Capital Metro’s board of directors on Monday unanimously approved the framework to overhaul the region’s bus system, which aims to boost sagging ridership by increasing frequency on key transit corridors through the city.
The vote came after nearly two hours of sometimes passionate public comment from opponents, who charged that the plan could take some lightly traveled bus routes away from riders who depend on them. However, dropping those routes would allow Capital Metro to increase the frequency of buses along more popular routes, which supporters said would make public transit more convenient for many.
“This could be a watershed moment for Capital Metro,” said Wade Cooper, chairman of the transit authority’s board. “The idea of implementing these high-frequency zones is very exciting.”
Tuesday’s vote does not mean instant changes to bus routes or schedules. Instead, Capital Metro will be required to seek public comment, prepare an impact report and seek board approval before axing routes.
“What we’re voting on today doesn’t mean tomorrow the service is cut,” said Austin City Council Member Ann Kitchen, who sits on the board.
Capital Metro’s Connections 2025 plan provides the framework for a massive overhaul of the region’s bus network. It aims to increase bus frequency through the city’s core and simplify its routes to make the service easier to navigate.
The concept mirrors plans implemented by other transit authorities across the country, which have seen ridership gains by bolstering frequency and trimming and simplifying routes.
However, those improvements would come at a cost: major reductions in the University of Texas shuttle service, ending the dedicated “Night Owl” bus lines and dropping routes in some outlying neighborhoods with infrequent service.
Many of the affected areas are in Southwest Austin, west of MoPac Boulevard (Loop 1), leading to fierce protests from these neighborhoods. To compensate, Capital Metro signed off on creating eight “innovation zones” as part of Connections 2025, in which the agency would pilot using shuttle or ride-hailing services to provide transit options in areas with extremely low bus ridership.
“The reality is the innovation zones haven’t been tested or proven,” City Council Member Ellen Troxclair, who represents Southwest Austin’s District 8, told the board Monday. “So far, the general vision for Southwest Austin has been the elimination of specific routes.”
Additionally, Capital Metro plans to run some service on its rapid bus routes overnight to compensate for the loss of the Night Owls.
The transit agency’s plan calls for major changes to nearly every bus route, including:
• Much of the local No. 1 bus route would be merged into the Rapid No. 801 bus service, which would have more stops (every quarter- to half-mile, on average) and see frequency boosted (with buses every 7½ minutes during peak hours). The No. 1 would be reconfigured to run from Tech Ridge down Metric Boulevard, then along Rundberg Lane and Cameron Road to the Wal-Mart Supercenter at Interstate 35 and U.S. 183.
• The local No. 3 would be merged into the limited-stop Rapid No. 803, which would be expanded to include more stops and frequency (with buses every 10 minutes during peak hours).
• The limited-stop No. 100 Airport Flyer and local No. 20 would be combined into the new Rapid No. 820. The new limited-stop service would run from Austin-Bergstrom International Airport along Riverside Drive to downtown, past the University of Texas, east on Manor Road and through Mueller before terminating at the Springdale Shopping Center. This new service would run every 10 minutes during peak hours.
• The local No. 4 would be replaced by a new limited-stop Rapid No. 804, which would run from the UT Brackenridge Apartments to a proposed East Austin transit hub at Fifth Street and Shady Lane.
By the numbers
30.5 million — Capital Metro boardings last year
34.2 million — Boardings in 2013, roughly equal to the transit agency’s 1997 ridership
42.1 million — Projected annual boardings a decade from now, under the plan approved Monday
Sources: Capital Metro and Connections 2025
Visit connections2025.org and click on “View the draft plan” to see detailed maps, the full Connections 2025 plan and an explanatory video.