Providers for the homeless are scrambling to find a compromise with the Fort Worth Transportation Authority after the transit agency announced its plan to cut free and reduced-cost bus passes.
Homeless residents can’t look for a job, go to the job or go to the doctor without transportation, and some of them are afraid their main link to getting off the streets is drying up.
Most use bus passes through a program known as Fare Aid, a free and reduced-cost pass program the Fort Worth Transportation Authority offers to about 140 agencies in Fort Worth. But The T has announced it will stop offering that program in October 2015.
The T is under pressure from city, state and regional leaders to expand ridership and routes and to build big projects such as the proposed TEX Rail commuter line from downtown Fort Worth to Grapevine and Dallas/Fort Worth Airport. To do that, officials say they need more money. The T spent about $300,000 on the Fare Aid program last year.
“They say it is about the money, and I get that,” said Cindy Crain, director of the Tarrant County Homeless Coalition. But she said more problems will crop up if already-strapped providers for the homeless can’t find the money to buy the passes or find another solution.
Among the new problems Crain predicted: more panhandling, more homeless people walking downtown and through south Fort Worth to get to services and hospitals, and more calls to MedStar when there is no other way to get to the hospital.
“People have to survive. They aren’t just going to sit in the shelters,” Crain said. “And if everyone starts walking around and using MedStar more, that doesn’t affect the T. It is just pushing a new problem to someone else’s responsibility.”
Joan Hunter, spokeswoman for The T, said the program started in 1990, assisting 13 agencies with $40,000.
“We are a public transit agency and not a social services agency, and this was limiting our ability to operate our services,” she said.
Crain is reaching out to other cities to find solutions.
Houston operates a circulator route for the homeless. Called “ Project Access,” the free bus route specifically for the homeless gets people to and from essential services such as healthcare, shelters and social services.
Hunter, who said The T is looking at potential new routes in the master planning process, said if any of the homeless’ needs are under-served, they would be considered in creating new routes. But she said the agencies would still have to pay for the passes.
For Donna Wesley, who became homeless in May because of an inability to get to work, free bus passes were vital to finding her new job.
“I was able to get some bus passes so I could start a job search again, and that has been a blessing to me to be able to get back into the workforce and get on my feet,” Wesley said.
Other homeless residents at a transportation workshop Friday brought up existing concerns such as the limited hours the buses run, a scarcity of passes as it is and a lack of routes that take the homeless to the far north, where manufacturing jobs are.
“If you asked me what was most important in my life, I would probably not think about transportation as the first thing. I would think about my baby, and going to my doctor appointments, my housing, my job, my family,” said Rebecca Cox, deputy director of the Tarrant County Housing Coalition.
“But I would lose them all if I lost my car and you didn’t give me another means of transportation — to get my kids to the school, to get to my maternity appointments, to get to my job.”
Crain said they plan to share the comments from the homeless during Friday’s workshop with City Council members and The T board members.
“We want the input of the persons who are directly impacted by this policy decision, not just the policy makers’ vision of what the problem is,” Crain said.
This report includes information from Star-Telegram archives.