Opinion: We Still Haven’t Solved Austin’s Public Transit Problems
People don't get out of their cars to use public transit because it's inefficient
Austin isn't unique in having a traffic problem it refuses to solve. After all, Cincinnati built a 2-mile subway system in the early 1900s that was never completed because the car industry convinced city fathers that cars were the future of transportation. In Austin, we say we're for mass transit, we passed a massive tax hike, but generally still expect someone else to use it. When was the last time you took a bus someplace?
Here's the nub of the problem: Our bus system isn't planned to get as many people to the most targeted destinations as quickly and as cheaply as possible. When I asked Cap Metro planning staff why they seemed to have made new and changed routes less safe and convenient, I was told "It's better to have straight lines on a map."
Routes for both bus and light rail continue to ignore "the last mile," how people get from their home to a stop and from the last stop to their ultimate destination. The last pre-pandemic statistic I saw was that only 16% of the public commuted to work using mass transit and it took 50% longer to do it.
I've lived in the same 10-block area north of UT for almost 47 years. Even there, the bus routes are inefficient, so few are lured out of their cars to use them. With home and rental prices rising, more people will move farther out and continue to commute by car, whether or not we put in a tunnel and more expensive light rail to serve new, more expensive condominiums.
Almost three years ago, I told the Cap Metro board that they have proven models for better transit, the old Dillos and UT shuttles. If we had neighborhood circulator buses (quirky electric minibuses with 'dillos painted on them) serving neighborhood destinations that also connected to crosstown routes, people would get out of their cars.
I wear three hats here. I'm an elder law attorney, constantly asked how to get parents to stop driving; I serve on the aging-in-place board where it is an increasingly urgent issue how to maintain independence in your home if you can't even get to your neighborhood grocery store; and I am a disabled bus rider myself.
My suggestions to Cap Metro have been politely ignored, and any letters to the Cap Metro board, including our Council members serving on it, have gone unanswered. It's up to the public to demand something more than the hollow victory of a tax hike. Or perhaps no one really cares, if they can just keep driving their own car.
Barbara Epstein is a longtime Austin resident, active in neighborhood issues for over 30 years. She is an attorney providing low-cost legal advice to the elderly, serves on Austin’s aging-in-place board, and does volunteer work for Volunteer Legal Services.
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