Mayor Morgan: Popular routes start 2019 with improved services

Mayor Craig Morgan pens a monthly column for the Round Rock Leader. This is a repost of his most recent feature.


MAYOR CRAIG MORGAN

The end of the year always brings a chance to reflect and consider the effectiveness of our ways. In our personal lives, this often means creating a few New Year’s Resolutions to start the next year off on the right foot.

There is a lot to look forward to in 2019 for the City of Round Rock, and we’re kicking our year off with some exciting news: Starting Jan. 7, our two most popular bus routes will add stops and service hours.

The City launched its first fixed route bus service through Capital Metro on Aug. 21, 2017. Although our contract runs for five years, we looked to the first year as a pilot program to gauge ridership and work with the community to ensure we are truly meeting our transit needs. These additional stops and service hours were a direct result of feedback and ridership data from our first year. We engaged the public through an open house as well as in-person and online surveys earlier this year.

Route 50 will extend its schedule to run between 6:30 a.m. and 8:17 p.m. Monday through Friday. This change creates two hours of additional operation in the evening on what is easily our highest performing route, with an average of 2,954 passengers per month last fiscal year.

Route 50 runs between Howard Station in Austin and the Austin Community College campus in Round Rock. The changes to this schedule will give people in our community more opportunity to stay later on campus for studying or using the library after class and have more flexibility for their work schedules.

The MetroExpress Route 980 express service will add one additional time in the morning and evening. Morning departures to Austin will be 5:44, 6:46 and 7:51 a.m., and evening returns at Round Rock Transit Center will be 5:10, 6:40 and 7:25 p.m. This route, which started in November 2018, gives Round Rock riders access to an express bus route into downtown Austin by traveling from the Round Rock Transit Center to the New Life Park & Ride, downtown and The University of Texas, traveling on the MoPac managed lanes.

We believe these changes will help us move closer to our ultimate goal of providing a network that provides simplified routes, increased frequency, connections to more places and service to more jobs.

These were our goals outlined in Round Rock’s Transit Master Plan, which was developed in 2015 to start a framework for improving connectivity locally and regionally over the next decade. Public outreach during the planning process showed us there was strong support for transit services in our community. The plan also recognized that a quality transportation network is essential for economic development.

Development of our current route alignments were based on Census data, low-income areas and households with limited mobility options, popular destinations from the Demand Response Bus Service that was previously operating in our community, and data obtained from the “Drive a Senior” program.

The other two routes currently operating in Round Rock are Routes 51 and 52.

Route 51 travels between St. David’s Round Rock Medical Center and Dell’s Round Rock Campus, serving destinations such as Round Rock High School, Success High School and downtown. Service operates weekdays from 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.

Route 52 travels from the Tech Ridge Park and Ride to the Round Rock Transit Center, with limited stops. Destinations include the Art Institute of Austin and several employment centers. Service operates weekdays with two morning trips and two afternoon trips.

We also provide paratransit service, which is a requirement under federal law for the disabled community who cannot use our other bus routes. Due to demand for this service, we’ve added an additional paratransit vehicle to our fleet in the past year. There are reduced fare options for seniors 65 and older, and for people with disabilities, members of the military, students and people on Medicare.

We will sometimes hear feedback that residents see “empty” buses driving around town, but it’s not always cause to discontinue a route. Most of what our Transportation Department does is geared toward rush hour, and our transit system is no different. Consider this: You may drive along the freeway, and not see drivers across all four lanes of the roadway at certain times of day. This doesn’t necessarily mean that there is not a need for all four lanes. However, the benefit of transit is that we can make some shifts to routes, schedules and public education campaigns to fine tune these services for our community, as we are looking to do in the coming year and those in the future.

Still, we can already see that our budding transit system is encouraging mobility through public transportation. In its first complete fiscal year, 52,383 trips were taken across our four routes in Round Rock. We expect the upcoming year will provide even more insight to show us what we can do to make our bus service more effective for our residents and continue this important regional partnership with our friends at CapMetro.

To learn more about transit in Round Rock, visit roundrocktransit.com.