In just a few short weeks—October 2, to be exact—the ‘Dillo trolleys will circle downtown for the last time and ride into the sunset, aka the Capital Metro Bus Yard, for retirement. Routes #450 Congress ‘Dillo and #451 6th Street ‘Dillo will be suspended.
Staff recommended the suspension to help balance the budget for next year. The ‘Dillos were seen as the least disruptive service cut, because ridership on the ‘Dillos has been very low and there is alternate service along Congress, 5th and 6th Streets. (If you relied upon the ‘Dillos and are wondering which routes would be a good substitute for you, stay tuned—we’re developing a new transit map specifically for this purpose.)
While the business reasons for suspending the ‘Dillos are sound, I nonetheless will be sad to see them go. The ‘Dillos are non-intimidating routes that introduce non-transit riders to transit. They’re what I like to call “gateway transit.” Circulators don’t require a lot of advance planning on the part of the rider—there’s less risk involved, because, hey, if you miss your stop or you got on the wrong bus, it’s going to make a short loop and you’ll be back where you started in no time. The ‘Dillos are the ultimate starter transit option, as the buses have a distinctive look, and they are so frequent you don’t need to read a schedule. If any transit option was designed to get people hooked on transit, it has to be the ‘Dillos.
A big strategy for marketing public transit is to attract what transit nerds call “choice riders.” If you want to make a dent in traffic congestion and air quality, you have to get people who have cars to leave them at home and walk, bike, or take the bus (or train) instead. So we talk a lot about how convenient and frequent transit service is, how economical, how green, etc. But those reasons may not be enough of an incentive for you if you’ve never ridden a bus before (and believe me, there are lots of people that fall into this category).
I was one of those people when I first moved to Austin many years ago to attend UT. (I grew up in the Texas Panhandle and hadn’t had any experiences yet in life that required riding a bus or train.) Granted, I was pretty young, but I was downright afraid to take the bus. What if I ended up across town and didn’t know where I was? What if I couldn’t get back?
My “gateway transit” was the UT Shuttle Forty Acres. It made (makes) a small loop inside the campus—no way to get lost. I soon started taking the other UT Shuttles that ventured off campus to go to the movies, the grocery store, etc. And from there, I added some mainline routes into the mix. Now, of course, it’s no big deal to take any bus, but it’s a useful exercise to remember what it felt like to try transit for the first time.
Our challenge, then, is to make our system so easy, so intuitive, so convenient, etc., that people who have never ridden before are willing to make that first foray into transit. (Or gas needs to go back up to $4 per gallon—that seemed to work, too!) We have to help people get over the hurdle of trying it for the first time, with the expectation that they will have a good experience and want to try it again.
Although the ‘Dillos were perfect “gateway transit,” we have some others that may whet your appetite for transit. The UT shuttles are good starter routes, as are the express routes from Park & Rides. Another great starter route is #1L/1M because of its great frequency and the fact you can pick it up at Tech Ridge Park & Ride (1L), North Lamar Transit Center, the Triangle, UT, Downtown, South Congress Transit Center, or South Park Meadows (1L).