Remember the ‘Dillo? No, not the legendary music venue The Armadillo. We’re talking about Austin’s free trolley system that shut down in 2009. There were several routes that took people around downtown for free, starting in the eighties, until they went away a few years ago.
Now, the ‘Dillo is making a comeback.
The years of the 'Dillo (1984-2009) were the golden years of getting around downtown Austin: Old-style trolleys like you would see on the hills of San Francisco, but using wheels instead of rails to move around. They ran every five minutes on weekdays and for most of their run they were free. Then, in 2008, there was a charge of fifty cents (ridership dropped as a result).
But then, in the fall of 2009, the ‘Dillos stopped running. Capital Metro said they weren’t attracting enough riders and they needed to balance their budget for the new commuter rail ‘Red Line.’ Today, there’s a new kind of ‘Dillo on Austin’s downtown streets, but it’s not from Capital Metro — this ‘Dillo-style service is coming from a private company instead.
“We are going to fund the start of a new pilot, known as the RideScout Route — a downtown circulator," says Joseph Kopser, CEO of RideScout, a transportation network app.
Starting today, RideScout is sponsoring a free downtown circulator that will run from the commuter rail stop at the convention center up to Sixth Street, over to the central bus station at Guadalupe, and then back to the convention center along Second Street. It doesn’t even have stops — if you want a ride, just wave it down.
Kopser says RideScout is hoping to fill in gaps in the city’s public transit system. The city’s commuter rail and central bus station are currently more than half a mile apart, with limited bus connections that run infrequently.
“We’re trying to help those commuters that come in on rail, those commuters that come in on the bus system, as well as the downtown workers that are just trying to run errands and have lunch during their normal workday," Kopser says.
The RideScout Route is a pilot project, with initial funding that will cover service just for this summer downtown. And the hours are limited, from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. on weekdays only. But Kopser says if it goes well and they can get more partners on board, the service will be expanded, with more routes, larger shuttles and longer hours.
The route will use four- and six-seat electric shuttles run by Electric Cab Austin, a far cry from the trolley style of those old ‘Dillos. Oh, and whatever happened to those old green ‘Dillos once run by Capital Metro? They were sold at auction years ago. For now, Austinites will have to look to the private sector for their downtown ‘Dillo fix.