Cap Remap is a bold step forward, but work shouldn’t stop

Ryan Young

CapRemap is the biggest, most ambitious change to Capital Metro’s bus network, ever. It’s an event of mythic proportions that lives up to all of the transportation geek hype and then some. So is this bus makeover a home run, or a slow-motion rolling disaster? As a recent graduate, I can’t pretend to understand the wants and needs of all Austinites, but I can explain CapRemap’s goals and, now that it’s here, what it can do for you.

When Capital Metro started to redesign their bus routes, their bureaucrats asked the public how Austin’s transit system should be changed. The results suggested that most Austinites wanted bus service that was faster and arrived more often. CapRemap aims to accomplish both goals by streamlining bus routes — moving stops out of neighborhoods and onto major streets — and by adding more buses to a few key routes, made possible by taking them away from some lightly-used routes and stops.

The result was that CapRemap increased the number of high-frequency bus routes, which run every 15 minutes during the daytime, from six to fourteen. Now large parts of Austin have buses that arrive so often that you almost don’t need to rely on a schedule — just show up and wait. The trade-off is that you likely have to walk further, and cross a busy street, to get to your new bus stop.

I never had a car, or used a ride-hailing service, in any of my four years at UT. When Cap Remap launched this summer, I spent my last weeks in Austin using the new bus network to explore parts of town I had never seen before. Suddenly, neighborhoods that were previously very difficult to reach by public transit — such as East Seventh, South First, and Airport Boulevard — were along high-frequency bus lines, and all it took to reach them was a simple transfer downtown.

And while tourism was one thing, I knew the new network was opening up new opportunities for native Austinites as well. I had, for example, seen a group of black churchgoers ride from West 35th to Mueller (on a 15-minute line) and switch for the bus continuing east up Manor (also every 15 minutes). Before Remap, this trip was only possible by riding south to UT or downtown and waiting a long time to switch buses.

If you haven’t already, you should study the new system map to learn how CapRemap has revamped your transit options, just as you would study a subway map to learn how to navigate a big city. The bright pink lines are bus routes that run every 15 minutes during the day, 7 days a week. And the next time you need to get around the city, try seeing what transit can do for you. Remember: Bus rides are free, Uber and scooter rides are not.

No, the new routes do not work for everyone. Perhaps walking up to half a mile to get to your bus stop is a hardship for you. Perhaps you live away from the high-frequency bus lines, and service got worse where you live. Perhaps you would have preferred routes that run closer to your home and workplace, even if that meant slower service that came less often. Capital Metro — and the University, which funds UT shuttle service — also severely underestimated the demand for trips to campus, if the overcrowding along the tweaked Red River and Riverside routes is any indication.

Truth be told, CapRemap is as much a learning process for Capital Metro as it is for longtime transit riders and students returning to class. Capital Metro is already planning some schedule adjustments in January to relieve some of the crowding and the late buses. The agency is also holding even more open houses to learn how else the bus routes could be tweaked — perhaps certain communities preferred the status quo, in which bus service was more evenly distributed.

That’s the nature of cities. They change, they make decisions, and they take action (well, except for whoever is in charge of building Austin’s sidewalks), and the things we asked for may not be the things we wanted after all. As overwhelming as all of these bus changes may seem, know that CapRemap, like Austin itself, is very much a work in progress.

Young is a Computer Science graduate from UT and a former opinion columnist.