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Cap Metro to debut new ride-hailing service in Manor

Monday, June 3, 2019 by Jack Craver

On Tuesday, the Travis County Commissioners Court unanimously approved funding a new ride-hailing project in Manor run by Capital Metro. The service, called Pickup, aims to provide residents of Austin’s fastest-growing suburb an alternative to driving that is more reliable than existing bus service.

While Pickup is modeled after Uber and Lyft, there are some key differences. First, rides only cost $1.25, no matter the distance or duration of the journey. Second, rides can only occur within a strictly designated zone. In this case the zone includes the city of Manor and some surrounding parts of unincorporated Travis County.

Capital Metro piloted the Pickup service for one year – from June 2017-18 – in a zone including the Mueller and Windsor Park areas. The service proved popular, generating 20,000 rides in the one-year period.

The agency has no plans to reintroduce the service to the Mueller area, which now has access to more reliable bus service, said Capital Metro spokesperson Mariette Hummel. Instead, it is rolling out the service in six “mobility innovation zones,” most of which are located in areas outside of the city or on the fringes that lack access to regular bus service.

The Manor project will begin June 3, while the other five are scheduled to begin operations by the end of August. In Manor, Pickup will replace a circulator bus route, Route 470, which is operated by the Central Area Rural Transportation System and comes only every hour.

Based on the success of Pickup in Mueller, both CARTS and Manor residents were open to the idea of replacing the bus service with the new ride-hailing system, according to a memo prepared by county staff.

“We’re seeing this as a big expansion of service and hitting many of the neighborhoods that we weren’t serving previously,” Michelle Meaux, who oversees regional coordination for Capital Metro, told the commissioners Tuesday.

Commissioner Gerald Daugherty, who has a long record of bemoaning public transit projects, said he was on board.

“I don’t really have a problem with this. It seems pretty cost-effective, although I would like to see what you could offer from a private sector standpoint,” he said.

In contrast to Uber and Lyft, Pickup will not require users to have a smartphone. Instead, it will have a dispatch service that users can call to arrange a ride. The dispatchers and drivers will be CARTS employees.

In Manor, the service will be in operation from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and involve one or two vehicles, based on demand. Meaux said customers can expect to be picked up within 15 minutes of reserving a ride.

About a quarter of the area being serviced by Pickup in and around Manor is outside of the Capital Metro service area. Thus, Travis County is helping to pay for those getting rides outside of the service area. The total annual cost of the program is projected to be $466,560, of which Travis County will pay $65,141.

The five other mobility zones similarly lack quality transit. Some have always lacked it and others recently lost access due to Capital Metro’s overhaul of its routes in June 2018.

The overhaul, dubbed Cap Remap, sought to reverse years of declining ridership by boosting bus service on dense corridors in the urban core, where public transit is expected to perform best. The trade-off was cutting routes and stops that were not generating high ridership.

The more sprawling the Austin metro area becomes, the harder it is to provide efficient public transit. That may help explain why, despite the tremendous growth of Austin’s population, Capital Metro ridership has been lower in recent years than it was a decade before. Since the route change in June, ridership has crept up.

Photo by Larry D. Moore, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

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