Gateway Transit

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.RIP'Dillos

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).

9 thoughts on “Gateway Transit

  1. Don Dickson

    Erica, I know this isn’t your fault, but the whole situation with the Dillos really chaps my behind.

    When CM re-routed the Dillos about two years ago, it was a disaster from the very start. Nobody was riding them. And it put tremendous strain on the 1 and some of the other routes at precisely the same time that gasoline had hit $4 a gallon and ridership had surged.

    So for reasons which are entirely beyond my ability to comprehend, CM management let these Dillos run around in circles with no riders for two whole years before catching on to the fact that they had made a bad mistake.

    The route never made any sense to me at all….for example, I could take the Dillo to work, but I couldn’t take it home from work because it only runs south from the east side.

    And now, instead of coming up with Dillo routes that make sense, CM management has decided instead to junk the whole thing. This also makes no sense to me….as you noted, the Dillos were wonderful “gateway transit.” They were frequently used by tourists, and by office workers going to lunch. And they had boffo air conditioning, a major, major attraction.

    It seems to me that it’d be pretty easy to come up with Dillo routes that would be popular and well-used. The one I’ve suggested is a clockwise and counterclockwise loop along South Congress, Oltorf, South Lamar and Barton Springs or Riverside. It would be easy to come up with a few more that I think people would use because it would save them a transfer. For example, Ben White, Congress, William Cannon and Lamar. And there are similar routes you could conjure up on the north side of town.

    But no, let’s just kill the whole program….after allowing it to hemorrhage fuel and cash for two whole years….


    And since y’all are nice enough to let me kvetch on your blog, I’d like to add a few words about detours. The weekend before last, service on South Congress was detoured for the “Keep Austin Weird 5K.” I didn’t realize this until I tried to go grocery shopping on Saturday morning. When I saw the detour signs, I figured okay, no sweat, I’ll just go have a cup of coffee and wait for the race to be over. When I left Dominican Joe’s Coffeeshop, the cops had pulled up the roadblocks, road crews had collected up all the traffic cones, traffic was flowing freely. But still no buses. I was told by CM customer service that “we’re waiting for an email from APD.” I finally gave up and took a cab to the grocery store.

    I took my time doing my grocery shopping, and it was just a few minutes before NOON when I got to the South Congress & Oltorf stop to wait for the northbound 1. The detour must have been lifted, because I saw a s/b 1 go by. Aha, here comes the northbound 1 now….would you believe he turned east on Oltorf? At NOON? Did he miss a memo? 🙂 There were at least a dozen people standing there waiting for him.

    I’d like to suggest two things: (1) On the detour warning signs, don’t tell me the detour will last “until end of activity.” That tells me nothing! Y’all KNOW when these things end, you detour for the same activities year after year! Give me at least an approximate time when normal service will be restored. And (2) how about some more proactive cooperation between CM and APD to end these detours as soon as it’s possible to end them? You had people lined up all up and down Congress Avenue that morning waiting for buses that weren’t going to come even though the race was long over.

    All told it cost me an extra $15 and two cab rides and nearly three hours to do my grocery shopping on a Saturday morning. Glad I hadn’t bought any Blue Bell, or I’d have had to eat it at the bus stop. 🙂


  2. diana

    The current ‘Dillo routes were set up to serve primarily employees and residents of downtown. I know and am party responsible because I attended the ‘Dillo Task Force meetings that chose to prioritize those groups. However, those were not the priorities I brought to the discussion table.

    Please allow me one last swing at the ‘Dillo problems.

    Recall, the height of successful ‘Dillo use was back when it connected surface parking at Palmer Auditorium to downtown. So (1) serving the population outside of downtown to get into downtown should be a future priority, missed by this ‘Dillo design.

    Schedule of service: how many riders were on those buses from 7 am until 10 am I wonder? “Transportation to business meetings” was the logic behind the morning schedule. Instead (2) I suggest a future revision should focus on serving restaurant-retail-museum-theater hours of 10 am – 11 pm.

    The current ‘Dillo was on a schedule of every 7 minutes I believe. The problem was “the schedule” – buses stacked up at the end points and waited until the time check to move out again. So (3) the buses should have been released on an “as arrived” basis, not by the clock. That might have increased ridership because buses standing still and empty are actually not in service.

    I’d like to point out (4) the “value of the diagonal” in a system of grids, providing connectivity with frequency between major destinations (like Zilker Park and park-and-rides, ACC, UT). This could make the ‘Dillo a first choice when travelers can minimize the number of time-consuming connections involved.

    The old “Tour of the Town” was an example of a route designed to connect Zilker Park, UT, and the major downtown destinations. It not longer exists – it operated only on weekends with a 45 minute lag time between buses. That 45 minutes was too long – it was not very attractive as a hop-on-hop-off ride. It would have been a simple step to test it as a weekday route at more frequent intervals. Just a thought.

    Last – perhaps foremost – is the lack of adaptive speed and agility in Cap Metro as an organization. The ‘Dillo routes, while failing, could have been tweaked sooner if addressed as more of a “test system” than an institution. And the customer who commented above about slow messages on Keep Austin Weird race-day change of service would have been beautifully served if Cap Metro made a commitment to being on Twitter. I suggest that anyone try telephoning the Cap Metro number 389-7400 and speaking to a human being – you’ll get a sense of the “wall.”

    I know that Cap Metro is aware of an out-of-date web site; perhaps they could put customer service communication via Twitter and the old fashioned human answered telephone back on the list of priorities. A terrific first step to encourage “newbies” to ride the bus is providing a human being to explain to them their options and answer their questions.

  3. Don Dickson

    I once saw three Dillos turning the corner from Riverside onto South Congress, bumper to bumper, like three cars of a freight train. And not one soul riding any of the three.

    I agree with Diane about the benefits of “horizontality,” though I think of it more in terms of “dog legs.” The loop I suggested covering Oltorf, Congress, Lamar and Riverside or Barton Springs Rd. allows for precisely what Diane is talking about….the ability to make a dog-leg without a transfer. I think that loop would be very well-traveled.

    The “Tour of the Town” was a nice idea that just didn’t work. The interval may have had something to do with it, I don’t know. But again, as Diane alluded to, CM is just too slow to adapt. When something isn’t working, it shouldn’t take two years to change it or discontinue it.

    I will say that the 474-1200 line is working much better than it once did. For a long time, callers were asked to say “English” for English….and the stupid thing literally couldn’t understand English! I’d have to say “English” three or four times. By the third or fourth attempt I was practically shouting it into the phone. It was infuriating. At least now it can recognize “customer service” and it’ll kick you over to a human being.


  4. Misty


    Sorry to hear about your experience last weekend. Detours are an on-going issue that we are always trying to improve. We used to print the time we expected a detour to end on the closed bus stop signs. When we did that, we had to keep the routes on detour until that time even though an event may have ended earlier. This caused a lot of confusion for some riders. We also continue to try to improve communications with APD on road closures.

    If you would like to get emails about upcoming detours, service changes, etc. sign up here:

  5. elliot

    I moved back to Austin after thirteen years. Boy has Austin grown but alas the bus system is a like a cranky old man trying to reprogram his VCR. The bus system acts like its 1959 and we all work Downtown. No bus service on Sundays on Far West and other bus service ending at 9 pm on Sundays. And the bus stops dont have the times posted so you have no clue if the bus is even coming soon! Too small buses after 4pm on the #3 and #1 packed liked sardines. Bus drivers who abandon their buses for 10 minutes for a break even if they are running late (Ahem #339 and #5). Buses that dont come after detours and run up to one hour late if thre is like a sprinkle of rain. If we have the highest per capita ridership then hire more drivers who care and stop putting the lazy ones on the weekends. And dont get me started on the Dillo it used to be great to get to Barton Springs. Shameful service that makes passengers cry for improvements!!

  6. Don Dickson

    I took what will surely be my last Dillo ride today, just me and the driver, just like it’s been on most of my Dillo rides the last two years. What a horrific waste of tens of thousands of man-hours and God-knows how much fuel, all wasted on a near-zero load factor. Management should be ashamed of itself.

    I hope that instead of auctioning the Dillos, management will put on its thinking caps and come up with some Dillo routes that make sense. I’ve already suggested a few that I think would be very popular….and as the title of this blog entry (“Gateway Transit”) recognizes, the Dillos have historically played an important role in getting Austin residents and visitors out of their beloved vehicles and on to our mass transit system.

    I’ve heard from more than one quarter that management is killing off the Dillos because they divert ridership from the conventional fixed routes. Well, YEAH….sure would be a pleasure to be able to sit down on the 1, the 3, the 5, the 7….that’s undoubtedly a reason why many people DON’T ride the 1, the 3, the 5, the 7….

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