Waco Transit is launching a new shuttle service aimed at ensuring that parolees report on time to mandatory meetings with their parole officers.

The service will be offered Tuesdays and Thursdays beginning next week, with a van shuttling passengers from the main Waco Transit station at South Eighth Street and Mary Avenue to and from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s Waco District Parole Office.

Riders would have to pay the regular fare of $1.50 each way, or $3 for a day pass, to get to the transit terminal and utilize the service.

“Depending on the numbers, it’ll be either a van or, if there’s 35 people out there, we take a regular bus,” said Kim Schwieters, marketing director for Waco Transit. “It doesn’t really affect the fixed routes or their times or anything like that.”

Waco Transit began looking into creating the parole office route this summer once it entered into an interlocal agreement establishing the McLennan County Rural Transit District. As part of the program, McLennan County residents can schedule rides to and from any destination throughout a six-county region.

The agency noticed a significant number of ride requests to the district parole office since the rural transit district started, Assistant General Manager Allen Hunter said.

Before the program’s creation, Waco Transit could not provide rides to the parole office because it was restricted to providing fixed bus routes within Waco’s city limits. The parole office is on State Highway 6 near Speegleville.

The Waco parole office works with about 1,000 parolees who generally see a parole officer once a month, TDCJ spokesman Robert Hurst said in an email.

Parolees who miss meetings or do not follow the conditions of their parole are subject to an investigation to determine whether they may face various sanctions, Hurst said in the email.

‘Quite expensive’

“We know, based upon our experience, that there have been numerous requests that we’ve received of people having to get to the parole office,” Hunter said. “Without having public transportation, it either forced the patrons to pay neighbors or take cab rides, and those kinds of arrangements can be quite expensive.”

Waco Transit then reached out to the parole office to collaborate on creating a route that would best suit parolees’ needs. The parole office agreed to schedule parole meetings around the fixed pickup and drop-off times the transit service is providing.

“One of their biggest challenges is this person didn’t have a car or a way to get there,” Schwieters said.

“Most of them are coming from the Waco area, so they just decided, ‘Let’s give them an opportunity to get here.’ And then that kind of eliminates that excuse.”

Hunter said the cost of providing the separate route will be covered by funding from McLennan County, which receives about $500,000 each year in federal rural transit grants.

Agency resources

Officials say having the parole shuttle is a better use of the transit agency’s resources. While the rural pickup service has helped fill the transportation needs of parolees in getting to their meetings, it ties up Waco Transit’s shuttle fleet for the longer trips and limits their availability for other rides, according to Hunter.

Waco Transit already operates a similar special route with a direct trip from the main station to Sanderson Farms in Bellmead, which is intended to accommodate the large number of workers riding the bus to the chicken plant.

“What we’re trying to do is group these parole trips together so that you’ve got more people going to the same place at the same time and more people on those vehicles,” Hunter said.

“The whole purpose of this is to better utilize the fleet that we have and the space that we have.”

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