Capital Metro

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.

 

Preparations are underway for the Auditorium Shores concert and fireworks show Thursday.

The festivities start at 8:30 p.m., with a performance by the Austin Symphony. Fireworks are set to start at 9:30 p.m., and the event is expected to end at 10 p.m.

Above, you'll find a map of street closures for the event — streets marked red will be completely closed. Those in blue will be partially shut down.

Courtesy of Capitol Metropolitan Transit Authority

You may have to dig out another quarter to board a bus in Austin.

Capital Metro Transit Authority met today to hear a proposal that could bump up fares over the next two years.

Though the transit board won’t approve anything until September, the possible move to raise rates by 25% could net as much as $2.2 million annually. 

Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

It’s the last day of regular classes for the spring semester at the University of Texas. And as it happens every last day of class on UT campus, some students are celebrating with Foam Sword Friday, helping students relieve stress before finals.

The campus tradition used to consist of students charging at one another from either side of Guadalupe Street in front of the University Co-Op. That is, until one student was hit by a bus last spring.

flickr.com/geolobo

This weekend, a man hijacked a Capital Metro bus – resulting in a police pursuit that lead to Bastrop before the hijacker killed himself.

Today, Capital Metro announced the man that took the bus was one of their own: Salvador Martinez, a bus operator employed by Cap Metro contractor McDonald Transit. Martinez’s tenure with Cap Metro dated back to 1998.

KUT News

Update: Capital Metro says MetroRail service is back up and running as normal this morning – all the way from Leander to downtown Austin.

Derailed freight cars have been removed from the tracks.

Original Story (April 4, 2013): CapMetro has resumed MetroRail service to the MLK station from their Kramer, Howard and Leander Stations. Trains will run as schedule for the foreseeable future while buses will shuttle passengers between MLK and downtown.

Daniel Reese

The capital area’s transportation planning authority, known as CAMPO, is made up of representatives from Austin and five counties of Central Texas. Now CAMPO is considering bringing on a seventh member, Burnet County.

The Austin City Council will vote today on whether it wants to approve Burnet County’s request to join (PDF). The equation might seem simple: As part of the region, Burnet County should have a say in the region’s transportation needs. But with a cacophony of voices speaking for CAMPO, no decision is straightforward.

Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

Capital Metro is reporting more record high ridership numbers from this year's South by Southwest Festival.

Capital Metro says boardings were up from last year by almost 7,000 on MetroRail for the first several days of SXSW. Capital Metro even had to operate an additional train after hours to carry more than 100 passengers still waiting on the platform. The trains on Saturday are starting at 10 a.m. – a few hours earlier than usual.

Jeff Heimsath for KUT News

Good morning. Austin's in for partly cloudy weather with a seasonal high in the 70s, according to the National Weather Service.

Lead Story: There’s a new two-year labor contract for Austin bus drivers.

McDonald Transit operates about 70 percent of Capital Metro’s fixed route bus service.  It has signed a two-year labor contract with Amalgamated Transit Union 1091, which represents the drivers and mechanics, after being ratified with a union vote of 91 percent.

Rachel Wilcox

Capital Metro proposing a new bus route to the Circle C and Western Oaks neighborhoods of Southwest Austin. The rush-hour route would run parallel to MoPac and provide service to downtown and University of Texas areas.

If adopted, the new route would be called the "111 South MoPac Flyer" and would begin service on June 9.

It’s just one of several service changes being considered by CapMetro. The public transit agency has scheduled several public meetings on the proposals. The first one is Tuesday, March 5 at noon. That meeting will also be streamed online. 

flickr.com/leelefever

Austin doesn’t have urban rail – but it’s already suffering from an identity crisis.

That was one big takeaway from a presentation by urban planning experts on how Austin can get a rail project up and running.

Austin is one of four U.S. cities chosen as part of an Urban Land Institute fellowship focusing on urban issues. The participating cities each chose a focus issue for a year-long study – and Austin chose rail.

Callie Hernandez for KUT News

If you’ve ever wondered why a bus line stops at a certain place, or why some parts of town have more transportation options than others, this week Capital Metro has been having a series of open houses to answer those kinds of questions. Residents have shown a lot of interest in plans for urban rail.

Urban rail is still in the planning stages. But the first phase is expected to go from the downtown Convention Center through the UT campus and on to the Mueller neighborhood.

Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority

A new pedestrian path has opened along a stretch of the 183A toll road, connecting Leander and Cedar Park. The five-mile, ten-foot-wide path cost $3.1 million dollars and opens in conjunction with the second phase of 183A construction.

The Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority is in charge of the project, and spokesman Steve Pustelnyk says the CTRMA hopes people will use the path for recreation and commuting to work. 

Caleb Miller for KUT News

Even though it’s Monday, it’s still a “No Refusal” weekend for Austin drivers.

From 9 p.m. through 5 a.m., the Austin Police Department will ask suspected drunk drivers to take a mandatory breath test. And if drivers don't agree, police will ask for a subpoena for DWI suspects' blood.  The Austin Police Department says 23 people were arrested for DWI on Sunday.

In an effort to keep Austin’s roads safe, Capital Metro and APD have partnered to provide free Cap Metro services from 6 p.m. until 3 a.m. Buses will run on a regular schedule tonight, but will be reduced to Sunday level service on New Year’s Day. For more information, visit capmetro.org.

Good Friday morning to you. Austin’s in for a warm and breezy weekend until a cold front blows in Sunday night, according to the National Weather Service. Here’s some stories KUT News has been working on.

“Though it’s only November, the springtime music conference that takes over Austin each year, South by Southwest, is already beginning to take shape.  Thursday, organizers released the initial lineup.”

“Austin-based singer-songwriter Darden Smith is working to do something about the thousands of service members affected by PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). …

Smith is the founder of a new program to help promote soldiers’ healing through music. Texas Music Matters’ David Brown reports from a camp outside Fort Hood, site of a recent Songwriting with Soldiers retreat.”

Nathan Bernier

1. You're More Likely to Get Caught Tonight:

The Austin Police Department is enforcing a "No Refusal policy" beginning tonight at 9 and ending Thursday at 5 a.m.

That means police will conduct blood search warrants on drivers who are pulled over on suspicion of drunk driving and refuse to voluntarily submit to a breathalyzer or blood test.

2. It'll Cost You:

Police say anyone found with a blood alcohol content of .08 or higher will be charged with a Class B misdemeanor and could face 3 days to 6 months in jail, a one year suspension of their driver’s license and a fine of up to $2,000 for a first offense.

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