Lake Austin bus route creates inconvenience for graduate students

Bus No. 663 — Lake Austin is the only UT shuttle loop from the Lake Austin area to campus. With three University apartments, Brackenridge, Colorado and Gateway, located on Lake Austin Boulevard, a large number of graduate students populate the route.  

Specifically, according to Division of Housing and Food Service statistics, 688 residents live in those three apartments, of whom 89.1 percent are Ph.D. students and 6.8 percent are master’s students. 

And that may still be an inaccurate picture. 

Many graduate students have families or are sharing rooms with other graduate students, so the real population is probably greater.

However, commuting between two places is not easy. The general wait time for the Lake Austin route can range from 10 to 30 minutes, a huge contrast compared to the two to five minutes it takes to catch a Far West bus. In addition, the night shift is extremely unpredictable. Yueun Lee, a master’s student in nursing, told us that one shift is constantly missing between 8 p.m. and 10 p.m..   

Part of the reason for the long wait times is the the number of buses UT distributes to each route. Capital Metro, the University’s public transportation provider, details in its data that 17 buses run through Riverside, 10 through Far West and only four through Lake Austin, dropping to three along this route after 10 a.m on weekday mornings. 

“If they can increase the frequency of the bus during rush hours, that will be great,” said Gurpreet Singh, a petroleum and geosystems engineering Ph.D. candidate. “That’s the time when people are coming and leaving.”  

The buses’ occupancy changes greatly throughout the day. Starting from 10:30 a.m., they are almost empty with only one or two students riding. During the lunch rush, riders are forced to sit in traffic jams since the bus runs through downtown Austin. 

This odd routing decision leads to another delay. James Hudson, a history Ph.D. candidate and a Colorado Apartment resident, said it is a huge waste of time for LA bus to go through downtown. And he gives his own suggestion: “The bus should turn left onto Lamar, then go north to the ramp that merges up onto 15th Street. That way the shuttle could bypass downtown and avoid getting caught in all the morning traffic.” 

We asked if the University has considered changing to other routes. Blanca Gamez, assistant irector of UT’s Parking and Transportation Services, responded.  

“The planners have worked over the years with shuttle bus representatives to find the most efficient route to campus,” Gamez said. “The route the shuttles currently take is the best route based on various factors.”  

As far as we can tell, it is clearly not the best option. When the morning traffic in downtown gets slow, the travel time extends to 30 minutes for what is usually a 10-minute drive. 

To solve this problem, the University not only has to think of a better route option and increase the frequency of the bus, but students also have to make their voices heard. 

Some already have.

Bamars Santos, a driver of the 663, got seven complaint letters in just three months. All of the letters were pointed towards bus delays. Both the University and Capital Metro did not explain how they address those complaints.   

We acknowledge that the bus service is expensive. For the academic year 14-15, UT will pay Capital Metro more than $4.5 million for all the shuttle services. Plus, other options on this route, such as Buses 22, 21 or 18, all take students to campus. However, in the long term, this unreliable schedule can drive students to purchase cars in order to arrive at class on time, which adds more financial cost. Let’s not stray from the good intention of saving students time and money, and make a feasible plan for keeping the buses on time.