Nostalgic Silver ‘Dillo farewell

One of the benefits of working for Capital Metro is that you get free travel on all our buses. We just show our ID to the operator. Throw in the high cost of gasoline and the fact that my wife and I only own one car and I’ve become a regular rider in the 15 months since I started here. I do drive occasionally, but I find that having “bus time” to read the paper or listen to something on my iPod or just chill out is something that I look forward to. As a Cap Metro employee, riding for me is also a great way to better understand our system, facilities, and customers.

Until Friday I had three options to get to the Capital Metro building at Pleasant Valley and East 5th Street. I could take the 331 from near my house off South Lamar over to the 300 from East Oltorf and Burton, or ride the 3 downtown and catch either the 17 or the Silver ‘Dillo east to our building. During the day if I needed to run downtown it was always great to be able to catch either the 17 or the ‘Dillo.

But part of my routine changed over the weekend. As I waited for the 5:11 Silver ‘Dillo to take me downtown to meet friends after work this past Friday I realized that it was going to be the last time I rode the Silver ‘Dillo – that in fact as of this weekend there is no more Silver ‘Dillo. The ‘Dillo routes have all be reworked (more details can be found here) and while I agree with reasons behind the restructuring it meant that I had one less option for my own travel.

So my last Silver ‘Dillo on Friday evening was uneventful. That it was a rainy evening was the only thing unusual about the trip. There were probably 9 passengers on the bus when I got on, and it varied between 8 and 14 as we made our way through the eastside and then downtown. As we neared downtown I looked around and saw a pretty representative assortment of Austinites – there was a guy in a sleeveless shirt who had with him a blue furniture dolly (what was that about?); a couple of young guys both headed downtown to go out who got on separately but knew each other; a girl who had her nose in some sort of textbook, two construction workers in their work boots done for the day; and a Capital Metro driver just along for the ride heading to Congress Ave to pick up the bus he would be driving for the evening from another driver.

Friday traffic and vans unloading speakers and equipment in front of the bars along 6th slowed us down — another Friday night was kicking off. After we crossed Congress I pulled the cord and hopped off at West 6th and Rio Grande in front of Katz’ Deli and said farewell to the Silver ‘Dillo. Then I shot a quick glance over to the two young guys who had gotten off with me and hoped that I hadn’t said it out loud.

18 thoughts on “Nostalgic Silver ‘Dillo farewell

  1. Kraft

    Related to the new Dillo routes. I pick up the 29 at Riverside/S. 1st to head to campus and this week, I’ve seen a good number of the new Congress Dillo’s pass by me as I wait for the 29.

    The 29 drops me off across the street from where I work on 21st; the Congress Dillo won’t get me any closer than 17th.

    I wonder what the cost/benefit would be of having the Congress Dillo continue north to MLK, east on MLK, south of San Jac to the current route. It’s only two blocks, but it makes a UT destination seem more feasible.

    Maybe tomorrow, I’ll try catching the Congress Dillo instead. I don’t know if the time I would save by not waiting for the 29 would be spent walking from 17th to 21st.

    The reforms seemed needed enough, not sold yet on the new routes. The buses that pass me (granted at the southern end of the route) seem lightly used in these first few days.

    Time will tell either way.

  2. M1EK

    kraft, I don’t think the point of the Dillo change was to make the routes more heavily used, but rather, to free up some vehicles (and especially labor) to be used elsewhere, like to circulate passengers from the commuter rail stops.

    The ‘simplification’ talk sounds kind of like how an airline press release claims they’re giving customers more choices by shrinking seats and then offering the old size seat for more money. Technically true, but obviously not customer-driven.

  3. Kraft

    I don’t think–at least hope–that Capital Metro wouldn’t waste labor and hardware on running routes that no one is riding. Perhaps the point is to free up some for use elsewhere, but why have the Dillo’s at all if they don’t care about usage?

    If I remember right, they’re soon to start charging for the Dillo’s and in that case, wouldn’t they want them to be used more? A route modification two blocks north (even if it makes the route every six minutes, instead of five) could have advantages when looking at the finances.

    Granted, the fares alone wouldn’t pay for the program, but point remains.

  4. martin

    Ed, good to hear you ride to work often. I know one or two CapMetro employees who not only don’t take the bus to work but I often see one of them running all around town in his HUGE SUV. As as Austinite who doesn’t have a car at all and relies on the bus system for meeting alot of my travel needs it really rubs me the wrong way to see the transit employees not utilizing the system. It seems hypocritical. Its like when you see dicators or leaders of a country sending their own children abroad for schooling when their own schools are failing or traveling abroad for healthcare when their country’s hospitals are failing.
    I’d like to see a blogpost in the future outlining how many CapMetro employees use the system and what efforts are being done to increase that usage.
    I think CapMetro should be proactive and charge for employee parking at work. It makes sense as it already gives employees the perk of riding the bus for free.
    I think that’d be a great statement for the transit authority to make. What do you think everyone?

  5. Kraft

    I don’t think charging for parking is a good way of doing it. I ride the bus very often, but there are many days where I really do need to run errands, shuttle a car full of folks to an event or some other task that isn’t feasible using the bus system.

    There should be some type of incentive to encourage bus usage, but charging $x/day for parking isn’t it.

    Additionally, there’s plenty of parking near 5/PV that CapMetro employees could use instead of paying for parking in their lot.

    The idea of getting any employer, CapMetro or otherwise, to encourage bus/carpool/vanpool transportation is really needed.

  6. Ed Easton

    I agree with you Martin and wish that I saw more of my coworkers using our system for their regular commutes. For our bus operators this often isn’t possible, as obviously they need to be at work early enough to drive the first buses of the day off our lot. But as I said in my post I have learned a great deal just by riding, and I think everyone in the organization would benefit by getting out of their car or SUVs once or twice a week. We have run a few internal campaigns and contests to encourage people to do so, but so far it hasn’t had a long-term effect on the number of cars in our lot…

  7. martin

    kraft and ed,
    both points understood about parking near PV/5th and about charging operators. I agree with both.
    I would say the program should be only for or focus on the office staff/management type folks. By the way, the two employees who I know fall into that category, not operators.
    Secondly, I think, in response to what Kraft says, there already is an incentive to ride. That is… its totally free!
    I think the least CapMetro could do is charge a monthly rate (a low rate such as $10/month- the same as a current monthly ride pass) for employees who want to buy a parking pass to the CapMetro office lot. You could excuse operators all together. The bit of revenue that it brought in could go to offset the free passes given to employees and to inter-office programs designed to encourage more staff bus riding. Then atleast that wouldn’t be coming out of the taxpayers pockets. I think that would really work by promoting more CapMetro employee riders.

  8. M1EK

    Charging to park at 5th/PV if none of the other employers in that area do is just cutting off their nose to spite their face. And this is coming from a guy who wishes he could wave a magic wand and get everybody to charge at least a little bit for parking.

    5th/PV isn’t downtown, in other words. You don’t charge to park there if you want to keep your employees.

  9. martin

    do you think someone atleast mildly interested in quality transit (enough to work for a transit agency) would resist much or leave their job if they were charged a meager $10/month or other token price to park at work- especially if they get the perk of riding the bus for free already- even outside of work hours?
    I just don’t see CapMetro employees balking at this too much. On the whole I think they’re a fairly progressive/forward thinking lot and many of them, like Ed, would probably welcome proaction on the part of CapMetro.
    Also, more than anything, it would be a great marketing tool/public relations winner to say that CapMetro is one of the first Austin employers that charge for work parking and they do it to help do their part to encourage transit. I agree, PV/5th isn’t a dense part of the city and not the optimal place to charge for parking in and of itself (i.e. I won’t advocate it for this location for any other business other than the transit agency itself). But I’m suggesting that this would be more of symbolic measure by the agency than anything else.
    I think having a big surface parking lot and SOV-driving employees is already cutting off of their nose to spite their face. Plus, like I said, it seems hypocritical, especially to those of us who rely on CapMetro services for transportation exclusively (without a car).

  10. M1EK

    Martin, there are all sorts of people who work at Cap Metro. Some are probably doing it because they love transit; some are just doing a job. Nevertheless, this would rightfully be viewed as a pay cut.

    For the downtown employees, it makes sense to charge for parking. For people who work in an area where nobody -else- charges for parking, it’s a Bad Idea.

  11. martin

    Mike, you can think it’s a bad idea if you want to, but really it’s just a question of being a leader versus following the status quo. It’s also a question of values and fairness to the taxpayers and the riders of the bus system, as well as to the employees.
    Someone, somewhere in this town needs to start charging for parking at work. To me the transit agency seems like the most likely employer to do so- no matter their geographic location. They already subsidize their employees’ bus travel. Scratch that, make that the taxpayers that subsidize the employees’ bus travel (even more than the average rider).
    Then, it would be a choice issue, does the employee want to ride the bus for free into work or do they want to drive their car? With the car there is now extra cost involved. Actually, over all there may not be an extra cost- just now the cost would be burdened by a different party. The cost to the taxpayer who pays for CapMetro’s parking lots, the cost that we all incur by more pollution and more congestion when there’s more cars on the road may now be paid for partly by the driver themselves through parking fees. Like I said, any funds raised could go to other activities to reduce SOV commutes to the CapMetro office and to help employees get to work without paying the fee. CapMetro could run a special employee shuttle to the MLK or Saltillo commuter rail stop when it starts up, there wouldn’t be a charge for anyone who carpools and the operators could be excluded.
    I think your comments go towards a question of fairness to the employees and concerns about off-site parking. I think the employees are already (rightly) getting a fair shake by getting free bus passes and I think off-site parking issues could be easily worked out. Really, in the CapMetro office area the streets don’t allow on-street parking already and I bet if CapMetro went to the city and neighborhood associations with their plans they’d be more than happy to make sure any parking in the neighborhood across Tillery or 5th be dealt with properly.
    Again, someone has to be the LEADER in charging SOV drivers money for the external cost that they are currently pushing onto the public at large. You said yourself that this needs to happen. CapMetro seems like just the candidate. They already provide a free alternate means to the workplace, they are held even more accountable to the public because of their taxing authority and they have a deeply seeded stake in making sure public transportation in Austin is successful.

  12. JMVC_ATX

    Most CMTA employees at 323 congress are not provided parking. Many of us ride the bus every day, but as Miek rightly points out, that is downtown, and 5th&PV aint. – jmvc

  13. M1EK

    Parking lots at 5th/PV aren’t much of a cost, and, again, CM is competing with other employers for the services of those employees.

    Charging downtown is absolutely the right thing to do; and I’d hope they charge for everybody (not just most, as jmvc seemed to imply). Charging out in an area where nobody does is just foolish.

    You want some change here? How about this: a higher property tax rate on land used for surface parking, and no exemptions for non-profits or government agencies. That way, everybody gets the same natural incentive – and CM isn’t forced to further disincent people to work there.

  14. Kraft

    What would be accomplished by levying a tax on non-profits and governmental agencies?

    Wouldn’t that encourage them to build parking garages so that they wouldn’t be taxed anymore? If you have the choice between paying a property tax or spending a similar amount of money on a capital improvement that would serve more cars, which would you do?

    Wouldn’t parking garages be more of a problem than surface parking, since it allows for more cars to enter a smaller area, thus increasing congestion thus pollution?

    Artificially charging a higher property tax rate for surface parking outside of the CBD wouldn’t help anything either. Would you jack up HEB’s property taxes because people drive to a grocery store?

    Now, the idea of charging a tax on parking rates is different- something like a hotel tax on money spent for daily or contract parking. Use that money to help CapMetro or other congestion-reduction programs is something I could get behind.

    In the end, it would leave people even more pissed off because they’re “forced” to use public transit so any problem they see with it is that much worse.

  15. martin

    Maybe my perspective is colored by the fact that I don’t own a car. As a worker/employee I would seek out businesses that paid my transit fair and charged parking at the workplace. Again, maybe that’s just me, but I think we all agree that large surface parking lots that are free have very large costs no matter who operates them and where they are.
    I’ll again repeat myself by saying someone has got to start this if it is ever to take hold as an acceptable concept. It seems very logical, not foolish, to encourage the public transit agency to be the first. Other likely implementers would be at City and County offices. The city does have quite a large presence downtown unlike CM so maybe they should be first. I think the COA also may have a free transit pass program? It’s definitely in CM’s best interest to promote it and “walking the walk” by doing it first would be the best way.

  16. M1EK

    kraft, if the amount of land being covered by surface parking is an externality and something we want to disincent, then we’d want to look at ways to do so – and frankly, I don’t care whether the result is more garages or less parking overall; either one is a better end result.

    The fact that so many surface lots close in to the city are owned by people who don’t pay taxes means that even the existing fairly mild disincentive to ‘waste’ land in this way does not come into play with those folks.

    Martin, again, your proposal would serve as cutting one’s nose off to spite one’s face. Even at Cap Metro, more people drive to work than take the bus – and even at Cap Metro, they need to compete with other employers for employees. Being the ONLY employer to charge for parking in an area where parking is cheap to provide (comparatively) is putting yourself at a huge competitive disadvantage unless you can somehow convince people they’re getting paid more money to make up for it (hard to sell).

  17. Kraft

    Forgive me if this is something obvious and I’m just missing it, but why is a parking garage better than surface parking?

    For me, I’d rather see more people use mass transit/alternative transit in order to reduce the number of cars on the road. This would reduce traffic, reduce pollution, etc.

    Let’s say a surface lot provides 50 parking spaces allowing 50 people to drive SOV to a particular place. If a parking garage replacing that lot holds 300 parking spaces, thus allowing 300 people to drive SOV to a particular place, how is the garage better?

    Even if you charge more for garage parking, it appears that there’s always people who would rather spend money than time by parking closer vs transit.

    I work extremely close to campus at a non-profit and I’m amazed that the surface lot we lease to Central Parking can increase their rate 175% in 18 months with zero decrease in usage. Charging more for a garage in that location would still encourage more cars in a space already overcrowded.

    [Of course, at a Park-and-Ride, I’d rather see many more parking spaces available in order to increase the ease of use for the Park-and-Ride.]

    With all of this too, I think sometimes the exact circumstances could play into this as well. In some of these new devlopments (Triangle, Domain), I have no idea why they would have street parking throughout the development as both do. People will spend far too long circling for a surface spot right in front of their store rather just go to the garage.

    m1ek, please let me know if I”m just overlooking something on why replacing a surface lot downtown/near campus with a parking garage is a good thing for transit/traffic.

  18. M1EK

    The parking garage is assumed to take up less surface area in my comment. In other words, replace an acre of surface parking with 1/4 of an acre of garage, leaving 3/4 of an acre available for more productive use (and it’s a lot more realistic to eventually charge money to park in a garage than in a surface lot).

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