The city of Austin’s public transit agency is gathering input on proposed changes to its bus and rail service in an effort to provide greater frequency and connectivity.
The first of these changes could begin in January after Capital Metro finishes a yearlong study of its bus and rail network and approves a 10-year service improvement plan called Connections 2025.
“With the changing demographics and new mobility options that are out there, for us to grow ridership we have to be more convenient, and frequency is a very big part of that as well as the notion of having this network,” said Todd Hemingson, the agency’s vice president of strategic planning and development.
Capital Metro unveiled proposed changes to its bus and rail services Aug. 22. All proposed service changes are subject to approval by the agency’s board of directors and could change depending on public input and feedback from board members.[/caption]
In September 2015, Capital Metro’s board of directors hired consulting firm Transportation Management & Design Inc. to develop the Connections 2025 plan. Capital Metro began public outreach this spring and used that input to create a draft plan.
“We heard overwhelmingly that frequency is what our customers desire most,” Capital Metro planner Lawrence Deeter said.
Proposed changes include boosting frequency on existing bus routes, eliminating duplicate bus service, consolidating the fare structure and adding more MetroRapid bus routes, which offer faster service than local bus routes.
TMD founder Russ Chisholm said Capital Metro could implement proposed changes within the agency’s existing budget. This is because some changes would involve reallocating service hours and buses from duplicate routes along MetroRapid lines to other bus routes.
“It’s combining the best of both types of service into one that works better for people more quickly [and] provides good access to stations,” he said. “The other parts of this are just focusing on reducing unnecessary delay by [straightening] routes [and] adding more priority to more routes.”
During the agency’s Oct. 24 meeting, TMD and Capital Metro staffers will update the board about any changes stemming from the public outreach events in September. The board is scheduled to approve the service plan at its Nov. 16 meeting.
After approving the service plan, Capital Metro would then create a phasing plan to implement the changes.
“We want to implement as much as we can as soon as we can, but some of it, because of other factors, will have to phased,” Hemingson said.
This includes adding bus-rapid transit to I-35 because the agency would have to wait until the Texas Department of Transportation builds the new lanes for the service.
Hemingson said some of the changes, such as consolidating MetroRapid Route 801 and part of Route 1 bus services and adding more MetroRapid routes, would require additional public input.
Hemingson said TMD recommended eliminating route duplication as a means to provide faster service and operate more efficiently.
“Unless you have density like in big metros and strong ridership, it’s better in a sense to operate one route at a high level instead of two routes with one being an overlay,” he said.
Phasing the service plan is a different approach than the city of Houston took when it overhauled its entire bus system overnight in August 2015, according to the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County. After restructuring its bus routes and extending service, the agency reported a 6.8 percent increase in ridership and 4.5 million more customer boardings between September 2015 and July 2016.
John Williams, an attorney and 27-year Circle C Ranch resident, commutes by Capital Metro bus to his office downtown a few times per week. He said his experience with service has mainly been positive.
“If you ride the bus, you don’t have to deal with the traffic,” Williams said. “You’re not the driver—you can snooze; you can read the paper; you can read a book.”
One of Capital Metro’s proposed changes is eliminating bus Route 333 from Brodie Lane to the intersection of Hwy. 290 and Hwy. 71, known as the Y at Oak Hill.
“The bus service in Southwest Austin is very limited. It’s the [routes] 111, 121 and 333. If they get rid of 333, basically bus service in [the area] is going to be two park and rides,” he said.
Austin resident Miriam Howell uses transit daily for commuting, going to doctor’s appointments and heading downtown with her husband.
“I really like that I don’t have to drive. I have that leisure time,” she said. “I love the Wi-Fi on the buses [because] I get into the office and I’ve already put in an hour’s worth of work.”
Howell said she would like to see more capacity and routes on MetroRail and more bus routes to serve other parts of the city, such as the Westlake area.
“It would be really great if [rail] went south of the river,” she said.
Howell said Capital Metro is planning to implement changes faster than she thought, and she is pleased the agency is listening to residents’ input.
“Most of these improvements are stuff I’ve heard people talk about that they want,” she said.
Austinite Matthew Ludlum said he attended a few of the Connections 2025 open house events in the spring and is pleased the proposals include more multimodal options.
“I’m excited to see some of the new plans coming out, and Capital Metro is doing a great job trying to address some of the problems,” Ludlum said.