Transit in Texas

I obviously ride transit heavily in my hometown, Austin, Texas.  I actually really like our system–my wife and I even rode the bus the other night on a date of sorts to the Blanton Museum of Art; we don’t often ride very late at night, but we made an exception and were glad we did.

The agency is in a good bit of trouble–largely because of the pent-up demand for rail transit in this rapidly growing city, and the planned commuter rail line has been in the works for over four years on an existing rail line the agency already owned (never mind additional years of struggle to get approval for other lines).  It keeps getting delayed–for some good reasons (safety) and some less good.

At any rate, I’m okay with word that base fares might go up to $1 sooner than later.  I applaud and support calls for a fare-free system as utopia, but we’re just not there–and it’s obviously foolish to consider any massive sales tax or other tax increase to make that happen.  We still have a long way to go to convince folks that transit is worth riding, let alone subsidizing at even higher levels.

What I’m also concerned about is the threat of losing our “Dillo” service due to low ridership.  The Dillos look like trolleys on regular rubber wheels and run very frequently through key east-west and north-south routes.  The north-south route seems fairly redundant but the east-west does not, and east-west access is a big issue for Austin (our major highways are mainly north-south and east-west thoroughfares are notoriously slow and run-down).  Nevertheless, a friend whose opinion on these matters I respect opines that we can create better transit by improving frequency on existing routes rather than trying to save the Dillo.  I think there’s merit in that, but I also think the Dillo’s unique aesthetic makes them a unique draw for tourists and others, and the branding power is stronger than it is for regular numbered routes.

Meanwhile, in Fort Worth, there’s an interesting debate brewing over a planned downtown transit center/plaza.  One of the more interesting aspects of the debate, at least according to this article, is this: “The only problem is that the pretty new design, paid for with federal money to improve transportation, doesn’t actually improve bus service, and may actually restrict it.  The project is planned for the intersection of Ninth and Throckmorton streets. It’s an odd intersection with lanes crossing at oblique angles. Right now, buses can go north, south, east and west through the intersection, although south- and westbound traffic winds up on 10th or Jennings Streets. When the project is built, traffic will only be able to go north and east.”

So, you might sacrifice quality of service for quality of experience?  Or convenience?  I think there’s something to be said for creating infrastructure that enhances the visual and tangible attractiveness of riding, even if it means some detours.  But I don’t live in Fort Worth and haven’t been there in years, so I don’t have a good feel for how big an issue the intersection in question presents for service efficiency.

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3 responses to “Transit in Texas

  1. The far more serious threat is the elimination of vast swaths of coverage in the 2020 service plan – especially in West Austin (might seem counterintuitive, but we need those peoples’ votes even if they don’t ride the bus very much – and they ride more than most people think anyways). The Dillo is small potatoes compared to this.

    My stepson’s route to Austin High (#21/#22) faces elimination; CM is planning on rerouting the #5 to San Jacinto for political reasons (have to pretend Guadalupe isn’t the obvious core transit corridor or people might keep asking for rail there); eliminating the one-seat express buses from far reaches in favor of the Red Line + shuttle-bus ‘solution’; etc.

  2. larry, you walk the walk so i feel obliged to honestly comment here.
    when you read our fare free proposal i hope you’ll see that we were careful to avoid naive utopian idealism. we knew transit hacks with development agendas would dismiss it as welfare and point to the word “free.” further, we don’t call for any new funding. the revenue is made up by not spending money on collection, trimming the marketing department that would be less important as the system would sell itself, and removing the inefficiencies inherent to fare collection. sales tax is unreliable and regressive but we’re stuck with it here in texas.
    there are many living, successful examples of fare-free systems. the ut shuttle is one.

    • I really appreciate your taking the time to comment on my blog and, much more importantly, to develop the proposal, which I will re-read soon. I’m all for it and hope it comes to fruition. Let’s visit in-person soon about this stuff. Thanks again for commenting.

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