Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Capital Metro: All Systems Reverse!

Capital Metro, our not-so-venerable public transit system, seems determined to make everything it does into a public relations nightmare. This may be because almost every decision made in recent years by Cap Metro has worked out worse for riders.

For example:

1. The Commuter Rail boondoggle - I don't even want to start with how bad an idea this was. And I don't have to...Mike Dahmus has explained it so much better than I could anyway. (Though I will take exception to his thoughts that light rail would work better...if memory serves, it did nothing for south Austin except what Cap Metro is doing now anyway: rapid bus service. That way commuters can get nowhere faster.)

2. Losing riders? Let's raise fares! - Per the American-Statesman, 44% of people polled think raising fares is a good idea. I'd be willing to bet that 100% of those 44% are not regular riders. (There is no confirmation that they are the same people as responded to this poll, however.) Anyone who rides knows that now is not the time to raise fares, especially since they are not worried about not meeting their budget until 2011.

Here are some ideas of how to expand services first and maybe even make it worthwhile for people to ride before raising fares:

a. Try actually covering all of Austin - hey, we're paying for this thing, why not expand some routes to cover the whole city! As it presently stands, Capital Metro seems to think the city magically ends at Slaughter Lane going south, unless you're west of Mopac...then it ends further north, at Convict Hill.

b. More routes, more often - Anyone wishing to take the 338 (West Gate) south and transfer to the 333 (Wm Cannon) westbound during the 5:00 hour should probably bring a book, since you will be waiting over 30 minutes for your bus. When it's 100 degrees outside, that's not fun. And that's just one example. Perhaps Cap Metro might consider running more buses along those routes to reduce waiting times, so that 15-minute commutes don't become 90-minute ones, courtesy Capital Metro.

3. Pure indifference to riders' concerns/needs - The Manchaca and South 1st "flyer" routes have now been changed such that afternoon riders are not allowed to board south of Lady Bird Lake, presumably to reduce stops. It was related anecdotally to me (but corroborated by several others) that kids wishing to board the 103 (Manchaca Flyer) at Crockett HS were yelled at by the driver, who then shut the door in their faces. The bus was already stopped to let someone off at this location. One student told the driver that this was the only route to use to get home (as the 103 does not exactly parallel the 3, which also travels on Manchaca Rd), but the driver showed no concern whatsoever.

(It should be noted that Capital Metro's website trip planner still shows that it is permissible to board the flyers south of the river. Just be prepared for a cranky driver.)

I could go on about the tendency of some of Cap Metro's drivers to mash whichever pedal they are using to the floor, resulting in bumpy, jerky rides and uncomfortable riders, but I won't.

If you listen to Capital Metro, you won't hear any of these concerns addressed anywhere. Per their "All Systems Go!" webpage, they say the following:
Could it be a dream? You go to work, but you’re not stuck in traffic. You don’t check your watch, wondering if you’ll be late. Instead, you read the sports section or choose a song on your iPod. You arrive early for a change and are remarkably stress free.
Could it be a dream? Absolutely, unless you like getting to your bus stop a good hour before you would have left your home normally. If you think you can leave your home at the same time you did when you drove, expect a nightmare.

Soon, sleek new trains and buses will make this dream a reality.
Unless, of course, you live anywhere in south Austin. If you do, get used to the same old traffic, 'cos Cap Metro won't help you.
Thanks to the All Systems Go plan that you helped create, you might make Capital Metro your second car.

It would have to be my second car, as Capital Metro certainly hasn't proven itself a worthy replacement for my daily commute.


Mike said...

2000's LRT proposal would have run light rail down South Congress to about Slaughter Lane. Even without it, though, it at least offered substantial service to Austin residents, which 2004's commuter rail plan does not (most benefits accrue to Leander and to Cedar Park, the latter of whom don't even pay Cap Metro taxes, and the former of whom pay a tiny fraction of the total).

As for bus route extension - they're damned if they do and damned if they don't. Extending too long and risking even lower FRR brings down political wrath which they fear a lot more than having the route running a bit too short.

The fare increase is long overdue - but an instance of retarded timing (stupid politics) - it's making it way too easy for the Bus Riders Union to blame commuter rail. No real city with bus service has fares this cheap - a buck each way for what CM does is justified (any higher, though, is not, IMO).

Mike said...

I should clarify - I advocated a scaled back LRT start in 2004 which would not have run south of the river - with plans to do so in the future; but even THAT plan would have substantially benefitted Austin residents rather than the people who don't even pay Capital Metro taxes. Reason is that the bridge and the route south of the river were one of the obvious controversies in '00. Better to leave that for an extension after the starter route demonstrates success (which I have absolutely no doubt it would easily have done, just like everywhere else light rail has been tried lately - unlike the commuter rail with shuttlebus combo, which has failed dismally everywhere).