Navigating SXSW with Capital Metro

Since moving to Austin in 2008, I have become well aware of the problems that face our city. To me, public transportation will be the the most important factor in determining Austin’s ability to adapt to future changes. In the past year, I have been helping the MetroAmbassadors and the Alliance for Public Transportation educate and engage the public on local transportation issues.

With the endless lines of people on the road and at events during SXSW this past week, Austin began to resemble a theme park more than an actual city. This year, I have noticed that more people left Austin’s famous music, film and interactive technology conference with a Texas-sized traffic hangover than ever before. My quest was to gain a street-level perspective into how people overcame this massive transportation headache. Whether people were using a “bus, bike and brains” method or taking advantage of the MetroRail’s extended weekend service hours, public transit seemed to be the most effective way to get around.

Evan Olsen at the Austin Convention Center

One person I ran into outside of the Austin Convention Center was Evan Olsen, an ACC film student and frequent MetroRail rider. He uses a bike and rail combo to extend his reach beyond a normal walking distance.

“I use the MetroRail to get from the Lakeline Station to Downtown. It’s really nice having the late night services for SXSW. There’s a lot of drinking going on this week, so it’s good for those people to have a safe form of transportation.”

Hear more about Evan’s story:

Preliminary ridership numbers show that many people took full advantage of the MetroRail’s extended Friday and Saturday night services. In fact, the only real concern I received about the service extension is that people want more of it; especially on weekday nights.

Deanna Cluck and a friend at the Downtown MetroRail Station

Among the chorus of people saying “we want more” was Deanna Cluck. Deanna, a North Austin resident and SXSW volunteer who had to trade in a MetroRail pass for her keys during the weekdays, said that “it would be great if the train was running late during weekdays.”

Hear what else Deanna had to say:

When it comes down to it, Austin’s transportation network is already hard pressed to keep up with local demand. Taking on the +200,000 SXSW visitors last week only made this problem more apparent. By the end of the week, many people (including me) decided to stay home in order to save their sanity from the onslaught of people, cars and trash. Some bloggers have even claimed that SXSW has grown too large for Austin. I am not so sure that is the case. Austin is, in many ways, at a crossroads from being just a small state capital to becoming a key global economic power. The increasingly complex problems that come with rapid change need increasingly complex and innovative solutions. Capital Metro, in conjunction with the City of Austin, could invest in a number of transit solutions that would alleviate downtown traffic and ensure the future success of SXSW events. SXSW has always been a breeding ground for innovation in music, film and technology. With a little creativity, dedication and skill–attributes that exemplify the SXSW spirit–public transportation can surely be added to the growing list of industries that benefit from our great festival.

10 thoughts on “Navigating SXSW with Capital Metro

  1. Melissa Pont

    I used the Car2Go system on Thursday at appropriate times, and it helped me out. However, the fact that it was shut down on Saturday was a travesty, and I took a cab, pedicab, or used my own feet after that.

  2. Yeah, we used car2go multiple times this SXSW but needed it on Saturday the most. By riding my bike, taking the bus, car2going and walking, I was able to go pretty much anywhere that I wanted (and for cheap!). I think the different government agencies and private companies should develop a SXSW master plan to ensure that all transportation modes are running at full capacity. Also, there needs to be traffic calming measures taken on more than just 6th Street. Pedestrians on Congress Avenue were literally spilling onto the street last week. There should be additional pedestrian ROW on Congress during SXSW, as is done during parades and marathons.

  3. Melissa, I’m curious. Did you consider taking a bus at all during the festival? If not, why not?

    I attended the interactive conference, and as the sessions were spread out among ten venues, I did a whole lot of schlepping about. I used the SXSW shuttle van/bus service once, and I showed up late to the session I was trying to get to, and hence the session was at capacity.

    I also tried a bus/bike combo, but around rush hour, it did not feel safe to be navigating downtown on a bike. So in the end I relied solely on Capital Metro and walking to get around.

    The QR codes that we’re testing on Congress and a few other stops were incredibly helpful, because I could quickly determine whether a bus was going to come by in time for me to get to the next class.

  4. Erica, I didn’t come across anyone who used the QR codes for bus route information or MetroRail daily deals. Is there any metric to gauge how many people scanned them last week?

    The QR code route information is based off of fixed route schedules and wouldn’t have been much use during the weekend when MetroBus routes experienced heavy delays.

    Nonetheless, I think it is a step in the right direction. This is one of many tools that could help riders know when and where to expect the next bus. I can’t wait for real-time GPS data.

    1. Even though we are only able to offer scheduled times currently, it was still really helpful, as I don’t have all the timepoints memorized. ..when I got out of one session, I headed for the bus stop to get to wherever the next class was… and not all of the stops have full schedules posted at the stop. By scanning the code, you could at least get a sense of which bus was coming next. Honestly during the interactive portion of SXSW, most buses I was catching were on time.

  5. Don Dickson

    I would encourage CM to offer more frequent bus service during the next SXSW, at least through the UT/downtown/SoCo+SoLa areas. I could barely stand on numerous trips. Demand far exceeded supply.

  6. There’s one change which appears to the outside world to be trivial to make (I know it’s not quite that simple due to contract issues, but it still ought to be possible): Run the UT shuttle buses (with their drivers) on the mainline routes to add extra capacity. Those buses were parked during most of SXSW. Those drivers were off, and many of them might even have wanted the extra work.

    1. ScottT

      It might help with congestion but not Cap Metro’s bottom line — I don’t think any of the UT shuttles have a farebox on them. (I’ve never seen one anyway.)

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