CapMetro Plans Improvements to Shorten Wait Times, Attract More Riders

Sep 9, 2014

Claudia Teran is late for class. She's waiting at the corner of 45th and Guadalupe streets for her bus. She's studying media at UT and the bus is her main way of getting around.

Her bus – the 1, a local route – is running a little late today, so she's late. But what if she could've known her bus was late? What if she could look up on her phone where her bus is right now? What if

Online, real-time bus tracking is one of a few improvements coming to Cap Metro buses that aim to keep drivers out of their cars and on public transit.

"Yeah, that's what we were talking about right now, actually,” Teran says. “It'd be so much nicer if we could tell the bus was on its way, if it was late or if it was early."

Soon she'll get her wish.

In the coming months, Capital Metro, which operates Austin's transit system, is going to be rolling out some new features. They're not huge, but they could help students like Claudia get to class on time.

“By early 2015, system-wide you'll be able to get online and see when your bus is coming in real-time,” says Capital Metro Vice-President of Strategic Planning & Development Todd Hemingson. “To me it's a huge benefit, one I've been waiting on personally for many years. This is an overused phrase, but it's a game changer in terms of making transit easier and more user-friendly.”

Casey Claude, also a student at UT, says she too would love that. She's in grad school studying sustainability and regional planning. And she's also at the bus stop this morning nervously watching the clock. Typically, she takes her bike everywhere – her tire is flat – but she says having both a bike and the option to take the bus gives her flexibility. And, after she gets that bike tire fixed, Claude will soon have more room for it on the bus – if she decides to take it. CapMetro will soon upgrade every bus to have three bike racks, instead of two.

“That would be awesome,” Clout says.” I think about that a lot, actually. Because there's never enough room. And people are just kind of out of luck, which is not fun.”

“You know, we can't go to every neighborhood, every community in the region. What we're seeing is that people that can combine a bus trip with a bike trip works really well, and can extend the range of what the bus could otherwise do by itself.”

While traffic remains terrible, Austinites have more options for moving around the urban core than they did just a year or two ago. There's a wildly successful and expanding bike share program. Transportation network companies like Uber and Lyft that pair riders with drivers in private vehicles. And there's car sharing options like car2go and Zipcar.

“We've had questions, are those competition? Our response has been no, they're additive,” Hemingon says. “It's really providing that whole range of alternatives to driving alone that we think this region needs.”

That is the competition for the bus system: you, driving alone, in your car, making traffic worse. And, they're hoping to find a way – and the money – in the coming years to take a big step at making transit more attractive than sitting in your car alone.

“Our goal, over the next several years, is we want to establish a core network of frequent service,” Hemingson. “Every 15 minutes or better. Similar to MetroRapid. Frequent service sells. Frequent service makes it easier to ride.”

It's called a frequent transit network. And it means that for certain routes, you wouldn't have to wait more than fifteen minutes for a bus. Claudia Teran, the UT student at the bus stop, is a fan of that idea.

"Oh, that'd be awesome. Sometimes the bus will get here, you'll be standing right next to the bus driver, and he'll just take off,” she says. “It'd be so much nicer if in another 15 minutes another bus would pass by and you'd be okay.”
And before you know it, her bus finally arrives.