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Texas, Louisiana Slammed by Hurricane Harvey; Transit Systems Helping to Manage Relief Efforts

Public transit systems in South Texas and Louisiana are coping with the devastating effects of Hurricane Harvey.

Among the hardest-hit agencies were Houston’s Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County (Houston METRO), Corpus Christi Regional Transportation Authority (CCRTA), Fort Bend County Public Transpor­tation and Port Arthur Transit.
CCRTA resumed regular service Aug. 31, and METRO began limited local bus service that day and full light rail service on the Red Line the next. Service is still suspended on the other two light rail corridors until further notice. Both agencies are providing medically necessary transportation on their ADA services.

“We’re in a recovery mode,” said Monica Russo, a METRO media specialist. “People have been working night and day since last Friday, trying to get people who have been displaced to shelter in safety and, on the other end, trying to get our transit services back up. That’s coming along slowly but surely. So far, we’ve transported almost 8,000 people to shelters, but that number may change,” Russo said. “It’s been a big effort and the result of a lot of hard-working people here.”

CCRTA released a statement today on its Facebook page, thanking riders for their patience and understanding.

Houston METRO moved buses out of harm's way as Hurricane Harvey approached.

“The safety of our riders is our number one concern and there were many streets that we could not drive on due to large amounts of debris on the road," the statement said. "We also utilized many resources for evacuating and returning residents in our Coastal Bend community. We are excited to say that we have returned to regular Monday through Friday service with regular hours."
Fort Bend Transit plans to resume normal service Sept. 5, but that will depend upon the ability of its vehicles to operate safely.
Port Arthur Transit remains out of service, but its vehicles are being used for emergency evacuations and to transport medical personnel. General Manager Ron McElhose said, "Ninety-eight percent of my drivers are in the shelters but I do have many coming in to help out."
Other systems, particularly along the coast, remain out of service.

APTA Acting President & CEO Richard White reached out to transit system leaders and offered the industry’s support and assistance in the recovery efforts. He also recognized "the heroic and courageous efforts of our Texas colleagues over the last week," including agencies moving their fleets to safe ground when possible.

"Even as these employees were dealing with significant personal losses of their homes and belongings," he said, "they worked to evacuate residents," especially the elderly and persons with disabilities.

With regard to offering help, the impacted systems will follow the FEMA process in assessing their needs, and the FTA regional offices will work to help facilitate resources from other systems. This process will take place over the next few weeks.

The Texas Transit Association (TTA) and South West Transit Association (SWTA), which are serving as clearinghouses for agency information, have set up donations for transit employees through distribution of gift cards.

VIA Metropolitan Transit is providing free trips to evacuees in emergency shelters in San Antonio and Bexar County and helping with evacuation deployment plans. 

Employees of Capital Metro in Austin worked with Texas agencies to evacuate people from areas affected by the hurricane.

Agencies are also assessing vehicle and facility conditions, staff availability and road conditions.

Polly Hanson, APTA's director of security, risk and emergency management, is in contact with the affected transit systems, and APTA will continue to provide updates and information on assistance being sought.

Ways You Can Help

-  Buy gift cards.
  TTA and SWTA are coordinating the purchase of gift cards and delivering them to the affected transit systems so they can distribute them directly to employees in need. Send to TEXAS ­Harvey Relief, TTA, ATTN: Meredith Greene, 106 E. 6th St., Suite 900, Austin, TX 78701. Make certain the card does not have additional fees the recipient must pay (i.e. some MasterCard®/VISA® gift cards).

Cash donations will not be accepted by TTA and SWTA.

Also, consider a donation to the American Red Cross.

National Preparedness Month
In related news, the Department of Homeland Security has designated September as National Preparedness Month, and APTA is helping share information on the theme “Disasters Don’t Plan Ahead. You Can.”

APTA emphasizes the importance of preparedness in advance of natural disasters and other emergencies that can occur in the aftermath of natural disasters and unforeseen events.

APTA’s Public Transportation Information Sharing and Analysis Center (PT-ISAC) will provide daily reports throughout September, including links to FEMA resources and information on ways ­public transit agencies can use them.

For example, the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) will send weekly safety bulletins matching the theme of each week of National Preparedness Month. Safety and emergency staff will visit MTA’s bus and rail systems promoting the importance of a commuter emergency plan and distributing blank copies of a plan template available from DHS. During the last week of September, designated as Rail Safety Week nationwide, MTA employees will emphasize railroad safety awareness Sept. 26 as part of Operation Lifesaver’s Operation Clear Track event.
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