AUSTIN (KXAN) — Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority is scheduled to vote on whether to approve major changes to its bus routes on Wednesday. The agency hopes these changes will bring Austin a more modern transportation system, but some seniors and people with disabilities wonder why the routes they depend on could be eliminated.
The board is voting on service changes proposed for June 2018, many of which implement changes from the 2025 Transit Service Plan the board already approved.
Lawrence Deeter, CapMetro Principal Planner, said the goal is responding to a public call for Austin buses to make more frequent stops, ideally every 15 minutes, seven days a week. To do that, they are changing and streamlining existing bus lines that will make up the largest service changes in CapMetro’s history. Deeter explained that almost 50 percent of the routes within the city of Austin will see changes. CapMetro is proposing to eliminate 13 routes, but out of those 11 are being combined or replaced with nearby services.
The two routes which are being completely eliminated are designed to serve employers, and only see about 10 riders per day. However some of the routes being canceled include 21 and 22, which Deeter said see around 600 and 650 riders each week day respectively.
Riders who take those routes are being instructed to take 17, 20, 18, and 335 instead. Deeter said that is because 21 and 22 operate so infrequently, they run every 30- 35 minutes on weekdays, and can run up to 80 minutes apart on Sundays. The routes which riders would be redirected to operate every 15 minutes.
But some of the people who depend on those two routes tell KXAN, those specific paths are essential to their daily lives.
The 21 and 22 buses pull up directly to the Rebekah Baines Johnson Center which houses approximately 250 elderly, low-income individuals. Currently, the buses pick up residents at a stop directly outside the center. Maps for the 322 route proposed to replace them show the bus looping around the center, which would have residents walking further to catch it.
Michael Priest, a resident at the center who uses a cane to get around, said that depending on his joints, he can’t walk a full block some days. “[The bus routes] are absolutely important because otherwise we would have no access to anywhere else in town,” he said.
Rudy Hernandez who also lives at the center said he uses the buses to get to the grocery store and to doctors appointments every day.
“Like Thursday I’ve got an appointment with my brother at Seton, and 21 takes me right in front,” Hernandez said. “This morning I went to the bank to go buy groceries, and what am I gonna do if they change it?” he wondered. “Walk all the way to Holly [St]? And what if it’s raining? If its raining its gonna be real cold.”
In addition to the changes to 21/ 22, the new plan would get rid of the 490 bus route which shuttles residents directly to H-E-B on Riverside. Instead, they would have to walk a block or two away, or take a transfer to get to Riverside. Helen Varty, an administrator at the center explained that the new bus routes would take residents to a different grocery store, but it is much farther up Interstate 35 and may make residents more vulnerable to criminals.
“The residents are really desperate to keep the bus that takes them to the grocery store a couple of times a week,” she said. Varty acknowledges, the seniors can still get where they’re hoping to go with the changes, but they’ll have to transfer buses at least once, which is problematic. She’s gone to public meetings and her board has even submitted a letter saying they’re opposed to the changes.
Min Liu, a professor of education at UT Austin said that her rides through MetroAccess will no longer be available if this plan is approved. Liu was in a car accident that has left her permanently disabled. She gets from her home in the Oak Hill neighborhood to work and the doctor’s office through CapMetro’s Metro Access rides. Liu said she received a letter telling her that because of where she lives, Metro Access service would stop. She went to speak out about it at a recent public meeting, and was told that she is one of dozens of people who would lose service because of where their homes are located.
“The benefit outweighs the cost, to allow people with disabilities to contribute to society,” Liu said. “We voiced our concerns, I hope they hear us.”
CapMetro has been working to communicate these potential changes with riders both through information on the buses and through media campaigns.
You can find the full list of proposed changes as well as maps on the CapMetro website.