Capital Metro

Spencer Selvidge for KUT News

This is the first in a two-part series on transit use in Austin. Read Part Two: After Ridership Drops, Where Does Cap Metro Go From Here?

Austin is one of the fastest-growing metro areas in the country. Over the last five years, the population in the city limits has increased by nearly a 100,000 people, an 11 percent increase. In the larger region, the growth is even greater. But there’s one part of the city that isn’t growing: transit ridership. Let's take a look at what's behind that trend, in the first of a two-part series on transit use in Austin.

"Ridership has not increased as much as our city has grown," says Jace Deloney, chair of the Urban Transportation Commission, a city board that advises on transportation issues. "We haven't kept up in terms of providing transit service to the people that are moving here."

Courtesy of Capital Metro

Austinites taking public transportation will see a hike in bus and rail fares next week. Starting Jan. 11, fares are going to go up on Capital Metro mass transit.

For bus-goers, what cost just fifty cents six years ago will now cost $1.25. Capital Metro is increasing the base fare for rides on local bus routes this winter, a 25 percent increase. Fares are also going up for what the agency calls its premium buses, like MetroRapid, to $1.75 per ride. Additionally, a trip on the Metrorail Red Line will now cost you $3.50 each way, up from $2.75.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT

Earlier this year, Austinites got a warning from their mayor: Pass a proposed light rail line, or face certain doom. There was no "Plan B," voters were told. 

"Here's the basic equation," Mayor Lee Leffingwell said in his State of the City address, "Rail or fail." 

Austin voters chose the latter option this election, saying "No" to a billion-dollar light rail and road improvements proposal by a wide margin, 57 percent voting "No" and 43 percent voting "Yes." The proposal garnered a lot of interest, with 15,000 more Austinites voting on it than on the race for Mayor of Austin.

Contrary to what you might have heard, this was technically the first time a rail plan has been voted down within city limits. So what happened? How did a supposedly progressive, typically bond-approving city electorate shoot down something so strongly?

Austin's Rail and Roads Bond Defeated

Nov 4, 2014
Jenna VonHofe/KUT

After years of false starts and changed plans for light rail in Austin, voters have decided against a billion-dollar plan that would have brought the city its first light rail line and hundreds of millions of dollars in road improvements. 

Rail hasn't been on the ballot in Austin for ten years (though it did come close), so there was a lot of anticipation about this vote. If it had been approved, a billion dollars in all would have be taken on in city debt, $600 million to partially pay for a starter 9.5 mile light rail line and $400 million for improvements to state roads aimed at easing congestion. (For a detailed explainer on the proposal, we've got you covered.)

The final tally of votes had the proposal losing by a wide margin, with 57 percent of voters saying "No" and 43 percent voting "Yes." That's a 14-point loss for the light rail and roads proposal. (By comparison, in 2000, a light rail proposal in Austin was defeated by a margin of less than a point.) Overall, more people voted on the rail and roads proposition than did in the race for mayor (nearly 15,000 move votes in all). Voters in the urban core voted to pass the measure (map below), but they were outnumbered by voters outside of the urban core that voted against. (You can view an interactive map and see how your precinct voted here.)

Project Connect

Update, Nov. 5: Austin voters decided against the light rail and road improvements proposal, commonly known as Austin's 'Prop 1.' The final tally of votes had the proposal losing by a wide margin, with 57 percent of voters saying "No" and 43 percent voting "Yes." That's a 14-point loss for the light rail and roads proposal. 

Original story, Nov. 4: It's the biggest debt proposal in Austin history, and it comes to a billion dollars in all: $600 million of it for a starter light rail line, with $400 million for improvements to state roads.

There's a lot to unpack here, and plenty of debate on the merits of this transportation proposal. So here it is, the (hopefully) last explainer you'll need this election for Austin's rail and roads proposition, featuring our reporting over the many months (and years) leading up to today's decision. 

Spencer Selvidge/KUT News

Disclosure: Project Connect and Capital Metro have been supporters of KUT.

Fifteen years from now, someone in Austin is going to get to say, "I told you so."

If voters approve a starter light rail proposal next week and it's built, by 2030 it's supposed to reach full steam, with some 16,000-18,000 trips per day (or roughly eight to nine thousand passengers a day). 

There has been a lot of debate about this proposal, even by Austin standards. A lot of that has been about the route of the line. The plan is to borrow $1 billion. $400 million would pay for some road improvement projects around Austin. The rest would partially pay for a 9.5 mile line that would run from East Riverside, through downtown and the UT campus, and terminate in the area around Highland Mall.

But let's step aside from the route for a moment, and think about the tool. What if, instead of a light rail line, we opted for a Rapid Bus line instead?

Jeff Heimsath for KUT

Last night, KUT's Views & Brews partnered with the Austin Monitor at the Cactus Cafe to take a look at the past, present and future of transportation in Austin.

From roads, to buses, round-a-bouts to rail, guest host Michael Kanin of the Austin Monitor spoke with some of the historians, policy makers and analysts in town, including the Director of the Center for Transportation Research at the University of Texas at Austin Dr. Chandra Bhat, political consultant Mark Littlefield, Greg Hartman of the Let’s Go Austin political action campaign supporting Proposition 1, Roger Cauvin of Austinites for Urban Rail Action, which opposes the plan.

You can listen to the entire discussion below.

Jeff Heimsath for KUT

Austin voters are facing two major decisions this November.

First, Austinites will elect a new city council from brand new geographic districts, and voters will also decide whether to borrow $600 million to build a light rail line.

But, with so many City Hall hopefuls running on Prop 1-bashing stump speeches, what happens if voters approve the measure, and the next council has to implement policy they’ve sworn against?

Spencer Selvidge for KUT News

Claudia Teran is late for class. She's waiting at the corner of 45th and Guadalupe streets for her bus. She's studying media at UT and the bus is her main way of getting around.

Her bus – the 1, a local route – is running a little late today, so she's late. But what if she could've known her bus was late? What if she could look up on her phone where her bus is right now? What if

Online, real-time bus tracking is one of a few improvements coming to Cap Metro buses that aim to keep drivers out of their cars and on public transit.

Spencer Selvidge/KUT News

Austin's "MetroRapid" buses are larger and, let's be honest, nicer than your typical bus. They've got more doors, for one, which makes for faster loading and unloading. You can look up when the next one's going to arrive on your smartphone. They have Wi-Fi, too. In January, the first line debuted, the 801, running up and down North Lamar and Congress. This week, the second one started up, the 803, going from the Domain down Burnet, through downtown and down South Lamar. 

The Rapid bus system is the first major transit project in Austin since the troubled rollout of the MetroRail red line several years ago.* That project was late, over budget and struggled to attract riders.

The rapid buses, however, started on time and under budget. But six months after the launch of the first rapid line, ridership in its corridor is down 16 percent from two years ago during the same period. (You can view the ridership numbers obtained by KUT below.)

"We certainly didn't want that to happen. We hoped that wouldn’t happen. But it did happen," says Todd Hemingson, Vice President of strategic planning and development with Capital Metro.

So why, after premiering shiny new buses with plenty of features, did ridership go down in the corridor?

http://www.flickr.com/photos/mrlaugh/6705429685

A major transportation plan took a significant step forward Thursday when the Austin City Council voted unanimously to put it on the November ballot.

It’s a billion-dollar proposition. Voters would agree to a $600 million bond for a 9.5-mile urban rail line, contingent upon two conditions: matching funds from the Federal Transit Administration or another federal or state source, and a future city council securing $400 million dollars for road projects. The ordinance does not specify a source for the additional $400 million.

Project Connect

A proposal to build a $1.4 billion urban rail line in Austin faces a key vote today in the city council. The 9.5 mile urban rail line would run from Riverside Drive and Grove, through downtown to Highland Mall.

Supporters of the plan say that route is going to see a lot of growth over the next few years. Opponents wonder why it’s not going in where things are already happening. Like, along Lamar or Guadalupe.

Project Connect

Capital Metro voted Monday to move forward with recommendations from Project Connect. The next steps are deciding who will govern its potential urban  rail operations and where some of the funding will come from. The City of Austin and Capital Metro are both major players.

But while Project Connect moved a step forward, there was a push from the Cap Metro board to take a step back.

After dozens of public meetings and no shortage of criticism, Project Connect arrived at a proposed route for its urban rail that would go from Riverside to Highland Mall. On Monday, Capital Metro Board Chair Mike Martinez asked for analysis on a whole new route, from Austin-Bergstrom International to UT.

Project Connect

The Austin City Council and the Capital Metro Board met today to learn more about a proposed urban rail route that needs approval from the council – and ultimately, Austin voters. There are still concerns about how to pay for the project.

Project Connect is looking at adding rail, buses and other options to the transit system in Central Texas. But the project's proposed plan for downtown Austin is still contentious because it favors a route that would bring urban rail through East Riverside and up to Highland Mall at a cost of almost $1.4 billion.

Project Connect

A proposed urban rail line is one small step closer to becoming a reality after a panel of local officials, business leaders and citizens voted overwhelmingly to recommend the $1.38 billion proposal. The Central Corridor Advisory Group voted 13-1 in favor of Project Connect's 9.5 mile plan.

"The last time we put this option before voters was 14 years ago," Mayor Lee Leffingwell said. "I've been conscious all along that we had to put a good and appealing project before the voters. I think this recommendation will do that."

The lone dissenting vote was from public transit advocate Julie Montgomery of AURA. Among her concerns is that parts of the proposed route are not in areas where urban rail is in high demand. 

Austin's Rapid Bus Struggles After a Slow Start

Jun 3, 2014
Filipa Rodrigues/KUT

From StateImpact Texas:

Standing on Guadalupe Street in Austin facing the tower at the University of Texas, 26-year-old Emily Mandell waits at the bus stop with a scowl on her face. She’s not looking forward to this ride.

“It’s the same as sitting in traffic, but now you’re sitting in traffic stopping at a lot of places with a lot of other people,” Mandell says.

Along Guadalupe and Lavaca, two major north-south arteries through downtown Austin, long, bendy buses labeled “MetroRapid” have recently joined the chaos that is Austin traffic. The city of Austin’s transportation agency, Capital Metro, rolled out this new line in January* in an effort to get more people out of cars and using public transportation. But the rollout hasn't gone as expected, calling into question how the agency will handle expanding transportation to meet the fast-growing city's needs.

Project Connect

Some die-hard public transit supporters say Austin’s 9.5 mile, $1.38 billion urban rail proposal is misguided, too expensive, and follows a poorly traveled route

"Why would a city our size put in something that is so pricey on a very weak route?" former Capital Metro board vice president Lyndon Henry says. "This is insane."

Reddit user KidOmni

Disclaimer: Capital Metro is a sponsor of KUT.

Capital Metro's new MetroRapid bus service launched on Sunday. And with the new route came additional service changes some say give short-shrift to existing riders on Cap Metro's most popular lines.

MetroRapid line 801 travels from Southpark Meadows to the Tech Ridge area in North Austin. Its route through the urban core – along South Congress Avenue and Guadalupe Street – parallels Cap Metro's 1L and 1M bus lines, the routes with the highest ridership in Austin. And another route – the 101 Express – traveled largely along the same line. (Read more about service changes.)

Spencer Selvidge for KUT News

The Austin City Council is considering an ordinance that would set rules for the city’s new transit lanes.

Bus-only lanes for Capital Metro’s new MetroRapid service are on Guadalupe and Lavaca streets between Martin Luther King Boulevard and Cesar Chavez Street. Other vehicles are only allowed to use the lanes to make right turns.

The new ordinance would make it against the law to stop or park in the lanes. Currently that could be punished with a $25 dollar parking ticket – but the city wants to up that fine to as much as $500 dollars.

http://www.mlkcelebration.com/

Austin’s Annual Community Celebration:

The annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Day march from the University of Texas at Austin campus to Huston-Tillotson University starts at 9 a.m. Marchers will meet at the MLK statue near Speedway and West 23rd Street at UT.

An MLK Day festival begins at Huston-Tillotson after the march. It runs until 3 p.m.

There will be some road and lane closures for the march and festival – affected roadways include the I-35 frontage roads, North Congress Avenue and 11th Street.

Click here to see the full parade route.

UT Shuttle
Image courtesy Cap Metro

Tight budgets could leave some UT Austin commuters without a bus line in the upcoming semester, according to Cap Metro. 

The Wickersham Lane (Route WL) shuttle will be eliminated this semester and the Cameron Road route (Route CR) will be shortened this semester, renamed Route Camino La Costa (Route CLC) and then eliminated after the spring semester.  

The transit authority attributes the cutbacks to a persistent lack of funds from UT's Student Services Budget Committee.

Wells Dunbar, KUT News

Disclaimer: Project Connect is a KUT sponsor.

Update: The Austin City Council unanimously endorsed two locations for urban rail last night: the Highland Mall region and East Riverside. You can watch citizen testimony and council action on the recommendation.

As KUT reported, investment in those corridors was proposed by Project Connect – a working group of City of Austin, Capital Metro, and other regional transportation officials.

Project Connect named Highland and East Riverside after what it said was a robust, data-driven public input process – but many rail advocates present at the vote last night questioned the process and the decision.

Original story (Dec. 12): To hear Project Connect tell it, they’re practically drowning in data. Project lead Kyle Keahey cited some 45 different measures of information and 11 indices when the group announced its recommendation. (You can look at lots of that data here.)

Spencer Selvidge / KUT

Austin’s new express bus service has a launch date.

On Jan. 26. Capital Metro’s MetroRapid service will begin offering bus service at least every 15 minutes – and even more during rush hour.

The first route starts in January: it runs along North Lamar to Guadalupe to South Congress. The second route will launch later in 2014. It will run along Burnet Road to Guadalupe to South Lamar. (See a map of the routes below.)

Sebastian Herrera for KUT News

Update: While it was being used as soon as the concrete dried, today marks the official opening of the city’s latest “cycle track” – a protected stretch of bike lane on Guadalupe Street from MLK Jr. Boulevard to 24th Street.

“Street ambassadors” including representatives from Capital Metro and the police department will be present along the track to educate the public. They are located in front of the University Co-op today, and will reappear there on Monday. Oct. 21.

Non-profit Bike Austin has also launched an awareness campaign about the track. You can learn more about it here, and see a diagram of the cycle track below.

notevenpast.org

It's no secret that traveling through Austin comes with a price: traffic.

However, the way Central Texans commute could change by the turn of the next decade as the region seeks a potential solution to traffic: urban rail.

Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

Road construction that will result in bus-only lanes on Guadalupe and Lavaca streets could begin as soon as next week.

The “transit priority lanes” are part of the MetroRapid project by Capital Metro. Capital Metro will prohibit cars on the right-most lanes of Guadalupe and Lavaca Streets between Cesar Chavez Street and MLK Jr. Boulevard. Cars will be allowed to use the bus-only lanes to make right turns.  

KUT News

Another Labor Day is here in Austin. Here’s a rundown of street closures, holiday schedules, rules for the road and more:

Road Closures:

Several downtown and South Austin streets are closed or partially-closed this morning for a triathlon.

Rachel Adams-Heard

It’s an exciting time for Capital Metro. The transportation authority is launching its MetroRapid bus service next year, and is looking to play a role in urban rail if and when rail launches.

But there’s one large constituency that’s dependent on Cap Metro right now: the disabled. For Austinites seeking independence while living with a disability, public transportation makes perfect sense. But some people are saying that Cap Metro is making it unfairly difficult for some disabled individuals to get around.

Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

Austin’s new MetroRapid buses don’t just hold more passengers – they hold traffic lights. 

"As the [buses] approach intersections – and if they are behind schedule – the traffic signal will remain green for up to seven seconds to give these buses additional time to cross the intersection," Capital Metro’s Joe Iannello said today. The group held a press conference to show off the new vehicles.

Callie Hernandez for KUT News

Update: Capital Metro’s MetroRail Service is back up and running this morning. But trains are running behind schedule because of a technology problem earlier this morning.

Capital Metro says the first train will depart from Leander at about 6:50 a.m.

A Capital Metro spokesperson says crews will work hard this morning to get back on schedule.

Original Story (6:22 a.m.): Capital Metro’s MetroRail Service is down this morning because of a technology problem.

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