation choices she has now.

In Liberty Hill, Krystal had limited, one-day-a-week access to CARTS, but as a MetroAccess customer, she can schedule door-to-door rides to anywhere in the service area–already a big improvement. But, Krystal wants to amp up her choices and flexibility even more by learning to ride MetroBus.

“My preferred mode of transportation will most definitely be the bus,” she said, “because there’s just so much more freedom with the bus.”

Capital Metro's new training bus has a farebox and working lights and wheelchair lift to simulate an acutal boarding experience. The training tool will be used during the MetroAccess eligibility process and anytime a person wants to practice how to board and ride Capital Metro.

But first she needs a bit of orientation and mobility training to get familiar with the bus system, the routes, how to board and how to ride. Krystal’s the first MetroAccess customer to benefit from our brand new “mock bus”–a section of a real Capital Metro bus, installed inside Capital Metro’s downtown facility on Congress Ave. The mock bus has a farebox, working lights and wheelchair lift to simulate a real boarding experience.

Krystal Cates and Vivian Picow
Krystal and Vivian on the training bus.

The mock bus provides a safe environment for people to get familiar with and practice all aspects of boarding the bus, including maneuvering into the wheelchair securement area. Capital Metro’s travel trainer and certified orientation and mobility specialist Vivian Picow will work with interested customers one-on-one or in a group setting to overcome challenges to riding public transportation. Continue reading “A bus in an office”

Blue Santa Delivery

A MetroAccess van stuffed with Blue Santa boxes, ready for delivery to 17 families.

A group of Capital Metro employees helped Santa deliver gifts this weekend. Blue Santa, that is. Operation Blue Santa made deliveries to thousands of homes this weekend, and a Capital MetroAccess van became Santa’s sleigh for 17 deliveries.

This is the 6th year that a group of MetroAccess employees have helped bring some holiday cheer to local families by delivering food and gifts through the Blue Santa program. Continue reading “Blue Santa Delivery”

MetroAccess happenings

In September, the Capital Metro board approved several policy changes to the MetroAccess paratransit program that provides transportation to those who cannot use fixed-route transit due to their disabilities.

The policies will be phased in over time. The first policy to change will be the open return policy. Beginning Dec. 1, customers who need an open return for a medical appointment, jury duty, or out of town travel must provide an estimated return pick up time. Learn more.

Because we have made policy changes, Capital Metro is also undergoing a process to update our formal Americans with Disabilities Act Plan with the Federal Transit Administration, which outlines how we will provide paratransit service for our community and allows the FTA to ensure Capital Metro’s compliance with the ADA law. The actual draft plan is not quite ready for publication on the web yet, but to get a high-level overview of what is being proposed, view this presentation.

Capital Metro invites MetroAccess riders and the community to learn more about the ADA Plan changes at two public meetings. The community also has an opportunity to comment on the proposed ADA Plan amendments at a public hearing before the Capital Metro board.

Public Meetings

ACC South Austin Campus, 1820 W Stassney Lane
Monday, Nov. 29, 6-7:30 p.m.
Served by routes: 3, 311

Goodwill Community Center, 1015 Norwood Park Boulevard
Monday, Nov. 29, 6-7:30 p.m.
Served by route: 323

Public Hearing

Capital Metro, 2910 E 5th St
Wednesday, Dec. 8, Noon-1 p.m.
Capital Metro Headquarters, 2910 E. 5th Street
Served by routes: 17, 300

If you can’t attend a meeting, you are always welcome to submit input via email at or call the GO Line, 512.474.1200.

Tough decisions, in their own words

Have you seen the agenda for Friday’s board meeting?  It’s packed!  Every board vote is important, but the three that have understandably generated the most feedback are the FY2011 budget, MetroAccess policy changes, and the January 2010 service changes.

Many people spoke very passionately at public hearings for all three issues in the last few days.  People expressed their worries about how these proposed changes and budget decisions will affect them.

Originally I was going to blog about how these are difficult decisions, etc.  But I think our board chair, Mayor Pro Tem Mike Martinez, summed it up really well at the end of yesterday’s budget public hearing, with an additional comment from Vice Chair John Langmore.  So here it is in their own words (with transcript pasted below the video clip along with additional comments from today’s Finance/Audit Committee meeting):

Continue reading “Tough decisions, in their own words”

Meetings, Meetings, Meetings

This week is an important one for Capital Metro riders, as several big transit decisions hang in the balance and will be discussed at public meetings this week. The topics at hand: January 2011 service changes, MetroAccess policy changes, and Capital Metro’s fiscal year 2011 budget. We had three meetings last night, and another eight scheduled the rest of this week and early next. Whew.

I know, you’ve told us before, the public meetings are lame. Who has time for another meeting during the day? In truth, we will likely always host a public meeting or two, plus of course a public hearing, on each major decision/issue, simply because it ensures equal public access.  But we’re trying some new things that we think are big improvements to the overall public outreach process for various transit decisions.

For example, this week we’re hosting our first ever online meeting about the FY2011 budget. It’s over the lunch hour on Thursday, and once you register for the meeting, all you need to do is login to the meeting from your computer. No hassles with travel to/from the meeting, parking, etc. I hope you’ll check it out and let us know if this is a format you’d like to see again.

Continue reading “Meetings, Meetings, Meetings”

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”

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”

MetroAccess drivers ready to show their skills

Good morning! I’m on site at the Leander Park & Ride for the 2009 Capital Metro Bus & Paratransit Roadeo.

First up this morning is the MetroAccess van competition. Six drivers will be competing, beginning at 8 a.m.
MetroAccess Van Operator George Guerra, with his game face on.

This is George’s second year to compete in the roadeo. Last year, he won the Customer Service Challenge. He’s hoping to win the overall competition this year so he can advance to the next level. He’s been a MetroAccess van operator for the past four years. Good luck, George!