On Monday, I had jury duty, which allowed for me to watch a whopping two people get off the 8:25 AM train at MLK, and also ride the bus back home. But first, on the way there, my wife drove me down; and we observed full shuttles (the UT variety, not the Red Line rail shuttles) and expresses and normal city buses dropping tons of people off on Guadalupe at the front door of UT – this was important to verify just in case the low rail turnout was due to UT traffic being down thanks to exams or something.
I got let out of empanelling kind of late at about 1:00; walked quickly to Texadelphia and had a very good but surprisingly expensive lunch (low snack availability = big-time starving) and then walked over to Lavaca to find the first northbound stop.
1:52 PM: Picked up by the #5 bus heading northbound from 15th and Lavaca. Nice. Was about to call Cap Metro to decide whether to wait for the #5 or just get on the first #1 I saw (runs more often, but would have much longer walk to house). There were 7 people on this bus before I boarded; total count now 8.
Stopped for about a minute by the light at MLK. Rapid Bus (were we on it) would not have helped here; the red light was stale when we arrived. One person got off the bus at Guadalupe/20th; total count now 7.
BIG backup at 21st st. Took a while to clear out as the lights turned green many blocks ahead. Another place where Rapid Bus wouldn’t have helped. Got hit by a fresh red at 21st right as we got there – Rapid Bus might actually have helped here (were I riding the #1 replacement, that is; rather than the #5). Lost about a minute here due to this.
1:58 PM: Bus arrives at ped crossing between 22nd and 23rd; 9 people got on, including a confused elderly passenger who held up the bus for about 2 minutes by asking the driver a bunch of questions. I presume Rapid Bus wouldn’t put up with this but don’t know for sure. Total count now 16.
Made all green lights with no stops all the way to Dean Keeton, then turned and made it through another couple greens to the red light at Speedway (stale; no help from Rapid Bus). Thanks, mid-day light traffic. At the big stop on the north side of campus right after this light, dropped off 2 and picked up 6; for total count of 20.
Picked up one more at San Jacinto/30th (unusual), total count now 21.
Dropped one off at 31st; and then no more drop-offs until I got off the bus at 35th/Speedway with a couple other passengers; leaving 17 people still on the bus heading north.
Conclusion for urbanites: All-in-all, a good local bus experience, except for the long delay with the passenger who didn’t know where he wanted to go. Little delay due to traffic; bus well-used but nobody had to stand.
Special bonus for suburbanites: If you wanted to get a self-fulfilling prophecy and see this bus almost empty, you probably would have had to observe it north of the northern edges of Hyde Park or the Triangle area. Try Woodrow up around North Loop, or even Anderson near Northcross Mall.
Dear libertarian ideologues: If you mainly see buses on the ends of their routes in the godforsaken burbs, and they’re NOT empty, Capital Metro would be doing something wrong. Morons.
The right place to measure ridership is along the whole route – but if you have to pick just one spot, pick somewhere in the middle and you will invariably find a very different story than the typical suburban idiot narrative of “the buses are always empty”. Try standing-room-only, at least in the morning rush. (I took the 2-bus trip to my awful new office twice in a row in late March and on both mornings, I had to stand on the #5; I never wrote up the TFT because I was too busy, but maybe I ought to).
And, dear disabled friends, media coverage of our very low FRR ratio thanks in large part to your gold-plated taxi-limo service is eventually going to kill the rest of the system – which will also kill your golden goose. Think long and hard about what you do next.
Also, dear bus-riding friends, if you keep opposing modest, long-overdue fare increases, sooner or later the majority of voters (who, sad to say, don’t ride the bus) will cut the sales tax support, one way or another. You may think people like you are the majority – but there’s 5 people who drive and never take the bus, not even once a year, for every one of you. Seriously.
As alluded to at the end of this crackplog, my company just opened a physical office in a truly awful part of the suburban wasteland. Today was the test case for “how bad is the trip home on the bus”, after getting rides to/from work with my wife and a travelling coworker all of last week (not so bad in the morning; but awful in the afternoon, especially for my wife, who had to invest 30-40 minutes getting to the office to pick me up to then spend 30-40 minutes going home). Ironically, this would be a great bike commute, if I could still ride my bike any non-trivial amount.
I’m still not sure how often I’m going to need to come in, but there’s a sliding scale here – at some point it’d require us to get a second car, which I don’t want to do for many reasons, not least among them financial (we couldn’t have taken our trip to Hawaii if we’d had a second car payment, after all). There’s a certain number of days per month on which we could tolerate a both-ways drive (very little); a larger number where we could tolerate a drop-off in the morning and a bus ride home (determining that right now); a larger number which might be achievable on something like a scooter, if I can get past some emotional barriers; and anything else requires that second car. At which point I also have to consider other options, because if I have to lay out the money and time for two cars, might as well look for somewhere that can make up the gap (or maybe downtown, or at least in a less awful suburban part of Austin where you can actually take the bus).
I am writing this on the bus – filling in links later. It’s a crackplivebusblog!
Google transit called this trip a 10-minute walk, a 26-minute bus ride, a transfer, and another 20ish minute ride from there, the last leg being one on which I can take about six different routes home, so no worries there. I was highly dubious of google’s estimation of the walk, having ridden this route many times on my bike, back when I still could, so I gave myself 25 minutes to walk and 5 minutes to wait (buses can and sometimes do arrive early).
Update on the next day: Now google is accurately saying 19 minutes for the walk. Huh.
Walking trip: Got to the elevator at 4:03 (after having to run back in and use office phone to call home, since cell phone battery had died). Started on the long, not so scenic, walk through suburban Westlake. Guh. No sidewalks, of course, on Allen (behind the Westlake High tennis courts and other fields). Pretty decent sidewalks after that on Pinnacle, which I took the rest of the way down. Walked past some middle schoolers who will doubtlessly be telling their friends they saw a Real Adult Walking – must have been a bum or a predator. Got to the bus stop at 4:20. Whoops – although google was way too optimistic, I was a bit on the pessimistic side. Would budget 20 minutes for the walk next time, if it happens, plus the 5 minute wait.
First bus leg:
- 8 people were on the #30 bus as it pulled up (exactly on time at 4:33). I made 9.
- 5 more people got on at Walsh Tarlton and Bee Caves. Total on bus counting me now 14.
- 1 more guy got on in the weird office park at the end of Bee Caves. 15 people on the bus now. Bus goes through a road at this complex and then turns up Spyglass to make a short loop in the wrong direction, at least for me.
- 1 more got on somewhere along Spyglass at one of the apartment complexes. 16 people now!
- #17 got on at Spyglass / Barton Skyway.
- At Spyglass, near north intersection with Mopac, one got on and one got off. Still 17.
- Turned back onto southbound Mopac at 4:44. Guess that loop was worth it after all. Stopped for a couple minutes at the Bee Caves light, and then another 3 got on! We’re essentially at standing room now – one standing, although there are a couple of seats left. 20 passengers.
- At 4:48, we turn into a bus bay to pick up a guy with a bike. That makes 21 passengers.
- We cruise through Zilker Park without stopping and arrive at Robert E Lee at 4:51. Not a good day to be hitting the park anyways – but someday remind me to write a crackplog about how the city needs to jack up the parking prices there in the summer quite a bit higher. Still 21 passengers. A Barton Hills bus (#29) turns off Lee with about ten people on board that I can see (maybe more).
- Amazingly, they’re still working on that Villas of Lost Canyon project. We arrive at the backup for the Lamar light at 4:53 and almost hit a bicyclist stopped in the right lane for no apparent reason. We’re back in civilization, as I see real adult people with apparent jobs walking about like actual pedestrians. Hooray! Stuck for a bit behind our friends on the #29 as they load a bike. Boo. Driver may not make my promised 4:59 drop-off if he keeps this up.
- 4:54: Somebody finally pulls the chain to be let off in front of the Armstrong Music School. Down to a mere 20. The bus is practically empty! The suburbanites are right!
- 4:55: Lady gets off at the corner of S 1st. Down to 19 people! I think I see a tumbleweed.
- 4:58: D’oh. Somebody signals they need off just past Riverside. Going to be hard to make my best transfer at this rate. Time to hibernate the laptop now, though; the rest of first leg is from memory. About 10 people got off at that stop! Holy cow. Down to 7 passengers now. All of those passengers walked over to S Congress to hop on one of the many buses that pick up on the other corner, by the way.
Transcribed later on from here on out.
The wait: Had my bus been just a minute earlier, I could have immediately jumped on the 4:59 #7 bus which was a few minutes late. Rats. As it turns out, my #5 bus was quite a bit more late.
Second bus leg (transcribed today from yellow legal pad – since the ride was way too jerky and crowded to crack open the laptop):
- 5:10: Bus arrives; I board. About 15 people on the bus.
- 5:11: 14 people still on at 7th/Congress.
- 5:13: 3 more get on at 9th/Congress.
- 5:14: One got off at 10th/Congress
- 5:16: 3 got on as we turned in front of the Capitol at the bus stop that our asshat governor is forcing to move. There were about 30 people there at that time. Up to here, ‘rapid bus’ on this corridor would have saved about 30 seconds of the 4 minutes it took to traverse Congress which is actually a bit better than I would have guessed. Not that the #5 would get that treatment anyways, but it was something to look at while we were stuck in traffic with the #1/#101, which would be the rapid service. Streetcar would have been no better than the bus I was on in this part of the route – but at least no worse.
- Note for comparison’s sake that light rail on this route ala 2000 would have probably taken about 2 minutes. About two stops; no being stuck behind cars or other buses. Moving on…
- 5:17: Lavaca at 12th and 13th, one got on at each. Ride is getting even jerkier and crappier. Good thing I didn’t take out the laptop.
- 5:18: One more gets on at 16th.
- 5:18-5:24: We’re stuck in a very long backup from the light at MLK/Lavaca. This is where LRT would really have helped. As it turns out, streetcar would have been even worse because we saved a minute or two at the end by prematurely jumping into the center lane (bypassing a stop on the right where nobody was waiting). The streetcar, stuck on the tracks in the road, can’t make that decision. This helped a bit because the primary backup from this light was traffic heading to I-35 – the tailback in the right lane was about a block longer than the one in the center lane and moving much more slowly too.
- 5:24: Driver guns it to try to make up some time, as by this point we’re really really late. Note: this is why people who say you shouldn’t have rail until you can run the buses on time are idiots – the driver did everything in his power, but all the cars and a few other buses made it impossible for him to meet his schedule.
- 5:26: We slowly approach light at 21st/Guadalupe, having been stuck through several light cycles. Now we see why “Rapid Bus” won’t work at all – and the same thing would apply to “Rapid Streetcar”. The entire corridor is congested – we can rarely make the first green light we see all the way past UT, and quite often don’t even make the second one. At this point, a whole ton of people get on, and the bus is now standing room only, with 3 people standing and every seat full.
- 5:29: Stuck short of 24th. Once again, rapid bus shows its uselessness – as we could have held that light green till the cows came home, but the traffic from 26th through 29th would have still stopped us dead. At this point we’re probably more than 10 minutes behind schedule.
- 5:32: Finally made it to near the Dean Keeton / Guadalupe intersection; finally about to leave the “rapid bus” route (and also the light rail route). Note that light rail as planned in 2000 would have breezed through this stuff – making a couple of stops, but never getting stuck in traffic. The driver really goes fast on Dean Keeton – feels like 45, although it’s very hard to tell.
- 5:34: We pull over near the ped bridge over Dean Keeton and pick up a few more people. About 5 people standing now.
- 5:36: Finally on the way home. No more delays/obstructions.
- 5:38: Three people, including yours truly, disembark. Some of the remaining standees find seats. Bus has improved to only 9 minutes late, thanks to some speeding and ‘flexibility’.
- Don’t trust the pedestrian part of google transit’s directions. I kind of suspected this before, but they clearly assume you can take a bees’-line. It would be a much better idea if they were to assume you had to take the same route as your car – they’d be erring in the conservative direction if at all – which is definitely the better way to err when walking to a bus stop!
- They might be able to run the #30 a bit more often, if this is any indication. At least a bit more frequent during rush hours, as the people on the bus were (mostly) clearly headed home from work.
- As another commenter alluded to on his blog, this is the kind of thing Ben Wear should be doing from time to time.
- Rapid Bus is shelved, of course but today’s experience yet again confirms how useless it would be. Likewise, streetcar on this corridor in a shared lane would be an absolute disaster – even worse than the bus. Broken record time: Light rail as conceived in 2000 would have greatly helped this corridor – giving people a transit alternative which would be superior to the private automobile and FAR superior to slow, unreliable, jerky buses or streetcars.
Councilmember McCracken wrote back to my email referenced in the last post and said some things which made me more optimistic again, which I will cover in my next crackplog, but probably not until Monday. In the meantime, here’s something I wrote up today on the #27 bus (transit field trip time!)
Short one today – my company was having a rare physical meeting at Ventana del Soul, a non-profit with some meeting rooms. (Well, actually, only three of the five locals, and one non-local; most of the company is still in Virginia). Took the #7 down in order to leave the car with my wife. Google Transit trip indicates 35 minutes by bus; 20 minutes by car in traffic (highly optimistic; more like 30).
I waited about ten minutes for the #7 at or about 8:30 AM; just missed one apparently. When my bus arrived, every seat was full, and there were 10-15 people standing. We picked up one more person before entering the UT area, in which the bus rapidly disgorged – I was able to get a seat when we crossed Dean Keaton, and by the time we hit MLK, nobody was standing and about half the seats were full. Continued on through downtown, people getting on and off (more on than off), and then as the #27 down Riverside through near-in southeast Austin. A few more people got on, but the bus was never completely full; when I disembarked at my stop, there were about 15-20 riders remaining.
So, summary, from 37th to UT, every seat full; 10-15 straphangers. Dropped off about 2/3 of those people at UT, but more got on downtown, and through Riverside about 3/4 of seats were full.
On the way home, I waited about three minutes for the #27 at Burton and Riverside while I was talking with a billing rep at a medical office. The bus actually came while I was still on the phone – and I accidentally tried to board with a soda (oops). Almost every seat was full – I estimate 20 to 25 passengers; but several got off at the next stop and I was able to move to the back next to the window. Picked up a lot more people along East Riverside. Summary: From my stop on Oltorf to downtown, average 3/4 to all seats full; dropped off about half downtown; then about half full to my stop at 33rd.
Hard to believe, but this bus was actually more full than most of my rides on the #3 back when I reverse-commuted in the mornings once or twice a week to Netbotz.
I ought to make a habit of this until the “THE BUSES ARE ALL EMPTY!!!!!1″ people give it up. But this one doesn’t help much. Of course, this is a Saturday during Spring Break.
Drove with my wife and Ethan to her haircut place; then he and I walked under the 38th/Shoal Creek bridge; down into Seiders’ Springs Park, back up to Jefferson, crossed back to eastbound, and then waited 5 more minutes for the #22 bus which Justin sometimes takes home from school (to our house or his dad’s office at UT).
The #21/#22 are a good route to see a lot of neat parts of Central Austin. It’s a good route to go buy a day pass on and just wander around on a weekend. As before, + indicates people getting on; – indicates people getting off; and number in parentheses is total passengers after that.
Got on at 35th/Jefferson. We were the only 2 riders.
35th/(some street near Mopac): +1 (3)
Howson Library (just north of Windsor on Exposition): -us (1)
Enjoyed library for 30 minutes or so; then went out and got on the next #22. Nobody on this one either.
Howson: +us (2)
5th near Pok-e-Jo’s: +1 (3)
5th near Baylor: +1 (4)
5th near Bowie: +1 (5)
5th at Republic Square: -us (3)
An unplanned exit as I saw the Farmers’ Market and thought we’d check it out. We walked around for a bit; saw a nice dog or two; saw a band full of like 20 banjo players; and then walked past a St. Pat’s Day concert on 4th outside Fado’s. Walked to Congress, at which point we can pick up the #1, #5, or #7 to get home.
#7 arrives 5 minutes later. Has roughly 10 people on it (from the part where it runs as the #27 in all likelihood).
4th/Congress: +us (12)
6th/Congress: -5 (7)
8th/Congress: -2 (5)
Saw the Code Pink march getting set up at the Capitol. Nobody got on or off until we hit our stop.
34th/Duval: -us (3)
A good trip. I’m trying to inclulcate the freedom of public transportation into Ethan at a young age. Plus, like me, he likes just looking at stuff – like buildings under construction, etc.
Had a business meeting at the library downtown today, and wanted to leave my wife the car so she could go to the Y, so I bused it. Here’s the report. Note that this wasn’t rush hour, and this is Spring Break. + are people getting on the bus; – are people getting off the bus. Number in parentheses is total number of passengers.
South:Route 5 / 26:
Walked two blocks to bus stop. Got on at 38th/Speedway (on time). +me and one other; (8)
31st st: +1 (9)
Dean Keeton/Speedway: -5 (4)
Co-op (23rd/Guadalupe): -1 (3)
9th/Congress: -me (2)
Nothing amazing to report from this trip. Very light due to UT being out of session.
Return: I can choose between the #1, #3, #5, and #7. Yay, odd numbers. First arrival was the #1L.
10th/Congress: +me (12)
Capitol: -1, +2 (13)
Guadalupe/MLK: -1, +1 including SXSW badger (10)
22nd/Guadalupe: -5, +2 (10)
24th/Guadalupe: -1, +1 (10)
Dean Keeton/Guadalupe: -2 including badger (8)
30th/Guadalupe: -1 (7)
34th/Guadalupe: -me (6)
As you go farther north on the 1L, it probably emptied out, and when it finally decamped in suburbia, it would look empty.
With the call to build it somewhere pretty or where they can build it bigger is:
The people who most need and use the library currently are quite likely to get there on the bus. Yes, the bus you think nobody uses; although if you stand outside the current library and look at those buses go by, you’ll quickly be disabused of that particular brand of suburban idiocy.
The current library works well because it’s on one of the two most heavily bus-travelled corridors downtown (Guadalupe). A location on Cesar Chavez too far from Congress, on the other hand, won’t be an easy trip for many of the current patrons.
Look at the map (zoom in on the lower-right inset). Notice how many buses go right next to the thing. Most of the rest of the buses are three blocks away on Congress. So, a huge chunk of routes don’t require any walk at all, and most of the rest require a 3-block walk at most.
Now, consider the proposed new site at what’s now the water treatment plant. Going by current routes, two come fairly close, but the big conglomeration coming down Guadalupe/Lavaca will be about two blocks away; and the Congress routes about five blocks away.
This doesn’t sound like much to walk, and it wouldn’t be for most of us. However, as somebody who hasn’t been able to walk well for quite a while now and used to serve on a commission where we were often taking up issues important to those who are mobility-impaired, I have more appreciation than most for what a pain in the ass this is going to be. Oh, and don’t forget, unlike most of the people involved with this decision, I’ve been to this library many times – and I can tell you that at any given time, a huge number, possibly even the majority of the patrons arrived on the bus, and a large fraction of those are either elderly or in wheelchairs or both. For THOSE people, two more blocks is a lot to ask.
Don’t move somewhere which makes the library less accessible to those who need it most just for the sake of being pretty. Please say no to moving the central library off the main bus lines.
Update: Several commenters have commented along these lines (paraphrased, with my response):
“Isn’t commuter rail going to a transit hub at Seaholm anyways?” – please do yourself a favor and read this category archive and start with this post, OK? Short summary: It ain’t going to Seaholm for decades, if then. And Seaholm is still a couple-blocks’-walk from this site.
The buses will just be moved to go by the library – this isn’t going to happen either, folks. Long-haul bus routes don’t make two-block jogs just for the hell of it (people already complain about how supposedly indirect these things are). Each one of those bus routes might deliver a dozen passengers a day to the existing library – enough to make it a valuable part of the demand for the current route, but not enough to justify hauling a long, heavy, bus around a bunch of tight corners.
Capital Metro’s Future Connections Group is now, finally, up on the web. This group was tasked with figuring out how to get people from the commuter rail stops, which are far away from where people actually want to go, to the places they, those wacky commuters, actually want to go. Like, say, their office. Or the University. Or the Warehouse District.
This is basically going to be a waste of time, since those of us who operate in the reality-based community all know Capital Metro’s going to end up delivering shuttle buses in mixed traffic. The streetcar guys like Jeff are holding out hope, but I don’t see Capital Metro going that way, and even if they did, streetcars are only marginally better than mixed-traffic buses for those choice commuters. Streetcars might help make downtown redevelopment even more palatable, in other words, but they aren’t going to fix the speed and reliability problems of the All Systems Go route for people who live outside downtown.
Terminology lesson: In most cases, “streetcars” means “vehicle on rails in a traffic lane which shares its lane with cars, or is otherwise ‘sharing traffic’ with other vehicles and stops at a lot of red lights”. “light rail” in this case bumps you up to “has its own lane; always gets a green light”. So a streetcar is basically a Dillo on an embedded rail – it still is stuck in traffic just like your car or other buses are.
History lesson: The 2000 light rail plan, or any one of ten easily passable scaled-back versions thereof, would have delivered passengers (in ONE train trip) from their dense center-city residential neighborhoods or from their suburban park-and-rides, directly TO the University of Texas, the Capitol Complex, and downtown, without requiring a transfer to anything else, bus or streetcar in a reasonably fast and very reliable amount of time. Capital Metro didn’t even try to bring something like this back before the voters, and most of the pro-transit people here in Austin didn’t have the guts to tell them otherwise.
This post marks the beginning of a new category called “Empty Buses”.
My family walked to the bus stop at 34th and Guadalupe to take my stepson to his middle-school orientation (he’ll be taking the bus there every day when school starts, so today was a good practice opportunity). We picked up the #22 bus at 8:00 AM (on time), and rode it to Exposition and Lake Austin in about 15 minutes, perhaps 2 more minutes than the drive would have taken. With the 3 of us (plus baby who didn’t pay a fare), there were 7 people on that bus. Several got off in Tarrytown; I think there was only one left on the bus when we disembarked at the middle school.
On the way back, we took the #21 bus, also on time. With the 2 of us (plus baby), there were 15 people on the bus at that stop. A few got off on the way to our stop, but a few got on; so the count stayed around 15 the whole way. Many of the people on the bus were evidently headed towards UT (where the bus goes after our stop).
(Answering Kim, my stepson takes this city bus because he’s going to be going to a middle school in whose attendance area we don’t reside – this is part of the track from his elementary school, which he stayed in after we moved a couple of years ago).
The probably forthcoming Capital Metro strike and a poll on News 8 have provided an opportunity for suburbanites to again claim that “the buses are empty” while wailing about their unfair tax burden.
I’ve addressed this a couple of times. Here are the links. Please read and forward (especially Part One). Educate just ONE suburbanite, and the world will be a better place.