City Council Committee Taps Visually Impaired Bus Rider for VIA Board

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Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Mayor Ron Nirenberg congratulates Athalie Malone after the Governance Committee appointed her to the VIA Transit Board.

San Antonio City Council selected Athalie Malone in August to fill a vacancy on VIA Metropolitan Transit’s board of trustees on Thursday, Sept. 12. 

Malone, who is visually impaired, said in August that VIA buses have become her main mode of transportation since she lost her sight. However, she has been a regular bus rider since her days attending St. Gerard’s Regional High School and through her years working as an accountant.

“I still rode the bus in terms of economics – it was a lot cheaper than driving your car every day,” said Malone, who also chairs the Council-appointed Disability Access Advisory Committee.

City Council’s Governance Committee selected Malone in August out of four others who applied for the position.

While on the board, Malone said she will concentrate on ways to reduce wait times at bus stops and improve bus driver training, two issues she has experienced based on her 40 years as a VIA customer.

“Unfortunately, a lot of operators are not trained in terms of dealing with the elderly, dealing with the disabled, or even the general public,” she told the five-member committee during her interview, noting that some drivers start driving while people are still finding their seats.

She also wants to see VIA add more routes in underserved neighborhoods.

VIA’s 11-member board comprises five members appointed by City Council, three appointed by the Bexar County Commissioners Court, and two appointed by mayors from suburban cities. Board members serve staggered, two-year terms and may serve up to four terms. Malone is serving the remainder of a term that ends on Dec. 31, replacing Patricia Rodriguez Oliver, who left the board in April.

Malone said her blindness will bring a new perspective to the board, “to a point … maybe [to help] them to understand a little bit more where those that are disabled are coming from and where the needs for them are. I’m not there to advocate for them, I’m there to advocate for everyone.”

Most people with disabilities use the VIATrans service, which allows customers to arrange transportation by appointment one day to four days in advance.

Malone said she uses the regular VIA buses more often than VIATrans because they are more convenient.

“In all honesty, I’m kinda surprised, but at the same time I’m glad,” Malone said after she was selected. “It’s something that I’ve wanted for a while now.”

DACA Resolution

The Governance Committee fast-tracked a resolution in August to urge the U.S. Senate to pass the American Dream and Promise Act of 2019, which would establish an earned pathway to citizenship for immigrant youth, extend residency terms for others, and enhance other citizenship rules.

City Council also approved that resolution on Thursday, Sept. 12.

Since President Donald Trump rescinded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program enacted by former President Barack Obama, some individuals who have residency or could apply for it “remain somewhat in limbo” amid legal challenges, said Jeff Coyle, director of the City’s Government and Public Affairs Department. The U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in November on efforts to block the administration’s steps to end the program.

Usually this kind of resolution would need to be discussed by the Council’s Intergovernmental Relations Committee, Coyle said, but that group agreed to fast-track it to full Council consideration given that the Senate returns to session on Sept. 9.

In addition, City Council has already approved its legislative agenda, which includes support for legislation that would enable children of undocumented immigrants to earn lawful status, Coyle said.

“This is a bipartisan solution that we can work on,” said Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3), who filed a council consideration request (CCR) that brought the resolution to the Governance Committee.

Medical Training for City Employees, Officials

The committee also directed the city manager to include life-saving “Stop the Bleed” education courses in routine training for new and existing City employees.

The course, suggested by a CCR filed by Councilwoman Adriana Rocha Garcia (D4), teaches bleeding control techniques such as how to use a tourniquet and other tools for emergency medical situations.

The City partnered with the South Texas Regional Advisory Council (STRAC) to provide the training for employees and elected officials. Training for City department leadership and other staff took place last month.

“Training is simple, straightforward, and can be taught in an hour,” said Dr. Ronald Stewart, chair of the Department of Surgery at UT Health San Antonio. Stewart is an ambassador for the “Stop the Bleed” program, which is a nationwide campaign sponsored by the American College of Surgeons and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Other entities interested in the training can request or attend a class through STRAC.

A CCR filed by Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5) regarding accessibility to City Council meetings and materials for the hearing impaired was also discussed on Wednesday. City Attorney Andy Segovia and Coyle said staff was already working on an updated accessibility review of its website and departments and implementing improvements as gaps are identified.

Once that review concludes, City staff will report back to the committee.

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