Cap Metro overhaul plan would leave some riders by the curb

Capital Metro, under a five-year plan that its board could amend and approve in January, would be changing everything.

And that proposed Connections 2025 plan, which is driven by a philosophy of increased ridership over comprehensive geographic coverage, not unsurprisingly is generating heat from the people who would be left by the curb when the contemplated changes occur.

“I want you to think with your heart,” Eanes school board President Colleen Jones told the Capital Metro board Wednesday, “to think about why we have bus services.”

Jones was among about a dozen people who came to the monthly board meeting to comment about a proposed rerouting of the No. 30 bus that would eliminate a loop through the edge of West Lake Hills along Walsh Tarlton Lane and Bee Cave Road. Jones and the other speakers said that change would strand, among others, disabled students from Eanes’ Adult Transition Service and workers at the Randall’s grocery store on Bee Cave.

Julie Jenson, a manager at that store, said at least 20 of her staff depend on the No. 30 to get to and from work.

“It’s heartbreaking to have good, reliable employees transfer because of transportation,” she said.

That plan, still a work in progress but nearing its final form, would eliminate at least four routes, including the No. 19 that goes along Bull Creek Road by the proposed Grove at Shoal Creek development on its way to Northwest Hills (although a newly created No. 345 route is shown as extending to Bull Creek on West 45th Street); replace almost 30 others with pieces of other routes; change the alignment or the frequency, or both, of 31 bus routes; and consolidate 11 bus routes. Beyond that, the agency would create 14 new routes.

The agency’s regular customers, in other words, would have a new system on their hands.

And that new system would have almost no service west of MoPac Boulevard, other than what would be mostly express routes along the U.S. 183 corridor in Northwest Austin. The net effect is that some riders would have much longer distances to go to get to a stop.

On the other hand, at least 17 routes would have “frequent” service, meaning that buses would come by every 10 to 15 minutes during operating hours, seven days a week. And the system overall would be changed to have straighter service in north-south or east-west orientations, and fewer routes. The plan, crafted by a consultant that Capital Metro hired for $466,500, also includes lowering fares on what are now called “premium” routes (this will happen in January) and adding routes on MoPac toll lanes expected to open this spring.

The idea is to create a bus system that is easier to understand and, at least on its core frequent services, with buses coming by so often that a customer doesn’t have to consult a schedule. And the agency, which pays its primary bus contractor almost $67 for each hour of bus service (and covers fuel costs), would like for every hour of its service to be as productive as possible. Production, in this case, means people in the seats.

“Frequency equals freedom,” the Connections 2025 project manager Lawrence Deeter said to the board. More to the point, Capital Metro, which has lost about 20 percent of its daily ridership since 2012, hopes that frequency also equals more people boarding its buses. Other transit agencies have seen ridership gains through an all-out commitment to simplification and frequency of service — as has Capital Metro after running buses more often on six of its routes over the past 18 months.

But the rearranging of priorities — and thus available buses, drivers and money — means that some current legs of the system with light ridership would end up losing service. Deeter said that the agency’s minimum standard, absent other compelling factors, is that a section of a route produce at least 15 boardings per hour.

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