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Travis County offers free bus rides to jurors

Tuesday, May 28, 2019 by Jack Craver

In a city as car-dependent as Austin, you might think a free parking spot would be the least Travis County could offer people traveling downtown to perform jury service.

And yet, the Travis County website makes clear that those performing that solemn civic duty are on their own: “If you are assigned to the Travis County courthouse complex, no public garage parking is available. You can elect to pay to park for up to five hours at one of the city parking meters around the courthouse; however, the number of spaces is limited.”

The county doesn’t have any plans to change the parking situation – the cost is likely too great – but it will begin picking up the fare if they arrive by public transit. The deal applies to Capital Metro buses, rail or paratransit.

Last week, the Commissioners Court voted unanimously in support of a one-year pilot program with Capital Metro to provide free transit passes to those reporting for jury duty.

“The service that Travis County jurors do, coming downtown, is amazing,” said Travis County District Clerk Velva Price, who oversees the courts system. “And then they get a check for $6.”

Jurors get $6 a day during jury selection and $40 a day after being selected to serve on a jury. Employers are required by law to allow workers time off for jury duty, but they are not required to pay them, although many do.

“Some people pay $20 to park,” said Price.

Under the new program, Capital Metro will provide up to 500 transit passes to the county to distribute to jurors. The county will then provide them to jurors who request them. For each ride the juror takes, the county will pay Capital Metro 70 percent of the standard fare.

“We’ve worked closely with Travis County and the district clerk’s office, and we’re excited to provide jurors with more options to get to and from jury duty,” said Justin Henderson, who handles Capital Metro’s relations with other governmental entities.

“This new project will further encourage jury service, support a positive customer experience and positively impact the environment by reducing car transportation,” read the memo by county staff describing the program. “The request also extends countywide goals related to reducing commutes and traffic congestion in central Texas.”

Commissioner Gerald Daugherty, a perennial skeptic of public transit investment, applauded the idea, emphasizing that he wasn’t opposed to transit when he believes it makes sense.

“Hopefully there will be a lot of people who will use these things because it is a bear to park downtown,” he said. “I just want it to work. And if it does, then we ought to be aggressive.”

Daugherty said the county needs to ensure that those using the passes are in fact jurors and that people aren’t able to continue using them after their jury duty is over.

Henderson said that is unlikely to be an issue. Most jurors will likely receive digital passes – through the Capital Metro app – that will be withdrawn after their service is over. If they opt for paper passes, the serial numbers will similarly be disabled after their service concludes.

Photo by Fellowship of the Rich made available through a Creative Commons license.

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