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Use Cases Part Three: Reverse Commutes

In case you thought I'd never pick one which works well with commuter rail, we've got one (although light rail would have worked a little bit better).

Analyzing a couple of reverse commutes:

Case 1 is a young downtown resident (of one of the condo buildings now under construction, for instance) who works at IBM (which as the draft environmental impact assessment states, will be right next to one of the stations). Parking up at IBM is free, of course.

Most of the residential development downtown is on the west side of Congress (except for the Milago and the 555, which are within walking distance of the train station). This puts the majority of housing units within a 5 minute walk of the 2000 light rail line with a short shuttle bus ride for the commuter rail station; with the Milago and 555 being the opposite.

For a minor variation, my own commute when I was working at IBM was from my condominium in Clarksville, from which I could have ridden a bus to either rail station from a couple of bus options - add 10 more minutes for extra bus travel for those trips.

Numbers indicate "seats". IE, if the number gets up to 3, you had to ride in 3 vehicles to get there. T indicates transfers. W indicates wait. P indicates pedestrian trip.

Passenger TripCommuter RailLight Rail (2000)BusCar
Downtown condo to IBM For the majority: (P). Walk to shuttle bus stop.
(W). Wait for shuttle bus.
(1). Ride shuttle bus to rail station at Convention Center
(W). Short wait (we hope) for train
(2). Ride commuter rail (not stuck in traffic) to station near IBM
(P). Walk to office at IBM or Tivoli
Estimated time: 40-50 minutes (5 minute walk on each end; 5-15 minute range wait and ride on shuttle bus)
(P). Walk a few blocks to Guadalupe.
(W). Short wait for train
(1). Ride light rail train (not stuck in traffic) to station near IBM/Tivoli
(P). Walk to office.
Estimated time: 40 minutes (5 minute walk on each end).

(P). Walk to downtown bus stop for #174 express bus.
(W). Wait for bus.
(1). Bus ride to stop near IBM (far from Tivoli).
(P). Walk to office
Estimated time: 50-70 minutes (5 minute walk to bus stop; 5-10 minute wait for bus; 35-45 minute bus trip; 5-10 minute walk to office)

(1). Drive (stuck in traffic, but reverse commute is free-flowing in morning; quite bad in evening) to office
(W). Find parking in own parking garage
(P). Walk to office
Estimated time: 15-45 minutes

Unless you live in Milago or 555, this commutes would be better on light rail than on commuter rail, but the car still kicks both to the curb during the morning commute and probably always will. The afternoon is where this commute really gets competitive - this is the route I used to have to drive when I worked up north and lived in Clarksville, and it's not pretty. You can sometimes save a bit of time by using alternate routes, but it's never quick; the problem is that the express bus on Burnet isn't going to be quick or reliable either since it's stuck in stoplight and slow-speed traffic conditions. Rapid bus isn't an option for this commute (at least, not initially - the long-term buildout indicates a route up Burnet). Both commuter rail and light rail allow passengers to at least obtain a more reliable commute, and in some cases even a faster one.

Having lived this commute, I'd pick light rail and MAYBE commuter rail over the car - a comfortable transit ride which took on average 5 minutes longer but was reliable and allowed me to work or read would have been a big winner. The scary thing about the commuter rail trip would be (of course) the bus transfer (if your shuttle is running late due to traffic, you're on the next train ride 30 minutes later). Light rail would have run about every ten minutes during the peak hours; so the penalty for missing a train would not be as scary.

Either rail line could pick up a small number of passengers who match this travel pattern (small because most workers at the IBM-area complexes live in Round Rock and other north/northwest suburbs; only a handful live central). The other thing this travel pattern has going for it is that the car trip is only going to get worse; while both the light rail and commuter rail trip are unlikely to get much slower since neither one relies heavily on a bus component.


Case 2 is the same downtown resident but he now works at one of the tech businesses on the 183 corridor (let's not even talk about the apalling amount of office space on Loop 360).

I've worked in several offices along this corridor while living in central Austin, so I know the area very well. An interesting fact about the light and commuter rail plans is that despite claiming to be alternatives to the 183 corridor, neither one goes anywhere near a parallel line to US 183 until they approach Cedar Park from the east. This means that the predicted rerouting or elimination of the 183-corridor express buses is really going to hurt transit in this area.

Numbers indicate "seats". IE, if the number gets up to 3, you had to ride in 3 vehicles to get there. T indicates transfers. W indicates wait. P indicates pedestrian trip.

I'm picking the first office I had at S3 in 1998 - because it happens to be located directly across Jollyville from the Pavillion Park and Ride (I would take the express bus up many mornings and ride my bike home).

Passenger TripCommuter RailLight Rail (2000)BusCar
Downtown condo to 183-corridor For the majority: (P). Walk to shuttle bus stop.
(W). Wait for shuttle bus.
(1). Ride shuttle bus to train station at Convention Center
(W). Short wait (we hope!) for train
(2). Ride commuter rail (not stuck in traffic) to station near IBM or station at Howard Lane
(W). Wait for transfer bus (no high-frequency circulator in either of these areas).
(3). Ride transfer bus to 183-corridor stop (stuck in traffic and slow)
Estimated time: 45 to 85 minutes (5 minute walk on each end; 30-35 minute train trip; 10-45 minute range wait and ride on bus)
(P). Walk a few blocks to Guadalupe.
(W). Wait for train
(1). Ride light rail (not stuck in traffic) to station near IBM or station at Howard Lane
(W). Wait for transfer bus (no high-frequency circulator in either of these areas).
(2). Ride transfer bus to 183-corridor stop (stuck in traffic and slow)
Estimated time: 45 to 85 minutes (5 minute walk on each end; 30-35 minute train trip; 10-45 minute range wait and ride on bus)
(P). Walk to downtown bus stop for 983 express bus.
(W). Wait for bus.
(1). Bus ride to stop near IBM (far from Tivoli).
(P). Walk to office
Estimated time: 50-70 minutes (5 minute walk to bus stop; 5-10 minute wait for bus; 35-45 minute bus trip; 5-10 minute walk to office)

(1). Drive (stuck in traffic, but reverse commute is free-flowing in morning; quite bad in evening) to office
(W). Find parking in own parking lot/garage
(P). Walk to office
Estimated time: 15-45 minutes

Unfortunately, neither light rail nor commuter rail is going to work for this trip, even if you brought your bike along and wanted to ride from the station to your office. (There are no good bike routes from either the prospective Howard Lane-area station or the IBM-area to the Jollyville corridor). Express buses today aren't horrible (you'll spend a good deal more time in the morning and be nearly competitive in the afternoon), but might be going away as part of this rail plan. Clearly neither rail line would gain a non-trivial number of passengers falling into this travel pattern.

This entry was posted in the following categories: Austin , Don't Hurt Us Mr. Krusee, We'll Do Whatever You Want , Transit in Austin , Use Cases