A quick hit as I’m preparing for another trip to beautiful Huntsville.
While my wife and I were painting on Sunday, healing health my father-in-law took our 5-year-old to the Kite Festival. Or, rather, he tried. As he put it, when he got to the shuttle pickup (around 16th/Lavaca), a cop told him there was about an hour wait to board the shuttle and another hour to get to the park (this was at 2:00 in the afternoon or so). There were supposedly about 25 shuttles stuck in traffic on the way to the park.
Here’s another free clue: if you want people to take shuttles to a special event, make sure the shuttles aren’t stuck in the same traffic that their cars would be if they drove. This doesn’t have to be complicated; as I told my father-in-law: Barton Springs has two lanes. Cone off one for buses. Problem solved.
This is just another brick in the gigantic wall of ignorance about transit that prevents nearly everyone in government from making effective decisions: the ridership figures you see for any transit service are the result of a bunch of individual decisions whether to ride based on incentives (cost, time, etc). In this case, if the shuttlebuses are going to be as slow or slower than peoples’ cars, both the cars and the shuttlebuses will be stuck in traffic – and overall performance will be very poor. The folks making decisions for events like this think, as Christof once put it, that transit is like a big vaccuum cleaner – put it somewhere and it’ll magically suck up riders.
A lot of people were waiting in line for those shuttles, but the overall performance was likely very poor – considering that all 25 buses were out, stuck in traffic. (Cars do better in traffic than buses do, remember). A setup where the shuttles had their own lane on Barton Springs (and maybe S 1st if necessary) would easily have carried thousands more people – basically everybody that was stuck in line plus everybody that got turned away (and, after people saw buses actually performing well,. even more car drivers would switch to the shuttles the next time around; while after THIS disastrous performance, even fewer people will be willing to try the shuttles next time there’s an event down there).
Lessons can be drawn from this for future transit investment. Is anybody at the city (who can, if they choose to, rein in Capital Metro) seriously under the impression that transferring to shuttlebuses at the end of a rail trip won’t be a major disincentive for riders? I would have thought they got it by now, but the last two major shuttles-to-parks fiascoes have showed me that perhaps I was too optimistic.
Ben Wear fell for it, bulimics big-time. Capital Metro ran trains from two stations between which essentially nobody will ever travel (no circulator buses up that far; nothing within walking distance), story and completely failed to mention the shuttlebuses at all – despite the fact that they will be the most substantial disincentive for choice commuters to ride. He basically gave Cap Metro a nice commercial for the service based on a joke run up in the hinterlands (yes, viagra if you happened to have an office at one of those park-and-rides, it’d be a pretty nice trip!) by failing to mention how people will actually use, or more importantly, try and stop using this service. This was a great move by Capital Metro – make people think that the entire trip is like this, and maybe they’ll forget what they have to do when they get to their actual station long enough to sneak through some ill-advised throwing good-money-after-bad expansion schemes. It worked for Tri-Rail, after all – the agency got to live fat on double-tracking construction contracts for a decade after opening up, on the dubious contention that running trains every 20 rather than 40 minutes could somehow make up for the awful shuttle-bus rides (spoiler alert: it didn’t).
His commenters were even worse – split right down the middle between anti-rail troglodytes (“it’s subsidized!”, as if Leander and especially Cedar Park car commuters aren’t monstrously subsidized by Austin residents already); and the naive idiots who think it’s light rail who don’t realize that people who aren’t willing to take the clean, fast, comfortable, non-stop express buses straight to their office today are probably not going to be thrilled when they get off the train and find themselves staring at a shuttlebus instead of their office building.
Now I get to go look to see how the Chronicle covered this. My guess? Chirpy naive “it’ll just be expanded and improved” junior reporter type completely falls for it; same batch of idiot pro-and-cons completely missing the real point: rail is neither always good nor always bad. BAD rail is bad; and THIS line is awful – it not only will fail to give us momentum for more service; it ruins our chances at developing good urban rail here for a generation or more because it’s now squatting, semi-permanently, right on top of most of the right-of-way that the only true slam-dunk light-rail line possibility this city ever had or ever will have (the 2000 route).
The 2008 CAMPO TWG proposal might be a hundred times better than the commuter rail line, but the 2000 LRT proposal (running trains on Guadalupe right to UT’s front door, hitting the Triangle, and everything else) is a hundred times better than that. At some point, people are going to realize that rolling over for Mike Krusee was a huge mistake – we cannot and will not be able to recover from this impending debacle. You can’t build a system with the wrong starter line, especially when it ruins the only true backbone you ever had.