Imagine: Significant Congestion Relief & Higher Quality-of-Life With Lower Cost & Taxes for all Austin Citizens.
Recent events with the COVID-19 virus have highlighted the potential of accelerating several current trends, with possible significant, rapid & positive impacts on Austin area’s mobility. These trends have existed for many years in the U.S. and Austin, but have been developing more slowly in the past. Key trends include:
1. Work-at-Home is Growing: This is one of the defined “modes of commuting” in the U.S. census. It has been the fastest growing mode in the country and in Texas for several years. In 2017, work-at-home exceeded the Public Transit mode of commuting to work in the U.S., for the first time. In the Austin urban area, the Work-at-Home mode has grown much faster than many other cities. The chart below shows this major growth of Work-at-Home over the past 18 years while transit commuting to work has been trending down since 2015. Total transit in Austin has reduced over the past 20 years. Work-at-Home was roughly the same as transit commuting in 2000 and in 2018 it was 4 times the Public Transit Work Commute mode. An extremely high percentage of the Work-at-Home results in a car off the roads during peak traffic periods, as we have seen with the increased work at home, and loss of work, during the COVID-19 impact.
2. Public Transit Commuting is Declining: Transit use has been declining in the U.S. for years. Texas has less total transit ridership than it had 20 years ago while spending several Tens of Billions of dollars, primarily on light rail, in major cities to increase transit ridership. This includes the addition of Dallas’ longest light rail in the Nation. It has all failed: Transit use has declined; congestion has increased; and cost of living continues its rapid growth. Of the four major Texas cities, Austin has had the largest population growth (85%) and the greatest decrease in transit ridership (-16%), during the past 20 years. Austin is still in its reduced transit ridership trend after recently giving more than 2 million free rides a year to all K-12 students and redesigning the bus routes to be more efficient. More can be found about Texas and Austin declining ridership in the post just prior to this one on the COST web site. The COVID-19 situation has, of course reduced current Austin transit ridership by more than 60%, even with total free fares for the past two months. Even with the negative trend, the Austin area has significantly higher transit ridership per citizen than Dallas. San Antonio, with its bus only system, spends far less on transit, per person and has the highest ridership per citizen, but its ridership has also declined. One senior industry expert projected a 25-35% permanent reduction in future transit ridership due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Note: Please see the previous post regarding Texas transit ridership decline.
Texas’ 2019 Transit Ridership Decline is Consistent with the Total United States Decline
3. People are moving to the Suburbs with Lower Density: This is a trend of several years in major cities and has been accelerating. Some predict this trend will accelerate faster with pandemic concerns. Work-at-Home increases and affordability issues will also support this suburb movement trend as people can find more affordable housing and do not have the cost of automobile commuting. There is also likely to be an increase in movement to the suburbs due the fact that about 80% of an average city region’s new jobs are being created in the suburbs and not in the central core.
The coronavirus epidemic has dramatically increased the number of Work-at-Home people while significantly decreasing the number of Transit commuters. If these trends continue, the current Austin/Cap Metro plan, Project Connect, would be a devastating waste of citizens’ tax dollars and result in lower quality-of-life for all. These trends and the current and approaching technology trends will be transformational, creating “The New Mobility,” including less congestion, less road building, less parking and less transit, to name a few. This is all part of “The New Mobility” trend to achieve “on demand” mobility where trips are from doorstep to destination, cost-effective and in acceptable times.
The good news is that The New Mobility can result in major positive impacts on all citizens:
The spending of many billions of dollars on light rails throughout the country, including Texas, has failed to achieve the advertised goals of reduced congestion, improved environment and providing effective, equitable mobility to serve the greater good of all citizens. The result has been rapidly growing costs for taxpayers/citizens to support and highly subsidize a rapidly decreasing population choosing transit. This transit population has moved from primarily low-income citizens with no alternative to those who are middle income and choose transit, as a convenience, because it is highly subsidized by taxpayers.
We are at the tipping-point of heading in the direction of resolving mobility deficiencies with truly little taxpayer costs compared to the current Austin/Cap Metro Project Connect’s outdated and obsolete plan which will burden this community with generations of added costs while not achieving mobility goals to improve citizen’s quality-of-life. Current, known technologies and pandemic events are creating greater recognition and are bringing “The New Mobility” more rapidly forward to provide many “free” benefits for all. “The New Mobility” will increase the ability of people to travel where they wish, when they wish and cost-effectively, in a reasonable time. It will significantly reduce congestion; reduce the cost of additional roadways, transit, parking and vehicle fuel; lower the cost-of-living; and provide greater quality-of-life for all.
Austin needs to pause, step back and thoroughly evaluate “The New Mobility” and better understand the role each mobility segment will play in the very near future. It would be unconscionable to “double-down” on Project Connect’s massive, unsustainable rail transit plan to serve a minuscule portion of the citizens, when a many times less costly plan is automatically developing to improve mobility for every citizen. For example, a rapid growth of Work-at-Home citizens could easily double the relatively small 8.6% (2018 census) of the Austin area Work-at-Home folks. This increase is a minimal expectation, but will, alone, substantially improve congestion. There are numerous other technology advancements which will also reduce roadway vehicles such as drone delivery to reduce delivery vehicle services, etc. Costs/taxes for roadways, transit, parking, vehicle fuel and others will be substantially reduced.
Austin is a Leading Innovative and Visionary City. Let us continue to move Forward, Not Backwards with light rail, based on 200 year-old, obsolete technology.