Density and transit service, in pictures

In 2011, this bus stop had buses stopping every 10-15 minutes during peak times; it was the highest ridership route in the system by far. Click through for streetview source so you can verify.



By 2011, this tract had been rezoned VMU (Vertical Mixed-Use).

By 2013, construction was actually underway.

In 2014, service to this stop was slashed to once every 30 minutes at peak.

This is what this stop looks like today, in 2018, when it still only sees a bus once every 30 minutes at peak:



Should you trust that Capital Metro will respond to land use changes with better transit service?

On Halloween 2018, this VMU development still sees bus service once every half an hour during peak times. The closest frequent service is at the Triangle and the other side of 2222; both outside the normal 1/4 mile walkshed appropriate for bus service. There are some medium-term plans to finally add a stop which keep getting delayed. But it’s now been five years since this complex was built; and more like ten years since it was rezoned to a more transit-supportive land use. During all that time, everybody that moved into this complex didn’t get useful bus service. Decisions were made by thousands of individuals relating to car purchases; decisions were made by the apartment management about how to market themselves; based on the fact that by 2014 they knew they’d have a bus once every half an hour. Those decisions have long-term impact that will last well beyond the date when the new ‘station’ finally arrives.

Again, should you trust that Capital Metro will respond to land use changes with better transit service? In 2011, they provided frequent service to a stop at a strip mall. When the city did their land use job and put a bunch of residents directly on top of a bus stop on a well-used route, Capital Metro cut their transit service to nearly useless levels and left it that way for five years and counting.

Don’t forget this. AURA will try to tell you it’s all about land use. Show them this example and get them to explain how it applies.

Cap Remap is a disaster

Let’s recap:

AURA, run by grifters and con-artists, bought in heavily to the grid redesign fairy dust theory. It didn’t hurt that their 2 chief transit gurus live on the northern part of the 5 route and hated the jog through Hyde Park and NUNA (that was responsible for a lot of riders, but not the 2 most important ones, obviously).

First few months look good. Single digit fixed ridership increases. Huge increases in rapid (but this is comparing to a year ago when frequency wasn’t good, especially weekend).

Now we’ve got our first comparison that matters: Sep 18 to Sep 17. UT is back in session; AISD kids are back in school and not able to joyride even though they’re still being offered free rides.

Guess what?

Fixed-route1 ridership is significantly down – even though one would expect the impact of Cap Remap in a flat ridership scenario to show more rides, because the redesign forces more people to take 2 rides instead of 1 to get to their destination.

september ridership table
image thanks to Caleb Pritchard


image of a portion of the tweetdeck complaints
I retweet a bunch every morning

And my “capmetroatx” column in tweetdeck suddenly became full of complaints about UT students being miserable for not having the RR and the 5 (both the 10 and the IF are now full to overcrowding, leaving many people at stops, and they’re pissed about it, in addition to the normal “where’s my supposedly frequent bus” complaint you’ll see represented to the right). This volume of complaints is huge compared to what I saw in spring of 18.


And a friend of the crackplog forwarded me this image showing how well one of the new frequent cross-town routes is doing:

Man, if only somebody had told Cap Metro ahead of time that this was a dumb idea.

Oh, wait! somebody did!

So we have at the very least some very convincing circumstantial evidence that the lower ridership probably isn’t due to weather2; it’s probably due to the fact that they took some buses away from places that were using them very well (the 5 through HP and NUNA; the RR); and put them on routes where they are not being used very well (i.e. the 335).
I’ll fill in this post with more details later. But suffice to say – the Pollyannas were wrong again; not that they’ll ever learn.


  1. normal buses, basically; remember that the Rapid changes weren’t part of the Remap – they preceded it 

  2. as is always Cap Metro’s bullshit excuse 

Yesterday’s robot bus reveal

should have been no surprise. If you follow me on twitter, and why wouldn’t you,1 you’ve been hearing about this ever since my meeting with Clarke at the end of May. If you missed the news, try Caleb’s run-down.

The angle nobody is covering so far is that while a bond election is probably required to pay for the infrastructure bills involved, no technical “rail referendum” is necessary. So Cap Metro buys themselves a lot of wiggle room here – asking the city to hold a bond election in a low turnout time if they choose to, for instance.

As for the rest of it: it’s over. AURA, FAN, #atxrail – they were all warned; and they all stayed silent in a stupid naive attempt to fix things with the back-channel communications that never meant anything, and as a result, we’re never getting light rail in Austin.

Today’s “worst person in Austin” award goes to Randy Clarke, who is just a more effective liar than the old leadership. Nobody in the community asked for robot buses as a fig leaf for BRT, but that’s what he’s claiming the community wants and needs. That’s enough for ten awards, but one will have to suffice. But honorable mention “worst person in Austin” awards go to the credulous nitwits in those groups above, who were all warned back when there was time to make enough fuss to possibly change this2, and chose yet again to disregard my warnings.

It’s too late now. You were warned.


  1. did you not notice I hardly ever blog? 

  2. before the political class got behind it; i.e. before Watson and the city council were firmly on board 

On calling bullshit

Don’t sign AURA’s petition. They are assholes who are doing bad things and being dishonest about it. But even more importantly, once you have processed the message in these pictures, move on and read the money point.

As usual, it’s up to me to point out that the emperor has no fucking clothes. People, including many in AURA, have made both of these points at the same time, often very close to one another:

  1. The right lane is already a defacto bus/right-turn-lane during heavy traffic periods
  2. Making the right lane a bus/right-turn-lane will dramatically improve travel times during heavy traffic periods.

These things cannot both be true, and people who say both are either too stupid to be listened to, or too dishonest to be listened to, so of course, in Austin, we’re listening to them.

As for center-running bus lanes, fuck those. Those would even further cement the permanence of rapid bus over light rail. There is no migration path; you get buses forever if you go that way (even with right turn and bus lanes, you’re 99% of the way to killing light rail forever).

Hey, reminder: this exists

It’s hard to justify a large investment in crackploggery when Bad AURA is out there stealing the air supply. But remember, there’s always twitter. Today, there’s a great thread where AURA’s trying to say their play-along-plan doesn’t mean they don’t care about regular folks’ transit.

Here’s a good place to dive in and start browsing:

A sustainable transit plan for Austin – outline and introduction

If this is sufficiently well-received I may fill in more later.

This post is in response to a request from Friends of Austin Neighborhoods, an organization of which I am a member, for some transit talk leading up to a position / plan from them. My key elements follow, in outline form, with links to old writing where feasible. I expressed my concerns that this would be a waste of time due to the alliance of FAN with AURA and Evolve Austin but was assured this was not an issue, so here we go.

Above all else, be skeptical of Capital Metro

Cap Metro’s record for honesty is bad and not improving. Lately, they mislead people about Connections 2025 (selling it as a “ridership over coverage” redesign, but in reality, it’s cutting service to our densest areas and rebalancing towards more suburban service). Under this we have details like conflating Rapid Bus with local service; using 1/2 mile or larger catchment zones when 1/4 mile is the industry standard, etc. Project Connect 1.0 was an unmitigated disaster due to a lack of honesty about constraints and aims by the people leading it, and they have never been held to account for it. We will not make any real progress for transit in Austin until these agencies act with transparency and honesty. FAN should demand better governance of, and leadership at, Capital Metro. My basic recommendation would be that board members need to at least ride transit sometimes and have a deep fundamental understanding of what actually raises and lowers transit ridership; and top leadership must be honest and ethical. Neither of those standards is met today by any board members or anyone in top leadership of the agency.

Background:

Watch the diversion of service dollars to the suburbs

Even AURA is on board with the Red Line being a bad investment, and I-35 BRT being a horrible idea. But that’s not where it ends.

The service just introduced for Round Rock is a horrible deal. Cap Metro is being misleading about it being a “contracted service”. Round Rock doesn’t pay overhead that supports Cap Metro’s structure in general, and their passengers can continue onto mainline routes despite not having paid taxes to support them. They’re getting a sweetheart deal in return for not paying into the system. This is bad for Austin.

Likewise, park and rides placed near the edge of the city limits or the edge of the service area are obviously going to tend to attract patrons from jurisdictions that don’t pay to support the agency. While you might want to supply them with transit anyways, this is a zero-sum game or worse. Every $25 operating subsidy paid so somebody from Cedar Park can ride the train despite not paying taxes to support it results in 5-10 Austinites not getting to ride a bus that their city did pay taxes to support.

We should not be subsidizing the suburbs’ road network and also subsidizing their transit. If we don’t get to cut one, cutting the other is not only good but necessary. Again, in Austin, transit is a zero-sum game; we have no ability to increase operating funds, so every dollar we blow on somebody in Cedar Park is taken away from a prospective rider in Austin. Friends of Austin Neighborhoods should be about supporting Austin’s interests first against so-called predatory regionalism.

Background:

Specifically watch for land use claims that fall apart under scrutiny

In 2014, I made this warning about Rapid Bus: Rapid Bus Has Degraded Bus Service.

We were told continuously by people more credulous than I that Rapid Bus was a great deal. I went to a lot of trouble to show that its benefits accrue disproportionately to those who live the furthest out, while those who live close in suffered service degradation.

The Panglosses kept at it, assuring us that infill stops would be added any day now. It’s now looking like 2018 or later for two infill stops, and even with those infill stops, Hyde Park will still have worse service than it did in 2011. Connections 2025 will make it even worse than that!

Rapid Bus is also a suburban subsidy although it’s more of a subsidy to the worst land use INSIDE Austin (i.e. low-density sprawl inside far north and far south Austin gets better service now, by speed, than does Hyde Park). AURA hasn’t opposed Rapid Bus primarily because their president lives close to an 803 stop and saw personal benefit from the service change that screwed thousands of others. I think FAN needs to be more honest and transparent than that, and hope you agree.

Watch out for things that don’t pass the BS test

Don’t ask a transit rider if the grid redesign’s requirement to add transfers will increase or reduce ridership. They have no idea; they’re already riding. Ask somebody who has a long history of being right about service changes’ impact on ridership. Ask somebody who is transit-positive but has to drive to work.

The fact is that the Connections 2025 redesign cuts local service even further for the areas of Austin with some of the highest modeshare, and yet, Evolve Austin and AURA have bought into the Big Lie from Capital Metro. I shouldn’t have to keep explaining this, but in 2011, you could pick up a #1 on Guadalupe in Hyde Park every 10-12 minutes during peak and a #101 every 20 minutes or so. Now there is a local every 30 minutes, and the distance to walk to ‘rapid’ (fancy 101) is too long to make up for the increased frequency. Actual riders are worse off today; and yet Connections 2025 proposed making that even worse under the guise of improving things. (Eliminating local service on Speedway, and originally proposing eliminating the remaining locals on Guadalupe too!)

Friends of Austin Neighborhoods generally promotes urbanist ideals. Having a transit agency which cuts service to the areas that buy into urbanism inevitably leads to pushback in the future for land-use changes as people become justifiably skeptical that new residents of infill developments will use transit at non-trivial levels.

If you say you want ridership over coverage, be serious about it

Ridership, ridership, ridership. This is a public investment; we need our transit dollar to go as far as it possibly can.

That’s all the time I can spend now. Let’s see if FAN was serious about taking this seriously before I invest any more.

Evolve Austin continues AURA line of horseshit about transit and density


Dear mayor and council members:

My name is Mike Dahmus; I served on the Urban Transportation Commission from 2000-2005, and have written a bit on the topic of transportation (mostly transit) ever since.

You've received some correspondence recently on and on behalf of Evolve Austin that continues to claim that Capital Metro is reorienting its services to better support land use that provides the density and walkability to make transit service more feasible and sustainable at a lower cost.

This is false. Cap Metro has not changed one iota; the recent service changes continue a pattern of reorienting service to unproductive suburban areas and away from the areas that produce the highest transit ridership (and have the highest potential for additional ridership).

This presentation, from 2015, explains why the Rapid Bus shift was a degradation of transit service. Connections 2025 doubles down on this shift, removing even more local walkable transit service from the core neighborhoods where it is most heavily used.

https://www.slideshare.net/mikedahmus/20150211-transitvslanduse

I'm eager to communicate via email if any of you have any questions.

Regards,
Mike Dahmus
mike@dahmus.org