Tales from a MetroRail rider

******Editor’s note: Carol Keesee is a new Capital Metro rider. She contacted me out of the blue, wanting to capture her observations about making a lifestyle change that included public transit, as well as the stories of the interesting people she has met on MetroRail. Stay tuned for more blog posts by Carol. ********

For those who do not know my story, I am a recently-converted MetroRail commuter. Having lived in the Austin area all of my life, I must admit that I had never given the thought of using Capital Metro a second thought. Instead, I had spent more than thirty years commuting more than thirty miles to work and back home each day.

Riding the bus had never appealed to me. Quite frankly, if I was going to be stuck in traffic, I preferred being stuck in the privacy of my own vehicle. However, the introduction of MetroRail offered a more appealing approach to getting to work. Howard Station is within five miles of my home and the Downtown Station is within one mile of my office. The thought of driving only five miles to the station, boarding a cool-looking train, and de-boarding downtown had a very metropolitan feel. Still, MetroRail would mean a lifestyle change. Was I ready to commit to becoming a commuter?

Embracing a lifestyle change…
As with most big decisions, a person usually weighs the advantages and disadvantages of their choice and how the outcome will affect their lifestyle. I was no different; and, I will also admit that I was leaning heavily toward the disadvantaged viewpoint in the beginning. The most disconcerting thought was being relegated to a schedule. I did well to make it to work on time. How could I really expect to meet a train schedule every morning? What if I had to work late and missed the last train? What if my children needed me during the day and there was no train until the afternoon? What if I wanted to go to lunch? This transition would mean that I was no longer free to move about whenever—to go wherever I wanted to. Being the worry wart that I am, I quickly began dreaming up other reasons that the rail might not work for me. Weather. What if the weather turned nasty? Could I find shelter along my route? Did I really want to walk a mile in the rain? What about the summer heat? When it came down to it, weather and schedule were the only pitfalls I could conjure for not utilizing the rail. Truthfully, these were nothing but excuses based on not wanting to embrace a lifestyle change. Once I made that connection, I was ready to take the next step.

Taking the next step…
Capital Metro introduced MetroRail the week following SXSW. I took advantage of riding MetroRail free during the introductory week. Even though the trains were crowded, I enjoyed the experience and met several people that were really fascinating. Still, I was not sure if this was a lasting experience. What if I grew bored after the first two weeks? I decided that I should at least try the service for one more week before committing to buying a 31-day pass. I went to my local HEB and purchased a seven-day train pass. Little did I know that the following week would reveal the many advantages to riding the rail. First, I had already begun to consider how drastically my carbon footprint had been reduced. I was feeling good about playing a role in reducing emissions and contributing to a better environment. Then, my pocketbook started feeling good. That’s right! When I was driving, I had to fill up my car with gas every four to five days. It had been almost ten days since I had last put gas in my car. Incredible! By Friday, my waistline was beginning to reap the advantages. That’s right. Two weeks of walking two miles a day had led to a loss of three pounds. Wow! I was really feeling good about my lifestyle change.

I am now two months into my metamorphosis. My pocketbook has saved close to one hundred fifty dollars (that is after deducting the cost for my train pass). I have lost close to nine pounds by walking the two miles per day. This week, I am going to reduce my carbon footprint to zero. The month of May is National Bike Month and I will be riding my bike to work for Bike To Work Week. I am actually looking forward to it. I’ll keep you posted about my experience. The most amazing part of being a commuter with MetroRail is meeting a lot of fascinating people. The conversations that I have had on the rail (or have overheard) have been comical, intriguing and genuine. I am looking forward to sharing some of those experiences with you as a contributing writer for www.capmetroblog.com.

What about those disadvantages of taking MetroRail? I have adjusted very well. I bought a rain pancho. On nasty days, I walk two blocks from the station to the bus stop and Bus 4 takes me right to the front door of my office. By the time I get to the office, I am alert, refreshed and ready to go. In the afternoons when I leave the office, by the time I get to the train station, work is far behind me. The train ride home is my time to focus on what’s ahead – an evening with my family.

13 thoughts on “Tales from a MetroRail rider

  1. It’s swell that Carol’s happy. Problem is that if she’s 5 miles from Howard, she’s likely not paying Capital Metro taxes; and the population of people willing to walk 1 mile every day to and from a train station is miniscule.

    1. Erik

      Bitterness, cynicism, and asburd levels of elitism are sprinkled all over you comment, M1EK. You’re smarter than this, don’t allow the inner-16-year-old inside of you to get the better of your credibility with throwing of rocks from behind a fence. The points that you bring up are indeed extremely valid. Let’s focus on that. Can someone from Capital Metro provide us significant evidence that counties/municipalities beside Travis/Austin are paying their fare share into the system? If not, why? Should there be political consequences for offering a commuter-rail targetted to residents of Leander without tax burden?

  2. Erik, it’s very simple: the Capital Metro service area sends in a 1% sales tax; while nobody else pays anything; and the service area does not include Round Rock, Pflugerville, or anything else I can think of that would make sense to drive 5 miles to the Howard station (obviously nobody would drive 5 miles from Austin to get there; just look at a map).

  3. Erik

    So, the real question is: why does Capital Metro offer transit service in/out of the Austin-area (bus and train) while not collecting sales tax as required within COA? Seems to me that these other cities need to pay in or let go. Fair is fair.

  4. Lucy

    Just a few comments:
    1) Sales tax is collected from point of sale, so anyone who shops inside the Capital Metro area pays the sales tax.
    2) This particular problem of out-of-district people using the service is not about MetroRail; it’s true for all Capital Metro services. For that matter, it is true for all transit agencies in Texas.
    3) It is possible to live in Austin and to be “within 5 miles” of Howard Lane Station. Since Kramer Station is not a Park & Ride, anyone wanting to use car-access to MetroRail might well drive to Howard. It is also clear that Howard Lane Station is convenient for people who live in Round Rock.
    4) The willingness of people to walk to a train station, as well as the willingness of people to transfer between bus and rail, varies enormously. Some of the variables that influence those choices are within Capital Metro’s control (how well the bus-rail schedules mesh) and some are not (e.g., how much gas costs.)
    For example, it used to be thought that people would only walk 1/4 mile to transit. We now know that the transit-shed for pedestrians is more dependent on place characteristics, and can easily be up to a mile.

  5. Erik,

    CM doesn’t provide service directly to those areas, but neither do they check residency before allowing heavily subsidized tickets to be bought, and CM has put most of their infrastructure investment lately in places where it cannot help but be used primarily by people outside the service area.

    IE, putting a new park-and-ride right at the edge of Pflugerville, who recently left the service area – Austin residents clearly aren’t going to travel farther away from Austin just to ride back into town; the primary beneficiaries are still Pflugervillains. Likewise with the Red Line’s Lakeline station – it’s obvious when you look at a map that the primary population of commuters using it would have to be from Cedar Park, not Austin. And with Howard Lane, it’s gonna be Round Rock.

    1. Erik

      My thoughts exactly. While I can understand the (thought-process for) ‘subsidies’ to promote accelerated growth/development in these communities, the fact is: suburban sprawl in the traditional sense is the *opposite* vision of a more public transit-oriented Austin. This sort of spending is just the tip of the iceberg for CapMetro’s financial solvency woes. Either charge an out-of-service-area fee for people departing from those park/ride locations, or better yet, push for these municipalities to pay up for the benefits they’re receiving free of charge. Death to suburbia. Long live urban density.

  6. Don Dickson

    I don’t often agree with M1EK but on this issue I do. If you’re going to have a regional transportation system, then the region ought to pay for it. If they had any brains they’d be OFFERING to pay for it.

    Yesterday I traveled to Garland, Texas and back completely via public ground transportation….CM to ABIA (the 1L/1M is STANDING ROOM ONLY AT 5:30 IN THE MORNING!), flight to Love Field, took a very comfy DART bus from Love Field to Mockingbird Rail Station, caught the Blue Line to downtown Garland, where another DART bus was waiting to pick me up and take me to my final destination. This is one of my points of disagreement with M1EK….with proper management and scheduling, it doesn’t have to suck to take a bus to a train, or a train to a bus. This three-legged trip turned out to be a lot easier than it looked. In both directions.

    My interest is piqued by Ms. Finn’s comments about interconnectivity in the NJTransit system. I used to use NJTransit rail every day and occasionally its buses, and I’ve heard good things from current users about the effort to integrate services there.

    I have to give DART and the Dallas transportation planners a lot of credit for the design of their rail lines. I lived in Dallas back in the 1980s when they were just starting to think about this stuff, and it’s really a shame for Austin that we’re a quarter century behind them. Dallas did a nice job of building handsome rail stations, integrating buses and trains, and establishing routes that are genuinely useful and convenient. My only reservation is that I wonder how many folks are riding the trains without paying the fare…it seems to work more-or-less on the honor system, although there are signs posted with a number to call to rat out fare-beaters. Even so I bet they fail to collect a ton of money from riders.

  7. Don, a three-legged trip to get to Dallas once in a while is eminently reasonable. A three-legged trip to get to work every day is never going to convince anybody.

  8. Don Dickson

    This wasn’t a three-legged trip to Dallas, it was a three-legged trip from Love Field to Garland. And it went very smoothly.

  9. Don,

    Same story. I gladly accept ‘commutes’ like that on business trips, but would never tolerate one like that on a daily basis.

    1. Erik

      M1EK, I’d like to know which neighborhood/area of town you live in which gives you this skewed perspective on transit. Westlake?

  10. Fred

    I’d happily walk a mile (around 15 minutes) rather than wait in traffic for 30 to 40 minutes to go 5 or 10 miles. Multiply that by two and the time savings are substantial. Not to mention the cost savings.

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