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Capital Metro misses huge opportunity

Last Saturday, I went down to FlugTag with my 3 and 13-year-olds. I wrote down the next few buses on the #5 and #7; we picked the #5; and walked out to the stop. Three UT students were already there - also going to the FlugTag. Got to the stop at about 5:25 for the bus that should have been there at 5:32.

Note that the buses were running on the Saturday schedule - which means that instead of running every 18-19 minutes, it runs every 38 minutes. IE, probably half as many buses as usual. I think the #7 was roughly the same.

We waited. And waited. Saw 2 buses go by northbound. By 6:00 or so, after I had called Cap Metro twice and been assured that the bus was only 5 minutes delayed, the 3 students walked to Guadalupe to catch the #1. Since my arthritis was already going to make this a risky endeavor, we stayed put. Called Cap Metro again, and was told this time that the 5:32 bus had already gone by - a lie. I let the agent have it; telling her that the #5 might have detoured down Guadalupe to make up some time but he damn well didn't go by us. She told me the next bus would be by in about ten minutes (about ten minutes later than schedule). I figured we'd give it that ten minutes and then give up.

Five minutes later, a #5 bus comes by, and as I'm paying for myself and the boys, the driver is asking us to hurry, as he's already 45 minutes late. A-ha! While the driver lied (apparently) to the dispatcher about where he was, at least he continued to run the correct route. We got basically the last 3 seats on the bus and settled in. As we headed farther south, the bus filled up more and more - by the time we reached Dean Keeton and Speedway, every seat and every standing position was full; and the driver started telling people at stops that he couldn't take any more people.

Between there and the southern end of UT, we probably skipped another 30 people. The bus was full of brand-new UT students - I had to give a lot of directions - who were new in town and trying out Capital Metro for the first time.

Downtown was a madhouse - as expected - very slow on Congress. Our original plan was to hop off at Cesar Chavez and walk - but at 5th (right in front of Eckerd's), the driver announced that there was a #30 a block behind him that would get us as close as possible to the event. So we, and 25 others, hopped off and then back on the #30, only to be stuck when a police car pulled right in front of us, stopped, and the officers went into the Eckerd's and left their car right in front of us - forcing our bus driver to try to change lanes in the middle of gridlock. That took another 10 minutes (just to get around the cop car). Thanks, APD!.

By the time the #30 bus reached Cesar Chavez, we all gave up and got off the bus.

FlugTag was amazingly crowded, and I'm glad we went, but then I had to acquire ice cream I had promised the 3-year-old, and through a comedy of bad decisions ended up walking all the way to the convenience store near Peter Pan. Observed dozens of people waiting at every bus stop heading away from downtown (for the #10, for instance).

After the ice cream mission was completed, we walked out to Lamar intent on catching the #3. A dozen people there, too. Crap. Called Cap Metro and the next bus wasn't scheduled for another 40 minutes! Decided to just walk the north side of the lake back to Congress, where at least I could choose between the first #1, #3, #5, or #7 to show up. Once we managed to struggle to the stop there, I was about dead (and am lucky I didn't end up on crutches or in a wheelchair like the last time I pushed it and walked this much) and only had to wait about 15 minutes for a #7 (even passed up a #1 in the meantime).

So, what did Capital Metro do wrong? Well, they had no control over the traffic. There's nothing they could have done about the hour it took to get from my bus stop at 35th and Speedway to Cesar Chavez/Congress. Of course, light rail a la 2000 would have worked great, but commuter rail wouldn't have worked at all - because people would have had to take shuttle buses through that same traffic.

But one obvious thing Capital Metro could have done was simply run a bunch of these routes on their weekday schedules. This would have meant that the dozens of people futilely waiting at bus stops, many of whom were obviously trying Capital Metro for the first time ever, might have had a better impression. I'll bet, however, that with the hour-long waits for buses in evidence, that Capital Metro gained exactly zero future customers, and probably even lost some who were previously willing to ride. Don't tell me that's too difficult - they have no trouble when they want to reduce frequency (run a Sunday schedule on a mid-week holiday, for instance).

People who are stuck on a bus that's stuck in traffic aren't going to blame the bus. Well, most of them, anyways. But people who are stuck waiting an hour for a bus only to be told that there's no room to ride? They're damn well going to blame the bus, and they damn well should. And meanwhile, Capital Metro is pushing a long overdue fare increase at precisely the worst possible time - making it trivially easy for the "bus riders union" to claim that they're subsidizing commuter rail for Leanderites. Does it get any dumber?

And, moral of the story? Ride your bike. If I could still ride, I would have ridden down with the boys, and it would have been a piece of cake.

This entry was posted in the following categories: Austin , Funding of Transportation , Transit in Austin , Transportation

Comments

Terribly sorry about your (and others') experience. As you mention, CMTA does not control traffic. One bit of good news on the horizon, the impending implementation of intelligent trans system on all CMTA vehicles w/ GPS etc, will prevent many of the situations you decribed from happening...will take some time to install on all vehicles, integrate software etc, but should be able to provide realtime info to Cust Service folks as well as to the rider directly at some point... - jmvc

All ITS would have done is tell me with more confidence that the bus was 45 minutes late - I don't think that's exactly what I had in mind.

But light rail, as in 2000, would not have been affected (much) by this traffic. That's the point. Commuter rail, since it relies on shuttle bus for the last part of the trip, will - in this particular case, the shuttle bus would have been particularly bad.

Let me see if I understand this correctly.

You walked from 1st & Congress over to Auditorium Shores, then to Lamar, then back across the river, then back over to Congress.

With a 3 year old and arthritic tendencies.

Lovely.

After a day like that, I'd have a particular characterization for Cap Metro, but I don't think there are enough punctuation marks on the keyboard to censor it.

I've heard Flugtag itself was actually pretty dull, too.

Is there any chance that Cap Met will learn some things before ACL? Because I'm planning to bus it to the festival in two weeks.

I'd give it exactly zero chance. There's one thing ACL has going for it, though: it's not right in the middle of downtown - so the shuttle-from-downtown model should work a bit better. (FlugTag's 'shuttle' was basically four blocks). Otherwise, I'd ride your bike if I was you.

The Manfriend and I biked to Flutag, a very good decision, so I can't comment on that service.

But just trying to get downtown Sunday evening was a nightmare. We waited 25 minutes beyond the #5 schedule before giving up and walking to Guadalupe where we waited another 15 for a #1. I can't imagine that was a traffic problem. It's a darn good thing I'm not one of those silly girls wearing crazy heels downtown.

And, yeah, I think CapMetro has that ACL thing pretty nailed down. They've had years of practice. The few times I've taken it (usually we, gulp, park "illegally" in the surrounding 'hoods) it was a breeze. A bit of standing in line if you wait until the end of the last show each evening, but the line is always moving so it's not too boring.

As an aside, I am amazed that Jeff Jack's crew somehow got APD to agree to calling parking on the street "illegal". I shouldn't be, given the unholy sway he seems to bring to bear at the city, but I thought at least APD was independent enough to tell him to go take a long walk off a short pier.

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