Transportation

Transportation
12:16 pm
Fri November 14, 2014

Rail Failed, But It's Not the End of Transit Improvements in Austin

East Austin resident Michael Reust leaves the Pan American Center after casting his vote.
Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT

Earlier this year, Austinites got a warning from their mayor: Pass a proposed light rail line, or face certain doom. There was no "Plan B," voters were told. 

"Here's the basic equation," Mayor Lee Leffingwell said in his State of the City address, "Rail or fail." 

Austin voters chose the latter option this election, saying "No" to a billion-dollar light rail and road improvements proposal by a wide margin, 57 percent voting "No" and 43 percent voting "Yes." The proposal garnered a lot of interest, with 15,000 more Austinites voting on it than on the race for Mayor of Austin.

Contrary to what you might have heard, this was technically the first time a rail plan has been voted down within city limits. So what happened? How did a supposedly progressive, typically bond-approving city electorate shoot down something so strongly?

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Austin City Council
9:01 am
Thu November 13, 2014

Martinez to Pitch Bus Rapid Transit Investments

After the rail and transportation proposition failed on Election Day, Council Member Mike Martinez says he'll propose to add at least five rapid bus lines in Austin to provide more public transportation options.
Spencer Selvidge/KUT News

From The Austin Monitor:

City Council Member and Austin mayoral candidate Mike Martinez is looking to pitch multiple bus rapid transit lines as the next major transportation investment for the area.

In an interview with the Monitor, Martinez nodded to the work done by Project Connect – efforts that led to a $600 million rail bond question that was defeated at the ballot Nov. 4. In addition, if he can get the support, he would like to try a pilot program that would make bus ridership free for a year.

“The bottom line is Prop 1 failed, and citizens spoke loud and clear on rail,” Martinez said. “So I think it’s time we embrace bus service and take it to a whole new level. We have to become the best bus-serviced city in the entire country.”

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Transportation
8:08 am
Wed November 5, 2014

Statewide Transportation Measure Passes

Update: The constitutional amendment to take some oil and gas tax revenues and direct them towards road project funding passed by a wide margin – 79.78 percent for to 20.21 percent against.

"Passing Proposition 1 was just the first step in addressing the transportation funding shortfall in Texas," said Scott Haywood, President of Move Texas Forward, which pushed for the measure. "We look forward to continue working with our coalition partners as we fight for the additional funding for transportation that will move Texas forward.”

Original Story (Nov. 4, 12:21 p.m.): So much digital ink and airtime has been spilled over Austin's rail and roads proposition (commonly known as Austin's Prop 1), which would add a billion dollars in city debt to build a starter light rail line and improve state roads. But that isn't the only transportation item on the ballot this year. There's also a statewide proposition (also commonly known as statewide Prop 1) that could have an impact on Texas roads. 

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Austin Transportation Vote
11:06 pm
Tue November 4, 2014

Austin's Rail and Roads Bond Defeated

Austin residents gather to vote at the Austin Public Library, George Washington Carver Branch on Angelina Street on Tuesday.
Jenna VonHofe/KUT

After years of false starts and changed plans for light rail in Austin, voters have decided against a billion-dollar plan that would have brought the city its first light rail line and hundreds of millions of dollars in road improvements. 

Rail hasn't been on the ballot in Austin for ten years (though it did come close), so there was a lot of anticipation about this vote. If it had been approved, a billion dollars in all would have be taken on in city debt, $600 million to partially pay for a starter 9.5 mile light rail line and $400 million for improvements to state roads aimed at easing congestion. (For a detailed explainer on the proposal, we've got you covered.)

The final tally of votes had the proposal losing by a wide margin, with 57 percent of voters saying "No" and 43 percent voting "Yes." That's a 14-point loss for the light rail and roads proposal. (By comparison, in 2000, a light rail proposal in Austin was defeated by a margin of less than a point.) Overall, more people voted on the rail and roads proposition than did in the race for mayor (nearly 15,000 move votes in all). Voters in the urban core voted to pass the measure (map below), but they were outnumbered by voters outside of the urban core that voted against. (You can view an interactive map and see how your precinct voted here.)

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Transportation
7:56 am
Tue November 4, 2014

Austin's Rail and Roads Bond: An Explainer to End All Explainers

A map of the proposed starter light rail from East Riverside to Highland.
Credit Project Connect

Update, Nov. 5: Austin voters decided against the light rail and road improvements proposal, commonly known as Austin's 'Prop 1.' The final tally of votes had the proposal losing by a wide margin, with 57 percent of voters saying "No" and 43 percent voting "Yes." That's a 14-point loss for the light rail and roads proposal. 

Original story, Nov. 4: It's the biggest debt proposal in Austin history, and it comes to a billion dollars in all: $600 million of it for a starter light rail line, with $400 million for improvements to state roads.

There's a lot to unpack here, and plenty of debate on the merits of this transportation proposal. So here it is, the (hopefully) last explainer you'll need this election for Austin's rail and roads proposition, featuring our reporting over the many months (and years) leading up to today's decision. 

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Transportation
10:58 am
Mon November 3, 2014

Audio Explainer: Austin's Billion-Dollar Rail and Roads Proposition

A map of the proposed 9.5 starter light rail line (in red) up for voter approval. Any extensions to the line would likely require additional property tax increases.
Credit Project Connect

Read our full explainer on the light rail and roads proposal here

A big-ticket item on the ballot in Austin this year is the $1 billion proposal to build a starter light rail line and improve state highways in the area.

The proposition, popularly known as Austin's Prop 1 (but on the ballot listed as 'Proposition, City of Austin'), has been a matter of much debate and a perennial talking point for those campaigning in city elections.

In the audio explainer below, KUT's Jennifer Stayton sits down with KUT reporter Terrence Henry, who's been covering the proposal, to talk about what's at stake, and what happens next, pass or fail.

Transportation
11:36 am
Fri October 31, 2014

Leave Your Car at Home This F1/Halloween Weekend in Austin

It’s a busy weekend in Austin, with Halloween and Formula 1 festivities. That means downtown road closures.

Trinity between Cesar Chavez and 4th Street will be closed until midnight for Formula One. So will 2nd and 3rd Streets between Trinity and San Jacinto. Neches between 4th and 5th Streets will also be closed all day.

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Transportation
5:00 am
Tue October 28, 2014

Austin's Light Rail Proposal Has Some Asking: Why Not Rapid Bus Instead?

What if, instead of a light rail line, we opted for a Rapid Bus line instead?
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?

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Transportation
4:39 pm
Wed October 15, 2014

Listen: Forum on Austin's Transportation Past, Present & Future

Capital Metro's rail service may be expanded to weekends, if a funding agreement can be reached with the city.
Photo by Jeff Heimsath for 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.

Transportation
4:58 pm
Tue October 14, 2014

Behind the Numbers: Austin's Billion-Dollar Rail and Roads Bond

A $1 billion bond on the ballot this fall in Austin will go toward a starter rail line and state road improvements.
flickr.com/dborman2

This fall, Austinites will vote on a $1 billion bond package for a light rail line and state road improvements. Austin's bond proposal is a long one, clocking in at 220 words, and it's an expensive one.

What's behind those numbers? Let's take a look:

How does the price tag of this bond stack up to previous bond elections?

It's the biggest ever. While only $600 million of the bond election is technically voter-approved for a starter light rail line, the other $400 million in improvements for state-managed roads is still debt that will be taken on by the city.

So what does that billion dollars pay for?

$600 million will go the capital costs (studies, engineering, and construction) for one 9.5-mile light rail line, with a total estimated capital cost of $1.38 billion. That line would go along East Riverside, through downtown and the UT campus on San Jacinto, then go over or under (and parallel) a portion of the existing MetroRail line up to Highland Mall. The project would be contingent on getting federal matching funds for the city's $600 million investment.

$400 million would go to road improvements for state roads.

A billion dollars sounds like a lot of money. How much debt does Austin have currently?

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Transportation
5:15 pm
Wed October 8, 2014

Texas Voters Will Decide Fate of Transportation Funding Measure in November

At a Texas House Transportation Committee hearing on Oct. 8, 2014, lawmakers discussed Proposition 1, a constitutional amendment that would divert some funding to a state highway fund if voters approve it.
Liang Shi for KUT News

This November, Texas residents will vote on a state constitutional amendment known as Proposition 1. If they approve it, some money from oil and gas production taxes will go into a state transportation fund. Today, state lawmakers went over what’s at stake.

If voters approve Proposition 1, it would divert a portion of oil and gas tax money to the State Highway Fund, which would help the cash-strapped Texas Department of Transportation.

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Transportation
9:06 am
Wed October 1, 2014

Why Austin's ‘Rail Fail’ in 2000 Still Resonates Today

If things had gone differently 14 years ago, instead of the bus service you see here on Guadalupe there'd be a light rail line today.
Spencer Selvidge/KUT News

This November, Austin voters will decide on one of the biggest expenditures in city history: a $1 billion proposal for a new light rail line and road improvements. It’s not the first time light rail has come before Austin voters: 14 years ago, in 2000, rail was narrowly voted down. How and why that plan failed has informed the latest plan voters will decide on this year.

If the light rail plan had passed back in 2000, one thing’s for sure: Austin's transit network would look very different today. The 15-mile line would have gone from Ben White and South Congress through downtown on Guadalupe and Lamar, all the way up past Parmer Lane. Think of it this way: if it had been built, you could have a burger at Hopdoddy on South Congress, then hop on a train up to Anderson Lane and Lamar, where it'd be a short hike or bike ride for another burger at the other Hopdoddy.

"2000 was kind of a pivotal moment, I think, in planning for rail transit in Austin," says Jeff Wood with The Overhead Wire, a transit consulting firm in San Francisco. He's studied the 2000 vote closely. "You had this huge election, and George Bush was on the ballot, and it lost by less than 2,000 votes."

While a slight majority of voters within city limits cast ballots in favor of the plan, the vote was in all of Capital Metro's service area at the time. Suburban voters were seen as pivotal in defeating the measure. That failure has informed the proposal Austinites are considering today.

How? To start with, just take a look at the name. 

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Transportation
10:41 am
Mon September 29, 2014

These 11 Austin Roadways Are Among the Most Congested in Texas

Austin Monitor

From The Austin Monitor:

New figures released by the Texas Department of Transportation quantify what anyone who drives in the Austin area instinctively knows – traffic congestion on several local roads and highways is as bad as anywhere in the state and getting worse.

One stretch, Interstate 35 through downtown between the U.S. 290 intersection and Lady Bird Lake, ranks as the second-most congested roadway segment in the entire state, and ranks first in freight-related congestion. Ten other Austin-area roadways are among the worst 100 in the state.

TxDOT recently released the 2014 Most Congested Roadways in Texas, with numbers updated from 2013. The data comes from the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, which uses roadway inventory and traffic volume information from TxDOT along with speed data from INRIX, a private-sector source of traffic data. The complete list is available on the TxDOT website.

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Transportation
4:01 pm
Thu September 25, 2014

Poll: Texans Don't See Public Transit as a Congestion Cure

While most Texans agree to use public funds to increase public transportation, only 38 percent said they believe it reduces congestion.

From The Texas Tribune:

Only six out of every 100 Texans rely on public transportation as their primary means of transportation, and less than half of Texans believe it reduces congestion, according to a new poll released Thursday.

The survey of more than 5,000 Texans was conducted by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute in May to study how Texans get around and their views on transportation funding. 

Ninety-one percent of Texans use a personal automobile as their primary means of transportation, followed by 6 percent who rely on public transportation, according to the poll. Ninety percent of respondents said they own or lease a personal vehicle. Minorities and those with an annual household income of less than $25,000 rely most heavily on public transportation, researchers found.

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Texas Standard
12:29 pm
Wed September 10, 2014

Uber, Lyft and the Wild West of Texas Ridesharing

A Lyft driver in San Francisco. Lyft vehicles are emblazoned with a bright pink mustache across the car's front.
flickr.com/raidokaldma

Last month, the Houston City Council voted to open the heavily regulated vehicle-for-hire market to Uber and Lyft.

These start-ups develop and utilize smartphone apps to connect drivers with interested riders, using the driver’s personal car. Dallas, Austin and San Antonio are considering similar overhauls, but taxi and limousine drivers across the state are upset that their competitors could be playing by a different rulebook.

Aaron Sankin covers Uber and Lyft for The Daily Dot. He recently sat down with The Texas Standard's David Brown to talk about the future of ridesharing,

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Transportation
2:03 pm
Tue September 9, 2014

CapMetro Plans Improvements to Shorten Wait Times, Attract More Riders

Capital Metro will offer online bus-tracking to allow riders, in addition to increased bike rack space.
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.

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Transportation
9:12 am
Thu September 4, 2014

Is a Light Rail Line Going to Solve Austin's Traffic Problems?

Austinites will vote on a proposition to approve $1 billion in transportation funding this Election Day, which could support building a light rail line through downtown.
Photo by Callie Hernandez for KUT News

This Election Day, Austin voters will decide on the largest single bond proposal in the city’s history. A little more than half of the $1 billion bond package would go towards a light rail line, the other half for road improvements.

Supporters say the package provides a solution to Austin’s traffic, but some wonder if building out more mass transit and expanding roads is really going to make a dent.

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Transportation
1:18 pm
Mon August 25, 2014

After Ridership Drops, Cap Metro Looking to Tweak Rapid Bus System

The launch of a new rapid bus line has caused ridership to go down. Capital Metro says they're looking to fix that.
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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High-Speed Rail
1:34 pm
Mon August 18, 2014

The Bullet Train That Could Change Everything

The Japanese Shinkansen is a high-speed trail used by JR Central in Japan. A private company is planning to build a rail line between Dallas and Houston using the same trains.
Norihiro Kataoka

For years, the Japanese company behind the world’s first and busiest high-speed rail system has been itching to enter the U.S. high-speed rail market, hoping to sell one of the world’s ripest passenger rail markets on its breathtakingly fast Shinkansen bullet trains.

But with Central Japan Railway’s efforts to sell high-speed trains on the U.S. coasts going nowhere, Texas has emerged as the company’s best hope for introducing its wildly successful technology to the American market.

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Transportation
7:13 am
Fri August 8, 2014

Urban Rail and Road Improvement Plan Will Go to Austin Voters in November

Supporters of urban rail hope it will relieve traffic congestion, but some transit advocates aren't convinced it will work.
http://www.flickr.com/photos/mrlaugh/6705429685

A major transportation plan took a significant step forward Thursday when the Austin City Council voted unanimously to put it on the November ballot.

It’s a billion-dollar proposition. Voters would agree to a $600 million bond for a 9.5-mile urban rail line, contingent upon two conditions: matching funds from the Federal Transit Administration or another federal or state source, and a future city council securing $400 million dollars for road projects. The ordinance does not specify a source for the additional $400 million.

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