Capital Metro board treated to an earful at two public hearings
The Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s board of directors sat through hours of public testimony on Wednesday, much of it critical of the agency’s proposed bus network redesign.
In fact, the board scheduled two separate public hearings, one in the early afternoon and the other in the evening.
Dozens of speakers attended both and held forth on the proposed June 2018 service changes that represent the largest implementation yet of the Connections 2025 service plan the board adopted earlier this year.
The proposed changes would eliminate or significantly alter bus routes across the city as agency planners pin their hopes of boosting ridership on increased frequency over geographic coverage.
After previous public comments, the agency has walked back some of the changes and board members have expressed interest in further guarantees for riders who could lose existing service, such as Council Member Ann Kitchen’s insistence that current MetroAccess riders be grandfathered in.
However, the planners’ unbending position on other routes has not sat well with riders who stand to lose service.
Heidi Ross, a West Austin resident, brought along a dozen students from O. Henry Middle School. Ross complained the planned elimination of the Nos. 21 and 22 on Exposition Boulevard will leave her section of the city without transit service on a north-south corridor.
“I want my kids to value an urban environment,” said Ross. “I want them to grow up with a transit-oriented lifestyle.”
She also noted that the resolution the board passed when it adopted the Connections 2025 framework included assurances that service in the planned Mobility Innovation Zones – of which West Austin is one – would not be cut until a replacement had been identified.
Kitchen pointed out that she authored that resolution.
“The results of a mobility innovation conversation with the public may result in some other options other than a big bus, but at least from my perspective I committed to having that conversation before we cut the routes,” she said. “And I remain committed to that resolution.”
Other speakers complained about the longer walks that some riders will have to make to rerouted bus lines. The agency’s planners have made the case that people will be willing to walk up to a half a mile to take advantage of frequent service. While that notion by itself isn’t universally accepted as true among transit professionals, Austin’s notoriously poor pedestrian infrastructure could increase riders’ burdens.
East Austin activist Susana Almanza urged the board to consider the elderly, the disabled and the young customers who rely on bus service as their only means of transportation.
“It’s a great inequity and injustice that’s happening with this Capital Metro plan and I think we really need to look at the true reality and serve the real bus riders – the true bus riders – and not the gentrifiers in our community that are not taking the bus,” said Almanza.
The board of directors will vote on the June 2018 service changes at its Nov. 15 meeting.
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