UVALDE, Texas – Navigating the COVID-19 pandemic has been challenging for many companies and government agencies, including public transit. Now, one agency in our area is getting some national recognition for its COVID-19 response.
The Southwest Area Regional Transit District, or SWART, was one of six transit providers nationwide that received a “Connecting Rural Communities” award from the Federal Transit Administration.
SWART serves an eight-county region west of San Antonio, including communities such as Uvalde, Carrizo Springs and Eagle Pass. It serves passengers within those cities and connects them to San Antonio, Kerrville, and Del Rio.
“The pandemic did, you know, force us to be a little bit more creative than normal,” said Sarah Hidalgo Cook, SWART’s general manager. “It was really something that the team, this work team, our management team, came together to try to problem-solve.”
SWART provided masks and hand sanitizer for passengers and installed plexiglass barriers to protect drivers. It maintained service during the pandemic while instituting social distancing measures onboard its vehicles.
“Apart from wanting to continue our services, we wanted to make sure that our employees were taken care of as well,” said Cynthia Rodriguez, SWART’s assistant general manager. We wanted them to be safe providing that service but also taking care of themselves.”
The transit district receives funding from both the Texas Department of Transportation and the Federal Transit Administration. It does not receive any direct sales tax revenue.
“I’ve always felt that rural transit systems are creative anyway in order to survive because we have to basically obtain 50 percent of our match for our federal dollars,” Cook said.
SWART’s drivers are on the road as early as 2 a.m. to ensure passengers make it to medical appointments in San Antonio on time. One Uvalde passenger called the service “a godsend.”
“Oh God, it’d be hard to get to dialysis -- really, because, you know, I have a few family members, but they’re always busy, you know,” said Felix Cisneros. “It’s really hard sometimes to get around if we don’t have a ride here.”
Cisneros said he also uses SWART to travel to stores and run other errands.
During the recent increase in gas prices, there’s been an uptick in people using the service, Cook said.
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