Although the average Austinite spends 44 hours stuck in traffic per year, new technology and innovative options are driving more people in Austin toward using alternative forms of transportation.
Car2Go spokeswoman Katie Stafford said membership in the car-share program is up 20 percent compared with last year, Capital Metro reports its ridership is up 5 percent compared with last year and a proposed bike-share program is moving forward in Central Austin.
"I would call Austin a modern American city where you have more of these alternative modes of transportation coming much faster than the big public infrastructure is coming in," Stafford said.
Resident Jennifer Allen said she sold her car and started relying on Car2Go and the Capital Metro bus after starting a job downtown in April. In addition to not stressing out about Austin traffic, which a May report in USA Today ranked as the fourth-worst in the nation, Allen said she is healthier and saves money by not having a car. A 2013 report from AAA that looks at calculations such as maintenance, fuel and insurance costs found that owning a car costs $9,122 on average per year.
Allen said she started using the bus and Car2Go because her employer offers a $100 per month stipend for not using a parking space.
Downtown employers are increasingly offering stipends and other incentives to encourage employees not to drive by themselves and take up parking spaces, Movability Austin Executive Director Glenn Gadbois said. Movability Austin works with downtown employers and employees to find alternatives to driving by themselves in a car.
Gadbois said Movability Austin's mission is crucial because there are 125,000 people who go into downtown Austin every day, 70 percent of whom commute alone.
"We know downtown's vibrancy and dynamic that got us all wanting to be down here is going to be threatened if we don't deal with things like parking and transportation differently than we have," he said.
Gadbois said that new technology makes it easier for people to transition away from relying as much on their car. RideScout, an Austin-based mobile app that launched in March, gives the cost and estimated arrival and departure times for multiple forms of transportation such as buses and Car2Go.
RideScout founder and CEO Joseph Kopser said the app helps Austinites overcome an initial fear of using alternative forms of transportation.
"A person's got to know they will get home safely and efficiently, or else they are going to just cling to their car, take off and waste time, traffic and parking," he said.
RideScout joins other established Austin-based transportation information technologies such as Dadnab, which sends transit directions via text message. Dadnab is on track for 2.3 million queries in Austin this year, which is up from 1.6 million queries last year, founder Roger Cauvin said.
Councilman Chris Riley, who has not owned a car for several years, said Austin is in line with trends throughout the nation of people looking for alternative commutes. He said it is in the city's best interest to offer as many alternative transportation options as possible.
"Every time we provide an alternative commute for someone out there, that is one more car off the road that is no longer competing with others to make that traffic signal or get to that parking space," he said. "All of these improvements, the advances that we are making, help all commuters, even those who are still driving to work."
Ride-sharing takes off in Austin
A proposed Austin public bicycle– sharing program is expected to be operational by the end of the year, co-organizer David Rockwood said.
Bike Share of Austin would let users rent a bike at an electronic bike station, ride to their desired location and drop off their rental bike at a separate bike station. The proposal is similar to the bike-share programs that have been successful in cities such as Denver and San Antonio, Rockwood said.
Austin City Council in January approved a five-year contract with BSA to operate the program. BSA is working toward securing the $500,000 it needs before it receives the $1.5 million grant funded from federal transportation dollars, Rockwood said.
Rockwood said he expects the program will start with about 400 bikes. The bike-share program will be focused on the downtown area and likely have stations at places such as parks and the Austin Convention Center, Rockwood said. The program is designed for shorter distance trips throughout downtown, he said.
Councilman Chris Riley said the bike-share program and new bike lanes should help get more people out of their cars.
The City of Austin in 2013 has completed or is working on five bikeway improvement projects that would create about 13 miles of physically separated bike lanes, according to a Public Works Department report. In 2012, the public works department completed bicycle projects on more than 40 miles of Austin streets, including 23.5 miles of new bicycle lanes, according to the report.
Car2Go and Zipcar allow Austinites to use one of the companies' cars and drop it off at a different location.
Membership in Car2Go, the car- sharing service that launched in Austin in 2010, rose from 21,000 in 2012 to 32,000 as of April 2013, Car2Go spokeswoman Katie Stafford said. Zipcar does not disclose its membership numbers, but the service added three cars to its fleet in April, Zipcar spokeswoman CJ Himberg said.
Both car-share services expanded their coverage area in 2013 to allow cars to be dropped off at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.
Car2Go charges members a one-time registration fee of $35 plus 38 cents per minute to operate a vehicle. Car2Go has 300 cars that serve a 50-square-mile area in Central Austin
Zipcar charges an annual $60 membership fee and a one-time $25 application fee. The membership and application fee grants access to the more than 30 make and models in the Zipcar fleet of which they can by the hour or day. The cost of Zipcar for members starts at $7.75 per hour and $69 per day.
Stafford said a car-share program can be one piece of a puzzle that helps people become less reliant on cars. Many members use Car2Go in conjunction with their own car or with public transit, she said.
"People can choose on any given day how to get around based on [their] needs for that day," she said.
Correction: The original version of the article misstated the cost of using Zipcar.