Building on its status as a public service both in the city of Austin, Texas as well as the state, Capital Metro staff recently were involved in the Hurricane Harvey rescue efforts for people in a medical facility in Corpus Christi.
“Within an hour-and-a-half of getting a request for aid, we were able to send five of our paratransit vehicles with staff out to Corpus Christi to move 10 people in wheelchairs from their medical facility in Corpus Christi to a shelter in San Antonio,” explained Chad Ballentine, VP, demand response and innovative mobility, for Captial Metro.
Ballentine added that the response from Capital Metro staff was a big part of the success of the rescue efforts.
“It was great because a lot of the drivers had shifts the next day, but a lot of them were ready to volunteer, and all of the operations folks were ready to pitch in even though they had already worked that day and it was clear this would be an overnight operation,” he said. “I was shocked and amazed, really. Everybody here has really been itching to pitch in and find a way to help since this all started.”
Capital Metro Communications Specialist Mariette Hummel said that is just part of the agency’s year-round services they provide to those in need. Dubbed Comfort Buses, she explained that the agency will often send out buses to assist those in need in the community during instances such as fires, as well as throughout the state should help be requested.
Hummel and Ballentine also added that Capital Metro’s Hurricane Harvey efforts are not over, with the agency remaining prepared as the hurricane continued to move throughout the region. In addition, both Capital Metro and Dallas Area Rapid Transit have reached out to Houston METRO and offered assistance, if needed.
“They are going to consolidate the shelters here in Austin into one mega-shelter in the next few days, so we are ready to send buses to help transport people to those shelters, or when local or state agencies request assistance,” said Hummel. “We will also be doing outreach at the shelters here in Austin and handing out free seven-day bus passes, as well as teaching them how to get to basic services they may need, such as to attain medical services or buy groceries.”
Ballentine added that his department will also be qualifying evacuees for free paratransit services for up to four months, while they try to get situated in Austin, or until they can return home.
As for those 10 wheelchair passengers rescued from the medical facility in Corpus Christi, Ballentine added that they and 20 more passengers were transported from San Antonio back to Corpus Christi on Thursday morning.
“There was minimal damage to their facility, so those 10 folks were able to return, which is great news,” said Ballentine. “As they began their trip home everybody was sort of nervous and edge because they didn’t know what to expect. It was really an emotional time for everyone, including our drivers.”
All photos courtesy Capital Metro.