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”

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 feedback@capmetro.org or call the GO Line, 512.474.1200.

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!”