Melissa Ayala

CapMetro recently released a real-time feature allowing users to track buses through its app and website. The new features uses GPS technology to track the buses.
Photo Credit: Amy Zhang | Daily Texan Staff

CapMetro now allows its passengers to track all of the entity’s buses in real time.

“The real-time data is enabled by GPS technology, which signals a minute-by-minute countdown at each bus stop for the next three bus departures,” said Melissa Ayala, communications specialist at CapMetro. “The GPS-enabled real-time data will also allow Capital Metro to more accurately track every bus on every route every day.”

Economics sophomore Elizabeth Vigants said real-time bus information would make her trips more convenient. 

“There’s been at least three or four instances where I was on a tight schedule, and a bus did not show up when I thought it would,” Vigants said. “And because I had no way of knowing if it came early or I missed it, I ended up walking to another bus stop.”

Before Feb. 25, only MetroRapid and MetroRail riders could see when their bus or train would arrive based on GPS and real-time data. 

Apps such as RideScout and Transit App have already been operating in the Austin area but have now incorporated the new real-time information. 

“By making information available openly, CapMetro makes it easier for external developers to build new tools and give riders even more options in their trip planning experience,” Ayala said.

With the real-time data, transportation apps have experienced a boost in popularity.

“We definitely saw a little bit of a spike,” said Jake Sion, director of strategy and business development at Transit App. “We got thousands of people using our app in Austin already. [We have] a lot of people in the 18–25 range. We don’t get precise demographics, but we know there is a huge surge of usage around back-to-school time and a big dip around the holidays.”

Vigants said she plans to stick to the bus system instead of other forms of transportation — especially with the new data and apps available.

“I have been using Lyft this week, but, if it’s somewhere you go regularly, it’s just not economical,” Vigants said. 

Capital Metro passengers load the 7 bus at the Guadalupe and Sixth Street station on Thursday afternoon. Capital Metro bus routes operating along Congress Avenue were relocated to a new transit corridor along Guadalupe and Lavaca streets. 

Photo Credit: Amy Zhang | Daily Texan Staff

As part of Capital Metro’s 10-year effort to improve the quality of public transit in Austin, Cap Metro moved most downtown bus routes from Congress Avenue to Guadalupe and Lavaca streets in June. 

According to Cap Metro, which planned the changes in February 2010 as part of a plan to improve its services, the change will allow for faster travel from bus-only lanes on both Guadalupe and Lavaca, which prioritize public transportation and allow buses to avoid traffic in the entirety of the downtown area.

“The change off Congress does offer a more direct trip between the UT area and downtown, as well as easier transfers,” Cap Metro spokeswoman Melissa Ayala said.

The change, which went into effect on June 3, coincided with parts of Congress being closed for downtown X Games events. All routes except for the MetroAirport Route 100 will adhere to the move.

Realigned buses will stop near Fourth, Eighth and 12th street. According to Cap Metro, 80 percent of its riders to the downtown area eventually transfer routes. Ayala said the goal of these efforts is to ultimately ease the process of transferring between local bus stops, MetroRapid stops and Express stops.

Additionally, the new route is home to upgraded stops, with new benches and shelter overhangs. In an email, Samantha Alexander, spokeswoman for the city’s transportation department, said the changes offer more options for downtown commuters.

“The Guadalupe Street/Lavaca Street transit corridor provides numerous opportunities for travelers, including dedicated bus lanes, motor vehicle lanes, bike lanes, bike share and wide sidewalks,” Alexander said.

Computer science sophomore Andy Hannaman said he thinks the changes will allow for quicker commutes through downtown.

“I think it’s great,” Hannaman said. “The bus lanes on Guadalupe and Lavaca will really help alleviate downtown traffic, especially at rush hour.”

Other students, including public health junior Amtul Asad, expressed concern over the changes because the new stops are further away from the East Sixth Street district than before.

“It’s a bit of a long walk from sixth street,” Asad said. “It’s a safety issue. It’s dark, and you don’t know who’s out there.”

Photo Credit: Fabian Fernandez | Daily Texan Staff

As South By Southwest 2014 comes to a close, business managers and Austin transportation officials expect data to reveal record numbers of visitors and passengers.

The AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center — the only hotel and conference center on the University campus — was at near-full capacity during the festival, according to Keith Purcell, sales and marketing director. 

“The hotel’s very busy because we’re sold out, but our conference center is pretty much empty,” Purcell said. 

Purcell said management staff shifted the hotel’s hours of operation to accommodate different groups.

“Interactive starts early, so we opened our coffee shop early,” Purcell said. 

During the 2013 SXSW festival, Capital Metro had a record number of riders and an increase of almost 40 percent on MetroRail, according to CapMetro spokeswoman Melissa Ayala. Data for this year’s festival were not available as of press time.

In anticipation of significant transportation demand during this year’s festival, Ayala said CapMetro extended operation hours and added extra trains that picked up passengers at the end of the night.

Ayala said CapMetro also added 1,500 hours of bus service along several routes and determined specific route detours based on street access, congestion and route directness.

Jason Zielinski, spokesman at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, said March is typically a busy month for the airport. 

“We’re getting more flights,” Zielinski said. “We’re getting more airlines.” 

Zielinski said the airport has large crowds on the last two days of the festival. According to Zielinski, airlines at Austin airport had a record 10 million passengers last year. Zielinski said, so far, passenger traffic in March has increased by 6 percent compared to March 2013. 

Students board a Capital Metro bus in September.

Photo Credit: Charlie Pearce | Daily Texan Staff

To increase public transit and reduce Austin congestion, Capital Metro will launch MetroRapid, a bus line which will include more direct routes, fewer stops and the use of transit-priority lanes, on Sunday.

The new service includes higher-capacity vehicles with free Wi-Fi and technology that syncs with stoplights to hold the light green if the bus is behind schedule. Stations will have arrival information that refreshes every 90 seconds.

CapMetro spokeswoman Melissa Ayala said fare changes will include a $1.50 premium for services that offer more direct routes and limited stop service, such as MetroRapid. There will be no fare changes to regular service in 2014.

According to Blanca Juarez, UT Parking and Transportation Services spokeswoman, University students, faculty and staff will continue to have free access to CapMetro transportation, including MetroRapid, with valid University IDs.

“During the early development stages of this new service, the University worked closely with [CapMetro] to make sure that these routes provided service to the University,” Juarez said.

There will be 77 stations along MetroRapid routes 801 and 803, including 12 stations near the University and downtown areas. Ayala said CapMetro projects up to 21,000 boardings per weekday in the first two years of operation of Rapid 801.

According to Juarez, 2 to 3 million rides per year are provided on mainline services to faculty, staff and students. Juarez said she did not have information about the percentage of students who live near Rapid 801, the frequency of use or the percentage of students, faculty and staff who use CapMetro services.

Ayala said MetroRapid cost $47.6 million, and 80 percent of the project was funded through a Federal Transit Administration grant program. According to Ayala, CapMetro currently has planned only MetroRapid routes 801 and 803, but there is a possibility for expansion through the Project Connect partnership with Austin, the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization and Lone Star Rail.

The increased services follow a controversial decision in the fall to phase out shuttle routes on Cameron Road and Wickersham Lane based on ridership data. The Cameron Road route will be shortened and renamed Camino La Costa, which will operate until the end of the semester, while the Wickersham Lane route will be merged into two other stops: Route 20 Manor/Riverside and Route 100 MetroAirport.

Columbia Mishra, Graduate Student Assembly president, said University and CapMetro liaisons attended assembly meetings in December to discuss the PRC route, which connects the main campus to the Pickle Research Campus. The route will transition to Rapid 803 this summer, but she said she is concerned with how the PRC route change will affect students.

“As pointed out by students during discussion at our December meeting, there will be more stops, as this is not a direct route from campus to PRC campus and will have both students and local passengers,” Mishra said.

 

Changes to UT shuttles:

Route WL Wickersham Lane: transitioned to Route 100 MetroAirport and Route 20 Manor/Riverside, which will be realigned from Red River Street to Robert Dedman

Route CR Cameron Road: shortened and renamed Route CLC Camino La Costa

Eliminated part of Route CR: riders may use Route 37 Colony Park/Windsor Park, which will be realigned from Robert Dedman and Red River to 23rd Street, San Jacinto and MLK

Combined Route RR/CR Red River/Cameron Road: Red River will continue normal service and CR will be replaced with Route CLC

Combined Route WL/CP Wickersham Lane/Crossing Place: both will continue normal service as uncombined routes

UT shuttle driver David Pulliam makes a routine stop on campus. A fleet of the aging shuttles is scheduled to be replaced in 2015 as a result of their increasing unreliability. 

Photo Credit: Jonathan Garza | Daily Texan Staff

As the buses of the UT Shuttle and E-bus system become older, many students have noticed increasing unreliability within the system.

The fleet of buses used by Capital Metro are scheduled to be replaced in 2015-16, according to Capital Metro spokeswoman Melissa Ayala. CapMetro is the transportation company that teams up with UT to provide free transportation around campus and to downtown sites for students. As the replacement date nears, many students have come forward with complaints regarding complications within the bussing system.

Plan II honors junior Grace Paulter said she recently became dissatisfied with the shuttle system and has since refrained from using it.            

“I took the bus every day over the summer, and a few days it just didn’t show up,” Paulter said. “I had to wait until the next scheduled time, so I ended up being late to class.”

The cost of maintaining the older buses with repairs is significantly less than the cost of replacing the fleet. Bus maintenance is approximately $1.25 per mile, including parts and labor, according to Ayala.             

“Vehicle replacements are based on combined mileage and age,” Ayala said. “Capital Metro has limited dollars for fleet replacement, so vehicles with the longest life span and highest mileage are replaced first. UT Shuttle buses have relatively low mileage for their age.”

Religious studies junior James Bussman, who commutes to campus every day from The Triangle, said the bus system has always been fairly reliable for him, but he does notice a difference in reliability depending on certain circumstances.            

“In general, I like the bus system because the drivers are always really courteous,” Bussman said. “The only time I notice that it’s late is when I really want to be somewhere and it’s not coming right when I want it to. It has been really late every once in a while, but only on days with unusual weather.”            

Weather is one of the factors that could lead to delays in the buses’ routes on a regular basis, Ayala said.            

“As with any vehicle, weather conditions may impact driving conditions,” Ayala said. “Wet roads may require slower operating speeds to safely operate the route. During periods of extremely hot temperatures, conditions may tax the vehicle and we may experience strained air conditioning systems and engine overheating.”

As the buses of the UT Shuttle and E-bus system become older, many students have noticed increasing unreliability within the system.

The fleet of buses used by Capital Metro are scheduled to be replaced in 2015-2016, according to Melissa Ayala, vice president of marketing and communications for Cap Metro. Cap Metro is the transportation company that teams up with UT to provide free transportation around campus and to downtown sites for students. As the replacement date nears, many students have come forward with complaints regarding complications within the bussing system.

Plan II honors junior Grace Paulter said she recently became dissatisfied with the shuttle system and has since refrained from using it. 

“I took the bus every day over the summer, and a few days it just didn’t show up,” Paulter said. “I had to wait until the next scheduled time, so I ended up being late to class.”

The cost of maintaining the older buses with repairs is significantly less than the cost of replacing the fleet. Bus maintenance is approximately $1.25 per mile, including parts and labor, according to Ayala. 

“Vehicle replacements are based on combined mileage and age,” Ayala said. “Capital Metro has limited dollars for fleet replacement, so vehicles with the longest life span and highest mileage are replaced first. UT Shuttle buses have relatively low mileage for their age.”

Religious studies junior James Bussman, who commutes to campus every day from The Triangle, said the bus system has always been fairly reliable for him, but he does notice a difference in reliability depending on certain circumstances.

“In general, I like the bus system because the drivers are always really courteous,” Bussman said. “The only time I notice that it’s late is when I really want to be somewhere and it’s not coming right when I want it to. It has been really late every once in a while, but only on days with unusual weather.”

Weather is one of the factors that could lead to delays in the buses’ routes on a regular basis, Ayala said.

“As with any vehicle, weather conditions may impact driving conditions,” Ayala said. “Wet roads may require slower operating speeds to safely operate the route. During periods of extremely hot temperatures, conditions may tax the vehicle and we may experience strained air conditioning systems and engine overheating.”

Many students may head to Sixth Street on the weekend, but not everyone can get there on his or her own. Students often rely on several E-Bus routes to get downtown, but recent changes to the stops might leave them stranded.

The routes of the E-Buses — short for Eating and Entertainment Bus — have recently changed and may cause some confusion for students, since the Capital Metro website has not yet been updated.

“There’s a delay,” CapMetro spokeswoman Melissa Ayala said. “The website updates take time and will be caught up as soon as possible.”

There are three E-Bus routes: 410, 411 and 412. All the routes previously dropped off and picked up at Seventh Street and San Jacinto Boulevard. The 410 & 412 have moved to Seventh Street and Neches Street, and the 411 will now be at Sixth Street and Brazos Street.

Biology sophomore Dulce Vasquez was one of many students who had trouble finding the new bus locations on time.

“[A friend and I] were down there last weekend and went to the old bus stop first,” Vasquez said. “There were a bunch of people there and then somebody started saying the bus wasn’t going to stop there. My friend found the new stop on her phone and we had to haul it down there. We barely caught the last bus of the night.”

Ayala said the changes to the E-Bus routes were implemented to maximize efficiency in the busy area downtown.

“We were operating at the old locations for some time and we’ve had ongoing discussions with adjacent businesses about the location,” Ayala said. “Due to the amount of students and buses, the new stops were better located.”

The route changes come at a time when other route disruptions are sparking public debate. CapMetro announced Aug. 28 that the UT shuttle routes near the Cameron Road and Wickersham Lane areas would be canceled in spring of 2014.

Transportation engineering professor Randy Machemehl, who has spent several years as a faculty member on the UT Committee on Parking Strategies, said funding problems have caused recent route changes and cuts within the UT shuttle bus system.

“The basic issue we have been dealing with for a couple of years now is that the funding for the shuttle comes through the student services fee,” Machemehl said. “The fees committee has not been able to increase the amount of money that goes to the shuttles. Meanwhile, the cost of running the shuttles has gone up.”

Machemehl said he thinks further routes will be cut until the budget is changed. 

“We’re trying to make sure nobody loses access to campus,” Machemehl said. “Shuttle routes will continue to be replaced by Capital Metro. In the future there will have to be an increase in student services fees.”

Ayala said the E-Bus route changes were not affected by the UT shuttle budget because they are operated separately by CapMetro.

For now, students may have a hard time adjusting to the new E-Bus stops, but Ayala said CapMetro has no plans to move them again soon.

“We have permanently moved the pick-up and drop-off,” Ayala said.