Capital Metro

Spencer Selvidge/KUT News

Disclosure: Project Connect and Capital Metro have been supporters of KUT.

Fifteen years from now, someone in Austin is going to get to say, "I told you so."

If voters approve a starter light rail proposal next week and it's built, by 2030 it's supposed to reach full steam, with some 16,000-18,000 trips per day (or roughly eight to nine thousand passengers a day). 

There has been a lot of debate about this proposal, even by Austin standards. A lot of that has been about the route of the line. The plan is to borrow $1 billion. $400 million would pay for some road improvement projects around Austin. The rest would partially pay for a 9.5 mile line that would run from East Riverside, through downtown and the UT campus, and terminate in the area around Highland Mall.

But let's step aside from the route for a moment, and think about the tool. What if, instead of a light rail line, we opted for a Rapid Bus line instead?

Jeff Heimsath/KUT News

Last night, KUT's Views & Brews partnered with the Austin Monitor at the Cactus Cafe to take a look at the past, present and future of transportation in Austin.

From roads, to buses, round-a-bouts to rail, guest host Michael Kanin of the Austin Monitor spoke with some of the historians, policy makers and analysts in town, including the Director of the Center for Transportation Research at the University of Texas at Austin Dr. Chandra Bhat, political consultant Mark Littlefield, Greg Hartman of the Let’s Go Austin political action campaign supporting Proposition 1, Roger Cauvin of Austinites for Urban Rail Action, which opposes the plan.

You can listen to the entire discussion below.

Jeff Heimsath/KUT News

Austin voters are facing two major decisions this November.

First, Austinites will elect a new city council from brand new geographic districts, and voters will also decide whether to borrow $600 million to build a light rail line.

But, with so many City Hall hopefuls running on Prop 1-bashing stump speeches, what happens if voters approve the measure, and the next council has to implement policy they’ve sworn against?

Spencer Selvidge for KUT News

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.

Spencer Selvidge/KUT News

Austin's "MetroRapid" buses are larger and, let's be honest, nicer than your typical bus. They've got more doors, for one, which makes for faster loading and unloading. You can look up when the next one's going to arrive on your smartphone. They have Wi-Fi, too. In January, the first line debuted, the 801, running up and down North Lamar and Congress. This week, the second one started up, the 803, going from the Domain down Burnet, through downtown and down South Lamar. 

The Rapid bus system is the first major transit project in Austin since the troubled rollout of the MetroRail red line several years ago.* That project was late, over budget and struggled to attract riders.

The rapid buses, however, started on time and under budget. But six months after the launch of the first rapid line, ridership in its corridor is down 16 percent from two years ago during the same period. (You can view the ridership numbers obtained by KUT below.)

"We certainly didn't want that to happen. We hoped that wouldn’t happen. But it did happen," says Todd Hemingson, Vice President of strategic planning and development with Capital Metro.

So why, after premiering shiny new buses with plenty of features, did ridership go down in the corridor?

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