Cap Metro Almost Lies

This presentation incorporates some responses to people (including myself) who have yet to swallow the “building commuter rail for people who don’t pay into Capital Metro while giving the center city a rapid bus line” plan.

The most egregious is on this page, where Cap Metro makes this claim:

“Could serve central city passengers, as well as suburban passengers in our northwest service area”

WRONG. No “central city passengers” will live anywhere near a station proposed for the initial route of this line, by the accepted definition of “central city”. Airport Blvd. is not “central city”. Hyde Park is “central city”. Rosedale and North University and West Campus are “central city”. Only somebody living out in Round Rock would look at the 1960s era neighborhoods of Crestview that the line slices through and consider it “central city”.

This line does not go anywhere near the densest residential parts of Austin, unlike the 2000 light rail route. Nobody living along Lamar or Guadalupe is going to hop a bus to go north to the commuter rail station (if one is built anywhere between Mopac and I-35) only to ride the commuter rail back downtown only to hop a shuttle bus to their ultimate destination.

And then, they make this claim:

“Over time, more stations and service in urban areas”

MISLEADING. This rail line isn’t going anywhere it doesn’t currently go. Yes, Capital Metro could knock down a bunch of businesses and homes to build more stations in the ‘central city’ by their generous definition, but even then, not enough residential density exists near those stations to make them feasible.

Commuter Rail #48: It’s Not Light Rail, No Matter What You Say

I had a good lunch with Dave Dobbs about two weeks ago. Dave’s a stand-up guy who is really working hard to get more mass transit on the ground in Texas cities, including Austin. So, any disagreements exposed in this article are honest ones; both Dave and I want more mass transit, not less. In fact, we both want more rail transit, too.

One of the things being floated in the face of center-city opposition to Cap Metro’s new long-range plan is the idea that commuter rail is practically the same thing as light rail, except cheaper, so why would any of you light-rail guys oppose it anyways. Dave, in particular, was exasperated by my insistence in calling this plan “commuter rail” and comparing it to other commuter rail lines, such as Tri-Rail’s disaster in South Florida. Let’s analyze the things that were good about light rail, and see if that holds up:

The primary positive aspects of the 2000 light rail proposal, in my opinion, are (were):

  • Very short headways (initially only moderately short; but double-tracking the entire length of the corridor meant it would be easy to go to very short headways).
  • Opportunity for dense transit-oriented redevelopment in the Robinson Ranch, the Burnet/Metric corridor, and the Lamar/Guadalupe corridor
  • Electrified runningway (means that the vehicle can accelerate and stop fairly well, runs fairly quietly, and does not pollute at source).

In addition, the light rail route would have alloed for pickup and delivery of passengers via pedestrian arrivals (i.e. less than a ten-minute easy walk to or from the station) at all of the following major attractors (north-south):

  • Park and Rides in far northwest Austin and suburban areas
  • Robinson Ranch
  • Metric Blvd / Burnet Rd tech employers (including IBM)
  • University of Texas Pickle Research Campus
  • Huntsman site (near Airport/Lamar)
  • Central Market / Central Park (38th/Lamar)
  • 38th St medical complex
  • University of Texas main campus
  • State Capitol complex
  • Congress Avenue
  • City Hall / CSC
  • South Congress

Evaluating the commuter rail proposal on the same metrics, we have:

  • Very long headways initially (every 30 minutes). Most bus routes in the city operate this frequently or more frequently, and yet one of the most common complaints from passengers is that they have to wait too long for a bus. This is unlikely to improve without double-tracking the whole corridor, and even then, I doubt whether headways could be improved beyond 15 minutes due to the performance characteristics of commuter rail vehicles.
  • Dave thinks the same opportunities for redevelopment exist (of course, in different corridors in some cases). l disagree – in no city in the USA has commuter rail ever resulted in the type of transit-oriented redevelopment you see with light rail, and it’s not a simple terminology difference. I’ll address this component in a later article. Even if Dave is right, the Lamar/Guadalupe corridor (and hence the near-UT areas which would be most obviously ripe for transit-oriented development due to their demographics) are not served by this plan.
  • These vehicles are going to be diesel locomotive-driven. At best, they might be similar to the RegioSprinter which was run around town a few years ago for a demonstration. These vehicles are likely to be far noisier, more polluting, and have worse acceleration and deceleration characteristics than would a typical light-rail vehicle.

And for pickup/delivery, we have:

  • Park and Rides in far northwest Austin and suburban areas
  • Robinson Ranch
  • Metric Blvd / Burnet Rd tech employers (including IBM)
  • University of Texas Pickle Research Campus
  • Huntsman site (near Airport/Lamar)
  • Convention Center

Some might argue that Cap Metro’s map shows this line going to Seaholm, and that a station at 4th and Congress is likely. I disagree:

  • Adding commuter rail trackway in the street is much more difficult than it would have been to built a LRT runningway. It will also interfere with plans for the Lance Armstrong Bikeway. Expecting this rail to be built anytime soon is a fool’s hope. And if reasonable headways (less than 30 minutes) are to be delivered, this will require double-tracking the entire downtown stretch. Keep in mind that this rail will be wider than the light rail trackway would have been.
  • Even when built, the idea that downtown can hang its hopes on a station that will definitely be at 4th and Congress is foolish. That’s too close to the station at Seaholm to be feasible (ironically, this is true even though the station at Seaholm is too far away to make pedestrian access to Congress feasible for most – IE, it’s too close for the vehicle but too far away for people).

Unfortunately, instead of opposing the plan on its (lack of) merits, most of the center-city people are wasting their time pushing for a quicker path to Seaholm (again, on the questionable principle that they can get a station on Congress by doing so). They then make this extraordinary claim:

“A rail line through the middle of downtown would allow a high
frequency circulator to quickly and efficiently carry commuters north,
to the Capitol complex and the University of Texas, and south, to the
South Congress District.”

We have that high-frequency circulator already. It’s called the Dillo, and nobody who has free or cheap parking ever uses it, because it’s dog-slow, because it’s stuck in the same traffic as your car would be.

Proof of Yesterday’s Entry

Yesterday, I gave a hypothetical example which showed why suburbanites might only see empty buses, and incorrectly assume that all buses are always empty.
It took exactly one day to prove the hypothetical.

This morning, I rode my bike to the bus stop at 38th and Medical Parkway intending to take the express bus into work as usual. However, I got there a bit early due to green lights, and the #3 bus showed up right as I pulled in. I thought I’d give it a whirl, since it ends up arriving up here at about the same time as the express bus, and has the added advantage of dropping off at Braker rather than Balcones Woods, which allowed me to more easily deposit some rent checks at the ATM.

There were 24 people on the bus, including me, when we pulled away from the bus stop. Note that this stop is about a quarter of the northbound length away from downtown, i.e., if you rode from the central point of the route to its far northern end, this stop is about 1/4 of the way up.

We puttered up Medical Parkway and Burnet, stopping at about 60% of the stops, usually to let people off; occasionally to pick people up. By the time we got to US 183 and Burnet, there were about 10 people still on the bus.

At Braker and Mopac, there were 4 people left, includng me.

At my stop on Braker between 183 and Jollyville, one other guy left the bus with me. That left 2 people to go to the end of the northbound route at the Arboretum (actually a loop end-point; it’s technically south of where I got off, but still before the layover point).
So if you had seen the bus between downtown and Burnet at 183, you would have thought: “that’s a pretty full bus” (nearly every seat was taken). If you had seen the bus at the Randall’s on Braker, on the other hand, you would have said “that bus is empty”.

And if you were as stupid as most suburbanites, that would be ammunition for you to run around and claim that Capital Metro wastes your money because all they do is run empty buses.

PS: The ride stunk. Bumpy and jerky. Hard to read. Not worth the 50 cent savings. I’ll wait for the express bus next time.

Why suburbanites think all buses are empty, Part One

I rode my bike to the bus stop at 38th and Medical Parkway this morning to get on the 983 “express” bus to work. 6 people, includng me, got on at this stop. There were 4 or 5 people already on the bus.

Several people disembarked at the Arboretum, and one other person disembarked with me at Balcones Woods. By the time it got up to the suburban park-and-ride, it was surely emptier than when I got on.

Actually, this bus isn’t a great example, since it is ‘deadheading’ for the most part – the primary traffic on these routes is inbound in the morning; they actually run some of the buses back straight up 183 without stopping to get back up to the big park-n-rides quicker. But it reminded me to write this article anyways, so there you go.

A better example is the #3 bus (Burnet). It has at least 30-40 stops in between its northern terminus loop around the Arboretum and downown (and then continues on down to Manchaca with probably another 40 stops). It runs very frequently (every 20 minutes). Well, that’s frequent for this town anyways.

Imagine this experiment: At each stop, exactly one person gets on the bus. All of them are headed either downtown or to UT.
If you drive past the bus at the Arboretum (its northernmost stop), how many people will you see on the bus? Exactly 0, until that one guy gets on.
If you drive past the bus at UT, how many people will you see on the bus? 30 or 40.

In fact, many of Capital Metro’s routes operate this way; it’s how transit is supposed to work. Although the disembarking model is unrealistically simple; some people do get off in between, and many stops have no pickups while others pick 5 or 6 up like mine this morning.

But the real lesson here is that suburbanites are stupid. While reading the example above, I’m betting you were offended at my lack of respect for your intelligence, yet, in fact, most people here nod their heads when some knuckle-dragging Fred Flintstone type like Gerald Daugherty’s ROAD bumcaps rant about empty buses.

You want to see full buses? Go to the end of the route, Einstien!
Also, get your ass on Lamar or Burnet – don’t expect to see a ton of buses on Mopac or I-35; I’m fairly certain Capital Metro found it difficult to convince people to run across the on-ramps to get to the bus stops.

Same logic applies to bicyclists too, by the way. Local libertarialoon Jeff Ward rants that he sees no cyclists when he drives around town, and again, the suburban knuckle-draggers can’t wait to grunt their affirmation. Ask him where he drives, though; he’s almost certainly going from his far suburban home to the KLBJ studio at I-35 and US 183. Probably using freeways the whole way, too. If you want to see cyclists, drive down Shoal Creek or Speedway or Duval, you morons.