Austin’s public transit agency unanimously approved Monday a new service plan designed to bring more residents within walking distance to frequent bus service but also raises to the surface the challenge of accessibility.
Capital Metro’s Connections 2025 plan culminates more than a year of planning and public outreach to outline propose service changes for the next five years.
With the plan now approved by the board, Capital Metro will now coordinate a more comprehensive public outreach process as well as a second vote to approve any late changes to routes.
Public meetings are expected to begin this summer, and proposed changes could be implemented as early as spring 2018.
Board member Ann Kitchen, who also represents Austin City Council District 5, said Capital Metro will also create a set of metrics to track progress on implementing the plan.
“We really want to make sure we’re making the kind of progress we have set for our goals for Connections 2025,” she said.
Frequent service, coverage concerns
Many residents who addressed the board prior to Monday’s vote expressed support for the plan’s addition of 13 bus routes to it high-frequency bus network. The move would bring 500,000 residents within a half-mile walking distance from bus service that runs about every 10 to 15 minutes.
“I think the move toward speeding up service on these 17 identified routes is a step in the right direction,” said David Foster, who sits on the agency’s Customer Satisfaction Advisory Committee.
However, Foster said committee members were also concerned about eliminating bus service, which affects customers who use MetroAccess, the agency’s paratransit service provided to residents with disabilities who live with a three-quarters of a mile from the agency’s system. Because of changes to Capital Metro’s bus routes, an estimated 200 out of 6,000 registered MetroAccess riders would lose service.
“We’re very concerned about what this proposal could do to mobility-impaired folks and people who use access program,” Foster said. “We ask the board to study grandfathering them in.”
Doing so would cost Capital Metro an additional $1 million annually, staffers said.
Capital Metro will also make some changes that will negatively affect some routes through the elimination of routes 19, 21/22 and 392, as well as parts of 30 and 333. Additionally, the agency plans to consolidate duplicate routes 1 and 801 and 3 and 803. After consolidation, stops would be spaced about every one-third of a mile, a slight increase from about every quarter-mile on routes 1 and 3.
Pamela Rogers from the Maple Run Neighborhood Association in Southwest Austin said Route 333 is vital for residents to access a food bank, Austin Community College and grocery stores.
“This is our only bus,” she said. “We have huge demographic changes, congestion on Brodie [Lane].”
Where the agency sees service gaps, Capital Metro will also create eight mobility innovation zones and analyze other transportation alternatives, such as ridesharing or ridehailing. Bus service would not be eliminated until new options are identified using community input and options have gone through a pilot program to ensure effectiveness.