CapMetro proposes changes to routes in Austin

Austin, in this post pandemic world, has seen traffic congestion return, but traffic patterns have changed. 

It's a change CapMetro's planning officer Sharmila Mukherjee is trying to navigate.

"We are absolutely working with the best with the new normal," said Mukherjee.

CapMetro staff presented a new service plan to the board of directors. Three major routes, which were suspended during the pandemic, will not resume. The 981 and 987 express buses from Oak Knoll and Leander. As well as the late-night entertainment district routes known as the E Bus.

"We have our trip patterns changed on us. We have peak times changed on us. People are not really traveling as much on Monday and Friday. There really trips are concentrated, work trips are in the middle of the week between Tuesday and Thursday, but we still have to produce a schedule that's logical and understandable to all," said Mukherjee.

The proposal includes Route 18, a major east west connector. The pickup intervals would remain at 30 minutes and not return to 15 minutes. That could make some riders miss a transfer, according to transportation advocate Lonny Stern.

"If the 663 isn't running, which is evenings, weekends when UT's not in session, the 18 is that one seat ride for students who live on campus. That's a one seat ride to an H-E-B as well that's over at exposition. And while people may be thinking about Mozart or Mayfield Park or Laguna Gloria, I'm thinking about that H-E-B or Henry Middle School or Jobs at LCRA," said Stern.


The plan does add more transportation options for residents in Dove Springs.

"But the data doesn't lie. Ridership is low, and we are working with the data that we have now," said Mukherjee.

Ridership isn't the only thing driving change. CapMetro, like many other businesses in this post-pandemic world, has a staffing problem, and the hiring sign is out.

"We set our what we're going to put out for service based on what we have resource wise to make sure that we can make it as reliably as you can every single day," said CapMetro's Chief Operating Officer Andrew Skabowski.

CapMetro needs drivers and has an even bigger need for mechanics. They're down about 20%.

"And that 20% is a lot that that's the difference between being able to fix buses in the timeframe. You need to fix buses," said Skabowski.

A bounce back could bring a change back. So for those who may get a change they do not like, the advice is to be a squeaky wheel.

"I am an urban planner. I believe in public comments. And if you want to term that as a squeaky wheel, I'm okay with that." 

During the briefing Wednesday, the board was told that 53% of their Go-line Calls, the last six months, were about service reliability. The proposal may be adopted later this month. If the board approves the changes, they will start in January.