July 29, 2010

Will Kramer Save The Red Line?

The bus is outta control. So I grab him by the collar, I take him out of the seat, I get behind the wheel, and now I'm driving the bus.

So. The Kramer shuttle. The next step from South Florida's playbook on how to rescue a commuter rail line that's foundering due to not going where anybody actually works. Is it gonna help?

Well, I can tell you one thing: Capital Metro still isn't putting themselves into the shoes of a prospective rider. Here's the map of the proposed service (click for bigger image):

So I worked at IBM for many years; including about two and a half at this campus in North Austin. During my first weekend here back in 1996, I walked down what is now the Red Line after an ice/snow storm to hit McDonald's with some friends who were likewise thrilled to go out for a walk in the 'snow'. I'm intimately familiar with the area, so I'm going to talk about IBM first and foremost, but similar issues will exist with the other employers being 'served' with this shuttle.

First, the current conditions: You have to walk a long ways on sub-par sidewalks to get up to the IBM complex from the rail station. We're talking about 0.4 miles to the closest IBM building (not Tivoli); and that's with tromping through some weeds. Definitely too far to do on a regular basis.

And the conditions for a worker who leaves their car at home? They're stuck eating at the cafeteria (which sucked); this isn't downtown where you can go to lunch or run errands on foot.

What about Capital Metro's shuttle? Well, IBM's the apparent first stop after leaving the station (good thing in the morning!) - which means the stop for IBM is only about a minute away from the station. That's much better, right? Of course, since this is a loop, first off in the morning means first on in the afternoon - meaning a much longer trip back to the station. Let's take a look at where the bus proposes to drop off:

Still a tenth of a mile walk to the closest IBM building - about three times as far as the walk from the parking garage as it will be to most offices, if I remember correctly. Not enough to rule this thing out, but enough to think about.

What about the afternoon? So, we're expecting people to go out there and stand and wait for the shuttle to pick them back up, right? Let's look again at that streetview image:

Does that look like a place somebody with a real job is going to stand for 10 or 15 minutes waiting for a shuttlebus?

(not even if that guy is driving, I bet).

So why does Capital Metro think this is going to help? Once again, they have no conception at all of why people drive today and what it'll take to get them to take transit. People with real jobs in the suburbs where parking is free and easy will not, not in a thousand years, wait outside in the summer heat with no shade by the side of an awful 5-lane highway for 10 minutes just to ride a shuttle which is going to take another 15-30 minutes to go to the train station a half-mile away. If you think the typical (or even exceptional) high-tech employee who currently drives to work will willingly change to transit if this is what it takes to do it, you are dumber than a sack of hammers. Once you factor in the waiting time on Burnet and the shuttle trip back, this will actually be worse than the awful walk to the station they face today.

This development pattern, by the way, is why San Jose's light-rail line was so disappointing for so many years - it ran through a corridor like this one, where office parks were set back long distances from the road with huge surface parking lots separating them from the road/station and from each other. There's nothing you can do to serve a property like IBM well with transit until gas gets so expensive that everybody wants to ride the bus - routing the shuttle into IBM property would help IBMers but hurt everybody else and they're not going to give up the big surface lots in front anytime soon. So it's not that the shuttle sucks; it's that this whole part of town sucks - but the shuttle isn't going to do anything to help.

The same people now seeing some moderate benefit out of the Red Line will continue to be the only ones who can use this in this part of town: those who bike to/from the station. The other employers in the area have similar situations to IBM; even the Pickle employees don't pay for parking - and thus have little incentive for a long shuttle to/from their office just to take the Red Line. As for the Domain? Shoppers? Really? You really think people who shop at the Domain are going to ride a shuttlebus from the train station? And the employees are already getting there via the #3 and other existing routes (those few that don't drive).

Final conclusion: Will the new Kramer shuttle add a non-trivial number of riders to the Red Line?

This entry was posted in the following categories: Austin , Don't Hurt Us Mr. Krusee, We'll Do Whatever You Want , Red Line Myths , Transit in Austin , Transportation
Posted by m1ek at 12:44 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

July 23, 2010

Will adding later morning runs help the Red Line?

We have now entered an exciting new phase of the Red Line Rescue Plan:

(thanks to reader @T_Starry for the posterized version).

I still have charts ready for a post about double-tracking, but that's a longer-term effort; in the meantime I'd better address this one.

Ben Wear reports:

At least some members of the public have complained trains began running on March 22 about the lack of service between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., after 8 p.m. and on the weekends. Capital Metro officials say the midday service, aside from whatever ridership the runs might have, likely would increase morning and afternoon ridership as well. More potential commuters would be comfortable using the train, Hemingson said, if they knew they could catch a train back home early if need be.

Most of the other media coverage is even fluffier - uncritically accepting that additional runs will lead to many more passengers. But is it true? For instance, KVUE uncritically reports:

"The last train where I pick it up in Leander it leaves at 8 o'clock, so if I leave later than that it would be convenient if there was one that ran a little bit later coming into Austin," said Angie Hurtado, who rides the Red Line.

"It works out great for me in the morning but sometimes I work doubles, especially on the weekends, so it would be nice if they had some trains going on the weekends," said Philip Schroeder, who rides the Red Line.

So, let's see: KVUE's evidence of prospective non-trivial increased ridership with later trains comes from one person who already rides an earlier train and one person who already rides the train during the week but might also ride on the weekend. Anybody see anything wrong with this evidence?

The fact is that the only large population of potential commuters to Central Austin who would see any benefit out of later trains are UT students - and the Red Line doesn't have any stations where very many students live. The UT traffic we see now on the Red Line is almost completely faculty and staff - and almost all of those folks have to (or want to) get in by 9:00 (meaning the last train out of Leander is actually too late for them, not too early).

What about the theory that people are nervous they won't be able to take a train home in the middle of the day? Well, those same express buses that have more riders than the Red Line run all day - and in the middle of the day the freeways are unclogged; so they're even faster. I find it vanishingly unlikely that any more than a handful of people would start riding because of the possibility of an earlier trip home on a train versus the superior express bus.

What WILL adding these runs DEFINITELY do? It'll raise the operating cost of this service even higher - making the subsidy per passenger look even worse, and resulting in further cuts to bus service. In other words, even more screwing of Austin in favor of Leander (who at least pays Cap Metro taxes) and Cedar Park and Round Rock (who don't).

So, in conclusion: will adding a couple of later departures from Leander or Lakeline add a non-trivial boost to Red Line ridership?

July 07, 2010

Today's news bits

I still have a post simmering about double-tracking the Red Line, and why it won't make much difference; but I may have to update it after this morning's news.

1. The freight train derailment. It's happened several times before in the recent past - the tracks are pretty crappy in that part of town and have not been replaced. So is this the fault of the Red Line? Not directly; no. The tracks were bad before the Red Line was a gleam in Mike Krusee's eye. HOWEVER: if we had built light rail in the 2000 plan (if Krusee hadn't forced it to the polls early); we'd have two brand-new, presumably better-engineered and more safe tracks through the whole corridor - so a derailment would have been less likely.

2. MOPAC managed lanes. I say the same thing now that I said THREE YEARS AGO: If the lanes don't have a dedicated exit or exits, and there's no indication TXDOT has changed their plans to add any, they will be completely useless - they will quickly degrade to the speed of the general purpose lanes as people in the managed lane struggle to merge back through 3 lanes of traffic to get off the highway.