More transit options to be available to Northwest Austin commuters in 2017

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1On weekends, the drive from Jeremiah Bentley’s Anderson Mill home to his office at Hwy. 290 and I-35 takes 18 minutes. But during weekday rush hour that commute is between 35 and 45 minutes as he traverses the entire length of US 183 in Northwest Austin.

“I get it pretty much the entire length of the traffic jam,” he said. “The way I’ve dealt with it before is to leave super early.”

Bentley, who is the senior manager of marketing and community affairs for Texas Mutual Insurance Co., will soon have another commute option when his company begins a ridesharing program through Capital Metro.

Texas Mutual is one of several companies working with nonprofit Movability Austin, which helps companies find mobility and parking solutions for their employees. Options include providing discounted transit passes, setting up rideshares in vanpools, telecommuting or offering flexible schedules.

Movability Austin Program Manager Alix Scarborough said about 90,000 employees commute to downtown Austin, and most drive alone during peak periods. She said Movability Austin members, including Texas Mutual, commit to a 20 percent reduction in the number of a company’s employees driving alone to work.

For many employers, the cost of providing parking for all employees is no longer feasible, she said.

“As the Facebooks of the world and other high-tech companies are starting to squeeze more people into fewer square feet, they’re finding they’re running into those [parking]allotments a lot faster when it comes to parking,” Scarborough said.

When Movability Austin first meets with an employer, it surveys the company’s employees about which commute options they are interested in. Next the company will get a plan with a range of options that employees could try, including using transit.

Scarborough said she often meets Northwest Austin residents who are unaware they have public transit options so close to home.

“This is one of the best areas of town to be served by commuter transit options,” she said. “Most people assume if they can’t see the bus stop near their front door it’s probably not nearby.”

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Express bus changes

In 2017, Northwest Austin residents will have even more options to catch an Express bus from one of five area Park & Rides when Capital Metro will launch two new bus routes and add new trips to existing routes. Once the MoPac express toll lanes fully open, the Express buses will be even more efficient as well as operate longer hours, said Caitlin D’Alton, a transportation planner with Capital Metro.

“Currently we really limit for the most part the hours because we’re constrained by the congestion on the corridors we operate on,” she said.

One of the new routes will operate from a new Park & Ride that Capital Metro created at the New Life Church parking lot near Howard Lane and MoPac. Route 980 will operate from the Park & Ride to downtown Austin. D’Alton said the route could provide some relief to MetroRail service, which often sees overcrowded trains in peak hours.

“We saw this as an opportunity to attract a new market,” she said. “Rail is a very attractive option, and depending on where you’re traveling it’s very useful. This service provides another option.”

The second new route, 981, will operate from the Great Hills Park & Ride at the Great Hills Baptist Church parking lot. Both routes will operate only during peak hours.

Capital Metro is also planning to roll out new trips on existing Express bus routes 982, 985 and 987. Route 983 will be eliminated because of underuse, but D’Alton said it was also a duplicate route and passengers will be able to take a similar route.

For some passengers, the Express buses will drop them off in downtown Austin first versus at The University of Texas because the buses will use the MoPac express lane, D’Alton said.

“We have heard feedback from our customers that they would like to have the option of getting to downtown first,” D’Alton said. “… We thought it was a good time to put in that service and open up a new market.”

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Amy Denney

Amy has been reporting in community journalism since 2007. She worked in the Chicago suburbs for three years before migrating south and joined Community Impact Newspaper in September 2010. Amy has been editor of the Northwest Austin publication since August 2012 and she is also the transportation beat reporter for the Austin area. As senior editor, she is the point person for the company's partnership with Fox7 Austin.

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