In a seamless two-day operation under tight security, METRO operated 40 shuttle buses, taking Houstonians to pay their final respects to former First Lady Barbara Bush on April 20 and 21.
"People were very appreciative of METRO being able to provide that type of service for them. Everyone took it as if we had personally picked them up. They were very kind," said Andy Skabowski, chief operations officer. "It was like for our own family member. You wanted to make sure it was done with dignity and respect."
Mrs. Bush was in repose on April 20 at St. Martin's Episcopal Church where the public could say their final goodbye from 11 a.m. to midnight. On April 21, an invitation-only funeral was held at 11 a.m. at St. Martin's. But visitors had to first arrive at Second Baptist Church, go through security and then board buses to St. Martin's. No one was allowed to walk up or drive up to St. Martin's.
Other agencies and organizations involved included the Secret Service, the Bush Foundation, Houston Police Department, Harris County Sheriff, Second Baptist Church, St. Martin's Episcopal Church, and the Mayor's Office of Special Events. METRO's participation included Operations and MPD.
VIP guests mingled with the everyday citizens. Spotted among the mourners were Chuck Norris and his wife Gina, Mattress Mack, the Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell and his wife Suzette, the Oakridge Boys, former White House correspondent and anchor Sam Donaldson, Texans owner Bob McNair, and Charles Butt, president & CEO of the family-owned H-E-B grocery store chain.
METRO essentially created a mini-transit center at Second Baptist Church with bus loading and unloading areas, bus queuing location and by-pass lanes. "We also had layover locations on the property. If somebody had to take a break, we had a spot. The Discover Bus was there and used as headquarters for logistical briefings," said Skabowski.
Operators came dressed in full uniform and some of the women drivers wore pearls.
It took just under an hour for people to park, undergo security, pay their respects at St. Martin's and return to Second Baptist. About 1,000 people an hour boarded buses on Friday evening.
"Everyone was wonderful. There was no issue taking a bus. You saw a variety on Friday – from people dressed as if they were going to their own mother's funeral to people in jeans and T-shirts. Everybody was very well-mannered," said Skabowski.
As the family was leaving the funeral, the Bush family had a special message for METRO. Former Governor Jeb Bush, Neil Bush and Billy Bush reached out to thank the staff, saying they were more than pleased at how well the events unfolded.
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