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Access to schools highlights Cap Remap limitations

Monday, February 4, 2019 by Ryan Thornton

Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority knew that its June 2018 network change, Cap Remap, would remove transit service from vulnerable communities long before the changes took place. The eliminations were part of an intentional attempt to funnel resources into frequent service routes across the city.

The agency’s own internal analysis of the route changes in November 2017 predicted that Remap would significantly increase access to frequent service for minority and low-income households. It also found that over 99 percent of current customers would remain within a 10-minute walk of service with Remap. However, for communities where access to transit has been compromised or eliminated, these impressive numbers are of little help.

Two neighborhoods that have taken service cuts are Montopolis and Johnston Terrace in Southeast Austin. Members of both communities and transit advocates showed up to restate their objections to Remap at Capital Metro’s Jan. 28 board meeting. A number of people spoke in particular about the elimination of service to Eastside Memorial Early College High School in Johnston Terrace and Allison Elementary in Montopolis.

“Access continues to disrupt the education of our students and community,” said Ofelia Zapata, vice president of the Parent Teacher Student Association at Eastside Memorial. “Public education should not suffer because of public transportation.”

Zapata said a recent survey conducted by Eastside Memorial’s student council showed that 70 percent of the student body needs bus service restored to the high school. Half of the student population has no other transportation option, she said.

Bus service to Johnston Terrace and Eastside Memorial was entirely cut with Remap. Route 17, which had previously served the neighborhood, is now a frequent service route that turns south toward ACC Riverside where it previously went north into Johnston Terrace.

“Eastside Memorial High School and the surrounding community were served by Capital Metro buses 56 times per day in 2017,” said Scott Morris, founding director of the Central Austin Community Development Corporation. “Residents relied on that service, stepping on and off buses 533 times on a typical weekday at stops that are now closed.”

Students of Allison Elementary in Montopolis also lost access to several stops along Vargas Road. Whereas route 4 previously stopped directly in front of the elementary school, the closest stop to the school is now a couple of long blocks west at Montopolis Drive and Ponca Street.

“Parental involvement in child education is crucial, but especially so for disadvantaged communities,” said longtime Montopolis resident Rebecca Hernandez. “At both Eastside and at Allison Elementary, the ability to attend parent-teacher conferences as well as to pick up a sick child from school has become more difficult for parents in a transit-dependent household.”

Morris said that these service cuts have an even greater impact because both schools serve predominantly minority populations. In addition, the vast majority of students at both schools are from economically disadvantaged households.

Capital Metro Board Chair Wade Cooper said there is no question that Cap Remap service changes “dramatically improved the available service to both the poor and the minority communities,” even if some neighborhoods lost routes in the process.

“A 40-foot bus is not necessarily the right solution in every community,” he said. “We have scarce resources and we’re trying the best we can to distribute those across our community in a way that lifts people up.”

When asked for comment, District 3 Council Member Pio Renteria said in an email, “We are working with CapMetro staff to review the impact of the recent CapRemap changes. As we get more data and community input, the CapMetro Board will be making adjustments to better serve our neighborhoods.”

Photo of Allison Elementary in Montopolis courtesy of AISD.

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