Leander Voted to Keep Cap Metro, but Will Manor and Lago Vista?
Cap Metro's on the ballot again
Six months ago Leander voters rejected a proposal to end the city's membership in Capital Metro. Now, Manor and Lago Vista voters will consider the same question this November; city councils in both suburbs voted in August to include the proposition on the ballot. Both cities have been part of the transit authority since its creation in 1985 and each levies the 1% sales tax that provides the bulk of Capital Metro's funding, but which does not fully offset the cost of the services each community uses. If voters decide to leave, Manor would owe Cap Metro $9.8 million, and Lago Vista will owe $6.4 million, according to a Cap Metro estimate.
Manor's Cap Metro services include the 990 Manor/Elgin Express and an on-demand Pickup service. In August, people used Manor's Pickup service 4,230 times, and rode the 990, which includes stops outside of Manor, almost 1,000 times. Lago Vista's services include the 214 Northwest Feeder, Pickup, and MetroAccess. In August, people used Lago Vista's Pickup service 1,480 times and rode the 214, which includes stops outside of Lago Vista, 875 times. After this article was published, Manor City Manager Scott Moore questioned Cap Metro's count of ridership in Manor. He said after interviewing some riders, the city found that 990 Express makes several stops along Lamar picking up UT students and dropping them off at stops near campus, which he said inflates the Manor ridership average numbers manyfold.
Manor also has a stop on Project Connect's proposed MetroRail Green Line to Elgin, and ending its participation with Cap Metro would call the future of that stop into question. "Project Connect was not going to show any significant development until 2036 or later for the cities of Manor or Elgin," Moore said in an email. "If we had a major mix use development built between Manor & Elgin, having Green Line transporting individuals to shop and work in our community would help attract the next generation workers seeking that type of quality of work/living option in 2036 and beyond," he added in a following email.
Manor Mayor Christopher Harvey prioritizes investment in new roads and expanded highways to reduce congestion in Austin's eastern suburbs: "I don't disagree that public transit is important. I think people try to make leaving this 1985 deal [like we're saying] that we're anti-public transit … We don't necessarily need to give all of our sales tax and all future sales tax to an entity to provide transportation for us," he said. He added that he wants to explore creative transportation solutions, pointing to Kyle and Pflugerville (neither in Cap Metro), which have subsidized Uber rides in their city limits, as well as Round Rock, which contracts with Cap Metro but does not collect the 1% sales tax.
Lago Vista officials made similar arguments, albeit with a sharper tone. "I've been a lawyer for 35 years. I don't like injustice. This feels like injustice to me. It sucks … It feels like we're being worked over by the mob," City Council Member Rob Durbin said during an Aug. 4 council meeting on Cap Metro's $6.4 million exit fee. "The fact is that they have been taking money hand over fist from us for years and not given us value back in terms of the services they deliver," added CM Gage Hunt.
Cap Metro board members expressed concern about the ballot propositions. "I'm frustrated because in some ways it's felt like it kind of came out of left field and there's been this lack of communication," Board Member Eric Stratton said at a Sept. 26 meeting. "[The board has] tried to make ourselves available and have conversations and then it was just kind of like boom, this is going to the ballot and it took all of us by kind of by storm."
Board Member Becki Ross, who represents small cities like Manor and Lago Vista, added that the cities are prioritizing economic development, for which they can also collect up to 1% in sales tax if they leave Cap Metro. "These elections are not necessarily a ding against Cap Metro."
* Editor's note Tuesday, Oct. 18, 12:23pm: This story has been updated. Manor City Manager Scott Moore questioned Cap Metro’s methods for counting riders in Manor after the publication of this article. ”