Smart Trips encouraging south Austinites to get around without cars

A CapMetro bus approaches a bus stop in South Central Austin. (KXAN Photo/ Alyssa Goard).
A CapMetro bus approaches a bus stop in South Central Austin. (KXAN Photo/Alyssa Goard).

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A new version of an Austin program is looking to curb traffic by getting more people in south Austin to travel without cars.

The Austin Transportation Department and the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority teamed up to launch the second round of the Smart Trips Austin program on Oct. 1.  They will be encouraging people who live and work in the Zilker, Bouldin and Travis Heights neighborhoods — south of the river and north of Oltorf Street — to walk, bike and bus around town.

Lonny Stern, who is overseeing the program for CapMetro, explained they chose this area because there are a wealth of transportation options nearby which are not used as much as they could be.

‘We wanted to make sure that the people in the neighborhood are aware of and using all of the services that are available to them as taxpayers in central Texas,” Stern said.

They believe this program will curb traffic and build a sense of community. Stern said the biggest hurdle is helping people to break the habits they’ve grown comfortable with.

“I think when you live someplace for a long time you get used to the mode you’re used to, it can be scary to try something new or even think about an alternative option,” he explained, adding that even going car free for one day can make a difference in decreasing traffic and pollution.

“You’re not in traffic, you are traffic, so if you can pull yourself out it will have a huge cumulative impact not just for the community at large, but for yourself personally,” Stern said.

A CapMetro bus approaches a bus stop in South Central Austin. (KXAN Photo/ Alyssa Goard).
A CapMetro bus approaches a bus stop in South Central Austin. (KXAN Photo/Alyssa Goard).

Their goal is to get 5 to 10 percent of the households in those neighborhoods involved and to see a 5 to 10 percent decrease in single vehicle occupancy use.

The program has already sent out mailers to the thousands of residents living there, asking them to fill out surveys. Already more than 140 people have responded to those mailers, Stern said. People who live there can either use their resources online or request a “toolkit” to help them plan new transportation routes.

An ambassador for the SmartTrips program will make their way to residents’ homes using active transportation, bringing along the toolkit of transportation planning materials. They will help residents plan out safe and convenient ways to get around without cars.

Starting in November, they will also be offering community activities and car-free events.

Stern said this in-person element is one of the big changes from the program last year. Program representatives will also try meeting residents after work hours and on weekends this year to make the process as easy as possible

The first phase of Smart Trips happened between April and July of last year, and focused on the central portion of the city.

The program last year cost around $300,000  and this year the cost will be about the same. The cost is split evenly between ATD and CapMetro.

Stern said the program last year led to an increase in people using active transit modes and a 5.9 percent increase in people using transit.

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