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Cap Remap launch a success, despite a few wrinkles

Monday, June 11, 2018 by Caleb Pritchard

Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority CEO Randy Clarke is hailing the rollout of the agency’s most significant bus network overhaul ever as a qualified success.

In a statement sent out on Friday, Clarke hailed agency staff for what he said was 18 months of preparation for the launch of Cap Remap. The effort rearranged a majority of the existing bus lines with an aim of increasing fast, frequent service. It was the most significant implementation yet of the Connections 2025 service plan adopted by the Capital Metro board of directors in early 2017.

Clarke said that in the past three weeks – two of them before the changes were implemented on June 3 and one of them after – Capital Metro employees made contact with more than 16,000 riders at bus stops to inform them of the changes and gather feedback. That’s more than a threefold increase of engagement the agency has ever conducted for a single project.

“That’s not to say this week has been flawless or the changes went into effect without difficulties,” Clarke said. “Our customers have helped identify a few areas that we need to improve, and that process began almost immediately.”

While reduced or eliminated bus service in some parts of the city generated public outcry, the expansion of service in one area created its own controversy. Some residents at the Midtown Commons at Crestview Station apartments took to Nextdoor to complain about the three buses that now pull into the development via St. Johns Avenue and North Lamar Boulevard.

“I live on the side where they are parking and it’s so loud and disruptive,” one resident reported. “They are honking and the busses are so loud. If this is an everyday thing I’m out of here!”

The Crestview Station project is one of three sites governed by a transit-oriented development regulating plan approved by City Council in 2008, and Capital Metro has long planned to bring more buses to the stop on Easy Wind Drive adjacent to the MetroRail station.

“We’ve heard from a few folks that just don’t like that the service is there,” Capital Metro Director of Service Planning Roberto Gonzalez told the Austin Monitor on Friday. “They may not have understood that when that place was built, it was built under the TOD design principles. Maybe they just didn’t even ever expect us to be there, even though our shelters have been there, our bus-only lanes and signs have been there.”

Nonetheless, the agency is working to reduce bus-related disruptions. Gonzalez said that steps are being taken to reduce idling buses at the stop and that drivers are instructed to only kneel the buses, a process that emits a cautionary beeping, for riders that request it.

“We’re looking in the next few days or weeks to go out there and have an open forum and just listen to what people have to say and see what else they may want us to address or look into,” Gonzalez said.

Capital Metro waived fares for the first week of the changes, providing an extra incentive for potential passengers to explore the new system that features 14 bus routes that operate every 15 minutes during peak hours. Ridership statistics for the first week of operation were unavailable, but the agency is hoping the increased levels of service will reverse a years-long downward trend of transit use.

But the free rides aren’t over for all Austinites. Over the weekend, the agency launched a summer pilot program that will allow students in kindergarten through the 12th grade to ride sans fare.

In his statement, Clarke emphasized that the agency will continue to gather public input to make adjustments to the new bus network.

“The call volume at our Customer Service GO Line has more than doubled this week, and that’s great. Give us a call, email us or respond on social media. We need your input,” he urged.

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