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Bus headways aren't Austin's problem

(posted to a local neighborhood list in response to a portion of a long letter from an Eastwoods resident complaining about densification)

The position that transit use would skyrocket if we just reduced headways on our existing bus system seems logical but is, in fact, not likely to be the case given experience in other cities and a bit of common sense.

Those who can get and keep a job largely have the ability to check timetables and use their watch - and this gets even easier with new tools like Google's - and most of the close-in neighborhoods have bus service with far better headways than the alleged 30-minutes-or-worse in Barbara's note. For instance, from my house on 35th, I can choose the #5 or the #7 - combined maximum wait during the day approximately 15 minutes; meaning if I decide on a whim to leave the house right now, I can look at the schedule to figure out which one to walk to knowing that it won't be longer than 15 minutes.

However, even if headways really were much worse in central Austin, it still wouldn't matter (much) - peoples' daily commute decision centers more around speed and reliability than on headways. For instance, headways on express subway service in Queens are sometimes long, but people take them anyways (over the local, the bus, and especially their car) because the subway simply works so much better. In our case, running buses more often would do nothing to the speed or reliability gap compared to the private automobile and could even make it worse (due to bunching, buses interfering with other buses, etc.).

The only technology which can compete well enough with cars on those two metrics (the only two that really matter, since our downtown parking isn't currently and probably will never be expensive enough to be a major factor) is reserved-guideway transit. This excludes streetcar, but includes light rail (as proposed in 2000) and commuter rail (if it actually went anywhere near major employment destinations, which it does not).

Mike Dahmus
(Urban Transportation Commission, 2000-2005)

This entry was posted in the following categories: Austin , PS: I am not a crackpot , Transit in Austin

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