Return of the ‘Dillo? Study looks into new downtown Austin circulator

The Downtown Austin Alliance is considering bringing back downtown circulator routes that would shuttle visitors and residents around the downtown area, similar to Capital Metro's 'Dillo routes that shut down in 2009. (Design by Rachal Russell)
The Downtown Austin Alliance is considering bringing back downtown circulator routes that would shuttle visitors and residents around the downtown area, similar to Capital Metro's 'Dillo routes that shut down in 2009. (Design by Rachal Russell)

The Downtown Austin Alliance is considering bringing back downtown circulator routes that would shuttle visitors and residents around the downtown area, similar to Capital Metro's 'Dillo routes that shut down in 2009. (Design by Rachal Russell)

The Downtown Austin Alliance has been studying the possibility of a free shuttle circulating through downtown over the last year, working to determine the best routes, frequency and type of service that would provide the maximum benefit to residents, employees and visitors.

Late in 2020, the DAA opened up a survey to hear from residents directly. Some of the comments struck a familiar refrain that will be recognizable to longtime Austinites.

“Bring back the 'Dillo,” multiple respondents wrote. One resident cited fond memories riding in the old trolley cars through downtown Austin as a child, another said revitalizing the downtown shuttle would “replace so many short Uber rides and bad drunken scooter decisions.”

The new downtown circulator routes would not be exactly the same as Capital Metro’s old ‘Dillo routes that stopped running in 2009. For one, according to Melissa Barry, vice president of planning at the DAA, the old trolley cars would likely be replaced by more modern public transit vehicles. But Barry said the study came out of a consistent call from the community to restore the service the ‘Dillo provided.

“What we’ve heard consistently over the years is a call to bring back the ‘Dillo. That’s one of the main reasons we took this feasibility study on, to be responsive to this request,” Barry said.

Results of the study released early in 2021 give more detail on the potential routes, funding options and frequency of the new circulator service. Consultant NelsonNygaard recommends the circulator service be free—just as the ‘Dillo was—and outlined service that would run every five or 10 minutes, depending on the time of day, with the flexibility to increase during large events such as the Austin City Limits Music Festival or South by Southwest Conferences & Festival.

Two route options were presented in the report: one from South Congress Avenue to Plaza Saltillo in East Austin and the other between the Seaholm District and Rainey Street area. Barry said respondents slightly favored the Plaza Saltillo route, so if only one could be implemented, that would be the preference, but she also said the routes could expand in the future.

“It’s always important to focus and condense resources as a starting point. Although there are two routes recommended, most of these circulators start with a focus and grow over time,” she said.

Both routes combined would cost $5.26 million annually. The report does not identify the funding source specifically, but it presents a number of potential options, including Capital Metro, the city of Austin’s hotel occupancy tax funds or major employers in the area.

Barry said it is too early to say when the circulators could start running through Austin’s downtown streets. Right now, the DAA is focusing on monitoring how travel patterns return to normal as the community continues to recover from the pandemic.

The organization is also thinking ahead to how the circulator could align with planned construction projects such as the $4.9 billion I-35 overhaul and Capital Metro’s $7.1 billion Project Connect plan to revamp public transportation.

Construction will be heavy in the downtown area when both those large projects begin, projected in 2024-25, and Barry said the circulator routes could help residents maneuver their way around those significant construction detours.

“We need to continue to monitor and be pretty nimble in how we approach the project,” she said.


The new 35-story building overlooks Lady Bird Lake and Shoal Creek. (Trent Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)
Workers celebrate topping out of Austin 'sailboat building' concrete structure

Workers who contribute to the construction of the Block 185 building celebrated topping off the structure, a big milestone for the development project that began in 2019.

A system to identify at-risk Austin Police Department employees has not been effective. (Maggie Quinlan/Community Impact Newspaper)
Audit finds Austin police system to flag at-risk officers is failing

Austin's city auditor and police chief agree the police department's computer program to identify at-risk officers is not fulfilling its mission.

A rise in COVID-19 cases has Travis County back in stage 4. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Austin reverts to Stage 4 guidelines with rising delta variant cases

As delta variant COVID -19 cases are sending more young people to local ICUs, The Austin-Travis County Health Authority has moved the area back to guidelines that require masks indoors.

Opening day at Q2 Stadium
US men’s soccer team to visit Q2 Stadium this fall

The U.S. men's national team will host Jamaica for a FIFA World Cup qualifier game on Oct. 7.

Capital Metro is hosting a series of virtual meetings to hear feedback from the community on the latest Project Connect designs. (Community Impact Newspaper staff)
Capital Metro seeks community input on latest Project Connect design

Want to have your voice heard about Project Connect? Tune in to the upcoming virtual meetings.

Leander Marketplace PUD would be located at the northeast corner of Hero Way and US 183. (Screenshot courtesy city of Leander)
Leander eyes development with restaurants, retail; Bin Drop opens in New Braunfels and more top Central Texas news

Read the top business and community news from the past week from the Central Texas area.

Dozens of Austin residents spoke virtually and in person July 22 to share their thoughts on the city's proposed fiscal year 2021-22 budget. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)
Police funding again takes center stage in public hearing on Austin's proposed FY 2021-22 budget

Dozens of city residents calling into or appearing at City Hall on July 22 shared their thoughts about policing and the city's spending plan.

Mortgage purchase applications are down year over year, but the Austin housing market remains hot. (Benton Graham/Community Impact Newspaper)
Austin housing market still hot but showing signs of slowing down

Experts say that a decrease in mortgage purchase applications points to “a reversion back to norm” in the Austin housing market.

Peter Lake (left), chair of the Public Utility Commission of Texas, and Brad Jones, interim president and CEO of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, provided an update on state regulators' electric grid redesign efforts in Austin on July 22. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)
Regulators: Texas electric grid prepared for potentially record-breaking demand next week; 'once-in-a-generation reforms' underway

The heads of the agencies in charge of the Texas electric grid met in Austin on July 22 to provide updates on their grid reform efforts.

Z'Tejas margarita
Where to celebrate National Tequila Day this year around Austin

From mezcal bars to frozen margarita specials, here is a list of places to celebrate National Tequila Day on July 24.