CapMetro

Every time someone buys a candy bar or drink from a vending machine on campus, the profits from the sale allow faculty members to ride Capital Metro buses for free, according to Randy Machemehl, transportation engineering professor and a Shuttle Bus Committee faculty representative.

But as people on campus buy less from vending machines, UT’s Parking and Transportation Services — the entity that manages the vending machines — could face future funding problems.

“As more and more people use the Capital Metro service, the availability of those vending machine funds are probably not going to be adequate to pay all those costs, so we’re going to have to come up with another way to pay all that,” Machemehl said.

The University pays $222,933.05 annually for faculty and staff members to ride mainline CapMetro bus routes, and all of that funding comes directly from vending machine sales. The University also pays $996,135 for students to ride the buses, but this money comes from Student Services fees, according to Blanca Juarez, UT Parking and Transportation Services’ alternative transportation manager.

CapMetro provides both mainline buses, which are general city buses, and shuttles, which are specific to the University. CapMetro recently announced it will discontinue service for the Wickersham Lane route and reduce service on its Cameron Road line beginning in January.

Machemehl said the number of people using mainline services to commute to and from campus is increasing, but vending machine profits are decreasing.

“The number of vending machine sales is not increasing — people are carrying water bottles all the time instead of buying Cokes, I guess,” Machemehl said.

Machemehl said the University’s bus ride funding for its students, faculty and staff helps solve parking issues and decreases air congestion.

“It helps solve the basic parking problem on campus because we have somewhere around 15,000 spaces and somewhere around 70,000 people that come here every day, so obviously most people can’t park here,” Machemehl said. “Anything that we can do to convince people to use a mode other than driving a car is going to help everybody.”

CapMetro provided mainline bus rides to 284,198 UT students, faculty and staff in April 2013, according to CapMetro spokeswoman Melissa Ayala.

Route 1, the bus that takes people from the West Mall to downtown Austin, is the most popular mainline bus route among UT students, faculty and staff. In April 2013, 54,056 students, faculty and staff took this route, according to Ayala.

The route that UT riders use the least is route 970 — in all of April 2013, only three UT riders were served, Ayala said.

Machemehl said the University’s mainline service funding brings in people who otherwise might not ride CapMetro buses. 

“I would imagine that if suddenly all of the people who are benefitting from that had to pay out of their own pocket, we’d probably see a significant decrease … on the number of people using mainline transit service, so I think it’s a good thing,” Machemehl said.

Machemehl said more UT students and staff members are using mainline bus services than in previous years.

“I heard the other day at a meeting that the number of people using mainline service to get to and from campus has been increasing — I think I heard 7.5 percent increase in the last couple of years,” Machemehl said. “There seems to be a small decrease … in vending machine profits. I guess it also tells you the story about how stressed the University is in terms of funds.”

Capital Metro board of directors voted Monday to change the Cameron Road and eliminate the Wickersham Lane UT shuttle services starting Spring 2014.

Photo Credit: Charlie Pearce | Daily Texan Staff

Students who ride UT shuttles to campus will need to find alternate methods to commute to class starting in the spring.

The Capital Metro board of directors voted unanimously at a meeting Monday to eliminate the Wickersham Lane shuttle route and decrease the coverage of the Cameron Road shuttle route beginning in spring 2014. 

The Cameron Road route will only serve students in the Camino La Costa area north of campus — where many graduate students live — until the end of the spring semester, when the route will be eliminated completely.

Pat Clubb, vice president for university operations, said the University tries to support routes that carry the largest number of students.

The University pays more than $6 million to CapMetro for bus and shuttle service, CapMetro spokeswoman Melissa Ayala said. The University’s funding to CapMetro remains flat even though CapMetro would have required the University to increase shuttle funding because of rising transportation costs to keep all current routes.

“As choices are made, if a route has a low ridership, then it becomes a candidate for elimination since those dollars can support a route with much greater ridership,” Clubb said.

Many graduate students who live far from campus ride the shuttle twice a day, while many students who live in West Campus ride the shuttle multiple times per day, so the graduate students are underrepresented, sociology graduate student Chelsea Smith said.

“We’re paying the same amount as everybody else, but we’re [counted] as less,” Smith said. 

Smith said CapMetro should count how many people ride the bus in addition to the number of rides the bus provides.

“We all pay these fees, and the numbers on ridership that CapMetro and [Parking and Transportation Services] are using refer to rides as opposed to riders,” Smith said.

David Villarreal, Graduate Student Assembly communications director, said he thinks the ridership data CapMetro used for this decision may be incorrect.

“Supposedly, every time a student enters the bus from either the front or the rear, they pass through lasers that count them,” Villarreal said. “However, if you go to any UT shuttle, you will see that the reflectors are only on the front door and not the rear exit. This is important because many students enter and exit through the rear doors without ever being counted.”

Columbia Mishra, Graduate Student Assembly president, said she thinks CapMetro and UT should have given students more time to become informed on the issue instead of discussing it in the summer when a majority of students were not at school. CapMetro held seven public meetings in early September and held a public hearing on Sept. 16. 

Mishra said transportation services should hold these types of public forums on campus because it is inconvenient for students to go to the CapMetro headquarters to voice their opinions.

Smith said the route cancellations will hurt graduate and low-income students who live far from campus because they will be forced to move to areas along shuttle routes, and these areas will have inflated housing prices.

“[This will] have implications for overall housing costs in all of Austin,” Smith said. “If people are forced to move into specific areas that are catered to by shuttles, that is going to increase housing costs in those areas.”

Biology senior April Shultz said she is worried about the CapMetro mainline buses becoming more crowded.

“[The 7 and 37 buses] are going to be really, really crowded now, more than they were before,” Shultz said. “It’s just not really a good decision all around for the community, for this area, for the students that live here and for the other residents.”