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 

FTA issues report on Austin Metro Rapid

Thanks to Lyndon Henry for finding and posting the link to the PDF.

Some important quotes:

In the Route 801 corridor, the primary impacts of the BRT project were to (1) replace an existing
limited stop service – Route 101 – with limited-stop service upgraded to BRT standards and new
evening service hours, (2) reduce the frequency of the existing local service – Route 1 – by half,
and (3) add a feeder route at each of the two new terminal stations to provide connections to
Route 801 from a wider area.


In summary, the BRT project had impacts on transit service that were very different between the
two corridors in two important ways:
• BRT MetroRapid Route 801 was essentially a modest upgrade of an existing limited-stop
route; in contrast, MetroRapid Route 803 introduced a BRT-standard limited-stop service
into a corridor where no limited-stop service had existed; and
• Service frequencies on the principal local route in the Route 801 corridor were
significantly lower – half their former levels – after project opening; in contrast, service
frequencies on the principal local route in the Route 803 corridor were only moderately
lower after project opening.


In 2016, two years after project opening, ridership on MetroRapid Route 801 was 5,800
boardings per average weekday. Ridership on the reduced-frequency local Route 1 was 5,700
for a total of 11,500 boardings on the principal services in the North Lamar/South Congress
corridor. Feeder Routes 201 and 275 added a total of 1,700 weekday boardings in the corridor,
some of which were transfers to/from Routes 801 and 1. The combined ridership on all four
corridor routes was 2,400 fewer weekday boardings than the combined ridership of 15,600
weekday boardings on corridor routes before project opening. This ridership loss is attributable
to three factors:
• The significantly reduced frequency – by half – of the Route 1 local service which meant
that riders who found the new MetroRapid stop locations to be inconvenient for their trips
faced longer wait times for Route 1 buses at local stops;
• The presence of limited-stop service on Route 101 before the introduction of MetroRapid
which meant that MetroRapid was only a modest improvement over existing service; and
• The higher fare for MetroRapid service compared to the fare charged on all other services
both before and after the introduction of the MetroRapid routes.
The result was that MetroRapid attracted only a modest number of new transit riders to the
corridor while the reduced local service caused a somewhat larger number of existing riders to
abandon transit in the North Lamar/South Congress corridor.

tldr version: The 801 changes caused ridership to DROP in this corridor. The FTA concluded so based on Capital Metro’s own numbers. It’s time for the water-carriers like “Novacek” to abandon their attempts to spin the unspinnable.

And it was easily foreseeable as I pointed out in this post from 2014…

Let’s Go To The Movies: Also: Why Nobody Takes The Bus There!

In a happy coincidence, this twitter thread came to me as I was about to take the family over to our go-to theatre; the Alamo Drafthouse at Mueller, to watch a bougie family entertainment (I have kids, sue me; Christopher Robin was good). When I posted some details about our upcoming trip, friend-of-the-crackplog Hunter S Thompson Caleb Pritchard was appropriately dismayed.

More importantly, it’s worth exploring this trip from my house a few blocks on the interior of Hyde Park as an example of how even ‘better’ transit service has a long ways to go, but stay tuned after that; because there’s a little more to it.

Let’s talk time!

From a long time ago, you may remember cheezy minimalist graphics like the ones below, which made their first appearance in the best-est “Why Rapid Bus sucks” post that still holds for a little while longer until the two infill stops are fully integrated. In this case, you can see the components of the trip from my house to the Alamo Drafthouse in Mueller, as follows:

DRIVING TRIP (what we actually did): 7 minute drive, 1 minute to park, 1 minute to walk from the garage to the front door of the theatre.

TRANSIT TRIP (what we could have done): 9 minute (0.4 mile) walk down to 38th and Guadalupe; typical wait of 7.5 minutes for the 335 bus (15 minute frequencies on this route! Best we’ve got!); 14 minute bus trip to the closest stop in Mueller (Berkman and Simond); and an 8 minute (0.4 mile) walk to the theatre’s front door. 1

Now here they are combined on the same graph2.

See a problem yet? Hint: When just the walk to the bus stop from my house (the first part of four on the transit trip) is essentially as long (in time) as the entire driving trip, counting parking the car in the garage and walking from the garage to the theatre, you might not be competitive overall.

Well, you might be tempted to reply, surely the bus is cheaper!

Let’s talk money!

I have bad news for you. The Alamo Drafthouse at Mueller validates parking (which would have been $3.00 for us); but not bus fare. So here’s the way those trips cost out, and note that this is temporarily cheaper for the bus trip as my 2 kids that would normally have had to pay are actually riding free for the remainder of the summer.3

The driving trip costs around 60 cents, thanks to this handy but minimalist commute calculator, originally designed for bike commutes but usable for this purpose, that helpfully excludes bullshit like depreciation and insurance.4. The transit trip would have cost $5.00 (two day passes for the two adults).

So what?

Now for the interesting parts. What would we expect in a better world?

Let’s imagine for a moment that being “transit-oriented” in Austin actually meant what it means in the rest of the world. How would the equation above be different?

For one, the parking garage would have to be less convenient than the transit. This means that the transit needs to drop off in front; and the parking needs to be at least a short walk away (move the transit stop directly in front of the business; leave the parking garage where it is for now, I guess).

For two, the parking can’t be free while the transit costs money. But do you think a business in Mueller as it exists today would be willing to make this trade? Of course not; each and every business in Mueller would die without the influx of cars from neighbors like me. They are nowhere near dense enough (by orders of magnitude) to get the clientele they need from people within walking or biking distance. And don’t forget to remember this when people credulous of the grid redesign cargo cults think they will be great for ridership – the places you’re reorienting service to serve better (your ‘secondary centers’) all have free parking, meaning the competitive transit-versus-driving value proposition is horrible compared to the traditional downtown.

For three, also, the realignment of service for Mueller focused on running things down Berkman, which might be better for the residents, but definitely not for anybody trying to get to the Town Center [sic] from outside the area. If Mueller’s reality matched its promises, transit would go straight to/from the Town Center, and residents would be within a short enough walk that they would want to go there to board buses. The actual reality isn’t that great; Mueller is too spread out, as discussed ad nauseum, so the transit has to run on Berkman.

So the real answer gets to an even more fundamental flaw in Mueller: It tries to be a “center” a la “centers and corridors” from Imagine Austin, but the density it has is nowhere near large enough to justify free transit and expensive parking, so it ends up in the uncanny valley of density. Difficult to drive in, unpleasant and expensive to take transit to, and with a tiny fraction of the people within walking and biking distance that would be required to keep their businesses in business without those drivers and their necessarily subsidized parking.

What’s the solution? Centers have to be orders of magnitude denser than this, so that parking doesn’t have to be free to keep businesses alive, or, you know, stop trying to pound a square peg into a round hole and just resume densification of our existing center where parking already doesn’t have to be free. Either way.

Also, though, please note that for a single person, this particular trip would still have been a dumb financial decision, but not quite as dumbererer as for the whole family. Consider that you have to pay a bus fare for each person (including the kids when the free summer ends), but a car full of 4 dinguses costs the same as for a single dingus driver.

Also also, though, please check out Caleb’s new gig – we expect great things!

(I’ll try to fix this up and flesh it out over the course of the week to make it a little less bare-bones but had to get this out there in case I run out of time. Remember this isn’t my day job and I don’t even have time or the cost-benefit ratio for it to be a frequent hobby anymore. Fuck AURA.)

  1. I’ve used the common practice here of assigning half the ‘headway’ to ‘wait time’ as in – the average time we’d have to wait for the bus if we just show up is 7.5 minutes. The minimum ‘wait’ time for the bus if you plan on a scheduled departure is typically 5 minutes – you’re supposed to give that long in case it’s early. The ‘wait’ time for your car is ALWAYS zero, of course. 

  2. updated on 8/14/2018 to make the phases the same across the bars, but the color scheme is still gonna suck because there’s only so much of my work time I’ll spend on making this pretty for y’all 

  3. details: two day passes at $2.50 each, kids are currently free. 

  4. Note here that even though my company car gives me gas for free, I costed out this trip as if I had to pay for it 

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.


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.


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.

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

Mike Dahmus

In the year 2000

of course, treatment the humans are dead.


In the year 2008, information pills the following files represent the main local and express bus services on Guadalupe (thanks to the Wayback Machine):

Route 1 in 2008

Route 3 in 2008

Route 5 in 2008

Route 101 in 2008

Look in a little more detail during the AM peak, with relevant images.

Route 1:


At the Guadalupe/45th timepoint, there were 21 trips passing by after 6 AM and before 10 AM (headway was 11 minutes). Applies to NUNA and Hyde Park. Stops every couple of blocks, so assume a short walk straight west to Guadalupe.

Route 3:

(In 2008, the Route 3 ran down Guadalupe from 38th to 29th, and then jogged through West Campus a block or so to the west).


(Assuming that 34th/Guadalupe is about halfway in between the 38th/Lamar and MLK/Nueces timepoints):

At 34th/Guadalupe, there were 11 trips passing by after 6 AM and before 10 AM (headway was 21 minutes). Applies to NUNA only, not Hyde Park1. Stops every couple of blocks, so assume a short walk straight west to Guadalupe.

Route 5:

(Ran/runs across 45th to Speedway, turns right and heads through center of Hyde Park and NUNA, then west to Guadalupe at north edge of UT).


At 38th/Speedway, there were 9 trips passing by after 6 AM and before 10 AM (headway varied from 15 to 30 minutes). Stops every couple of blocks along Speedway so you can assume a mostly direct, short, walk.

(Why not include the IF?)

The IF runs basically the same route as the 5, from 45th to UT. However, it is not suitable for use by the general non-UT population. It doesn’t go south of UT to downtown; it doesn’t run on non-class days; it doesn’t run during breaks when normal people have to work. At best it’s an emergency backup.

(Why not include the 19?)

I might should. When I did this wayback exercise I wasn’t thinking of it, but the 19 was somewhat useful south of 38th, if I remember correctly. I might go back and correct if enough people clamor for it.

(Why not include the 21/22)

Very short segment on Guadalupe, not generally north-south in ways that would be useful for this exercise.

Route 101:

(Ran on essentially the same route the 801 runs today, hitting most of the same stops – not all. Stop at 51st instead of the Triangle; stop near 38th served NUNA a little better and Hyde Park a little worse than current 801 stop closer to 39th. Note that no other stops are served than the few dots on the map in the PDF linked above. So it’s 51st, 38th, and then UT.).


At 38th/Guadalupe, there were 7 trips passing by after 6 AM and before 10 AM (headway was 15 minutes but only started at about 7:30 and ended at about 9:00). Counting for both NUNA and Hyde Park as this was the designated ‘express’ for both (no closer option), and we’ll do the same later for the 801, but indicated as ‘long walk’ in both cases.

2008 Summary

For a resident of western Hyde Park, you could walk to Guadalupe and expect a route 1 every 11 minutes, a route 101 every 15 minutes (unless very early or very late), and you could walk east to Speedway and expect a route 5 every 15-30 minutes. Total local buses for southbound peak available: 30. Total limited-stop buses for southbound peak available: 7 (long walk for some).

For a resident of NUNA, you could walk to Guadalupe and expect a route 1 every 11 minutes, a route 3 every 21 minutes, a route 101 every 15 minutes (same caveat as above), or you could walk to Speedway and expect a route 5 every 15-30 minutes. Total local buses for southbound peak available: 41. Total limited-stop buses for southbound peak available: 7 (long walk for some).

  1. although if I was the kind of anti-CapMetro pedant most assume, I’d give full credit for Hyde Park since the southwestern corner could easily walk to 38th/Guadalupe and pick up the 3. But I’m better than they are, so I won’t give credit for HP for these locals 

#atxrail classic courtesy of Central Austin CDC

The insiders who messed up Proposition 1 still haven’t come to terms with what they did, so I’m not going to let it sit either. Here’s something not to forget; when certain political actors try to pretend there was some kind of consensus behind the choice that got spanked at the polls instead of the one that was never allowed to be studied:


Where did the Highland alignment come from?

A short interlude from the “urbanists, seriously, the rail election is important” thread:

As somebody who was involved in the Project Connect Phase 1 process, I can tell you that the inclusion of Highland as a high-scoring choice for the final projects to move forward into Phase 1 was a complete surprise to all of us. Highland is an awful segment of the route. It only works if you ignore every bit of good advice about how to build urban rail – it assumes park-and-rides on the highway for suburbanites are how we fill trains for an urban service. Nobody who was involved in Project Connect Phase 1 liked Highland.

Except, apparently, the Chamber of Commerce.

I’ve made the case lately that the Highland alignment was flat-out chosen for us BY the Chamber of Commerce, based on circumstantial evidence (what other reason could there be?) – and please don’t quote me Project Connect statistics; that entire process was a complete joke. It’s certainly not a good choice on transit grounds (see “urban rail should be urban” series underway at another great blog – CarFree Austin). But when I’ve suggested that the Chamber picked this line, I’ve been attacked by people at the Chamber and told it’s nonsense.


Then I got an anonymous tip.

I wonder if you guys would like to see a video.

This is an excerpt from Citizens Communications from 6/13/2014 at the CCAG meeting. The speaker is Beth Ann Ray from the Chamber of Commerce. The full video of the meeting is here at the City, I suggest you click on “Item 5” on the right and then advance to about 15:30.

Transcript of this section, by me:

based on our input, from Project Connect, and the meetings and workshops that we have had with the project staff, you have an LPA that our committee (our transportation committee) selected actually, way back in the beginning in the first workshop we did, and a few weeks ago, that same committtee recommended to our board that they consider supporting the entire LPA from Grove all the way up to ACC’s flagship campus up at Highland redevelopment

Let’s look at that transcript again, with some added emphasis:

based on our input, from Project Connect, and the meetings and workshops that we have had with the project staff, you have an LPA that our committee (our transportation committee) selected actually, way back in the beginning in the first workshop we did, and a few weeks ago, that same committtee recommended to our board that they consider supporting the entire LPA from Grove all the way up to ACC’s flagship campus up at Highland redevelopment

Hmmm. I suppose it’s just a coincidence that nobody except the Chamber liked Highland, and Highland ended up being picked, right?