It’s an exciting time for Capital Metro. The transportation authority is launching its MetroRapid bus service next year, and is looking to play a role in urban rail if and when rail launches.
But there’s one large constituency that’s dependent on Cap Metro right now: the disabled. For Austinites seeking independence while living with a disability, public transportation makes perfect sense. But some people are saying that Cap Metro is making it unfairly difficult for some disabled individuals to get around.
MetroAccess is Cap Metro’s door-to-door service for people with disabilities. While individuals with minor to moderate handicaps can benefit from reduced fares on regular Cap Metro buses, people with more severe disabilities often need the additional assistance MetroAccess provides. For Austinites seeking this service, an assessment by a Cap Metro employee is required at the agency’s eligibility center downtown.
Colony Park resident Barbara Scott calls that process “an ordeal.” Her husband is a legally blind double amputee afflicted with what she calls “several other issues.” Scott describes receiving a questionnaire that she says needed to be filled out by several doctors. Then she and her husband had to go to the downtown office.
It was there her husband was asked to do a mock run on a scale-model bus replica. MetroAccess applicants are assessed on the severity of their disability and their ability (or inability) to travel to a stop then board a bus.
Along the office walls are pictures of potential destinations – including Wal-Mart, Wells Fargo and Whataburger – meant to assess a rider’s ability to register where they are and where they need to be.
Applicants are then asked to move across various surfaces. They’re taken to rectangular representations of different ground surfaces – gravel, turf, and rubber mulch – to test for stability. In the last room sits the Cap Metro bus where Barbara Scott’s husband was asked to get on and off using the ramp laid out for applicants.
Currently, the eligibility center is located at 323 Congress Ave., but Cap Metro plans to open their new location on Ninth Street and Lavaca in late September. It says it will improve the process for people with disabilities trying to get a MetroAccess card.
Disability advocates say it is nearly impossible for some people to get downtown. Instead, they want to see bimonthly or quarterly outreach events in different parts of Austin where the disabled can apply for their card.
Cap Metro says that’s a non-starter, since they can’t transport the prop bus used in the functional assessment. Instead, they offer free transport to the downtown office for applicants who cannot find transportation otherwise.
“Location has nothing to do with 21st century Austin,” argues Mary Rudig with the North Austin Coalition of Neighborhoods. Ideally, she says, Travis County health clinics could determine disability status for Cap Metro – and there would be no need for the eligibility center and the two-week-plus wait for applicants to receive their MetroAccess card.
Cap Metro says that other than the change in location of their office, it is not making any changes to the current process. They hope to eventually get the wait for applicants down to less than two weeks.