by Ann Fowler
AUSTIN – In late 2010, Capital Metro eliminated half of the bus trips through the Scenic Brook area neighborhoods. Now the transit agency plans to cut down to one neighborhood trip for the Oak Hill Flyer in the morning and one trip in the evening. However, the new transit plan is introducing a new Route 111, the South Mopac Flyer, to service Circle C and Western Oaks. The number of buses serving the Oak Hill Park and Ride at U.S. 290 West and William Canon Drive will remain at 7 each morning and each afternoon/evening, although some of the times may be adjusted for a later morning bus and an earlier afternoon bus.
Cap Metro Principal Planner James Gamez told the Gazette that a study of the cars frequenting the Oak Hill Park and Ride showed that many were registered in the areas that will be served by the new Flyer. The proposed bus route will originate at LaCrosse and Escarpment, travel down Beckett to Convict Hill to Brush Country to William Cannon, where it will enter Mopac and drop off at the same bus stops downtown used by the Oak Hill Flyer.
Gamez said the agency could find no area to serve as a Park and Ride facility, but he said several parking spots at Dick Nichols Park would be dedicated to bus riders. He added that the South Mopac Flyer is easily accessible by those who can walk or bicycle to the stops, and that street parking is available.
Capital Metro officials contacted Oak Hill Flyer passengers on January 30 to advise them of the proposed changes and ask them to take a survey about those changes. Said Gamez, “The survey results revealed a strong interest in proposed Route 111, the South MoPac Flyer. Thirty-one riders consider the proposed route to be more convenient than Route 171. Another 16 responded that the proposed route may be more convenient.”
Due to this initial interest, Gamez said new bus route will likely start with two morning and two afternoon trips, with the schedule yet to be determined.
Westcreek resident Scott Freshour gave up on his neighborhood stop near the post office when Cap Metro decreased its stops in 2010. He now drives to the Oak Hill Park and Ride. But he may give the new route a try. He told the Gazette, “Route 111 interests me because the stop by William Cannon is closer to my home than the Park and Ride, and it is relatively accessible for the entire neighborhood. Depending on the route structure and times, it may actually provide more choices and flexibility for Westcreek residents.”
But not everyone agrees. Westcreek resident Donna Kuhlenbeck is unhappy about the ever-shrinking service to Westcreek by Route 171. She said, “Once again Cap Metro is bent on its own agenda, which does not include serving the disenfranchised commuters who don’t have access to a vehicle. They are going to decrease service, again, in the neighborhoods that are now served by the Oak Hill Flyer #171—Scenic Brook and Westcreek. Cap Metro has never conducted any reasonable marketing to potential riders in these neighborhoods. They also lost potentially hundreds of riders when they discontinued the bus stop at Monterey Oaks. They want us to ‘Dump The Pump’ but they continue to reduce our transportation choices.”
Several years ago, when the Park and Ride was at the ‘Y,’ a minimum of eight riders waited at the final stop at Monterey Oaks. But when the Park and Ride was moved to William Cannon and U.S. Highway 290 West, Cap Metro had to change the route. Although the Monterey Oaks stop could have remained if Cap Metro was willing to let the bus go an extra mile down the frontage road, officials refused.
In January, Cap Metro changed the bus that stops at Monterey Oaks and Staggerbrush. Route 5 now originates at that stop, ultimately heading to downtown and UT after a trip east on Ben White toward South Austin Hospital.
Tom Thayer, a commuter who lives in the Scenic Brook area, said, “I think Route 5 coming out to Monterey Oaks is a good idea and offers folks in Westcreek another way to get downtown when the Oak Hill Flyer is not running. It is a bit far for folks in other parts of Oak Hill to use much, although one could park on the street on Staggerbrush and use it as a Park and Ride.”
While it appears that Westcreek commuters live close enough to the new 111 Flyer and to Monterey Oaks to have options, the same is not true of those living in the Scenic Brook area. In recent years they’ve gone from five morning buses to two. Now that may be decreased to one in June.
Said Thayer: “It’s definitely bad for our neighborhood. Cap Metro wants to eliminate the neighborhood routes, and so are instituting a death by a thousand cuts of reducing service, and then justifying more reductions from the resulting lower ridership. It is ridiculous that Cap Metro thinks that 2 extra miles is such a burden on them and that they would rather people from Windmill Run and Scenic Brook drive through the ‘Y’ and William Cannon/U.S. 290 West intersections just to get to the bus.”
Thayer points out that no other bus service goes into his neighborhood, and walking to the Park and Ride is not an option for two reasons: the distance and the lack of sidewalks on either U.S. 290 West or on State Highway 71. He said, “It is galling that they want to eliminate 171 neighborhood routes, yet the new 111 would basically be a neighborhood route, going down Beckett, Escarpment, and Brush Country, which are mostly residential. So they want people from Circle C and Legend Oaks to walk to their bus, but Windmill Run and Scenic Brook get neighborhood service reduced with a Park and Ride that is difficult to get to. The 111 may attract some new riders from Circle C, and I think it is great that it goes through the neighborhoods, but it may also attract some of the same riders who drive to the current park and ride.”
Some riders are concerned about what such a decrease in ridership would do to the Oak Hill Flyer. And some have asked if the transit agency had considered making a simpler route through Scenic Brook to save time.
The January 2010 ServicePlan2020 proposed a Route 271 to service the Scenic Brook area as well as Travis County Precinct 3 offices, but the route seems little more than a suggestion.
Scenic Brook neighborhood commuters don’t want to join nearly 60,000 cars driving daily through the ‘Y,’ which they would be forced to do to reach the Park and Ride. Many worry whether the single remaining route will mesh with their work schedules. Cap Metro will likely choose the times suggested by a majority of riders.
Thayer plans to fight the loss of yet another bus through the Scenic Brook neighborhood. He said, “I hope to convince Capital Metro to keep the neighborhood routes as I really don’t think they cost them all that much. I bet the tail end of many of their regular routes have ridership the same or less than the 171 through the neighborhoods.”
In fact, Scenic Brook is less than 2 miles from the Oak Hill Park and Ride, and is within Austin’s city limits. However, the Leander station, which is nearly 30 miles away from the state’s Capital—three times farther than Oak Hill—is served by three bus lines as well as the metro rail, providing Leader residents nearly 30 different bus and train choices each morning. Although the agency would undoubtedly speak to ridership for the discrepancy, the continual decrease of service to Oak Hill makes it difficult to build ridership. Still, when UT is in full swing and the price of gas rises, those who board the bus at the last stop are often forced to stand on the commute downtown.
Regional transportation leaders say the future of transit in Central Texas exists in express lanes, rail service and rapid transit. And while it may be easy for some to drive to Park and Ride facilities to access the rail and rapid transit, some Oak Hill commuters say the Flyer serves low-income neighborhoods on Silvermine and Old Fredericksburg, as well as single-car families for whom access to bus service is all but disappearing.
Oak Hillians can give their comments on these changes to Capital Metro either online (www.capmetro.org), or at the following meetings:
March 5: Public Meeting at 323 Congress (12-2pm)
March 6: Public Meeting at University Hills Library (6-8pm)
March 8: Webinar (12-1pm)
March 18: Public Hearing with the Capital Metro Board (noon to 12:15 p.m.)
March 18: Operations & Planning Committee of the Capital Metro Board (12:45 to 2:45 p.m.)
March 25: Capital Metro Board meeting (12-3 p.m.)
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