Misty Whited

Students and University officials have reacted to the recent death of a UT student by urging that students display greater alcohol safety.

In the early morning hours of April 20, 22-year-old Andy Wang, an advertising senior from Katy, was returning from a night downtown on the E-Bus when he lost his balance and fell under the wheels of the bus as it was departing. According to the Austin Police Department and witnesses, Wang was intoxicated at the time and had to be supported by his friend as he exited the bus. The accident happened at 1300 Crossing Place at approximately 2 a.m. on Friday, said Sgt. David Daniels. Wang was taken to University Medical Center Brackenridge hospital and pronounced dead soon after the accident.

Misty Whited, spokeswoman for Capital Metro, said Aniceto Cortes, the operator of the bus during the accident, tested negative for drugs and alcohol immediately following the accident. Cortes was put on paid administrative leave at the time, although he will be returning to work Wednesday. Whited said prior to this January there had never been a fatal accident involving a Cap Metro bus. Whited said Cap Metro is still investigating the accident, although APD has not charged Cortes for any offense. Veneza Aguinaga, an APD officer, said Austin police officers are still investigating the incident as well.

Jessica Chung, psychology and public relations junior and social chair of the Texas Advertising Group at UT, said Wang’s death was a tragedy for all who knew him, including the advertising students who were his friends. She also said Wang’s accident illustrates the potential problem of people, especially students, becoming too intoxicated to control their bodies and stay safe.

“No one should have to pass like this,” Chung said. “[I hope this story] sheds some light on college drinking issues.”

UTPD Officer Darrell Halstead said all too often UT students have a laid-back attitude towards alcohol consumption. He said alcohol consumption can be a slippery slope that can lead to excessive and dangerous drinking.

“Sometimes students begin to assume that they have built up a tolerance to the alcohol and they become oblivious to how much they are actually drinking,” Halstead said. “That can become really dangerous. However, it is even more dangerous when people get in the mind-set that bad things only happen to other people.”

Halstead said students should be cautious and prepare before they go out to drink.

“I’d encourage all students to have a game plan before they go out,” Halstead said. “Make sure that your plan includes several sober friends — more than one. Make sure that everyone you are out with is on the same page. If you are going to drink, stick to the minimum not the maximum and try to spread out the number of drinks you have over the entire night.”

Halstead said he hopes this incident encourages students to think seriously about their drinking habits and to make lasting changes.

Fellow advertising senior Alyssa Doffing said she knew Wang from class. Doffing said she had been struck by how friendly Wang was.

“Andy was a really great guy — very outgoing and fun to be around,” Doffing said. “What a terrible accident he was involved in. My thoughts are with his family, friends and the bus driver.”

Printed on Friday, April 27, 2012 as: UT reacts to death of student struck by a bus

A proposal was submitted last week to direct $200 million to an express lane project for Mopac Boulevard. that would add a toll lane to both sides of the loop.

Photo Credit: Andreina Velazquez | Daily Texan Staff

Far West student commuters may be saying goodbye to sitting in traffic for hours on MoPac Boulevard.

Last week, the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority submitted a proposal to direct $200 million to a MoPac Boulevard express lane project. The roadway improvement project would add a toll lane to both sides of the loop stretching from downtown around Lady Bird Lake to Parmer Lane in north Austin. Once completed, emergency vehicles and Capital Metro Transit buses, including the Far West UT shuttle, will be able to travel through the new northbound and southbound toll roads at no cost. Other vehicles would be allowed to use the lanes if they pay the toll fee.

“Our goal is to get as many people from point A to point B without sitting in traffic all day,” said Capital Metro Communication Specialist Misty Whited.

Whited said the toll lanes would improve transit travel time for the Express shuttle and UT shuttle routes traveling on MoPac. Capital Metro has been involved in the proposal of the toll lanes and has various members on city traffic advisory boards to represent the public transit system.

MoPac ranks 39 on the Texas Department of Transportation’s list of 100 most congested roadway segments in Texas causing more than 1,700,000 annual hours of delay, according to TxDOT’s website.

UT bus driver David Learned has driven a shuttle on the Far West route for 12 years and said the toll lanes would be beneficial for students.

“It gets pretty dicey out there during traffic hour,” he said. “It would be great for the kids so they don’t have to wait an hour in traffic to get to their home only six miles away.”

Learned said he was weary of the increased traffic construction would create despite claims from officials that it would be minimal.

An average of 4,859 students rode the Far West shuttle daily during the 2011 fall semester, according to Capital Metro figures.

Economics senior Martha Parodi said she rides the Far West shuttle to and from campus three times a week. Parodi said at times she prefers to wait on campus for the rush hour to die down instead of waiting in traffic on the bus.

“It takes a long time to get back home once it hits five or six in the afternoon,” she said. “The toll lane is a good idea, but how much time would it really cut if cars can pay to get on the lane as well?”

The toll lane may require route changes for students because of limited access points. Steve Pustelnyk, Director of Communications for the Central Texas Regional Authority, said entry and exit ramps would be located at Parmer Lane, between FM 2222 and Far West Boulevard, and at Cesar Chavez Street in downtown Austin.

The current Far West shuttle route enters MoPac Boulevard at 35th street and would not allow access to the toll road once created. Whited said it’s too early to make any concrete changes, but routes would be modified or supplemented to travel to Cesar Chavez Street if needed.

TxDOT officials announced they have $2 billion to spend on road projects in Texas with an estimated $50 million going toward the MoPac project. The toll road construction could receive the $50 million because it meets TxDOT’s “shovel-ready” criteria for the allocation of any funds, Pustelnyk said.

TxDOT requires projects to be ready or nearly ready for construction because they must allocate their funds before a September federal deadline.

Financial loan details will need to be finalized before a May public hearing, followed by a final vote to approve the project on June 11. Pustelnyk said construction on the toll lanes would not begin until 2013 pending a final environmental clearance from the Federal Highway Administration that is expected to be obtained in August.

Printed on Friday, April 13, 2012 as: MoPac traffic may lessen with toll road

Annual local media staples add millions to economy, bring thousands of visitors

Austinites wait for a band to begin at Fador Fort during the 2011 South By Southwest festival. SXSW brings in $113 million and 200,000 visitors to the city annually.

Photo Credit: Mary Kang | Daily Texan Staff

Each year, five events boost Austin’s economy by about $357 million combined but cause the city to scramble to accommodate visitors and citizens who struggle to get from point A to point B.

Today, the annual Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau Luncheon will celebrate events such as South By Southwest, Austin City Limits, the Texas Relays, Rodeo Austin and UT football games, which bring hundreds of thousands of people to town and millions of dollars into the economy.

The hospitality industry brings in most of the money, although some businesses such as copy shops and production companies also see added revenue, said Beth Krauss, a spokeswoman for the Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau.

When Formula One racing debuts in the fall, Krauss said the event will bring in $300 million and attract 300,000 people to the city. As events grow in popularity, the city must increase hotel space and develop improved methods of transportation, Krauss said.

“Austin could benefit from the construction of a new convention-style hotel,” she said. “We aren’t able to accommodate some of the groups that have grown beyond our current inventory, and we have new customers that want to meet here but need more hotel rooms than we can offer.”

Mayor Lee Leffingwell believes the city needs a new convention center hotel to accommodate visitors brought in by major events such as ACL and SXSW, and others have expressed interest in the project, said mayor’s spokesman Matt Curtis.

The city also works with Capital Metro to improve methods of transportation and decrease roadway congestion during major events, Curtis said.

“We do the best we can with what we have,” he said. “We try to ensure that people can easily access these events and have a good time and that they can access these events safely.”

For big events such as ACL in locations with little or no access to public transit, such as Zilker Park, Cap Metro usually makes agreements with organizers of the event to provide shuttles or buses that would not normally go to the location, said Cap Metro spokeswoman Misty Whited. For smaller events, Cap Metro examines the areas of transit that are likely to be most utilized and provides supplemental buses, she said.
This year, SXSW posed particularly nasty transportation difficulties, with 2.3 million riders in March, a 7-percent increase over last March, Whited said. Pedestrians, bicyclists and cars all had trouble because of the vast influx of people to the event, she said.

“I don’t know if there was anything that could have been done better,” she said. “There were just so many people. I think maybe as the next one comes around, we’ll come to the table with the city and organizers to talk about possible solutions.”

In 2010, 89,000 rode the buses provided for ACL, which is typical for the event, Whited said.

Cap Metro brings in much of the city’s added revenue during citywide events, whether because of agreements with organizers or just an increase in people riding the buses, she said.

“For events like South By Southwest, we have great ridership,” she said. “Lots of people take advantage of it because it’s easier than sitting in traffic all day.”

An increase in gas prices could be behind the steady rise of UT students that have used Capital Metro campus shuttles and mainline buses during the past six months, Cap Metro official said.

UT’s Parking and Transportation Services does not yet have passenger counts for campus shuttle use in February and March, but student ridership is expected to be higher than normal, said Blanca Juarez, alternative transportation manager at PTS. She said it is most likely because of rises in gas prices, among other factors.

According to AAA Texas’ daily fuel gage report, regular gas prices in the Austin-San Marcos area hit an average of $3.60 Thursday, compared to $3.47 one week ago. This week last year, gas prices were $.90 lower, according to the report.

“Students would react this way because by riding the bus fare-free, they’re able to save money, free up time from driving for other things and avoid the hassles of driving during rush hour,” Juarez said. “As gas prices continue to rise, we will see even more students board the buses to save some money.”

According to Capital Metro statistics, students boarded shuttles 2,323,949 times and mainline buses 1,019,958 times between October 2009 and February 2010. From October 2010 to February 2011, students boarded shuttles 2,410,219 times and mainline buses 1,088,744 times.

UT student ridership has increased by 3.71 percent on shuttles around campus and 6.74 percent on mainline buses in the past six months, according to the statistics. Capital Metro spokeswoman Misty Whited also attributed the increase in ridership to more expensive gas prices, among other issues.

“Contributing factors could be so many different things, we would really have to do a survey to see specifics,” Whited said. “When gas prices go up, ridership in general goes up. That’s definitely a part of it.”

Other reasons, such as the semester coming to a close and more students traveling to and from campus for final exam study sessions and deadlines for class projects, may also contribute to the rise in usage of Capital Metro, Whited said. Chemical engineering sophomore Elizabeth Orth said that she is more likely to choose the bus because her car is parked far away.

“I don’t want to walk to my car,” she said. “I’m more likely to take the bus because of convenience as opposed to any monetary reasons associated with driving myself.”


Drivers will face detours and road closures downtown from today until March 20. City officials will close the streets because of the 25th annual South By Southwest Music and Media Conference, which began today, and the St. Patrick’s Day Parade on March 12. Roads will close today at 2 p.m. and will be open on March 20 by 6 p.m. A majority of closures will be around the Sixth Street entertainment district between March 16 and March 20. The area between Barton Springs Road and Fourth Street will close at 8:30 a.m. for the St. Patrick’s Day Parade this Saturday. Buses will be a major form of transportation throughout the entire week, and Capital Metro will offer rail services every Friday evening in March along with the two Saturdays during South By Southwest, Capital Metro spokeswoman Misty Whited said. Bus routes will face detours because of the closed streets, but there will be signs directing people to the nearest bus stop, Whited said. “Q buses will also be available downtown,” she said. “We position them in places downtown to wait until needed and utilize them when overcrowding occurs on routes.”