CapMetro, Austin miss goal of getting more drivers to not commute alone

FILE - Capital Metro bus (KXAN File Photo)
FILE - Capital Metro bus (KXAN File Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Relatively few drivers gave up on commuting alone in Austin after a $300,000 program to encourage alternate modes of transportation and carpooling.

Last year, the city of Austin and a Capital Metro pilot program worked to educate more Austinites about public transit and other ways of getting to work.

The program, called Smart Trips, was offered to nearly 13,000 households in central Austin to start. It was paid for by the city of Austin and CapMetro with the goal of decreasing the amount of people driving alone and increase the amount of trips that Austinites make using bicycles, carpools, mass transit or walking.

CapMetro spokesperson, Lonny Stern, says it’s important to educate people about the best ways to get around town without using their vehicle. “It made trying transit an enjoyable community-based experience rather than something brand new.”

To help determine how the program helped participants a pre and post survey went out to gauge how most households traveled before and after Smart Trips.

Responses showed only three percent of drivers gave up driving alone, compared to CapMetro’s goal of 5-10 percent. More Austinites, however, did start using other modes of transportation, including a 6% increase in the use of transit. More than one in four participants said they tried a new transportation option during the initial program.

Stern says they’re happy with the results. “I think people became a lot more comfortable with services in their area,” he says. “What we are wanting to do right now is take our best practices and scale them and also to test our assumptions,” says Stern. He mentioned one of those assumptions is that the summer time frame for the pilot program might have discouraged commuters from walking or biking. CapMetro will launch a similar study in the fall to see if cooler temperatures make a difference.

CapMetro officials added that the $300,000 spent on the Smart Trips program was less expensive than buying a new bus to have on Austin roads.

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