Eight months after Capital Metro began the first phases of its Connections 2025 study, the transit company will begin analyzing input from Austin residents in order to begin proposing and implementing improvements to its system.
Connections 2025 is a yearlong, in-depth review of Austin’s transit system aimed at assessing and predicting short, mid and long range goals to accommodate expansion and advances in Austin as they relate to the transit system. While Cap Metro completes similar studies every five years, Connections 2025 differs from previous efforts in Cap Metro’s partnership with Transportation Management and Design, Inc. (TMD), a transit-planning consultant that has worked with transit companies nationally and worldwide.
To address the changing needs of the city, Cap Metro has worked with over 80 community agencies and two advisory committees, as well as members from organizations including UT, Austin Community College, Austin Independent School District and Downtown Austin Alliance, among others.
“Capital Metro conducts service changes three times a year, typically every January, June and August,” said Melissa Ayala, communications specialist for Cap Metro. “The Connections 2025 plan would help guide these tri-annual changes Capital Metro could begin implementing as early as January 2017.”
Connections 2025 consists of five phases.
Phases one through three involved evaluating the needs of the city through the analysis of population demographics and community input through surveys on Cap Metro’s website and “open houses” where residents could discuss Austin’s transit system.
Phase three was completed on June 24 with the closing of Cap Metro’s second community survey. While the first community survey — to which 4,886 residents responded and was completed in early March — involved general questions about ridership, such as route preference and frequency of riding, the most recent community survey asked residents about trade-offs. For example, would Austin residents rather see more direct trips, or more frequent ones? The survey received about 600 responses, with 87 percent of respondents voting for more frequent buses.
“If anything, scheduling makes me not want to use the bus system here in Austin,” said electrical engineering freshman Waseem Mehany. “It’s frustrating to have to wait for your bus to come and not knowing if it’s going to be late or on time, or what. There’s no guarantee that you’ll get to a certain place when you need to be there.”
Phases four and five involve drafting service plans and implementing changes. From August to September, Cap Metro and TMD will finalize the Draft Transit Plan, which outlines expected changes and improvements and will solicit public feedback on the draft through social media and additional “open houses.” Changes will be implemented starting in Jan. 2017, after the Cap Metro Board of Directors approves the final plan late this year.
Based on the results of the June survey, Cap Metro will likely be implementing more frequent buses; however, final decisions are yet to be made. Cap Metro’s last study, Service Plan 2020, resulted in projects including the city’s first transit priority lanes — or lanes marked “bus only” which are designated for cars and transit vehicles making right turns — along Guadalupe and Lavaca, a High-Frequency Route Network among five major routes and the introduction of MetroRapid Routes 801 and 803, which provide more frequent service through “the heart of Austin,” Ayala said.
Many UT students have said they are looking forward to improvements to the city’s transit system.
“The city is huge, and the bus system is confusing enough as it is,” said physics freshman Laura Schwartz. “Without Uber and Lyft, people without cars and bikes are going to have to start using buses more often. It’s good to see [Cap Metro] getting involved with the community to make that happen.”