Free rides for homeless: CapMetro urged to provide free bus fare for unhoused Austinites

Community members and organizations gathered at the CapMetro board meeting Monday afternoon to urge for free fares for the homeless.

"For the last couple of months, we've been fighting to win free bus fare for unhoused Austinites," said Paulette Soltani, Texas Harm Reduction Alliance.

Dozens of people filed into the CapMetro meeting to urge the board to enact free fares for the homeless community. It was one of the largest turnouts seen at a board meeting.

"This is such an important issue for people because people need to get to their doctor's appointments, to their social service providers. It's really part of the solution to ending homelessness," said Soltani.

Barry Jones has been homeless in Austin for almost eight years. He says it was important for him to show up to this meeting to show the board firsthand how important a free bus ride could be.

"In my experience, when I didn't have access to metro services, it was almost impossible to live. If you don't give the homeless a path, a meaningful path out of homelessness, you're going to get more and more people falling into homelessness and staying there," said Jones.

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CapMetro is currently offering free rides to cooling centers to the homeless community until Sept. 30. Community members hope this push makes that permanent.

While the majority in attendance of the meeting were for free fares, the topic of safety was brought up.

"My concern is the safety of my operators. My concern is also the safety of the public that they carry. These operators have to concentrate on driving these units and making sure that they can get people safely to point A and point B, so I'm glad the Capitol Metro board is engaging with this conversation, but we need to make sure we do not leave out the safety," said Brent Payne, ATU President.

In the end, the board agreed to move forward to creating a permanent solution.

"CapMetro is not dependent upon homeless individuals to fund our system. [Free fares are] something that needs to happen so that people can get access to free bus passes, and it needs to happen quickly," said Ann Kitchen, board member.

The CapMetro board plans to discuss this topic more at their next meeting in September.