Mass transit not available for most residents

With recent increases in employment opportunities and development along Loop 360, the time is right to support mass- transit use in the western corridor of Travis County, said Jeb Boyt, chairman of Alliance for Public Transportation, a local coalition that promotes public transportation in Central Texas.

However, transportation planning partnership Project Connect, taking into account the current and projected area population, congestion, ridership, affordable housing and public opinion, proposed a $164 million transit network March 10. The project focused on the region's north and central corridors without plans for western Travis County.

Capital Metro Service area

Capital Metro, Austin's regional public transit provider, services more than 500 square miles including Austin, Jonestown, Lago Vista, Volente and portions of Travis and Williamson counties. By joining Capital Metro, each jurisdiction agreed to pay a 1 percent sales tax to support the organization's services, Capital Metro Communications Specialist Melissa Ayala said.

Capital Metro maintains a Service Expansion Policy that provides payment options for service other than collecting sales tax. A proposed policy update is scheduled to be presented to Capital Metro's board of directors April 23 and will simplify the program as well as offer new methods to obtain transit service.

"Much of western Travis County is outside of Capital Metro's service area and therefore is not considered in Capital Metro's specific plans," Ayala said. "However, we welcome opportunities for additional communities to enter into agreements for service."

Rollingwood bus service

At the request of Rollingwood staffers, Capital Metro officials discussed opening stops in the area with the Rollingwood Community Development Corp. and Rollingwood City Council, said Jean Golech, Capital Metro Senior Planner.

Capital Metro has received many requests from business owners and community members for bus stops along Bee Caves Road and maintains one stop in the area—Walsh Tarlton Lane—because it is located within Austin's city limits, she said.

"Rollingwood was an original member of Capital Metro when [Capital Metro] was created in 1985 but chose to withdraw service in 1988," Golech said.

The bus stops proposed to Rollingwood City Council members June 19 were located along Capital Metro's current Route 30 that travels on Bee Caves Road through Rollingwood, Golech said. Two additional stops would have been added—northbound and southbound routes at Bee Caves Road and Edgegrove Drive, at a frequency of 30 to 35 minutes, she said.

The proposed plan was part of Capital Metro's Service Expansion Policy and allowed the city's Community Development Corp. to allocate a portion of their collected taxes to be used as a fee for the service, Golech said. The fee would be based on the cost of the service to Capital Metro without charging the city a 1 percent sales tax, she said.

The first year capital and operating cost to the city of Rollingwood for the route was estimated to be $23,340, with an additional $5,000 for necessary bus stop improvement costs, Golech said.

The RCDC discussed the proposal June 20 and agreed the project was not a city priority for 2013, according to approved meeting minutes.

Alderman Joe Basham said the corporation had not received requests from local businesses asking the city to pursue bus service in Rollingwood.

"There have been no further discussions about adding bus stops in Rollingwood [since June], and there are no pending decisions about joining Capital Metro," Basham said. "The cost of adding the bus stops was much more than we anticipated.

"We continue to believe that adding a bus stop would be beneficial for employees at local businesses, and the addition of a stop in Rollingwood does not add any appreciable costs to Capital Metro since they currently provide bus service along Bee Caves Road with a stop on Walsh Tarlton [Lane]," he said.

West Lake Hills Park & Ride

West Lake Hills is ranked as having the third-highest commute shed, a pattern of commute from one location to another, into downtown Austin in Capital Metro's Service Plan 2020. The plan provides a roadmap for the system's growth during the next decade, Ayala said.

Plan developers determined West Lake Hills to be the fourth priority for additional Park & Ride services, she said. North, South and Northwest Austin will receive these services first, she said.

Capital Metro's Service Plan 2020 will be re-evaluated in one to two years, she said.

Limited bus service in Four Points

There are two Four Points–area bus stops along Capital Metro Route 122, which starts at the Lakeline Park & Ride, runs northbound in the morning to Four Points and continues to Lakeline Mall, Ayala said. At that point, the bus makes an express trip downtown.

"Service in the area is limited due to low density, street networks and transit needs," Ayala said.

Golech said buses function best on a grid street pattern where main arterial streets are fed by cross streets.

"The streets [in Four Points] are not designed in a way that is easy for a bus to access," she said. "There are no safe places for buses to stop."

Golech said buses would have a difficult time trying to pull over on roadways with a high rate of speed—such as RR 620 and RR 2222—and then re-enter traffic after picking up or dropping off passengers. The lack of sidewalks in the area also creates a hazard for pedestrians walking to and from the bus stop along these streets, she said.

Outlook for mass transit

"The western corridor has some challenges," Boyt said. "Part of [the problem] is how do you get transit to serve the [western areas] and tie into existing systems?"

Boyt said that out of four major points along RR 620—Lakeline, Four Points, Lakeway and Bee Cave—only two are in the Capital Metro program. He said the task of putting mass transit into this region would be made easier if local communities, such as Lakeway and Bee Cave, would join Capital Metro.

"We are seeing increased congestion, increased development [in the west]," he said. "People are looking for transportation options and don't want to be stuck in their cars in the 620 corridor."