Austin looks to increase focus on reducing single-occupant commuters

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The city of Austin could expand a program that encourages drivers to not commute alone. It’s called Smart Trips and it started as a pilot program last year in a North Austin neighborhood.

Capital Metro and the city asked residents in that neighborhood to try taking the bus, biking or walking to their destination just one day a week. In the end, six percent of those residents did it and, while six percent of 13,000 households might not sound like a lot, Lonny Stern with Capital Metro says that’s a big deal.

“If they are commuting five days a week and just one day a week they decide, ‘that’s my commuter day,’ that’s a 20 percent reduction in their contribution to the traffic which is what we are looking to do with the program.”

What Smart Trips entails is asking residents through e-mail, flyers and knocking door to door how they could incorporate a different transit options other than their car to get to work or school.

Thursday, city council will vote to spend $750,000 over a five year period to fund the program with Capital Metro providing matching funds. If it passes, starting in late August they would target South Austin residents between the river and Ben White Boulevard. That area was selected because of the protected bike lanes, sidewalks and because of the fact the MetroRapid bus comes every 15 minutes and goes down the major corridors.

City officials tell KXAN these smaller scale efforts to get cars off the road are cost effective

“Infrastructure is very expensive, in the millions, where programmatic measures where we are trying to educate, outreach and ask people to do things they can do now is going to be a lot cheaper,” says Tien-Tien Chan, Austin’s Transportation Demand Management Program Manager.

On a larger scale, these programs could be implemented in various parts of the city.

“If we can replicate it on a larger and larger scale we’ll have some really big successes to report in the future,” says Stern.

One change from the pilot program is city officials will spend more time going door to door to talk to residents. The reason why is because they often hear folks say they don’t want to leave their car at home, because ‘what if something happens and they need to leave work’ or if they have to run an errand. Increased door to door efforts will help program coordinators show residents all of their options for public transit if scenario like those arise.

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