By Ann Fowler
Oak Hill transit riders are losing patience with an agency that they think seems determined to decrease service to the area.
Within the past two years, the agency chose to cut in half the bus trips serving the Scenic Brook and Westcreek neighborhoods in exchange for a single midday bus serving only the Oak Hill park and ride facility at William Cannon Drive and U.S. 290 West. Riders who have used the bus say often they are alone as it makes the trip from downtown to Oak Hill.
This week, ten riders on the 7:00 a.m. bus into downtown Austin found themselves standing because a smaller bus was being used. On occasion, a smaller bus has taken the route when the regular bus is unavailable. This week the change was purposeful and permanant.
Erica McKewen of Capital Metro said the agency had decided to pair up the 7 a.m. #171 (Oak Hill Flyer) with a trip of the #17 starting January 15.
“Prior to the service change, the bus that ran the 7 a.m. #171 just did that one trip and came back to the garage,” said McKewen. “We call those ‘stand alone’ trips, and generally the planners try to limit them because they are not as efficient.”
McKewen said the 40-foot bus that has been used on the #171 route is too long to make some of the turns on the #17 route, so a 35-foot bus will be used. Monday was a holiday for many, so Oak Hill Flyer riders didn’t feel the change until Tuesday when many were left standing for the 20 minute ride. And the same happened on Wednesday.
Longtime rider Carol White said, “We could be losing riders because they are unable to sit.”
The fare for riding a Cap Metro bus doubled from 2008 when it was 50 cents a ride to $1 per trip in 2010. It appeared to many that as the agency spent more and more on the rail line, bus fares increased. But even at $1 per trip, it seemed a more efficient, environmentally friendly way to commute. But then the park and ride moved from its location near Jim’s coffee shop to its current location. Many riders opted to drive rather than wait through two of Oak Hill’s busiest intersections to reach the bus.
Still others stopped riding when the agency decided to cut service to the neighborhoods. Now others may stop riding because Cap Metro cannot provide seating for all passengers.
Capital Metro representatives have told the community they have been searching for a facility for a permanent park and ride for Oak Hill, yet one is opening next week in Manor. Oak Hill is in the city limits. Manor is not.
When told about many riders having to stand on their commute, McKewen replied, ” Since fall of 2010 through fall 2011, that 7 a.m. Oak Hill trip has averaged between 24-27 riders, so it appears that a 35-foot bus would still allow everyone to sit. Of course we will monitor the ridership of the Oak Hill Flyer to see if yesterday’s ridership represents a new trend or if it was an isolated incident.”
Those who ride daily say the larger bus, which seats 38 to 40 passengers, has been close to capacity every day for months. It is unclear why Cap Metro thinks otherwise. On Tuesday, one rider looked at the many people standing and said, “And we don’t even have all of our ‘usual’ riders today!”
One daily rider, who asked not to be named, said, ” They are just yanking our chains, preparing to cut service again, I suspect.”