Today is the first day that the 101, 1L, and 1M bus routes have been consolidated into the 1 and 801 routes. Let’s look at the new face of service along Austin’s central transit corridor: between downtown and UT. There’s a lot of choices: routes 1,3,5,19, and 801 all have service between downtown and UT’s Westmall, for a total of 8 buses leaving from downtown for Westmall from 1PM until 2PM today (Sunday). Not as good as peak UT shuttle service (15 buses per hour), but certainly not bad for Sunday service. Given how frequent they are and how variable on-time performance and walk-time from home to the stop can be, there shouldn’t be any point in looking up a schedule. 8 buses per hour is past the tipping point where it’s more effective to just show up and wait for the next bus than plan which bus you intend to take.
Varying Departure Points Hurts Frequency
If I were travelling from Westmall to downtown, that is exactly what I would do. Unfortunately, my effective frequency northbound is much lower. Of those eight buses, two of them are route #3, which pick up on Brazos. Three of them are route #801, which pick up on Lavaca. One each are route #1 and #5, both of which pick up on Congress. The last one is a #19, which picks up on Colorado or further north up Congress. No stop downtown has Westmall-bound buses coming more often than 3 per hour. From 8 per hour to 3 per hour changes transit-riding from being an easy, automatic, show-up-at-your-stop-and-don’t-worry mode of transportation to a riding-is-an-art mode where you have to keep an eye on the clock and the schedule, know which routes tend to run early or late, and have lots of knowledge of which routes run where and when.
There’s no good reason
During the years of road work on Brazos, routes 1L, 1M, 3, 5, and 101 all used to travel together up Congress, creating exactly the kind of easy transit corridor I’m discussing. Disappointingly, though, Capital Metro never spent the energy promoting the ease of use of this central transit corridor at the time as they did promoting the much-less-frequented Red Line. Indeed, during most of that time, Google Maps incorrectly reported the route 3 as still running up Brazos. Eventually, the 1, 5, and 19 will join the 801 on Lavaca and the 3 will be replaced by the 803 also on Lavaca, but they easily could have moved the 1, 5, and/or 19 over sooner. Instead they chose to move other routes (the 7 and 20) from Congress to Lavaca first.
It’s About A System
As I said, this problem will be fixed. What I fear for the future, though, is that this reflects on a pattern of transportation planners here in Austin doing a poor job of organizing the system as a whole. In discussing the introduction of the 801 route, CapMetro CEO Linda Watson and CapMetro staff go so far in removing the 801 from the context of the bus system they start to sound simply detached from reality–CapMetro staff can’t bring themselves to call the buses “buses” and CEO Linda Watson seems to share the delusion. (For the record, I don’t dislike buses; I just like reality.) Is it any wonder that when the organization’s leadership sees the 801 as not-a-bus operating outside the bus system, the new schedule fails to coordinate it effectively with its dowtown-to-Westmall bus siblings?
Organization Before Electronics Before Concrete
Why do I care so much about this oversight, that will eventually be fixed? Transportation blogger Alon Levy introduced me to the German idea of “Organization, before electronics, before Concrete.” In the context of his post, he’s discussing how transportation planners in New York and Philadelphia have found it easier to spend lots of money on new tunnels than deal with the difficult political issues in coordinating different agencies. We have had our own version of that in Austin, where transit planners argued against even discussing coordinating better with our funding partners in the federal government to better serve the central transit corridor. But if voters don’t have confidence that you are doing the most to organize with the money you have, why would they vote to give you more?