Advocates call for free Cap Metro fares for homeless Austin

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Wednesday, July 27, 2022 by Samuel Stark

On Monday, the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s board of directors unanimously approved the implementation of a new system called Equifare that caps the amount passengers pay for fares and offers lower fares to low-income people. revenue. But ahead of the board vote, some Austinites expressed concern that the reduced fares don’t go far enough to help Austin’s homeless.

“The vast majority of our homeless neighbors have no income and rely on buses for transportation,” said Emily Seales, a social worker at Sunrise Homeless Navigation Center. “With no income, or with extremely limited income, homeless people depend on organizations, many of which are small nonprofits and faith-based organizations, for local bus passes.”

The new system allows riders to use a smartphone app or the new Amp Card to pay Capital Metro fares. Once implemented, passengers will stop being charged once they reach the equivalent amount for a day pass, currently $2.50.

The Equifare fare, for a low-income passenger, offers 20% off the standard fare: $1 instead of $1.25 for a one-way ticket and $33 instead of $41.25 for a monthly pass .

To access the program, a customer must apply online or at a transit store and meet the eligibility requirements of earning 200% of the federal poverty line – $27,180 per year for a one-person household. Capital Metro has based its eligibility criteria on other community assistance programs, such as SNAP Food Benefits.

“I expressed my appreciation that this is a step in the right direction, but a small step and not enough for the most vulnerable in our community. The same charges will continue. Homeless people will not have the funds to load Amp cards and understaffed or volunteer-led groups, who are already overstretched, will be asked to step in and carry more weight,” Seales said.

“We urgently ask that you work with us and many others who are asking for free fares to roll out a free fares program for homeless people,” said Paulette Soltani, organizing director of Texas Harm Reduction Alliance. .

Some Capital Metro board members said they heard the speakers’ concerns and promised the team behind the new fare system would work with their groups through ongoing community outreach efforts.

“We absolutely hear the concerns and want to make sure people are able to get the transportation they need,” said Dottie Watkins, interim president and CEO of Capital Metro.

Other board members acknowledged the problems faced by homeless people, but raised the issue of passenger fares as a source of revenue, saying Capital Metro still aspires to receive 20% of its revenue from passenger fares.

“During my time on the board, I don’t think we’ve ever hit 10%…maybe 8% on a good day,” Capital Metro board member Wade Cooper said.

“As we think about tariffs, and especially with the public’s call to do more things for free or with less money, we need to be both realistic about what we can and cannot do,” Cooper added.

“I think this is a full and open discussion about who the neediest among us are, what we can do for them, what it would cost us, and what the trade-offs would be,” Ann said. Kitchen, board member. Vice-Chairman of the Board of Directors of Capital Metro.

Although the new tariff system has been approved by the board, it will not be fully implemented until early 2023. The study team will conduct an internal and external pilot initiative over the next few months and continue engagement community throughout the process.

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