Commentary: How CapMetro plan would make service worse in South Austin

My family and I have ridden Capital Metro buses for many years. These days, we rely mostly on routes No. 5 and No. 10, which are close to where we live.

As a part of the Connections 2025, CapMetro is proposing eliminating and reducing several routes that underperform, while moving those riders to other routes that have increased frequency. The No. 5 route’s reach south of the river is one of those proposed cuts. Its southern reach would be replaced by a highly reduced north-south route, which only runs on weekdays at peak times. This cut is purportedly offset by having riders use the a more frequent No. 10 route and a new Ben White route, No. 315.

HOW WE GOT HERE: Capital Metro’s plan for more frequent routes will leave some behind.

I don’t agree with this proposal for the following reasons:

• The No. 10, if it is supposed to replace the No. 5 route for most riders, has its stops along far more dangerous pedestrian territory. I know from my personal experience that crossing South First Street is downright dangerous anywhere between Barton Springs and Ben White. While I do think that greater frequency of the No. 10 is a good idea, it would be a shame to usher more riders toward South First without having a true plan to improve bicycle and pedestrian safety and accessibility on that road. I urge you to walk along that stretch of road for more than a few blocks — then imagine yourself with a couple of children in tow. Compare this to the experience you’d have on Bouldin, South Fifth, Garden Villa and Bannister streets.

• Kids going to and from Small Middle School would be challenged. I’ve observed 10 to 15 fifteen kids from the Bouldin and Westgate area do this to and from the school; that is 300 to 400 car trips a month. These kids would have to transfer buses. The No. 315 doesn’t even directly stop at Small Middle School, as the current No. 5 does. It makes me uncomfortable to think about kids making two dangerous crossings at Ben White — unless pedestrian improvements were made to those intersections.

• Riders who live in southcentral Austin and try to make it to and from Westgate Mall area will be faced with transfers. I’ve been on the bus heading south in the mornings; there are plenty of folks on there using this for their commute. It pains me to think they would have to make unnecessary transfers.

CONTINUING COVERAGE: Capital Metro at a crossroads as it winnows routes, considers impact.

The current No. 5 route performs quite well, in general; according to CapMetro’s own metrics, the route is actually above average cost per passenger ($3.58), and just below for ridership per hour (21 per hour). In fact, its direct replacement performs more poorly on both metrics.

Austin is full of weekend workers and leisure seekers going from their southern residences to downtown. My family rides the bus every weekend to and from downtown on the No. 5 — and there are always more than 10 riders. Throw in a game day or other event downtown, and these buses are typically standing room only. The No. 10 might handle that — but it simply doesn’t cover a lot of area south and southwest that these current riders have worked into their lives.

In a city that seems to increasingly promote density in the core, it makes little sense to actually reduce service in the city’s core.

The Connections 2025 plan has admirable goals — though after analyzing these changes, I feel that they are not rooted in the reality of our streets and would have results that force riders toward stops along more dangerous roads and intersections. They would increase the number of transfers and the distance of walking to and from stops while generally reducing service for a lot of people many without other means of transportation. We should encourage the board to approve of the increase in frequency — but with a new look at the route eliminations.

EXCLUSIVE: Costs rising, timeline slipping for new MetroRail station.

Haller lives in South Austin.

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