Capitol Metro, Austin

Post by Steven Dale

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post titled What Do You Hate About Your City’s Transit System?

The post was meant to get people thinking about their own local transit system and to contemplate why they just accept what their transit is rather than what it could be. I encouraged people to email in their list of complaints to gondola (at) gondolaproject.com, and promised to post the results at a later time.

The post was a colossal, monumental failure.

Since that post, I’ve received only one response. And while it’s tempting to just forget about it, I said I’d post the results, so here it is:

Eric from Austin, Texas had this to say about Austin’s Capitol Metro:

Cap Metro hasn’t listened.

1. Rare bus pullouts. Nothing like sitting behind a bus at a green light, waiting to make a right turn, while they load a wheelchair or bike.

2. Driver changes while the bus takes up a lane.

3. No sidewalks to bus stop. Walk in the weeds or the street.

4. How about a water fountain, shade, trash can, phone at every stop?

5. NO maps of the routes ON the bus. Most buses have a map with lighted routes to show where you are on the route.

6. No central depot. Preferably at the train or interstate bus station.

7. No mass high speed to the airport.

8. Wifi on the bus would be a big attraction.

I know nothing about Austin or it’s transit system, so I can’t say whether Eric is being on the level, but let’s assume he is. The Wi-Fi is probably a pipe dream as is the high speed to the airport (we still don’t have that in Toronto, North America’s 5th largest city), but all the other requests seem remarkably . . . reasonable.

I mean, c’mon, Cap Metro, you don’t have sidewalks at your bus stops? No trash cans? No shade? In Texas?

If transit agencies and government are serious about getting people to ride transit, they have to stop treating people like cattle and start treating them like people, and that means giving people a level of service that they want and need.

To do that, however, you actually have to listen to your riders. That doesn’t mean paying lip-service to participatory planning. That means sitting down with people at the very beginning and involving them in a partnership rather than battling it out with them once it’s too late change anything.

Seems counter-intuitive, I know, but the only way more people are going to take transit is if transit is a more pleasant and cost-effective experience than driving. That means focusing on the needs and wants of your riders, which means providing amenities like shaded bus stops in Texas, wind barriers in Chicago and rain awnings in Seattle. (They might have those in Chicago and Seattle, I don’t know, it’s just an example.) And it means delivering cheap, fast, reliable, safe, fun, schedule-free transit with LT1M wait times.

So let me ask this question one more time, but in a slightly gentler way: What about your city’s transit system do you want to see changed and improved?

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  1. A comment on your comment about the Austin, Texas system, etc: I don't think that the people who run transit systems DO care about the riders. The systems are built for poor people, schmoes, to get to work. "Real" men drive cars. Therefore, no shade in Texas, only recently shelters in Toronto, poor service in the evenings... If we could somehow force the CEOs of the transit systems to ride on them regularly - then we'd have improvements.
  2. Ted, I think you're probably right. I think having CEOs ride their transit systems regularly would be a great idea (though I'm adverse to the idea of forcing people to do anything :) ). What you say applies to the engineers and designers of the systems, too. I'm not sure when we forgot that people are using these services, but more-more-and more that seems the case. Let's be frank: Sometime in the near future we're going to see $1,000 cars, after all, we've already got cars from India and China that are less than $5,000. How does transit compete then? It can't. The only way is if transit provides a better, more convenient and enjoyable experience than driving. Right now, that's just not the case.
  3. Buses should be for those who do not own a car or choose not to drive. Buses should not consume a major part of this city's sales tax. They are a vital part of any major city, but not an implement of social and economic change. They should be cheap, clean and functional. The middle class and wealthy will not ride them in Texas no matter what you do. The problem with capmet is they continually try to put lipstick on a pig. It is a pig. Accept it. The other problem with capmet is the board and their vision. We need board members that are logical, realistic people with a stake in Austin. Not a board of 100% dreamers and visionaries. We need a few nay-sayers who say "Show me. Prove it."

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