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CapMetro expanding free rides to cooling centers after calls from homeless advocates

CapMetro previously said it would offer free rides to cooling centers when a heat advisory – typically 103 degrees or higher – was activated.

AUSTIN, Texas — Editor's note: The above video was published on Aug. 11.

Capital Metro now says it will offer free rides to cooling centers until Sept. 30, regardless of whether an active heat advisory or excessive heat warning is in place.

Back on Aug. 11, CapMetro changed its policy about transportation to cooling centers, saying it would offer free rides when a heat advisory – typically 103 degrees or higher – was activated within its service area. According to a report from the Austin Chronicle, heat advisories previously went into effect at 105 degrees.

On Aug. 18, CapMetro further amended its policy, saying "after extensive conversation with members of our community," it will now provide free rides to cooling centers through the end of September, no matter what.

CapMetro said customers must inform the bus operator when boarding that they are going to a cooling center, and anyone who informs an operator they are traveling to a cooling center can ride without fare if they can't afford to pay.

This latest update from CapMetro comes as homeless advocates have pushed for the transit agency to provide free bus fare for all throughout August and September and to work to create a permanent free fares program for people experiencing homelessness in Austin.

A group of advocates is set to deliver a petition with more than 1,000 signatures to CapMetro's headquarters on East Fifth Street on Thursday afternoon, according to a press release sent to KVUE.

The group, which includes members of the Texas Harm Reduction Alliance, said the petition originated after unhoused Austinites raised concerns about the dangers of recent temperatures and their "inability to access transit to reach cooling centers, medical appointments, social services, food pantries and more." 

The Texas Harm Reduction Alliance sent a letter to CapMetro board members on July 25, outlining "the agency’s failures to serve and protect unhoused Austinites."

The group of advocates said despite CapMetro's Aug. 18 update, organizers will continue to call for assurances that the transit agency will do more to ensure its cooling center policy is fully implemented and to better their efforts to inform the community about policy changes. 

"Activists will also double down on their demand that CapMetro commit to create a permanent free-fares program for unhoused Austinites – to protect and support those unhoused during all seasons," the Texas Harm Reduction Alliance said.

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