HOUSTON (KTRK) --METRO on Thursday said 'No' to disabled vets wanting to drive the transit agency's HOT lanes for free, which most other Texas toll roads offer.
Instead, METRO's board approved a 6-month pilot plan to allow those veterans wounded in the service to ride buses, rail, and park and ride for free -- something the disabled vets have not been asking for.
And while METRO considered a pilot program to allow disabled veterans free high-occupancy toll lane access in off-peak hours, he transit board opted against it. Instead they chose to further study the issue.
This is not a new issue for METRO.
In 2013, Houston METRO CEO Tom Lambert said he thought disabled veterans deserved a toll-free ride on the transit agency's high-occupancy toll lanes.
See a Ted Oberg investigation on the issue here.
Indeed, state law allows for disabled vets to ride toll-free. County toll roads in both Harris and Fort Bend have allowed it for years.
Lambert now tells Ted Oberg Investigates that he shouldn't have made the promise.
"I probably erred in that," Lambert said Thursday. "Life is a learning experience. What you need to do before you commit to do something is understand the consequences of what you're doing and the issue."
A key issue for METRO officials: They said they aren't certain how many disabled vets might grab free rides.
"This would add a giant wild card in terms of our current operations because we have an unknown number of additional vehicles that would be able to use the lane," board member Christof Spieler said. "I don't think the board should approve this without understanding the consequences to our entire system."
But the Harris County Toll Road Authority keeps statistics.
Its disabled vet usage on toll lanes hovers between 1.2 percent and 2.5 percent of drivers.
Compare that to the massive number of people who cheat and use METRO's hot lanes without paying a toll at all.
"In some cases I've observed on the North Freeway it's 60-percent," said board member JIm Robinson.
Yet METRO's board is worried disabled vets could somehow clog the system.
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, called Thursday's decision "unacceptable" and "petty." She has been working since last year to remove any federal hurdles that METRO might encounter in providing the disabled vets the free HOT-lane service, and she promised to push the transit agency to do the right thing.
"Promises made should be promises kept, and METRO HOV toll free lanes for our veterans should become a reality," Jackson said in a statement. "We owe this to our disabled and paralyzed veterans after all they have given to this country."
The transit agency will talk about the issue again in March.
In the meantime, disabled vets will keep paying.