Some Lose Service Under Cap Remap, but It’s Mostly About Longer Walks

You’ve heard it on every Capital Metro bus over the past couple months: “Cap Remap is coming!” And in just under a week, that exuberant prerecorded announcement will finally become reality.

First, a quick Cap Recap: Remap represents a complete reimagining of Austin’s local bus network. The plan will shift service to emphasize frequency and connectivity over one-side rides to downtown and coverage of low-productivity areas.

You could certainly quibble with some aspects of the execution, like Cap Metro’s continuing gamble that MetroRapid’s mile-long stop spacing is not a deal-breaker — and therefore the underlying Routes 1 and 3 shall continue to operate no more than half-hourly — or the failure of the agency to relocate stops to facilitate connections at major intersections, which I’ll address in a forthcoming post.

But overall, Remap largely accomplishes what it set out to do. The changes will vastly expand Austin’s frequent bus network, and that network will also operate 7-days-a-week, as opposed to our current “frequent network” that only reaches its full extent on weekdays. (Besides, there’s more changes to come. Don’t confuse Cap Remap with Connections 2025, which is a long-range document that envisions the development of Austin’s transit system into the year… well, 2025.)

Inevitably, this kind of redesign draws complaints about worsening service and less convenient trips. When you eliminate low-productivity segments and move to a grid design, of course some people will have to walk further or make transfers to reach their destinations. But within the media — and among Cap Metro’s critics — there’s a broader narrative of people “losing access” under Remap because of the deletion of bus service from outlying areas.

Is this happening? If so, where, and how severe is it? I dove into Cap Metro’s GTFS¹ feeds to find out. This map shows the stops that have been added and eliminated (or have had service severely curtailed) under Cap Remap.

Neighborhood-by-neighborhood

Green dots indicate new stops; blue dots indicate stops that aren’t changing; red dots indicate stops that are being removed from service, or will have regular service (at least 50 trips per week) removed.

(Some neighborhoods, such as South Fifth, Bouldin, and Rutland, will lose regular urban service, but their stops will continue to be served by a few rush-hour trips. To simplify this visualization, that still counts as a red dot.)

In South-Central Austin, regular service on the 5 is being phased out in favor of frequent service along South First on the 10. (Four rush-hour trips will remain.) Service is also being deleted from Woodward.

The South Fifth area is fairly walkable, but signalized pedestrian crossings of South First are few and far between. The extra walk may be a tough sell, even for frequent service. Many will accept the change, but not all. Woodward is a lightly populated street.

Southeast Austin is losing access to light industry along Burleson, and some neighborhood services are being straight-lined. This probably affects very few people.

Remap is particularly contentious in East Austin, where Johnston Terrace is losing transit access even though hundreds of passengers use those stops. Some Montopolis residents will face longer walks. On a positive note, service is being straight-lined along Cesar Chavez, which should have happened a long time ago.

Further north, Rogge Lane and Loyola Lane are losing service. Alternative routes will be available, but will entail longer walks. Direct service to some shopping centers has been eliminated. Amazingly, it took until now for the Mueller neighborhood to receive bus service.

In Central Austin, Cap Metro is removing service from Exposition Boulevard. Straight-lining within downtown is also apparent. Hyde Park is losing local service along Speedway (discounting the Intramural Fields UT shuttle, which only runs on class days), and service is also being removed from the IH-35 frontage roads.

Finally, in North Austin, the elimination of Route 240 will result in lost access to St. David’s Medical Center and some apartments along Rutland Drive.

Conclusion

Most complaints of “lost access” under Cap Remap reflect longer walking distances rather than total elimination of transit service, with a few notable exceptions, such as Johnston Terrace and St. David’s. We’re back to that old adage — there are “winners and losers” with every change. Lots more people get frequent service, while some get worse service, and a few lose it entirely.

With Remap, as with MetroRapid, Cap Metro is betting that Austinites will be willing to walk a little bit farther for more frequent — or at least more consistent — service. The question is, will it work? I think this would be an acceptable tradeoff in a proper city with plentiful sidewalks, a connected street grid, and safe pedestrian crossings.

But as we all know, Austin has none of those things.

Given these facts, you could certainly argue that Cap Metro has gone too far in prioritizing frequency over coverage. If I had to speculate, the agency is about to take a lot of flak for forcing longer walks in the Central Texas heat, even though it only did so in a bid to improve service. In the context of ongoing developments in Project Connect and general suspicion (to put it mildly) surrounding Cap Metro, that would leave the Remap effort a massive missed opportunity to get Austinites excited about transit.

Oh well. We will soon find out if this gamble pays off. See you on the bus in June.


¹ General Transit Feed Specification, a data file that contains all the scheduling information of a transit network used by Google Maps, Transit, etc. to advertise services and provide transit directions