Austin Bus Service

It’s super neat that people are suggesting doing the right thing. In 2017.

It’s also super neat that the guy who claimed to be supporting this for years was on the UTC. In 2004. When I made the motion below. Which died for lack of a second.

WHEREAS the City of Austin does not receive adequate mobility benefits from the currently proposed Long Range Transit Plan due to its reliance on “rapid bus” transit without separate right-of-way


WHEREAS a “rapid bus” line does not and cannot provide the necessary permanent infrastructure to encourage mixed-use pedestrian-oriented densification along its corridor


WHEREAS the vast majority of Capital Metro funds come from residents of the City of Austin


WHEREAS the commuter rail plan proposed as the centerpiece of this plan delivers most of its benefits to residents of areas which are not within the Capital Metro service area while ignoring the urban core which provides most Capital Metro monies

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Urban Transportation Commission recommends that the City Council immediately reject Capital Metro’s Long-Range Transit Plan and begin working towards a plan which:

A. delivers more reliable and high-performance transit into and through the urban core, including but not limited to the University of Texas, Capitol Complex, and downtown
B. requires additional user fees from passengers using Capital Metro rail services who reside in areas which are not part of the Capital Metro service area
C. provides permanent infrastructure to provide impetus for pedestrian-oriented mixed-use redevelopment of the Lamar/Guadalupe corridor
IF CAPITAL METRO will not work with the City of Austin on all items above, THEREFORE BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the UTC advises the City Council to begin preparations to withdraw from the Capital Metro service area and provide its own transit system in order to provide true mobility benefits to the taxpayers of Austin.

The Other Shoe Begins To Drop

A comment I just left at Capital MetroBlog’s entry full of people insisting that the train is successful now or will succeed soon:

So it turns out Capital Metro isn’t going to wait any longer for us to “clap louder or Tinkerbell will die”; in the January service change, they will cancel many 984 and 986 bus runs in order to attempt to boost MetroRail ridership.

Some of those people currently riding those far superior express buses will switch; some will go back to driving.

The key here is that when you build a GOOD rail line, most people switch from redundant bus lines willingly – because the train is better than the bus. Only awful trains require you to force-march passengers away from what they choose to ride; and this only works for captive riders, and only for a while.

Once again, M1EK was right – and those of you defending Capital Metro were wrong.

Capital Metro is about to learn the difference between “captive rider” and “choice commuter” (and the rest of us are going to learn how many of each comprised the ridership of these express bus routes).

Can YOU spot the right corridor for rail?

A photographic exercise by M1EK. All pictures obtained from the 9/24/05 Future Connections steering committee presentation.

This is a bit misleading since it makes it look like Hyde Park and the neighborhoods around Airport Blvd are equally suitable for rail transit – the problem is that you can’t walk to stations along Airport from any residential developments of consequence; the area is fairly pedestrian-hostile.
Note that all of the existing and future high-density residential and employment centers are going to be served by “high-frequency circulators”, i.e., shuttle buses stuck in traffic. While the incredibly important Airport Boulevard corridor gets rail. Here’s one example of a circulator movement they envision; this one is planted right on Speedway near my house. Note: there’s already high-frequency bus service to campus and downtown on this street, so it’s doubtful they’ll be doing anything here other than publicity:

Now, for comparison’s sake, I took the two 2017 maps, and using my awesome drawing skills, drew the 2000 light rail proposal, in blue. The jog from the Guadalupe corridor over to Congress Avenue might have happened as far north as 11th; I chose 9th as a compromise. Some versions even had it running around the Capitol on both sides — but this is a simpler drawing that still hits all the same major spots. A short distance north of this map, the 2000 light rail line would have converged with the red “All Systems Go” line and continued northwest on existing rail right-of-way towards Howard Lane, so this picture captures most of the “difference” between the proposals.

Gosh, which one would have a better chance at delivering ridership? I really can’t tell the difference. I guess Lyndon IS right – this commuter rail plan IS just as good as light rail!

Lyndon loses it

Lyndon Henry just called me “anti-rail”. I’m so mad I could chew nails.
His “bend over for Mike Krusee side” has destroyed any chance at urban rail here in Austin for a generation, since the starter line implemented by Capital Metro will not be able to garner significant ridership due to its reliance on shuttle buses to get anywhere you might want to go.

After this failure, predicted by South Florida’s experience with a commuter rail plan which is almost identical to Capital Metro’s, Austin voters will not be willing to vote up any more rail for decades.
If anybody’s “anti-rail”, it’s him and his ilk; since their collaboration with Mike Krusee will prevent urban Austin from seeing rail until my children are middle-aged.
Update: my cow orker pointed out that lightrail_now doesn’t have public archives. Here’s the offending opening paragraph of Lyndon’s comment:

Let me just point out that, if Mike Dahmus’s anti-rail side had won last
November’s vote – i.e., the rail plan had failed – the Road Warriors would
be celebrating the “final” demise of rail transit in Austin and picking the
bones of Capital Metro for more funding for roads – highways, tollways,
etc. – in this area.

he then goes on to tell people how wonderful the commuter rail plan is, how it might be upgraded to electrified LRT (continuing his misleading crap about how sticking an electrical wire on it makes it “light rail”), and mentions the people trying to get streetcars running through downtown and an unnamed bunch of “rail advocates” trying to get light rail to run on the Rapid Bus corridor, failing to say anything about the fact that this commuter rail plan effectively precludes running light rail down that stretch of Lamar/Guadalupe.

Still At It

The folks who basically wanted us to suck it up and enjoy what crumbs we got from the All Systems Go plan are still at it, even today. On the Austin Streetcars group (for people who are trying desperately to salvage some kind of rail, for central Austin, which is otherwise going to only be served by “high frequency circulators” in the form of shuttle buses and, of course, Not So Rapid Bus), Lyndon Henry just called the ASG starter line an “urban light railway”, to which I just had to respond with this old gem which now that I look back, is probably the best thing I wrote about this whole commuter rail debacle. Unfortunately, it was nine months after the election.
Update: Lyndon responded with:

They’ve ordered non-FRA-compliant light DEMUs for this line. It qualifies
as a “light railway” by all standards I know of within the transit
industry. However, since it’s non-electrified, it is NOT
LRT. Operationally, it will be somewhat similar to the Camden-Trenton
RiverLine light railway and the Sprinter light railway currently under
construction in Oceanside (north of San Diego – which they’re calling
“light rail”).

to which I answered:

Pop quiz:
1. What are the headways it will run at during peak times when it opens?
2. How will the passengers get to their final destination?
The answers to those two questions are:
1. 30 minutes, at best
2. Shuttle buses
Neither of those answers is compatible with the concept of “light rail”. As you know. It’s a pretty shoddy effort to claim that it’s light rail because it’s using a slightly less heavy, but still non-electrified, locomotive.
This project is commuter rail, and not a very good one at that (most commuter rail lines at least penetrate a major downtown area; this one does only by the most generous definition of the term, and doesn’t come remotely close to any of the 3 or 4 other activity centers of the region).
Your insistence on applying the adjective “light” to it as frequently as you can suggests to me that you might be uncomfortable with your role in selling Mike Krusee’s Austin-screwing transit-killer to the citizens and are trying to convince yourself that this pile of garbage really is a stack of roses.
Again, I refer you to this:

and then I inserted the original blast that this isn’t light rail by any reasonable definition of the term.
Lyndon is one of the “good guys” which is why I hate so much that he’s helped, as I mentioned, sell Austin down the river for Mike Krusee (whose constituents by and large aren’t even Capital Metro taxpayers).

A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Shuttle Buses

Here’s what those of us who live or work in Central Austin are getting out of commuter rail. Stations in far east Austin and the Convention Center, with a handy transfer to a slow, stuck-in-traffic shuttle-bus to get you to where you might actually want to go. Image below is from one of two new documents up at the Future Connections Study site:

Capital Metro is starting rail service here in Austin in a couple of years NOT by doing what success stories like Portland and Dallas did (light rail straight through and to the densest parts of town) but what South Florida did (commuter rail where tracks already exist, requiring transfers to shuttle buses to actually get anywhere). Fifteen years later, Tri-Rail in South Florida is an unmitigated disaster: no choice commuters despite heavy promotion by an enthusiastic community, no transit-oriented development despite heavy subsidization (below-market attempts at land sales around stations and the like). Unlike in Dallas and Portland (and Minneapolis and Houston and Denver and Salt Lake…), drivers in South Florida aren’t trying Tri-Rail because they know that transferring to shuttle buses every day for your commute overwhelms any speed advantage the train might have bought you up to that point.

In short, commuter rail as your starter line just plain doesn’t work. And the picture ought to make it clear why – even the nominally downtown station is too far from the 6th/Congress intersection for most people to walk, and all other major activity centers in our area will require people to say hey, I’ll drive to the park-and-ride, board a train, get off the train, get on a bus, wait in traffic with all the other cars, get off the bus, and walk to my office. Even promotional images used in the pro-commuter-rail campaign show that they expect downtown workers to have to transfer to shuttle buses, as seen below.

Notice in the handouts that they’re still pretending that all options are on the table. But believe me, there is zero chance that light rail will end up as the circulator, and near-zero chance that streetcars will make it, not that streetcars would work anyways. It’s going to be shuttle-buses in mixed-traffic. Mark my words.

It’s Not Light Rail

Many people, including Lyndon Henry (who of all people ought to know better) are continuing the misleading practice of calling Capital Metro’s All Systems Go plan “light rail” or “light rail like” or “light ‘commuter’ rail”, etc. This has done its job – most laypeople continue to call what ASG’s building “light rail” even though it couldn’t be further from the truth.

So a couple of days ago, a story showed up in Kansas City extolling the virtues of what turns out to be a similar “Rapid Bus” plan to the one being foisted on Central Austin as our reward for rolling over for Mike Krusee. The site which is at least somewhat affiliated with Lyndon has often published vigorous attacks on efforts to sell “rapid bus” schemes as “as good as rail” to the public. Lyndon was angry at this Kansas City effort, and I replied with a reminder that the politicking of himself and Dave Dobbs helped get the same exact thing for central Austin by his support of the ASG plan. Lyndon replied with his typical ASG cheerleading, and I just sent this in response:

— In, Nawdry wrote:
>Instead, it passed, and we have a rail project under way and
planning for additional rail transit installations now under way.
What we have underway is a commuter rail line which doesn’t and will NEVER go near the major activity centers of the region, doesn’t and will NEVER go near the major concentrations of residential density in the region, and doesn’t and will NEVER get enough choice commuters out of their cars to provide enough public support for expansions of the system.
What we have underway are some lukewarm half-hearted plans for expanding that rail network if Union Pacific can be convinced to leave their freight line behind, but, of course, it will all be moot, since the original line will be such a debacle that we’ll never get to the expansions.
This is a “one and done” line.
It skips the Triangle. It skips West Campus. It skips Hyde Park. It skips North University. It skips the Capitol. It skips the University. It skips most of downtown. It does not provide any service to the neighborhoods in Austin that most WANTED rail in 2000, nor will it EVER do so (even if the entire ASG plan is built).
It is NOT ANYTHING LIKE LIGHT RAIL. I don’t know how you can sit there and claim that it is. I know you’re not stupid, and had hoped you weren’t a liar.
_HOUSTON_ built light rail. _DALLAS_ built light rail. _PORTLAND_ and _DENVER_ and _SALT LAKE_ and _MINNEAPOLIS_ built light rail.
This plan is NOTHING like what they built. For you and Dave Dobbs to continue to call it light rail is dishonest, bordering on maliciously false.
What DOES it do? It goes past suburban park-and-rides (as the light rail plan would have). It allows fairly easy access to stations for the far suburbanites who LEAST wanted rail. It requires that all of those passengers, who are the MOST SKEPTICAL about transit, to transfer to SHUTTLE BUSES at the end of their journey if they want to go anywhere worth going.
There is zero chance that this line will garner substantial ridership, and thus, voting for this plan doomed Austin to no additional rail for a very long time, since it will have been ‘proven’ that rail ‘doesn’t work’.
As for your claims that Rapid Bus isn’t being sold here, bull. It was featured in the paper just a week or two ago, and is the ONLY service improvement being provided to the parts of Austin that want, and in any other city, would have gotten rail.
Mike Dahmus
Disgusted At Lyndon’s Dishonesty

I’m a Goner

Today when I came home, my wife showed me the mail, and there was a letter from Councilman Slusher which noted that my term on the UTC has expired (it did on 1/1/05) and that he did not wish me to continue serving until I was replaced. No further information was given.

This is not a big surprise; although the timing is at least a small surprise. Many months ago when I first spoke on the commuter rail issue, one of my fellow commissioners told me that Councilman Slusher was apoplectic with rage over the idea that I’d say the things I was saying (and this was before I really got going; at this point all I had done was write one letter to the Chronicle). He supposedly said that he was mad enough to remove me from the Commission, but didn’t want to provide more attention for my supposed cause by doing so.

I was very shocked by this information at the time (and still am) – first of all, the idea that one couldn’t publically be against the commuter rail plan (but still be rabidly pro-rail and rabidly pro-transit) and still serve on the Commission is quite offensive to me even today. Second, the idea that a commissioner on the UTC could have a large enough public effect to be worth such spiteful comment as was supposedly given is just ludicrous – in other words, I can’t believe that I was ever big enough to be worth any bile from a City Council member at all.
At that time, I asked (quite nicely, I thought) for a meeting with him to discuss what he’d like me to do (implicitly offering to resign from the Commission if that’s what he wanted – to be honest, there’s little point in continuing to be on the Commission without support from your appointer). He never responded.

To this day, Councilmember Slusher has not spoken to me at all since we met a couple of years ago (when he indicated that he was fairly happy with the status of the UTC).

After the election, I missed the two remaining 2004 meetings of the UTC due to vacation and illness. The January 2005 meeting, which I had planned to attend, was canceled for lack of a quorum. The Februrary meeting is next Tuesday, and I had planned on attending.
I don’t know why the decision was made (suddenly) to remove me from the Commission. Councilmember Slusher is being term-limited out of office – elections are in May. I had assumed that the fact that he didn’t bother to replace me with another appointee meant that I would probably last until the new councilmember took office.

Anyways, for those reading this blog who knew I was on the UTC, that’s the full scoop as of now.
To my fellow commissioners – thanks for serving with me for all these years. Your dedication to improving the transportation situation for the public at large is an inspiration, even when I disagreed with you. I hope you’ll continue to do the great job you have been doing.

To city staff – please understand that I (and my fellow commissioners) appreciate the hard work you do even when we disagree. Thanks for all the night hours you had to put in to be at our meetings, and thanks for doing your part to make Austin better.

Mike Dahmus
Got Another Free Night Per Month Coming Now

Plans for the blog

Well, now that the election is over, and I waited a week to cool the electrons, here’s where this blog is going to go:

  1. More emphasis on other transportation-talk (I had a bit of this sprinkled through the early articles here – see these categories for some examples). I took up the pro-transit but anti-commuter-rail flag because nobody else would, not because it’s my only interest). I have a couple of long articles ready to write once I get some time – one about TXDOT’s pedestrian-hostile highway construction, and one about the Jollyville Road severing.
  2. I’ll be evaluating any proposals made to “fix” the commuter rail line. Some mumblings in the press right now indicate that they think they’re going to get a proposal or two before the voters for the 2006 election. I sincerely doubt this will happen – there was far too much political capital spent on the “let’s build this one and then see how it does” position, and the kind of studies they need to do in order to get to the ballot-box are not likely to be quick.
  3. I’ll be commenting on the election results if and when the Chronicle does a precinct analysis (like they did for the 2000 light rail election).

Evaluating my campaign and my predictions: I thought the rail plan would pass, but I did not think the margin would be this great. I’m surprised at the margin in unincorporated Williamson County (according to today’s Statesman, it was fairly large). As mentioned before, I don’t know how it did in the central city compared to light rail.

I had hoped that I would get enough traction with the press that it would be difficult to forget (in 2010) that there was at least one guy who knew what he was talking about who predicted that the starter line was fatally flawed (to shorten the rail transit interregnum that will occur when the line fails). I don’t think I met my goals here – got some early coverage, including a good spot on KXAN where I was able to articulate the main failure, but most of the other press coverage misrepresented my position to “it doesn’t go far enough” which is too easy to counter with “well, we’ll just build streetcar or go to Seaholm” which only solves one of the ten or so problems with this line.

The success of the starter line is now in the hands of people in Cedar Park and far northwest Austin. If they enjoy riding shuttle buses every day from the station at MLK (crossing I-35 on MLK to get to UT and the Capitol) or from the Convention Center to 6th and Congress, then the plan will survive long enough to build extensions and expansions. Note, however, that none of those extensions or expansions provide rail service for the residents of the center city – they are other commuter rail lines headed from shuttle-bus stations out to other suburban areas.

I’m prepared to make a limited number of ridership bets for more steak dinners (hi Patrick!). You know where to find me. Otherwise, I may have the sidewalk article up in a week or so.

My final pre-election note

(Thank God, say the readers)

Sent by me a moment ago to the austin-bikes email list:

David Dobbs wrote:

> At 08:25 -0600 11/1/04, pills Mike Dahmus wrote:
>> So I don’t buy the argument that the money’s only going back if the election fails. I think the money’s also going back if the election succeeds but the starter line fails.
> Well, clearly we can be virtually certain that, save for a half-cent bus system, Capital Metro’s funding will be gone if commuter rail doesn’t pass tomorrow.

No, clearly we can’t be virtually certain of that.

I expect the 1/4 cent diversion to local governments to continue if Capital Metro were to lose the election. This diversion is easily rectified, unlike the permanent diversion that would happen if they win the election and build the virtually guaranteed failure of a commuter rail stub.
The fact that the ROAD guys aren’t fighting this very hard should tell you all you need to know about their feeling on the matter. But if you don’t believe THAT, consider the fact that this plan comes from Mike Krusee, no friend of Austin and definitely no friend of public transportation. He and Fred Gilliam have come up with the cheapest possible way to show once and for all that rail “doesn’t work in Austin” – at which point I’m sure their common cause evaporates as Krusee seeks road funds and Gilliam seeks bus rapid transit. Either way, central Austin in particular gets nothing but the back of the hand.
There is no way I can see in which urban rail can be salvaged if this election passes. David is parroting the dubious party line that this commuter rail line can be turned into “light rail” by running the trains more often and through TOD – ignoring the fact that TOD won’t occur if nobody is riding the line when it opens (real estate developers will shy away from such development if the line looks like a failure AS HAPPENED IN SOUTH FLORIDA). And NOBODY has explained how Austin is going to be SO DIFFERENT from South Florida that the shuttle-bus liability won’t be a huge problem here for building choice commuter ridership. High-frequency shuttle buses waiting for you when you get off the train? Check. Speedy rail portion of commute? Check. Cheap because they used existing track? Check. Now planning on shifting emphasis over the next decade to a much better rail corridor after 15 wasted years? One down, one to go.

Let’s recap:

  • This line delivers rail + shuttle-bus commutes to Leander and far northwest Austin. It does not deliver ANYTHING to central Austin. It does not deliver rail service to ANY OF THE THREE major attractors (downtown*, UT, Capitol). It will be relying on far-out suburbanites to form the bulk of the daily ridership – and those are PRECISELY the people who are LEAST likely to accept a shuttle-bus as part of their daily commute. The progressive parts of town where residential density is at its highest get nothing but bus service under the LONG-RANGE plan (NOT just being skipped by the starter line, but SKIPPED ENTIRELY).
  • The idea that the plan can then be saved by streetcar is also naive and foolish. While streetcars are more attractive than buses for a single transit trip:
    1. The transfer penalty still applies. A three-leg trip (car, train, shuttle-bus) is much much worse than a two-leg trip (car, light rail) or a one-leg trip, as a Hyde Park resident could have had with 2000 LRT.
    2. Unlike light rail (and the rail portion of the ASG commute), streetcars are stuck in traffic just like shuttle buses. You lose so much speed and reliability that the private car becomes competitive again.
    3. Streetcars (and any other rail extensions or expansions) must be voted on under the same rules – only in November, only an even-numbered year, and they won’t be ready to take it to a vote in 2006 since they’ve committed to a long study process. November 2008 would be the first chance to VOTE on these saviours, at which point the daily ridership numbers of the initial line WITH SHUTTLE BUSES will be public knowledge.
  • The reason we’re not getting to vote on light rail this time around has NOTHING to do with light rail’s viability. EVERY CITY THAT HAS SUCCEEDED WITH RAIL IN THE LAST 20 YEARS HAS DONE SO WITH A LIGHT RAIL STARTER LINE, NOT COMMUTER RAIL. Light rail in 2000 was forced to the polls early by Mike Krusee, and still only narrowly lost in an election where suburban turnout was disproportionately high. The idea that we couldn’t have taken out some of the objectionable parts of the 2000 LRT proposal and gotten a winning result is just a COMPLETE AND UTTER LIE.

I can’t believe so many intelligent people fell for this snow-job pulled on you by Krusee, who hates Austin with a passion, and Fred Gilliam, who wants bus rapid transit and is pushing commuter rail as a way to get it. If I’m still living here in Austin in 2008, I expect to see many more comments a la Shoal Creek of:

” I am dismayed that Mike Dahmus was so damned right about this whole debacle from the very beginning.”
– MD

* – by the 1/4 mile rule, no major downtown office buildings are within walking distance of the “downtown station”. Nearly every major office building downtown, as well as the Capitol, UT, West Campus, most of North University and Hyde Park, and 38th/Guadalupe would have been within 1/4 mile of a light-rail station in 2000.