Media completely fooled by Cap Metro PR; film at 11.

A quick hit as I’m preparing for another trip to beautiful Huntsville.
While my wife and I were painting on Sunday, healing health my father-in-law took our 5-year-old to the Kite Festival. Or, rather, he tried. As he put it, when he got to the shuttle pickup (around 16th/Lavaca), a cop told him there was about an hour wait to board the shuttle and another hour to get to the park (this was at 2:00 in the afternoon or so). There were supposedly about 25 shuttles stuck in traffic on the way to the park.
Sound familiar?
Here’s another free clue: if you want people to take shuttles to a special event, make sure the shuttles aren’t stuck in the same traffic that their cars would be if they drove. This doesn’t have to be complicated; as I told my father-in-law: Barton Springs has two lanes. Cone off one for buses. Problem solved.
This is just another brick in the gigantic wall of ignorance about transit that prevents nearly everyone in government from making effective decisions: the ridership figures you see for any transit service are the result of a bunch of individual decisions whether to ride based on incentives (cost, time, etc). In this case, if the shuttlebuses are going to be as slow or slower than peoples’ cars, both the cars and the shuttlebuses will be stuck in traffic – and overall performance will be very poor. The folks making decisions for events like this think, as Christof once put it, that transit is like a big vaccuum cleaner – put it somewhere and it’ll magically suck up riders.
A lot of people were waiting in line for those shuttles, but the overall performance was likely very poor – considering that all 25 buses were out, stuck in traffic. (Cars do better in traffic than buses do, remember). A setup where the shuttles had their own lane on Barton Springs (and maybe S 1st if necessary) would easily have carried thousands more people – basically everybody that was stuck in line plus everybody that got turned away (and, after people saw buses actually performing well,. even more car drivers would switch to the shuttles the next time around; while after THIS disastrous performance, even fewer people will be willing to try the shuttles next time there’s an event down there).
Lessons can be drawn from this for future transit investment. Is anybody at the city (who can, if they choose to, rein in Capital Metro) seriously under the impression that transferring to shuttlebuses at the end of a rail trip won’t be a major disincentive for riders? I would have thought they got it by now, but the last two major shuttles-to-parks fiascoes have showed me that perhaps I was too optimistic.

Ben Wear fell for it, bulimics big-time. Capital Metro ran trains from two stations between which essentially nobody will ever travel (no circulator buses up that far; nothing within walking distance), story and completely failed to mention the shuttlebuses at all – despite the fact that they will be the most substantial disincentive for choice commuters to ride. He basically gave Cap Metro a nice commercial for the service based on a joke run up in the hinterlands (yes, viagra if you happened to have an office at one of those park-and-rides, it’d be a pretty nice trip!) by failing to mention how people will actually use, or more importantly, try and stop using this service. This was a great move by Capital Metro – make people think that the entire trip is like this, and maybe they’ll forget what they have to do when they get to their actual station long enough to sneak through some ill-advised throwing good-money-after-bad expansion schemes. It worked for Tri-Rail, after all – the agency got to live fat on double-tracking construction contracts for a decade after opening up, on the dubious contention that running trains every 20 rather than 40 minutes could somehow make up for the awful shuttle-bus rides (spoiler alert: it didn’t).
His commenters were even worse – split right down the middle between anti-rail troglodytes (“it’s subsidized!”, as if Leander and especially Cedar Park car commuters aren’t monstrously subsidized by Austin residents already); and the naive idiots who think it’s light rail who don’t realize that people who aren’t willing to take the clean, fast, comfortable, non-stop express buses straight to their office today are probably not going to be thrilled when they get off the train and find themselves staring at a shuttlebus instead of their office building.
Now I get to go look to see how the Chronicle covered this. My guess? Chirpy naive “it’ll just be expanded and improved” junior reporter type completely falls for it; same batch of idiot pro-and-cons completely missing the real point: rail is neither always good nor always bad. BAD rail is bad; and THIS line is awful – it not only will fail to give us momentum for more service; it ruins our chances at developing good urban rail here for a generation or more because it’s now squatting, semi-permanently, right on top of most of the right-of-way that the only true slam-dunk light-rail line possibility this city ever had or ever will have (the 2000 route).
The 2008 CAMPO TWG proposal might be a hundred times better than the commuter rail line, but the 2000 LRT proposal (running trains on Guadalupe right to UT’s front door, hitting the Triangle, and everything else) is a hundred times better than that. At some point, people are going to realize that rolling over for Mike Krusee was a huge mistake – we cannot and will not be able to recover from this impending debacle. You can’t build a system with the wrong starter line, especially when it ruins the only true backbone you ever had.

12 Replies to “Media completely fooled by Cap Metro PR; film at 11.”

  1. I pass by the Manor/MLK crossings everyday and think about what a strange route the rail has, meandering through some pretty low density east austin neighborhoods. It will be an accident of geography if you live in Austin and this rail gets you anywhere near where you need to go in less time (or at least not much more time) than it currently takes you to get there. I am just not understanding where the ridership for the rail; line will be coming from, and I have ridden the bus on and off in Austin for a decade. Massive growth in Austin’s northwest suburbs and an extension of the line to Congress might combine to make it something short of a disaster.

  2. Let me see if I can predict M1EK’s response to the Congress extension point: That can never happen without condemning a downtown block because the turning radius of the DMU trains is too large.
    It’s probably not helpful to rehash this, but I’m curious: The 2000 light rail plan passed within the city limits, right? The CAMPO TWG plan is going to be built by the city, making a CapMetro-wide vote unnecessary. Why didn’t we just do the same thing with the 2000 plan but stopping at Airport? No CapMetro-owned rail would be necessary, it would probably pass in Austin, and we could extend the line using the CapMetro tracks later.
    I really hope the North Burnet/Gateway plan takes hold, because then there’d be a definite need for high quality transit between there and downtown. Maybe a line on Guadalupe to the Triangle, then on Burnet to MoPac?
    I love wishful thinking.

  3. Reading the comments on the Wear article, I have a potential blog topic for you Mike.
    Why the heck do people always think monorail is a good idea? WHY? WHY?
    This is tongue in cheek obviously, but dang. It just seems like everyone who’s an uninformed rail supporter thinks that monorail will fix everything.

  4. One thing I’ve always been curious about: Why is CapMet running the commuter rail? — by which I mean: Wouldn’t it make more sense for a regional authority (like the CTMRA) to do commuter rail?
    Seems like CapMet should be sticking to intra-city transportation (which very well could include light rail), and leaving the regional transport to regional authorities.
    Who/What is the bellybutton for overall Central Texas transportation planning? Who supplies the marching orders for everyone to follow? Is there even such a thing? Where’s the coordinator? Or, do we have a situation where every transport authority is doing its own thing with little consideration to what the other ones are doing?

  5. natrius: el_longhorn mentions an extension TO Congress, i.e., a linear 3-block extension along 4th street. The DMU’s crappy turning radius is not relevant.

  6. bg, monorail is disproportionately represented on the internet just like most other fringe ideas that sound ‘neat’ technically. It really isn’t true that a lot of people think it’ll work; Las Vegas showed the safety claims were nonsense, and Seattle showed that the financing won’t work in this country.
    Stuart, from what I gather, it’s a state requirement that there be metro-area transit agencies that then can’t force anybody to join or not; even though the state doesn’t actually give Capital Metro any money, they feel more than free to regulate the crap out of them.
    So CM _is_ the regional authority; it’s just that our stupid state doesn’t require that everybody in the region be part of it.
    The Feds also like having one guy to sign the checks over to, from what I understand, but if they had their way, CM would cover the whole area.

  7. Now I’m really confused. CapMet is the regional authority? Then what is the CTMRA?
    At any rate, it’s pretty clear that no one is in charge. Looks to be a hydra with no head.

  8. Stuart, CTRMA is only about roads – the stuff they say about tolls maybe helping to pay for transit someday is largely greenwashing IMO. Some theorize an eventual transition to a more inclusive mission (a merger, even) but I doubt it would happen without a sea-change at the state legislature the likes of which would take decades to come around.
    Ben Wear wrote about it here:

  9. I’d like to hear more about the point made by Natrius… Why couldn’t we re-hash the 2000 plan, except end it at crestview station? What other factors are keeping the city from trying the lamar/guadalupe corridor as a starter line?

  10. Because the commuter rail passengers will never be able to provide enough potential transfers to the light rail line to raise ridership to remotely close to the level 2000’s proposal would have obtained, yet a stub LRT line starting there still requires all of the traffic impact and all of the construction impact of the 2000 line.

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