AUSTIN, Texas—When Austin’s Capital Metro noticed a decline in ride requests for its MetroAccess paratransit service for riders with disabilities, many of whom were sheltering in place amid the pandemic, operators took the lead in implementing a new grocery delivery system utilizing their transit services.
“We had all this capacity and we saw all this need, so we said, ‘Instead of transporting customers to [the] grocery store, let’s transport groceries to vulnerable populations,’” Suzie Edrington, Capital Metro’s director of demand response operations, told the Austin American-Statesman.
As of May 29, Capital Metro had delivered 300,000 free meals to MetroAccess users since the agency started its meals-on-wheels service in March, according to Next City. What’s more, the example set by the local community’s transit system has been noticed elsewhere in the state.
Taking the cue from Austin, Houston’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority has also become a means for food delivery and has delivered 3,287 boxes of food since the pandemic began. The Dallas Area Rapid Transit also now delivers meals to 100 families in South Dallas food deserts and Dallas public-school students. Transit authorities in Phoenix, Las Vegas and Spokane, Washington, have also launched similar food-delivery programs throughout the pandemic.
Agencies in Austin and San Antonio have expanded on the original idea as well and moved buses with Wi-Fi to serve as mobile hotspots in spaces where service is spotty or nonexistent in another effort to help local communities.
For locals, the services are well received. Donna McGregor, one of Capital Metro’s many riders with disabilities, received a meal from MetroAccess in March and it helped her overcome a gap in time where getting food had become difficult. “I didn’t have much food in the house, and I needed a few things; I was running short on money… Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it,” McGregor said of the service.
NACS has compiled resources to help the convenience retail community navigate the COVID-19 crisis. For news updates and guidance, visit our coronavirus resources page.