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Capital Metro backs Smart Trips extension

Friday, February 12, 2021 by Harrison Young

On Wednesday, the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority Board of Directors unanimously recommended approval of a third renewal of Smart Trips, an outreach program designed to educate Austinites about the city’s expanding transit options.

A collaboration between Capital Metro and the city of Austin, Smart Trips was launched in 2016 as a mailing program to test the waters, sending residents “toolkits” with bus route maps and bike lights to encourage them to use other forms of transit besides drive-alone trips. In 2017, City Council approved a more robust version.

“People think about supporting their local businesses by ordering food and having it delivered or driving to it, when they could easily walk or bike their neighborhood restaurant or neighborhood coffee shop,” Lonny Stern, Smart Trips program manager, said.

The program offers one-on-one trip planning services, routes for neighborhood walks and “transit adventures.” A representative takes a group to an event in town by bus, providing them with route maps and other informational materials. The trips are designed to show Austinites how to use everything that’s available to them.

Smart Trips has adapted to the pandemic. The program is focused on “general awareness and safety,” Stern said. “It’s safe to ride public transit; it’s just not safe to bring a group of 30 to 50 together on one trip,” he added.

In a presentation to the board, Stern said Smart Trips aims to decrease drive-alone trips by 5-10 percent and increase active trips (using buses or bikes) by the same amount.

Smart Trips plans to go citywide this year, pending a new interlocal agreement between the city and Capital Metro, which City Council will vote on.

The investment would cost Capital Metro $150,000, which amounts to “pennies on the dollar” compared to its entire transportation budget, according to Board Secretary Eric Stratton. Because the city partners with Capital Metro for this program, the city will match that amount, per a 2017 ordinance.

Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization granted Smart Trips $255,000 to expand its reach throughout Austin. The grant was used to fund a new initiative called New Movers, which focuses on people who recently filed a new mailing address – a way to target those who are more likely to use public transit.

“When you move into a new home or a new job or a new school, that’s when you’re really looking at your commutes,” Stern said.

Residents will receive a flyer with their Austin Energy bill that contains information about the New Movers program. The flyer could also include a free bus day pass, bike pass or scooter pass, a feature that is still under consideration, Stern said.

Smart Trips reports a 2.5 to 6.7 percent increase in transit use and a 3.3 to 5.4 percent decrease in drive-alone trips among users of the program.

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