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Capital Metro previews Connections 2025 survey

Wednesday, May 18, 2016 by Caleb Pritchard

After months of consultant-driven introspection, the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority is on the verge of revealing new insights that could result in big changes along the agency’s service network.

It’s all part of the Connections 2025 process, the yearlong study that will lead up to the recommendation of a new five-year service plan, likely to be made official sometime this winter.

The most recent five-year plan, Connections 2020, resulted in such high-profile changes as the introduction of the MetroRapid service, the removal of bus service from Congress Avenue in downtown Austin and the kiboshing of several underperforming routes.

This week, Capital Metro is engaging in a short series of open houses in which staffers are presenting preliminary findings from the service and market analyses. The Southern California consulting firm Transportation Management & Design, Inc. has been working on those studies since last December.

At a sparsely attended open house at Austin Public Library’s University Hills Branch in northeast Austin on Tuesday evening, two Capital Metro staffers stood in a modest meeting room to assist the curious. Two walls were lined with large placards that displayed colorful samplings of TMD’s assessment of the state of Capital Metro.

The boards told a tale of declining ridership, increased operating costs and a growing region that continues to push affordable housing to its sprawling frontiers.

Screen Shot 2016-05-17 at 8.58.38 PM

Interestingly, one board also claimed that the per-rider subsidy on the weekday MetroRail service that connects downtown Austin to Leander is less than $20. That’s substantially lower than a graph in the agency’s 2016 budget, which puts MetroRail’s cost-per-rider at more than $30. A Capital Metro spokesperson at the workshop, Melissa Ayala, told the Austin Monitor that she couldn’t immediately explain the difference but promised to investigate.

Another board claimed that the two MetroRapid lines — the 801 and the 803 — operate 10 to 15 percent faster than the local routes they’re closely aligned with, the 1 and the 3. When asked for more details, Capital Metro Transportation Planner Caitlin D’Alton explained that the comparison measured the time it takes each bus to go from one end of its route to the other, rather than how long it takes to get into downtown.

As for any possible previews of recommendations that could come out of the Connections 2025 process, neither Ayala nor D’Alton could say. D’Alton pledged that there would be “no sacred cows,” and Ayala offered that TMD brings a brand-new and “unbiased” perspective.

“So the system could change a lot,” she said. “Or they could tell us that we are doing a lot of good things, but there are some things that we should be investing in more.”

Ayala explained that TMD will present the final results of its service and market studies in two to three weeks. Once that happens, the consultant and Capital Metro staff will put together a draft proposal that will undergo one more round of public input in the late summer or early fall. Capital Metro’s board is likely to vote on the final draft in December.

To find out more about this week’s Connections 2025 open houses, click here.

Photo by Jsevse (I have taken this photo myself on my iPhone) [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

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