Hurricane Harvey hit one of the most famously auto-dependent places on Earth: nearly 91 percent of the commuters in the Houston metro travel alone by car to get to work. Somewhere between 500,000 to 1 million cars were destroyed by the storm, the most of any natural disaster in U.S. history.
Now, waitlists for rental cars are vertiginously long, gas prices are spiking, and the 32,000 who escaped flooding in shelters are now fanning out to other forms of temporary housing. Many Houstonians are grappling with how they’ll get to their jobs, their shattered homes, and to their children’s schools, minus car keys.
“I keep hearing on the radio that people won't be able to get anywhere,” says Janis Scott. “But this doesn’t need to be end of the world. Now is the time to get with METRO.”
Scott is known as Houston’s “bus lady.” In a city known for car-oriented design, the 65-year-old native is as passionate a transit advocate as they come. She greets her bus operators by name, helps fellow passengers navigate newly redesigned routes, and speaks out at every public meeting of the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County that she can. Before we spoke on Thursday, Scott had hung up with a METRO staffer, to whom she’d suggested offering up ride vouchers to those in shelters.
“People need to know they’ve got options,” she says. “From what I'm hearing, buses are not even on the brain.”
Yet METRO has emerged among the heroes of Hurricane Harvey. After discontinuing service just before the storm made landfill on August 25, the agency gamely positioned vehicles on high ground to ready them for emergency response. Operators transported some 8,000 individuals evacuated from dangerously flooded neighborhoods to shelters around the county, according to METRO CEO Tom Lambert. Paratransit operators fielded emergency calls during the storm. Bus drivers coordinated quickly with firefighters and police officers to rescue stranded drivers.
“I’m extremely proud of how our colleagues have worked in hand in hand with our partners to support this community,” says Lambert.
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