Capital Metro: Exclusive pathways necessary for high-capacity transit

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Capital Metro leadership at a press event Tuesday morning previewed high-capacity transit options the agency is considering ahead of an upcoming transportation summit Oct. 1.

At the summit, hosted by the Austin Chamber of Commerce, Capital Metro will release parts of its Project Connect Vision Plan that outline modes and methods for regional transit mobility and high-capacity travel throughout Austin proper.

The key to moving high numbers of commuters throughout the region—with little disruption to existing traffic—lies in the ability to dedicate specific lanes to public transit vehicles, Capital Metro officials said.

According to officials, pathways earmarked exclusively for buses and trains are necessary to avoid congested areas during peak traffic hours.

Capital Metro does not retain the authority to acquire right of way, so any move to secure exclusive access to right of way must be done in coordination with the city of Austin and other regional authorities.

The Capital Metro board of directors held a Sept. 14 work session with members of Austin City Council and other transportation officials to discuss aspects of the Project Connect Vision Plan and right of way challenges.

“I thought it was a very good conversation. This, at the end of the day, is a partnership approach,” said Capital Metro CEO Randy Clarke. “Compromise is the way things can actually get done.”

High-capacity transit options

Several modes of public transportation are being considered by Capital Metro to move commuters around the region, including alternative options not currently in operation in Austin.

Officials discussed three separate rail options—heavy rail, commuter rail and light rail—heading into the Future of Regional Mobility summit. Capital Metro’s MetroRail line is considered an existing commuter rail line by the agency.

Capital Metro also outlined specifications for bus-rapid transit and automated rapid transit options. The latter is considered a new technology and has not yet been rolled out in the Austin area.

“What you see on the roads right now being pilot tested are electric buses. Those are different than the autonomous vehicles, which are small, shuttle-like vehicles which we are not currently testing,” said Amy Peck, a spokeswoman for Capital Metro.

Autonomous cars are undergoing beta testing in several American cities, including San Francisco, Pittsburgh and Tempe, Arizona.

Additionally, autonomous buses are under design by automotive companies such as Mercedes Benz and Volvo. Autonomous rail lines are already in operation in a handful of cities, according to Capital Metro. Honolulu is building a 20-mile fully autonomous rail line that can carry 800 passengers per train, and the city expects the system to be operations sometime in 2020.

Capital Metro officials estimate autonomous systems would cost roughly the same amount as a Bus Rapid Transit system, and both options are considerably less expensive than transit rail lines.

What is next?

Capital Metro will release its Project Connect Vision Plan at the Future of Regional Mobility summit on Oct. 1. Along with the plan, the transit agency will release two maps showing larger regional mobility plans and route plans focused in the city of Austin.

Jackie Nirenberg, community involvement manager for Capital Metro, said the agency is taking a “multi-pronged” approach to gathering community feedback including surveys and commuter outreach.

“We’re working on a plan to provide service that does not have to compete with traffic. You’re not going to be stuck in traffic anymore, and I think that’s really the message we’re trying to get across,” Nirenberg said this morning.

Capital Metro officials will hold a public meeting Oct. 3 at the Ruiz Branch of the Austin Public Library to gather input from the community.

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Iain Oldman
Iain Oldman joined Community Impact Newspaper after spending two years in Pittsburgh, Pa., where he covered Pittsburgh City Council. He additionally worked with an investigative news organization where he reported on environmental topics and was a featured writer for Epicast Network, a Pittsburgh podcast company. Iain has now transitioned full-time into covering Round Rock, Pflugerville and Hutto.
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