Replacement of Red River shuttle brings welcome improvement

Ryan Young

“I’m a Daily Texan columnist doing a story on Capital Metro,” I shouted to a group of UT students waiting at a bus stop. “Next year, they want to get rid of the 653.” Everyone grumbled. How could the loss of a bus possibly be a good thing?

Route 653 is a UT shuttle route that serves Red River Street between UT and 51st Street. Capital Metro, which operates the UT shuttles, proposes phasing out the 653 in June 2018. Though it may appear the transit agency is parking a bus that Longhorns have relied upon for years, this change will actually benefit the 653’s North Campus patrons.

The June service changes are part of Connections 2025, CapMetro’s ongoing effort to restructure Austin’s bus network to be more efficient and convenient. The big idea is to massively increase the amount of frequent bus service available throughout Austin.

When a transit line comes often enough — every 15 minutes or better, seven days a week — riders can depend on it without needing to consult a schedule. Think of the UT shuttles; they’re convenient because you don’t need to wait long before the next bus arrives. Connections 2025 hopes to provide that kind of service to as much as 80 percent of CapMetro’s current riders.

However, CapMetro has limited resources. To accomplish such an ambitious expansion of service, the agency has to carefully examine duplicate and unproductive bus lines and determine whether that service could be provided more efficiently.

In the case of the 653, nearly the entire route through North Campus is already served by route 10, a bus line that travels along Red River Street between downtown and Highland Mall. Because of this redundancy, CapMetro plans to replace the 653 with an improved 10 that would serve both markets, according to Connections 2025 planning documents.

The 10 would be realigned for faster service via Mueller and transformed into a frequent bus line. Today, route 10 is slow and inconvenient, arriving only every 25 to 30 minutes and taking a meandering trajectory north of 51st Street. Starting next June, 653 and 10 riders would be able to catch a route 10 bus every 15 minutes throughout most of the day, even on weekends.

For UT students in North Campus, that’s a big deal. Unlike the current route 653, the new route 10 would provide convenient transportation to campus on Saturdays. It would also connect to the Rutherford Lane Walmart and downtown, where one could catch other frequent bus lines to reach anywhere else in Austin.

After the ailing fleet of UT-branded buses was retired last year, it looks like another key piece of UT shuttle history is on the chopping block. But in return, we’ll receive much better and more convenient service, even if it won’t be on a bus numbered “653.”

So long, route 653 Red River. You won’t be missed.

Young is a computer science senior from Bakersfield, California. He is a senior columnist. Follow him on Twitter @OldRyanYoung.