Lago Vista ponders scant bus usage, hefty payment to Cap Metro

For most of three decades, Lago Vista has been a remote afterthought to Capital Metro.

Lago Vista officials, as a consequence, are having second thoughts about the worth of the transit service to the community of 6,500 on Lake Travis’ northern shore. Although the town’s city manager and mayor declined to predict what might happen, a lawyer for the city in a Jan. 7 memo to the Lago Vista Council spelled out what it would take to stage an election this November giving voters the chance to pull out of Capital Metro.

That, in turn, would allow sales tax money now going to the transit service to be spent on other needs in the town.

Lago Vista, a member of the Capital Metro service area since the agency’s 1985 inception, year after year has delivered the proceeds from a 1 percent sales tax to Capital Metro. Last fiscal year, that amounted to almost $370,000, or about 7 percent of the town’s $5.3 million general fund budget.

For that, it gets a single bus route, the No. 214, running mostly along RM 1431 to and from the Lakeline MetroRail station 16 times each weekday. Town residents are also eligible to apply for and use Capital Metro’s van pool service.

Usage is light, according to Capital Metro, with an average of three boardings on each of the 32 daily one-way bus runs, with two of those being residents of Lago Vista, totaling just under 1,900 rides a month.

Ridership on the No. 214 fell 13 percent last year. Town officials estimate that, at most, 50 people from the town, less than 1 percent of the population, use the service, including between 10 and 15 who participate in registered van pools.

A pullout election, Lago Vista City Manager Melissa Byrne Vossmer said in an interview Friday, “is a possible outcome. But it’s too early even to say that. We don’t have nearly enough data to make that decision.”

The city intends to collect more information about ridership, both from its own observations and from Capital Metro, and discuss service improvements. For instance, Mayor Dale Mitchell said, more than 60 percent of the sprawling town’s population lives south of the No. 214’s southernmost current stop.

Town officials have been looking at the Capital Metro situation since last spring. Until then, Mitchell said, no one had really reviewed the bus service and its usage for many years, and the town rarely heard from Capital Metro officials.

That has been changing in the past few months.

“Planning staff has been reviewing the feasibility of serving the new Lago Vista High School,” Capital Metro spokeswoman Amy Peck said in an email Friday, adding that the agency is also looking for better ways to access the Lago Vista Town Center shopping area.

The city held a town hall meeting in May on the transit service.

“The citizens came out and told us how much they were using it,” Mitchell said. “Certain citizens, of course.”

The town deputized resident Jim Speckmann, a retired Air Force officer who had worked for the Florida Department of Transportation, to learn as much as he could about the service and its usage.

Speckmann over the next few months rode every one of those 32 daily bus runs. He said there were generally just two or three boardings each time. And then there were the van pool users, who are enthusiastic proponents of Capital Metro, which provides the vans at little cost to the users.

One woman, who drove for her van pool and thus had to pay nothing for the transportation, had been doing it for 15 years.

“She said the savings she got from it essentially paid for her house out here,” Speckmann said.

So, does he sense community momentum to pull out of Capital Metro?

“Just the opposite,” Speckmann said, given what the service means to the few in Lago Vista who use it. “If that happens, you could see mushroom clouds forming on the western horizon.”

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