It’s been said that great cities have great public transportation systems, and with the upcoming launch of MetroRapid, the booming Central Texas region will be one step closer to realizing that goal.
Capital Metro pulled back the curtain Thursday, allowing members of the media to get an up close and personal look at the new MetroRapid vehicles before they hit the streets in early 2014 (although you’ll be seeing some of the buses around town over the next few months for testing purposes).
“This is a service we’re going to be able to introduce to the community unlike any they’ve seen before in Central Texas,” Capital Metro President and CEO Linda S. Watson said. “This is such an exciting time for Capital Metro.”
Capital Metro has partnered with other transit agencies in the central Texas region, like the City of Austin, CAMPO and the Lone Star Rail District to create a plan for regional high-capacity transit.
What would that look like?
Imagine a series of components like urban rail, commuter rail (like MetroRail), Rapid service, and express lanes where all services support one another in a network, easing access throughout the region.
Sounds nice, right? Well, it looks even better. Check out this detailed vision map with all the system elements to help you share our vision for how to create a connected central Texas.
Last week, the Metropolitan Policy Program of the Brookings Institution released an analysis of how well transit systems in the nation’s largest 100 metropolitan areas connect workers to jobs. The key finding of the study is that nationally, while a high percentage of people live near transit (69 percent), a much smaller percentage of jobs are reachable via transit (only 30 percent). What does that say about the success or failure of public transportation? What does it say about land use planning and regionalism?
After chatting with Executive VP/Chief Development Officer Doug Allen and Planning VP Todd Hemingson about the findings of the study, two takeaways for Central Texas are:
1. We have to work together and plan together as a region to meet transportation needs. (Transit needs to grow where transit can go.)
2. We need to raise the collective social awareness that smart land use planning is beneficial. (Businesses need to locate where transit is.)
Here at home, as noted in the Austin American-Statesman, the Austin-Round Rock-San Marcos area ranked 50th out of the 100 metropolitan areas in the study.
Here are some findings for the Austin-Round Rock-San Marcos MSA:
47 percent of people live near a transit stop (study average: 69 percent)
Considering that Round Rock and San Marcos don’t have a city transit system (and aren’t within the Capital Metro service area), you can see why the percentage is low. (When you look at just the Capital Metro service area, about 71 percent of people are within 3/4 mile from a transit stop.)
The average wait time for a bus or train during rush hour is 8.6 minutes (study average: 10.1 minutes)
Thirty-nine percent of jobs can be reached via transit within 90 minutes (above the average of 30 percent)
In Central Texas, we’ll continue to see low job connectivity without a more regional transit network. The Austin-Round Rock-San Marcos MSA (on which this study was based) expanded in July 2008 from two to five counties. That’s a huge area, and Hays, Caldwell, and Bastrop counties are quite rural. While 82.4% of the total MSA population live within Travis and Williamson Counties, employment centers are scattered throughout the MSA.
Here’s another compelling fact: 95% of Capital Metro’s service area is in Travis County. We have to be more creative as a region if we want to provide better job connectivity by transit. It should be noted that the study did not, to our knowledge, incorporate the transit services offered throughout the region by CARTS. Had those services been considered, the percentage of jobs accessible by transit would have increased.
The communities included in Capital Metro’s service area pay one percent of their local sales taxes to Capital Metro for transit service. But for many communities, that is not an option because all of their sales tax has been obligated. To foster a more regional, out of the box approach to transportation planning, Capital Metro adopted a service expansion policy in 2010 that gives us more leeway to explore creative partnerships and sources of funding for providing transit service. A recent example of this policy in action was the interlocal agreement with ACC to provide a bus stop on route 214 Northwest Flex at the ACC campus as Cypress Creek. The campus is outside of the Capital Metro service area, and therefore ACC covers the cost to provide service to that stop.
Capital Metro, the city of Austin, TxDOT and other partners are working through CAMPO (Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization) to develop a regional system plan that incorporates all of the available transportation tools into one regional planning toolbox: roads, tolls, HOV lanes, MetroRapid bus service, city of Austin urban rail, MetroRail, Lone Star Rail, etc. The regional system plan will address three key questions for our region: 1. How will all of the components work together as a system? 2. How do we organize to develop and operate the system components? And, 3. How do we pay for it?
If you’re of a certain age, you probably remember a time when no one recycled. It took upwards of 20 to 25 years before recycling became the norm. Even after curbside recycling became available, people were slow to adopt. They didn’t understand the benefits of recycling, or even more likely, the benefits didn’t seem very personal. What did it take to change the norm? Incentives and limitations (carrot and stick approach), years of various education campaigns designed to change mindsets, and improvements to the process itself so it became easier to recycle than to throw it in the trash.
Land use planning as it relates to transportation is kind of like the early days of recycling. The benefits aren’t well known and haven’t been communicated in a way that resonates personally for people. People are slow to adopt. Hence, businesses set up shop everyday in areas that are not accessible by transit. It’s easier and sometimes cheaper to locate your business outside of the densest population centers. Where’s the carrot and stick?
As a region, we need to work harder to make the benefits of smarter land-use planning universally understood, and the choice to grow “smart” made as easy as, or easier, than the choice to sprawl. It takes time.
One step Capital Metro is taking is to link our transit plans with the activity-centered growth vision that’s the foundation of the CAMPO 2035 plan (see the activity centers marked on the map above). We’re also one of many partners who received a HUD Sustainability Grant that will plan and implement transit-supportive development in dense activity centers in our area.
The bottom line is that continuing to develop with low-density auto-oriented development patterns will result in more auto dependency and poor transit accessibility.
Many of you may not be aware that Capital Metro works very closely with our sister agency, Capital Area Rural Transportation System (CARTS), in a partnership to provide transit services to our region. CARTS has a service area much larger than Capital Metro’s, and their charge is to provide rural transportation in the capital area.
On Friday, October 29th, CARTS celebrated the grand opening of the Georgetown Station, and Capital Metro was there to cheer them on. You may have noticed the new station from IH-35. It has an unmistakable orange tower with a dual-blade wind propeller, because the station itself is powered by solar and wind power. The aptly named “Holland Tower” is a tribute to the late Captain Joe Lambert Holland, a champion for public transportation coordination during his tenure at TxDOT. Other cool features include electric vehicle charging stations, an indoor waiting area equipped with WiFi and a fully-staffed ticket window, and a real-time “next bus” display. Continue reading “Regional Partners: CARTS Grand Opening of Georgetown Station”→