Quick response to spin session

I’m really swamped but did not want to let this one go.

Watch this video and go to item 4B (zoom forward to when JMVC talks Red Line and Rapid [sic] Bus).

JMVC tells the Rapid Bus tale to the UTC
JMVC tells the Rapid Bus tale to the UTC

Note the following points are made:

1. Red Line ridership is up (true!)

2. MetroRapid is coming. This is important because it’s the thing that connects the best parts of Austin; where the most travel demand exists (their words, but true!)

Then go ahead to the city’s MetroRapid presentation (4C) and see Jace Deloney and Richard Mackinnon ask JMVC some questions about Rapid [sic] Bus precluding light rail on this corridor.

Note that, despite claiming for years that yours truly was lying when I said Rapid Bus meant no light rail here, JMVC now says:

1. There will be no light rail here

2. I can’t comment specifically on why, but

3. You’re crazy to want light rail here because Rapid [sic] Bus is all this corridor demands and Capital Metro would never want to provide more than the corridor demanded in transit service (others may have other reasons for doing so, again, their words).

Now, UTC? Here’s where you dropped the ball after doing a decent job up to this point:

Nobody followed up and asked JMVC why they provided rail on the Red Line corridor – why that corridor somehow ‘demands rail’ and a corridor with 5-10x as much existing transit ridership and far more density along it now and in the foreseeable future doesn’t.


Yeah, he’ll say “well, the voters told us to”, which is where you can say “The voters didn’t make that proposal; you did, with Mike Krusee but without any input from the City of Austin, who were caught completely flatfooted”. That might be too much past history for you. Let me know, and I can be your bad guy there who can’t let go of the past if you need me to. I’m a friggin’ hero that way.

Anyways, back to the point.

Hint: JMVC is spinning his ass off here to avoid getting caught in his own lie, told for many years; that Rapid [sic] Bus is an OK interim step; that it won’t get in the way of rail later. If he can now convince people that rail’s not needed there, he doesn’t have to admit that his previous claim was a lie. Spinning like this is his job. I wish he wasn’t a disingenuous dick about it everywhere and pretended like he was just a truth-teller, but fundamentally his job is to make Capital Metro look as good as possible. However: It’s the responsibility of those serving the public interest, like the UTC, to catch people like this out when they lie.

Guess what I would have done, back in my day on the UTC? Well, letting a paid spin artist get away with a lie that hurts the long-term public interest is not on the list. It’s uncomfortable to confront people. You will seem like, and people will call you, an asshole. Tough; it’s important to remember who you serve – you serve the citizens of Austin, not Capital Metro, and in this case Capital Metro has screwed the citizens of Austin and is about to get away with it.

JMVC got away with it
JMVC got away with it

Yes, Austin, You Can Trust M1EK

Statesman, over the weekend:

Capital Metro’s long-anticipated, $47.6 million rapid bus project, designed to carry more passengers faster than existing bus lines along two busy north-south corridors, might not be as rapid as planned.

Despite an agency goal of offering time savings of 10 percent, in hopes of attracting more people to buses, the two lines would mostly offer minimal time savings, according to a Capital Metro presentation on the MetroRapid bus system, now scheduled to start operating in 2014.

In one case, a MetroRapid bus running from Howard Lane in North Austin to downtown would make the trip in 47 minutes — the same as an existing limited-stop bus that runs the same route. Trips between South Austin and downtown on that same line would offer time savings of just two to three minutes.


Capital Metro, which has an aging bus fleet, would have had to buy new buses – or even more buses, as Hemingson argues – at roughly the same time even if MetroRapid were not happening.

Yours truly, several times in the past few years, bold added for emphasis:


Y’all may have fooled the Feds into buying you new rolling stock under the guise of BRT, but some of us aren’t buying it. The signal-holding device won’t be worth anything in the afternoon congestion on Guadalupe (it’s not the light in front of the bus holding it up; it’s the light six blocks down and the cars in front).


Rapid Bus is just a way for Cap Metro to get the Feds to pay for new rolling stock – it provides practically zero time savings over existing limited-stop #101 service. It’s not rapid; it’s not anything like what light rail would have been. The cars of all the people stuck from the next light up will still be in your way even if you can hold the light directly in front of the bus green a bit longer.



Rapid Bus continues to be a complete waste of time and money – our council members were right to put the kibosh on it the last time through. Investing this much money on a half-baked solution for the most important transit corridor in Austin is stupid, especially since this particular solution won’t actually work here (too many times the traffic backup goes far beyond the light immediately in front of the bus in question).
In other cities, and in a smarter Austin, we’d be seeing packed light rail trains run down Lamar and Guadalupe by now. There is no way rapid bus can provide enough mobility benefits here to be worth a tenth the investment you’re going to dump into this dead-end technology; and I hope our council members cut this program off again.
It’s time to demand that the residents of Austin, who provide almost all of Capital Metro’s funds, get some rail transit rather than spending our money providing train service to suburbs like Cedar Park that don’t even pay Capital Metro taxes. Rapid bus is an insult to the taxpayers of Austin, and it’s not going to be rapid.

Allow me to suggest to anybody with an interest in real governance rather than government-by-consultant that at this point Capital Metro’s paid spin people (including their de-facto PR people at the Alliance for Public Transportation) have no credibility on either Rapid Bus or the Red Line, and perhaps the media and city council should be listening to those of us who were right all along rather than those who were wrong but had the time to glad-hand about it.

All posts about Rapid Bus can be found in this category archive: Rapid Bus Ain’t Rapid

Rapid [sic] Bus Fact Check: Will It Improve Frequency?

So it turns out I’m so busy now I can’t even keep up on twitter most days – but this deserved a momentary break.

People, salve and by that I mean Capital Metro and their cheerleaders, assured us that the Red Line would be “as good as light rail” once it ran all day. Instead, we have one or two ‘full’ trips per day and a lot of empty ones. And the full trips are misleading – express bus competitors were cancelled, a ton of free passes were given out, and a peak trip was dropped (IIRC), concentrating slightly more people on slightly fewer trains.

Well, anyways, it’s running all day now – and yet is achieving 1700 boardings per day compared to the 25-30K mediocre light rail lines that run all day are pulling (and that the 2000 light rail route would easily have pulled).

It’s time to ask again: WHY? Why are the tens of thousands of people within walking distance of the 2000 route who Capital Metro assured us would ride shuttlebuses not riding?

Well, wonder no more.

Alon Levy of Pedestrian Observations forwarded me this study with this short summary (summary from him):

@mdahmus tl;dr version: commuters don’t mind transfers at the outer end, but hate transfers in the CBD.

So there you have it. Too bad Capital Metro and cheerleaders not only didn’t listen in 2004, but still won’t listen – not even today. Yes, even now, I’m having to fight this battle in the comments section of their very own blog.

So, in summary, it’s important to remember: lots of people don’t mind taking a bus from their house to the train station, but almost everybody minds taking a bus from the train station to their office. Never forget.

Background, mostly from yours truly over the years:


Please excuse the quick and multiple likely edits. Trying to squeeze this in just a few minutes.

The PR guys at Capital Metro have surfaced again – trying to convince us that MetroRapid is a real improvement for Central Austin (you know, cure where light rail should have gone). One of the claims gaining traction lately (in addition to the disproved claim that it will provide measurable speed and reliability benefits – please excuse link to old site but I have not yet imported the last 6 months of posts here) is that frequency in the core will improve dramatically.

Pure and simple: This is bullshit.

Current service on the #1 bus during the day is every 12 minutes (once you leave the core, disease very generously defined as the North Lamar Transit Center to the South Lamar Transit Center, symptoms it splits into 2 routes, each one of which runs every 24 minutes).

Full #1 schedule here: http://www.capmetro.org/riding/schedules.asp?f1=001


Here’s a snippet:

Note that the #1 runs every 12 minutes here. This continues all day until 2:45 PM, when it switches to every 13 minutes (due to worse traffic in the PM); only reducing frequency below that after 7:15 or so – gradually to 15 minutes and then 20 minutes.

Now what about the #101, you know, the bus route that the Rapid [sic] Bus is actually replacing?

Full schedule here: http://www.capmetro.org/riding/schedules.asp?f1=101

Here’s a snippet:

A little tricker since only some of the trips go all the way to the South Congress TC, but it does run at 15 minute frequency basically all day long.

What does this mean? It means that in an average hour, if you are on the #1 corridor anywhere in Central Austin, you will see 5 #1 buses and 4 #101 buses go by. For instance, this is what you would see southbound between 7:00 and 8:00 AM at The Triangle, where you can pick up either bus:

From Capital Metro’s interactive data:

101: 07:04am 07:24am 07:29am 07:44am

1L: 07:10am 07:34am 07:58am

1M: 07:22am 07:46am

Or, arranged in order:


Now here’s what frequency might look like with Rapid [sic] Bus if we run the 801 every 10 minutes and eliminate, let’s say, half of the #1 trips (Capital Metro is saying all #101 and some #1 trips will be eliminated):


Does anybody here think 8 is more than 9? Or, if you don’t like which 1L/1M trips I proposed for elimination, make your own choice – keep the first and third 1L and lose the second one; and keep the opposite 1Ms, and you still end up with 9. Oops.

Even if you kept all the #1 trips (i.e. did NOT take Capital Metro at their word that they plan on reducing #1 service), and you end up with 11 trips versus 9 – hardly a major improvement in frequency.


Now, will the service improve frequency for users of the #3? Yes, a little bit, but this is not the primary corridor being advertised – nor is it where most of the current travel demand exists.

So, on this fact check, Capital Metro fails. MetroRapid will NOT dramatically increase frequency in the urban core.

PS: This is the kind of analysis you should expect out of the Alliance for Public Transportation – who purports to be an independent voice for public transportation in our region but are really nothing but uncritical cheerleading lap-dogs for Capital Metro. I have the guts but not the time; they have the time but apparently not the guts. If you want more of this kind of stuff, ask THEM why they’re not doing their jobs, OK?



You don’t get TOD with buses (or commuter rail)

I still have the RealVideo from the City Council Meeting up (was following the Shoal Creek debacle) and there’s a well-meaning guy from Oak Hill trying to get the Council to approve a TOD out there on a Rapid Bus line. Time to dispel a few illusions:

  1. You don’t get TOD without the perception of permanence. Rapid Bus ain’t it. Even BRT ain’t it. Only rail works. People don’t buy into a development where getting to their cars is expensive or inconvenient UNLESS the transit alternative is clearly going to be there for the long-haul. Buses’ infamous “flexibility” works against them here.
  2. You don’t get TOD with commuter rail. You need frequent headways (which this line won’t have) and one-stop rides to some major destinations (which this line won’t have). So even on our commuter rail line, TOD ain’t gonna happen.

What CAN you put on the ground to stimulate TOD? Something like our 2000 light rail plan (which would have been a one-stop ride from northwest Austin through the center-city to UT, the Capitol, and downtown) works, in city after city after city after city after city. Subways and monorails would work too – there’s no chance those rails are going away next year. Buses don’t. Not even fancy buses with nice signs at their stops which tell you how much delayed your next bus is since it’s stuck in traffic behind everybody else’s car.

Rapid Bus Ain’t Rapid, June 2005 Update

Today’s Statesman article continues their tradition of blindly accepting whatever Capital Metro says about the transit plan (which was, not coincidentally, innocuous enough not to piss off the real estate interests who largely shape the Statesman’s editorial content).

For background on what Rapid Bus really is, and why it’s a rip-off for central Austin taxpayers (who get nearly nothing out of the commuter rail plan but pay most of the bills) check the links at the bottom.

Short summary: The people in the densest neighborhoods (including the about-to-open Triangle) who actually WANT to use transit are getting nothing more than a lousy stuck-in-traffic slightly-fancier version of the #101, i.e., a BUS which is MUCH SLOWER THAN THEIR CARS. NO, holding a green light for a couple of seconds ISN’T GOING TO MAKE MUCH DIFFERENCE. It’ll be the cars IN FRONT OF THE BUS, sometimes stacked up through several intersections up ahead, that most affect its speed, not the traffic lights.
The people out in the suburbs who don’t really want transit and don’t pay most of the bills anyways are getting a commuter rail line which, as long as they don’t mind changing to a SHUTTLE BUS at the end of the trip, will take them downtown. Oh, and if they’re lucky enough to work directly at the Convention Center, it’ll be competitive with their cars.
All this instead of a scaled back version of the 2000 light rail plan, which would have served BOTH suburban AND urban residents with transit which was competitive with their cars AND dropped them off directly at UT, the Capitol, and downtown.

What Rapid Bus Looks Like In Practice

While researching the last entry, I discovered a site which is a fairly harsh critic of Boston’s transit agency, and this gem of an update on their “Silver Line” BRT project (which restored transit service on a corridor which had elevated rail years before).

I urge anybody interested in transit to read this, especially if you’re tempted to believe that Rapid Bus is going to be a big improvement over current bus service.
(also added them to my links).

Rapid Bus Ain’t Rapid

Earlier this week, Capital Metro included a flyer in copies of the local newspaper which touted Rapid Bus down Lamar/Guadalupe, opening late 2006 or early 2007.
Coincidentally, Wednesday night I had to drop my wife off and pick her up at an appointment which allowed me to travel down Guadalupe from 30th to 6th streets at the extreme tail end of rush hour (6:40 PM). I paid special attention to the ability of cars and buses to navigate through this congested corridor.

First: a short re-hash of what Rapid Bus is:

  • Rapid Bus is not “bus rapid transit”. “bus rapid transit” or BRT in short picks from a set of items off a menu which will supposedly improve the speed, reliability, and attractiveness of bus transit. The hopes are that it will bring bus transit up to the level of a good urban rail line. In practice (in the United States), this has been far from the case – mainly due to the reluctance to set aside dedicated right-of-way for the bus vehicle, which results in poor speed and reliability compared to rail (and poor relative performance compared to the private automobile). Even when bus lanes are created, the fact that they are typically in-street makes them worthless in practice since cars just use them anyways.
  • Capital Metro is certainly moving towards BRT with this line, but even they admit that it’s not good enough to call it BRT yet. (That’s even with the slip-shod definition of BRT which allows for it to be declared even with only a few improvements over normal bus service).
  • In fact, both the existing express buses (which travel down US 183, Mopac, and I-35) and limited buses (which run down normal corridors with fewer stops) already implement some features of BRT. (fewer stops and improved vehicles).

So what characteristics of BRT is Capital Metro including in the design of this new service to make it “Rapid”?

  • Signal prioritization – i.e. the ability to hold traffic signals green for a few seconds as the bus approaches
  • Off-bus fare payment
  • Longer (probably articulated) buses
  • Fewer stops

That’s pretty much it. Items that might help make the service more like a light rail line which are not being included:

  • Dedicated right-of-way
  • Full control over traffic signals – i.e. lights turn green when the vehicle approaches
  • Electic power (overhead “caternary” wires or in-street power)

So how does “Rapid Bus” look to improve service along Lamar/Guadalupe? Like I said, I drove the most congested part of the route just yesterday, and it doesn’t look good.

  • The ability to hold the next light green for 5 or 10 seconds isn’t going to help during rush hour at all! At almost every single intersection with a traffic light, I waited through at least one green cycle before being able to proceed, since traffic was always backed up from further down the road. And this was at 6:40 PM! That means that while the bus can hold the signal at 27th green for a while longer, it doesn’t matter because the backup from 26th, 24th, 23rd, 22nd, 21st, and MLK is preventing the bus from moving anyways.
  • Off-bus payment is going to be irrelevant. Now that Capital Metro is using SmartCards for everything short of single-fare rides, very few people are having to take more than a second to pay when they get on the bus (this is from my own bus rides on the 983 and 3 lately). Basically, paying is no longer slowing the boarding process.
  • Fewer stops is already possible with the #101. This bus is still woefully slow and woefully unreliable compared to the private automobile, to say nothing of quality rail service (which could in fact beat the automobile on both counts).
  • The ride is going to be uncomfortable. The pavement along Guadalupe simply can’t stand the beating it gets from heavy vehicles like buses and trucks – and this is not going to change anytime soon. Rather than running down the middle of the street on rails (as light-rail would have done), the Rapid Bus vehicle will run in the right lane of the street on the same pavement abused by trucks and other buses. There is no evidence that the city is willing to pay the far higher bills required to keep this pavement in smooth-enough condition to provide a decent comfortable bus ride.

In review: The commuter rail line is being built on a corridor where only a handful of Austin residents can walk to stations, and only a small percentage of Austin residents can drive to a station. The primary beneficiaries, assuming shuttle buses don’t just kill the whole thing, are residents of Leander (who at least pay Capital Metro taxes) and Cedar Park (who don’t). On the other hand, the thousands of people in central Austin who could walk to stations along the Lamar/Guadalupe corridor are being presented with a rank steaming turd which barely improves service over the existing #101 bus.
(publically opposing this Mike-Krusee-designed Austin-screwing debacle is the basic reason I was booted from the UTC, for those arriving late).

So, shut up and take it, Austin. Rapid Bus is all you’re getting, and you’d better ride it, or you’ll be experiencing the fun that Honolulu is currently going through with their own BRT debacle. Big ugly long buses that aren’t attracting any new riders don’t do transit users any favors.


A Yes Vote for this plan kills Light Rail, Part XII

In early versions of the All Systems Go literature, the Rapid Bus line on Lamar/Guadalupe was described as a “placeholder for possible future urban rail”. This corridor is the only one in our area which has sufficient existing residential density to support urban rail (light rail or otherwise).

Many of the people who are holding their nose and voting yes on the commuter rail plan appear to still think that they can get light rail on this corridor even if this commuter rail plan passes. I’ve discussed on several occasions the technical problems with that idea – in short: the original 2000 route would be out due to vehicle/track incompatibilities, and a route continuing north on Lamar instead of bending northwest would be out due to speed and demographics (far fewer northeast Austin residents work at downtown/UT/capitol than do northwest residents).

More simply, though, one can simply look at the language of Capital Metro themselves. The current version of the ASG plan drops the “placeholder” phrase entirely – and recent quotes from Fred Gilliam are particularly damning:

What Capital Metro does not intend to do, at least in the foreseeable
future, is have lanes of city streets dedicated solely to bus traffic. When
that occurs, the system is called “bus rapid transit.” Lacking those lanes,
Capital Metro calls its proposal rapid bus. But Gilliam made it clear he’d
like to reverse those two words in the long run.
“My hope is that . . . eventually we will get to bus lanes,” Gilliam said. “But
our plan is not designed around having to have them.”

Back when Fred took over from Karen Walker, he made some pro-BRT and anti-LRT statements which I have been unable to locate. Thankfully his recent comments remove the need for me to do so – it’s pretty clear which way Fred intends to go for Lamar/Guadalupe, and it’s going to be Bus Rapid Transit.
What is Bus Rapid Transit, you ask? Well, it’s Rapid Bus with bus lanes. You get most of the reliability and speed of light rail, but you get none of the comfort, perceived quality (suburbanites don’t like buses, remember?), and perceived permanence. Studies in this country have shown pretty conclusively that you get redevelopment and infill with rails that you don’t get with buses – even Rapid Buses. If that doesn’t make sense to you, consider what it takes to move Rapid Bus service to a different road versus moving rail service.

Reason to vote no on commuter rail

The picture below is my son, Ethan. He wanted me to tell you that by the time he’s ten, he wants urban rail service (dedicated right-of-way; not streetcars) running down the real urban rail corridor (Lamar/Guadalupe), not “Rapid Bus”. He also wanted me to add that if you vote for commuter rail, and his dad is right about the negative effects, he’s coming for you.

If I were you, I’d do what he wants.

2017 update: We have almost no useful transit now running down Guadalupe/Lamar because groups like AURA have allied themselves with bad actors instead of continuing honest pro-transit advocacy. Good job, guys! Here’s what Ethan looks like now in early 2017; there’s still no good rail in this city, and we’re set to lose all local bus service on Guadalupe and Speedway thanks to AURA’s credulous support of Connections 2025!

Rapid Bust: The R Still Stands For Un”R”eliable

Metablog: I’m now posting entries on the temporary location for this blog, maintained by a friendly cow orker, until I get my hosting situation resolved.

After dropping off my wife’s old car at the Jiffy Lube, I rode my bike to the bus stop at 38th and Medical Parkway. I had planned on picking up the 983 (express) bus if I made it in time for the 7:48, since this is a much more comfortable ride than the other option (the #3 herky-jerky).
This 983 bus has some of the characteristics of the proposed Rapid Bus solution which is all that the urban core of Austin is ever going to get out of the All Systems Go plan (longer article on last weeks’ happenings coming possibly later today or tomorrow).

So I got there at 7:42 and noticed that the usual suspects (2 other bikers who ride this bus every day , far up the 183 corridor, as far as I can tell) were still there. Good sign. A #3 showed up right about then (the 7:36 running late). l passed.

7:55 rolled around and the next #3 showed up. l passed again (if the first #3 was running late, maybe the #983 was stuck too).

8:15 rolled around. No next #3. 8:30 rolled around. No #3 or #983. The first cyclist waiting for the 983 gave up and pedalled away, to where I have no idea (both of these guys stay on the bus long after I disembark, so the #3 isn’t an option for them).

Finally at about 8:40, I got on the 8:36 #3 and herky-jerkied my way (late) up to work. The 983 never showed. The other biker had called somebody on the phone but was still stuck there.

Need I say: This Doesn’t Happen (Well, Hardly Ever) With Rail?