Cap Met's Five Year Bus Plan: More, Faster, Better
Capital Metro spent a generation gearing up for rail, but the agency is also trying to move the bus system into modern times. Hence the Five Year Plan (from fiscal 2001-2006), which doesn't quite start from scratch but which shows that Cap Met has thought about how a bus system should work.
That's a nice change from Cap Met tradition, which went something like this: You want a bus? Sure, we can run a bus. We'll have to run it from downtown, though. Oh, nobody rides from there to downtown? OK, then we'll only run the bus every hour. Now people don't even know there's a bus there? Well, let's cut it, because somebody else wants that bus. Repeat every six months. Look at the åDillo, supposedly a marquee service, now forsaken by otherwise sure-fire customers who can't keep up with the repeated major changes to its routes and frequencies.
So you see why it's good for Cap Met to use "bus" and "plan" in the same sentence. Up until November 7, of course, the Five Year Plan was only partially a bus plan, even though it stood apart from rail planning. Version 2.0 -- the post-rail edition -- foresees much more, faster, better bus service than Cap Met has heretofore ever contemplated.
Key elements of the Five Year Plan include:
TRANSIT CENTERS: Instead of running the bulk of its services through its downtown hub, Cap Met aims to cluster services around transit centers up and down the Austin corridor, from the Arboretum in the northwest to Slaughter Lane in the south. These seven major facilities (large blue circles on the map) would be off-street bus depots, like what Cap Met has now at Lamar and 183, including a proper bus mall of some sort downtown. And Capital Metro wants to own these sites, unlike, say, its "center" at Northcross Mall. So exact locations will depend on where proper sites are available.
PARK-AND-RIDES: Capital Metro also wants to end up with 12 park-and-rides (orange circles on the map), some in edge-of-town locations where such facilities exist now (Leander, Oak Hill, Manor), but also in the central city to hook up with the peregrinating åDillo. A park-and ride is planned for the vague general area of South Congress and Ben White. Again, Cap Met wants to own these, which represents a fairly big investment in land (10 acres or more), so exact locations are even more dependent on availability. But Capital Metro has repeatedly lost park-and-ride locations, including the åDillo lot at Palmer Auditorium, that it didn't own. "Capital Metro ownership is important," agency planner Rob Smith told the Cap Met board, "so that these locations have some permanence."
NEIGHBORHOOD TRANSIT CENTERS: The third piece of the Five Year Plan's facilities network is a set of at least 10 neighborhood centers (small black circles on the map), which are basically major bus transfer points such as Cap Met already has at the state Capitol and at Seventh and Pleasant Valley. However, the transit authority wants to put some money into existing stops "to make them safe, comfortable, attractive, and user-friendly" -- a key concern of Cap Met board member Daryl Slusher. The neighborhood centers would have lights, landscaping, sidewalk access, system-wide route maps -- you know, the things you find at most bus stops in most cities, where the Cap Met sign-in-the-mud bus "stop" would never do.
EXPRESS ROUTES: The Five Year Plan aims to undo the confusion wrought when Capital Metro introduced its Flyer service -- not quite express, not quite local, and thus not quite coherent to many customers. The new plan (red lines) would consolidate the existing expresses with the Flyers, run them on the major highways, use special built-for-comfort buses, and increase both frequency and speed.
CROSSTOWN ROUTES: Yes, that's right -- crosstown routes that bypass downtown, running along Oltorf and Research/Anderson Lane. These and the big-daddy routes of the current system (green lines) -- the 1-North Lamar, 13-South Congress, 7-Duval, and such -- are what Cap Met considers its core services, and the transit centers are being located to tie them together.
POINT DEVIATION ZONES: And for the folks in the country, the Five Year Plan has identified four "point deviation zones (shaded gray)," which sounds lewd. But all it means is that buses south of Slaughter, or out toward Lago Vista, or between U.S. 183 and FM 1325, or east of Ed Bluestein Blvd. will both run on fixed routes and wander off the route to pick up and drop off people on demand, sort of like a school bus.
WHAT ABOUT MY BUS? There will still be smaller radial (through downtown) and feeder (into transit centers) routes, but they'll be more direct than they are now, and there probably won't be as many, so that the core routes can be more frequent, which means you won't have to wait a half hour, take the bus for 10 minutes, and then wait another half hour to catch the bus you really need.
AND YOUR GRAND TOTAL IS ... Capital Metro is aiming for a 20% increase in annualized service hours and 25-30% increases in ridership as a result of the Five Year Plan improvements. The Plan's provisions will start to be put into practice with the upcoming round of service changes in February.