A letter to Council Member Kathie Tovo about Connections 2025.
The subsidy per passenger for current CapMetro services.
Dear Council Member Tovo,
CapMetro’s new service plan – Connections 2025 – shifts the agency towards a network of frequent services and away from a collection of legacy routes that over-emphasize geographic coverage. This is a good first step in enhancing CapMetro’s operational productivity as it seeks to stem continuing ridership declines.
However, the current draft plan raises several concerns.
The plan potentially continues the agency’s embrace of a malfunctioning form of “regionalism” that asks Austin to disproportionately shoulder the burden of solving the mobility problems created by the land use choices of suburban jurisdictions. This is unfair and an unproductive use of CapMetro’s operating budget.
The plan’s consultants have indicated that the Austin-focused part of the redesign essentially pays for itself through elimination of redundant bus routes coupled with bus schedule compression. New regional services such as additional frequency on the Red Line, park-and-rides, suburban-focused “Express” routes, and the much-discussed I-35 “Regional Connector” bus service will capture a growing share of future CapMetro operating budgets.
As the Connections 2025 analysis makes clear, these regional services require higher per-rider subsidies. Depending on the implementation, CapMetro’s new service design could end up with a substantial net shift in operational dollars away from the most productive areas for ridership (i.e. Austin’s core, UT, and other dense residential areas) and into very unproductive suburban commuter services.
It is my hope that Austin’s City Council will shape the implementation of the new service plan both through the use of its appointees on CapMetro’s board and its control of the right-of-way that CapMetro’s buses operate on. Below are the specific policy changes I hope your office will encourage City Council members to pursue.
Tolls for Transit. Council’s appointees should vote against any service plans or CapMetro budgets that include regional services that are funded from conventional sales tax dollars. Instead, these services should be funded through a direct transfer from the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority’s (CTRMA) revenues.
Red Line in the Black. Council appointees to CapMetro should pursue an increase in Red Line fares until service demand matches available seating capacity and frequency; any additional future frequency should be paid for by CTRMA revenue transfers.
Transit Lane Policy. The City Manager and transportation staff should develop – and Council adopt – a transit dedicated lane policy that augments the proposed network for services that primarily serve Austin. Austin’s city street right-of-way should not be available to CapMetro bus vehicles providing regional services until the authority amends their budget to fund regional services without general sales tax revenue.
Open the Stop Placement Black Box. Perhaps the most important implementation choices for the new plan will be stop placement. If bus stops are too far apart, ridership suffers because bus services are too far to be conveniently accessed. Place them too close together, and ridership is hurt because the travel speed of the bus is slowed too much by the constant loading and unloading of passengers. City Council should request that CapMetro’s consultants and staff “show their work” in explaining how they balanced existing industry rules-of-thumb, community input, and their own data-driven calculations. Simply presenting a near-final map of stops and making adjustments based on “squeaky wheels” in the community is not enough.
AustinMetro. Concurrent with improving Connections 2025, Austin City Council should conduct an independent study evaluating the possibility of exiting CapMetro and forming a transit service authority exclusively-focused on Austin. The status quo governance structure at CMTA, CAMPO, and CTRMA greatly undermines Austin’s ability to productively use its sales tax dollars for transit. The status quo’s predatory regionalism is clearly not working to solve Austin mobility issues and greatly under-represents the most transit-productive neighborhoods and commercial districts in our region, many of which are in our Council district.
Thank you for considering these suggestions and for the work you do on behalf of District 9.