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November 3, 2023

Free bus rides: How to get your permanent free fare card from CapMetro

AUSTIN (Nov. 3, 2023) – Local bus service in Austin and Travis County is now free for anyone experiencing homelessness with a new fare card Capital Metro debuted last week. These new plastic cards replace the paper passes and provide no-cost rides to people who’ve engaged in some way with our community’s Homelessness Response System (HRS).

The only requirement to receive a pass is that the rider have an active profile in the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS), the database service providers in our community use to track people’s needs and coordinate support. The free fare card is good for two years, at which point the rider can renew it as long as their HMIS profile is still active.

In response to advocacy from unhoused people and organizations supporting them, like Sunrise Homeless Navigation Center and the Texas Harm Reduction Alliance (THRA), CapMetro’s Board of Directors approved the program, and staff built this innovative solution in collaboration with folks who pushed for it.

The service provides permanent access to a critical lifeline for unhoused people. Over the course of a two-month pilot program this summer, 500 riders logged nearly 13,800 trips on their fare cards. At the conclusion of the pilot, a large majority of focus group participants reported using their card every day, and all reported using theirs to meet daily needs.

“‘This is the key to my existence really,’” Barry Jones said of paper bus passes at a rally last year, as reported by Community Impact. “‘I get a very small amount of money, and it doesn’t go far, but I buy the bus pass first because I got to have it.’”

Here’s what you need to know about the fare cards.

Who Can Get One

Anyone who has an active profile in HMIS can get a free fare card. Most people who interact with a homeless service provider will have one of these profiles. An HMIS profile is created, for example, when someone completes a housing assessment, stays at a shelter, or gets aid from a street outreach team.

People who are currently housed are also eligible for the fare cards as long as they’re still supported by a provider connected to the HRS, such as through rental assistance or ongoing case management.

How to Get One

The following agencies provide free fare cards on a drop-in basis. They’ll confirm you have an HMIS profile and will print your card on site. Here’s a map of these locations.

If your organization is interested in offering drop-in bus pass services, please contact Kelsey Lammy at

How to Use It

Your card is ready to use as soon as you get it. Simply tap your card on the fare box card reader when boarding any CapMetro vehicle. It’s good for two years after it’s issued, at which point you can renew it as long as your HMIS profile is still active.

The cards are good for any Local or Rapid CapMetro bus service, the transit agency’s pickup service, and MetroAccess for enrolled riders. The cards are not valid for Express bus routes or Rail service.

Here are some additional tips from CapMetro:

  • Don’t Share Your Card: Your transit card is only for your use and shouldn’t be shared.
  • Lost/Stolen: If it’s lost or stolen, report it immediately to your service provider. CapMetro will deactivate it and help you get a new one.
  • Support: If you encounter any technical issues, don’t worry! Call the number on the card or visit the CapMetro Transit Store or a participating service provider for help.
  • Keep it in a secure place: Consider using a wallet, pouch, or cardholder specifically for important items like IDs and cards.
  • Make it a habit to check: Develop a routine to double-check that it is safely stored before moving on.
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