Author of Blog: Daniel Day
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Advice on Improving CapMetro

Normally, I would have written this on my own feed, but because this isn't in San Antonio, I decided to create a separate page on how to improve CapMetro.  Recently, Jace Deloney and KUT.org reported how CapMetro is getting a drop in ridership despite more Millennials moving to Austin.  Some of the reason isn't because of not having free bus fare, but simply because of more protected bicycle lanes, outsourcing to corporations to operate the buses, having the routes crisscross each other and having a confusing numbering system.  The bus fare is a mess and to top it all off Austin Transit Advocates have been wanting to bring back since 1993, FREE BUS FARE.  In this essay, I go and number all the reason why things are worse and what you can advocate for as a resident of Austin to improve the system that you depend on.

1. Austin Growing Bicycle Network

Perhaps the biggest thing reducing the numbers of people choosing public transit is probably the elephant in the room that nobody is noticing.  It is the growing number of protected bike lanes and the network of existing bike lanes.  You see, the last time I was in Austin, I didn't bother to get on the bus.  I took the Greyhound bus from San Antonio and as I left the station out there by Highlands Mall, I just decided to ride.  As I rode towards downtown, I notice something, how more friendly it was to ride a bicycle compared to my daily grind here in San Antonio.  Even though I heard from Austin's cyclist how they felt about Austin's network which many replied back saying "its there but it's half ass."  My reply: "I'll take Austin's "half ass" network any day of the week compared to what San Antonio lacks." And that's the thing, if you feel safe riding your bicycle, you'll come to discover how quickly you get from point A to point B.  You began to feel that you can travel faster than the bus and in reality, you do get to your destination faster because in the 30 minutes it takes to wait for a bus, you could be to your destination (if within 3 miles) within have that time.  So to improve upon this, Transit advocates should help CapMetro out by working to build more protected bike lane with plenty of bus stop island.  This will make the greener choice more inviting and help out CapMetro by making their riders and operators feel safe when getting off and on the bus. 


2. Get CapMetro to Operate It's Services

Here's the dirty little secret about CapMetro, they hire corporations to operate the bus service.  Unlike here in San Antonio where VIA pays top notch for it's drivers, mechanics, who win awards and are celebrated for driving safely. CapMetro on the other hand hires corporations who keep driver pay down and from the looks from the recent accident of a CapMetro Express bus, it looks like they're underpaid and over worked. (Image 1) Truth-Out seems to be the only online source that is telling how things really are, the fleecing of the American Poor by having transit agencies outsource their services and in return, well look at the current ridership numbers.
Image 1

For any improvements to the system (i.e. free bus fare) CapMetro is going to have to take ownership of operating it's system.  Now I don't really recommend this for the rail service, however, even that should be operated by CapMetro and not Herzog. Corporations have something you and I don't have, and that's MONEY, and that's all they care about. When citizens are trying to change the system for the better, I bet it's the corporations that are paid to operate the system are screwing Austin in the process in back rooms bribing CapMetro board of directors on what they want to see.  It's interesting to note that VIA who don't outsource the operation of their bus service to brags constantly on how they get more service for a lower price. 
As a person who worked for a contractor doing the dirty work of a bigger corporations, I have first hand experience how the employees of the contractor feels towards the bigger corporation which isn't a good one.  You also have a problem with the rules for your not just following the rules of the bigger corporation, your also following the little rules that you as a contractor have made up unwritten.  So this is what's happening in Austin, the bus drivers don't feel loyalty to CapMetro, but feel more loyalty towards what ever corporation is signing their paycheck at the end of the month for driving that bus.  So being disrespectful to the riding public is a natural thing to do and when your being paid less and having the contractor hide problems all along the system, well your getting lousy service and if you have to deal with a lousy bus drivers on a daily basis, well, I would rather pollute driving a car than be green and ride the bus. 



3. The Bus Route Numbers Tell You Where They Go, Not What They Do.  

It's strange to look at a map of Austin, for unlike other cities which are arranged in concentric circles, Austin looks like someone grabbed both ends and stretched it along I-35. To compound the problem, your bus route number system is a confusing thing to understand.  I get confused because instead of the numbers telling me where the bus is going, it is also telling me what type of service.  You see, you have the number not just telling where it goes, but also what  type of service it provides.  To an outsider like me, it's a mess to figure out where things go and on top of all that, what type of service they do. 
Image 2

Image 3
In San Antonio, I don't have that problem because I know that the buses numbered 1-99 go to downtown and I can tell which side of town they serve by the number.  I drew this circle the city of San Antonio showing how they number the routes that go to and from downtown and which numbers serve which side of towns. There's also different types of service called Metro, Frequent, Skip and Express.  Instead of having a different set of number for those types of service, they simply designate the type of service either by the color of the bus schedule or the coloration of the bus number at the bus stop downtown except for the Primo of course.  The same goes for crosstown buses, they're numbered 500-599 and Suburban Neighborhood buses are numbered 600-699.  So when I ride the bus, I'm never confused on where the route goes because I know by the number.  And I know by the designation that this bus either skips stops, (Skip) runs every 30 minutes during the day, (Metro) will run by every 15 minutes, (Frequent) or will express me to the destination. (Express). 

Now people think that having the buses that go through downtown to continue on as a different route is stupid, but in reality, it helps by preventing people from getting on the wrong bus.  You see the 76 is pared with the 28.  I know by the number 76 that it serves the Westside, and by the number 28 that it serves the east side.  Also by paring the routes, you make the service also provide crosstown services as it goes through downtown.  To prevent troubles, an automated announcement over the speakers on the bus tells the riders what route it continues as it enters downtown. 

Image 4
Austin has like six different numbering systems (Image 3) along with service that goes, which get confusing because even though you have one bus serving this street, you also have this route serving this street as this type of service. On top of that, you have the UT routes which to me are even more confusing.  You have a set of numbers for Local Service that goes to downtown, you also have a set of different numbers that go to downtown like the Limited & Flyer Routes and the Express routes. why can't they be numbered 1-99 or so despite being a Flyer or an Express service.  Like the Image I drew for San Antonio, VIA actually goes by a circle just like this to designate the route number on where it will go, on which route it might be paired with.(Image 4)  Why not do the same thing with CapMetro and renumber the routes that are Flyer and Express to show what side of town they serve and see if they're not actually crosstown routes and stop numbering your bus routes what they do.

4. Downtown corridors and parallel routes 

When you look at the map of downtown Austin, you see buses going all over the place and when do this, you make it hard to transfer to the proper route. Back in 04, VIA redid the entire system and when they did, they created 3 corridors through downtown, one east/west, and the other 2 north/south. By doing this, they reduce travel time though downtown from up to 30 minutes to on average of 10 minutes. With this configuration you can transfer from one route to any other route going through downtown. This is true except for the 62/89 route for it should be going up St Mary's / Navarro instead of Flores. Despite this, I rarely hear complaints about connecting to another route from hostage users like myself.  

In Austin, all the north/south buses should be serving Guadalupe and Lavaca, and all the east/west buses should be serving 11th St.  If CapMetro is so interested in having all the buses serve it's rail line, then might I suggest, that they invest some capital into extending that rail line to Guadalupe St like it use to. 

Now Since Austin is "stretched" it's somewhat hard to have multiple parallel routes going to and from downtown, but having plenty of crosstown routes that run on 15 to 20 minutes frequency should be looked into for from the looks on the CapMetro map, it could use  more crosstown services further south and further north.  Looking At the system map, I notice the 30 becomes a crosstown route, as it snakes all the way on the far westside of Austin to S Congress. I'm sorry, it just has stay out there so it can connect places, not be a car.  The same with having multiple Express routes going to the same place, that's just no good and is a waste of resources to begin with.  Going by the circle I've drawn (Image 4) and by making the routes actually go to certain places, you'll reduce the number of times you have that same route serve the same place other routes go to.

Also do you really need all those UT routes?  Some of them actually serve what other routes do.  It seems to be over redundant and confusing.  It looks like some of those bus routes should be discontinued and those resources be put to other regular routes that already serve those areas so everyone has a chance to have good service, not a bunch of rich kids.   

5. Simplify the Fare

I never understood why you need to buy different types of passes and you have three types of fare structures, one for the regular service, one for premium service and finally one for commuter service. No wonder bus ridership is down, it's bloody confusing, and you have a different fare for what?  I'm confused, but to say the least, but aren't we all commuters when we get on board the bus going to work?  We don't have different types of passes here in San Antonio, for VIA did away with the multiple passes sometime around 1996 or so and since then has never gone back. My monthly big pass cost $35 and with that cost, I get free bus rides on all services, regular and express and if they ever get a train here in San Antonio, my Big Pass would also pay for train rides too. 

If you want people to ride the bus, you need to make it simple for everyone to be able to pay for the service.  There's no reason to have three different fares at all for it's already confusing to figure out where the buses goes, making it harder to pay for the service they need is simply the wrong way to promote the environmental friendly way to commute.  Yes you need separate fares from the regular service and the Express.  For a great example on how to fix your fare system, I apologetically send you to The VIA site page on bus fare. The rail shouldn't have a fare zone so much as it should maybe cost 25¢ more than the express service. But I should be able to buy ONE pass for one low price of no more than $40 per month to use all the service that CapMetro provides. 

6. Free Bus Fare 

And now, what every transit activists in Austin has been trying in vain to bring back since 1992, free bus fare.  When free bus fare Is tried over and over again, it makes the executives of the transit agency disgusted that the homeless are using the system. Now my experience with some homeless is making this hostage user wanting to keep bus fare simply because as a person, I don't want to smell your urine or your unwashed body. Yes I know you get dirty from work, and yes I know sweating people stink, but as soon as we get home, we go to the shower for I believe that it is the duty of every citizen to take a bath every day. Because of this, I guarantee that Austin, or any other city in North America will ever have free bus fare. 

But wait, in the city of Tallinn, Estonia, the mayor last year declared free bus fare for everyone who live in Tallinn.  All you have to do as a resident of Tallinn, provide a small fee and proof of residency.  By doing this, the City of Tallinn saw a 10% decrease in vehicle traffic.  This Mayor does see the need for more people to use public transit, but he's not willing to do a repeat of history that every city in North America and Europe did when they made the buses free of charge

Here's my recommendation for Austin and it's the same one I recently wrote for My Advice on Improving VIA, Part II.  Just like the feeling of driving a car is free, so should be riding the bus.  But remember, we all pay for registration, gasoline, and maintenance. Well if you happen to be a Resident of Austin for more than 2 years, then you should qualify for free bus rides all year long at the low price of $60 a year.  We should limit the number of people to 4 individuals per household, and proof of residency should be a 3 year old drivers license, an electricity bill, a water bill, a lease, tax return or even school records.  This way, we get the free bus rides and keep the homeless or what transit experts call, the problem riders off the bus.  There should also be a way to replace this card at least twice for free. 


I hope that the people who read this living in Austin, will go forth and fix the public transit system called CapMetro.  There's no reason that a well funded transit system should be treated like it is today.  VIA does it right and because many of us Hostage users (people who depend on public transit) rarely get out of San Antonio and use the bus systems in other cities, we're not told what is so great.  And get this, VIA receives only 1/2 cent sales tax while Austin CapMetro receives a 1 whole cent sales tax.    On March 17, I'll be posting my story called What VIA does Right for they do a lot of stuff right and it's due time that I write and tell the world that they themselves.  So go forth Austinites and fix your lousy transit system. 

1 comment:

  1. Hi Daniel,

    As much as I'd like to believe that the reason for the ridership drop is due to more people bicycling, I'd need to see some solid facts before I believed that. On a recent day, myself and fellow members of AURA conducted a traffic count of all northbound travelers through a section of the Drag. The mode share we counted was 54% were drivers or passengers in cars; 45% were passengers in buses; 1% were on bicycles.