How can we maximize transit ridership and decrease reliance on cars?

Rich DePalma

City Council, District 8

The City of Austin has a duty to guarantee safe, efficient, and equitable transportation options. Transit ridership has a different definition than it did a decade ago when we thought merely of bus, shuttle, commuter rail, light trail, and subway. Today’s transit also includes new solutions and services such as ride hailing, bikeshare, e-scooters, and carshare that will help decrease reliance on cars. We must continue to improve how these solutions are implemented to encourage use.

Regardless of any transit solution, a market is at the middle of the business model equation. Without the market, a solution is not sustainable without a subsidy. The best way to have a market is to build density along the transit corridors that will provide sustainable transit routes and options. Transit-oriented development projects, building around existing urban roads and transportation modalities will help accomplish this goal.

Of course, mass transit and new transit options are not the only options. “Old school” options such as walking and biking remain key to reducing reliance on cars. Promoting close by mixed use projects will help promote walking and biking. To encourage walking and biking the city must finish implementing existing plans such as the 2014 Bike Master Plan, the 2016 Sidewalk Master Plan/ADA Transition Plan Update, the Urban Trails Master Plan, and all the corridor plans that are key to creating a walkable and bikeable Austin. An Austin where every community has the safe option of getting to a neighborhood store, school, park or other resource. For neighborhoods closer to the urban core or regional/town center, implementation of these plans will provide safe options for both work and play. In the urban core and regional/town centers, the city MUST incentivize the building of employee showers in commercial buildings so bike riding, walking or running is an option.

Citywide, new job centers will also help diversify transit options. Due to the lack of job/regional/cultural centers in District 8 (including in the Imagine Austin future planning), Southwest Austin will continue to heavily rely on cars for commuting around Austin. The City labeled Oak Hill Town Center as our (future) hub for Transit Oriented Development in their 2005 ordinance. There is now a Cap Metro Park and Ride transit depot but is a limited solution since the station only has 80 parking spots and only one bus route (#171).

We also need to continue to work with stakeholders and include the community in conversations regarding mobility and traffic alleviation. Increased stakeholder participation may allow for creative, budget friendly, inter-local or Public Private Partnership solutions for organizations creating or impacted by mobility and traffic challenges (ex: schools, job centers).

When it comes to improving transit, nothing is off the table. I will draft a resolution to direct the city manager to release an Request for Information for Innovative Services and Solutions and develop a process to review and act on the responses. We must create a pathway for the private sector to introduce new ideas for consideration.