By Moses Leos III
After dropping the measure last budget cycle, mass transit is back on the radar in Buda.
While questions linger on the cost and time frame, all seven Buda City Council members believe some kind of transit option is necessary.
“I’m not surprised it moved forward. This is something citizens want,” Mayor Todd Ruge said. “We are a big enough city that we should look in to what is beneficial for our citizens.”
Planning for mass transit began in 2011 when Buda incorporated the idea into its Comprehensive Master Plan. But it wasn’t until 2013 that the city and Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Capital Metro) in Austin discussed the feasibility of a transit service in Buda.
A park and ride bus route from Buda to Southpark Meadows in Austin was a solution. The service would cost $239,341, with $66,000 coming from the city.
While $78,000 was earmarked for the service, an interlocal agreement with Capital Metro wasn’t finalized. The item was removed from the budget as a “cost saving measure,” according to Ruge.
But Buda’s discussion on July 21 picked up where the city left off last budget season.
Planning Director Chance Sparks presented four transit options to city council: commuter service (park and ride), para-transit, flex and fixed route.
The discussion was hastened because of the city’s struggling Senior Van Service, which has proven costly and problematic. The city spent $11,000 last year on the van, which is not handicap accessible. Only six people regularly rode the bus in 2013.
“The senior bus is on its last legs and is costing the city,” council member Angela Kennedy said. “So I would want to compare that [cost]to the flex service cost.”
Flex service was one of the popular choices for city council. The option is a “hybrid” of para-transit, or curb-to-curb, and fixed route services.
However, several variables stand in the way of the flex route, including cost.
Sparks said it is dependent on the number of stops, where the stops are, and which entities are participating.
Several other important factors add to the cost of the flex service.
“It’s not just the stops, but if you add service, what are the other capital related costs? Do you purchase buses? Hire drivers?” Sparks said. “Those go into the formula for the cost estimate.”
Commuter service, or park and ride, was the only option for which the city had an established cost estimate.
To move forward, the city would need to work with either Cap Metro or the Capital Area Rural Transportation Service (CARTS) to schedule routes.
“We have to look to Cap Metro because we are in the Austin urbanized area,” Sparks said. “If we want to use CARTS, we have to wheel a contract with Cap Metro.”
With the uncertainty of flex, Kennedy focused on two options — a park and ride which uses FM 1626 to Southpark Meadows and a flex route.
Kennedy said focusing on a park and ride would show the city’s stance on “solving the traffic problems.” The flex route solution would give service to Buda’s disabled and elderly citizens who need it.
“As our community grows, the needs are becoming more diverse and the city should meet those needs to maintain our excellent quality of life,” Kennedy said.
While more discussion is needed, Sparks said mass transit isn’t off the table for the 2014-15 budget.
“The budget hasn’t been adopted, so [it]can move and migrate,” he said. “It’s possible this year, but it’s going to require analysis of finances and some trade off.”
In the meantime, Ruge and newly elected Kyle Mayor Todd Webster will begin discussions on how the two cities could team up to provide mass transit services.
Kyle’s contract with CARTS for para-transit service ends in September.
“We agreed in principle that our two cities have to work together on regional issues,” Ruge said. “We have agreed that if it’s beneficial for both cities, it would be fiscally responsible for us to tackle it.”