Modern movement: CapMetro, Austin’s transportation progress with times

Anna-Kay Reeves

With artificial intelligence and automation reaching new levels of capability, some might say the robot revolution is approaching. However, with technology’s potential for greater efficiency and more environmentally friendly operations, maybe it’d be alright if the robots took over just a few things.

Austin’s transportation provider, Capital Metro, is working alongside the city of Austin to provide faster, greener transportation by testing cutting edge technology such as electric buses and autonomous transit. Though the technology is still miles down the road from implementation, CapMetro is seeking to keep Austin on the forefront of urban innovation as the city grows.

CapMetro spokeswoman Amy Peck said that testing for autonomous transit and electric buses is only in its early stages, with some kinks to be worked out.

“Capital Metro has put AV testing on hold, as we tested a vehicle on private property before planning to test them on Austin streets and found that the vehicles didn’t comply with ADA standards,” Peck said.

Peck said CapMetro contacted the vehicle manufacturer with information about the changes necessary to make the vehicles ADA compliant. CapMetro will wait until a vehicle up to ADA standards is available before proceeding with testing, as safety standard compliance is crucial to the company, Peck said.

While AV testing has been stalled, electric buses will soon be out and about on a trial basis.

“At this point we don’t know what type of transit will be best for the future, so we’re testing a variety of technologies, so that we’re ready when that time comes,” Peck said.

According to CapMetro’s website, the Electric Vehicle Pilot Project is set to be up and running by the end of this month. Three electric buses will be in service on currently undisclosed routes, transporting passengers free of charge during the testing period.

CapMetro said that during the pilot, the company will be using electric buses manufactured by Proterra, BYD USA and New Flyer of America, and evaluating “the efficiency and performance of battery technology, vehicle safety and on-route performance in the Central Texas climate.”

The Austin Transportation Department, a CapMetro partner, is not involved in the testing of these technologies, but looks forward to working with CapMetro to make Austin more efficient and sustainable.

Marissa Monroy, public information and marketing manager for the Austin Department of Transportation, said their top priority with these new modes of transportation is safety and efficiency.

“ATD works with all modes of transportation and many Austin-area partners and agencies to deploy an all-ages and abilities network,” Monroy said. “The Austin Transportation Department is committed to providing the safest and most efficient, cost-effective and sustainable roadway, bikeway, walkway and transit system for our community.”

For many UT students, CapMetro services are part of everyday life, and any future changes will be integrated into their routine. “Public transportation has been crucial to my life as a UT student,” government sophomore Jakob Lucas said. For Lucas, the CapMetro bus system is his go-to means of transportation, whether it’s a late night coffee run or the all-important visit to H-E-B. Lucas said that although efficiency matters, safety and environmental sustainability rank higher in importance when it comes to his wish list from transportation providers.

“Everyday Austin becomes more associated with technology, innovation and change,” Lucas said. “Testing transportation innovations is a valuable addition to that aspect of Austin culture.”

Lucas said CapMetro working to stay on the forefront of technology and sustainability is a net positive, especially if doing so can make transportation more reliable and safer.