TABLE OF CONTENTS

 

FORWARD

A NEW MOBILITY

PUBLIC TRANSIT IN THE AGE OF PANDEMIC

DRIVER EDUCATION

V2X (Connected & Coordinated Vehicles)

5-6g COMMUNICATION

DSRC (Dedicated Short Range Communication)

MOBILITY AS A SERVICE (MaaS)

SHARED MOBILITY

MOBILITY HUBS/PASSENGER ACCESS ZONES

MICRO MOBILITY (Scooters, Bikes, eBikes)

TRACKLESS ELECTRIC TRAMS

MICRO TRANSIT

AUTONOMOUS VEHICLES

FUTUREPATH

E-COMMERCE and AUTOMATION

ALTERNATIVE TRANSPORTATION ENERGY

RENEWABLE ENERGY

ROADWAY IMPROVEMENT

ROADWAY MANAGEMENT

TRAVEL DEMAND MANAGEMENT (TDM)

CITY OF AUSTIN

CAPITAL METRO

RED LINE PARKWAY INITIATIVE

MOVABILITY CENTRAL TX

CAPITOL AREA COUNCILS OF GOVERNMENT

SMART TRIPS AUSTIN

MARKET DRIVEN SOLUTIONS & HYPERLOOP

FUNDING PROJECT CONNECT


 

FORWARD

This position paper’s intent is to inform the public of contemporary trends that are transforming mobility. We also present thoughtful counterpoint to the Project Connect narrative. We don’t profess to be transportation experts; we offer consolidated information sourced from the internet, published documents, public record, and industry professionals. It is our opinion that the cleverly concocted and promoted Project Connect is a short-sighted, expensive mistake that takes Austin down an obsolete dead end. Mobility is integral to our lives, commerce, and emergency services; it’s too important to get wrong.  

Digital technology has revolutionized communication, information, shopping, photography, entertainment and more.  Some of our best and brightest engineering minds, fueled with tens of billions of dollars, are developing technology that will drastically improve mobility.  While some of these technologies are still evolving, many are already at work.  A”New Mobility will render light rail obsolete for moving urban travelers efficiently, conveniently and cost effectively to a diversity of destinations.  This “New Mobility” will have far greater impact on traffic congestion, improve roadway safety and expand transportation choice in a multimodal environment. 

The “New Mobility” ushers in an era of distributed, on-demand/door-to-door transportation and connected roadway coordination. Fixed-route/fixed-schedule systems like Project Connect, are not competitive compared to the vastly superior convenience and time saving of the New Mobility.  Let’s move forward, not backward!

 

        ”Door-to-door….efficient travel made possible with….Connected and Automated vehicles, will change the face of transportation and mobility in the 21st century and beyond”                                                 City of Austin Smart Cities application

        “Technology disruptors coming to market every week, will alter the urban mobility landscape.” Texas Transportation Institute, 2019 Mobility Report

        “The evolution of technology moves at a mind-blowing pace and that pace of change is coming to mobility in a major way.” – Kirk Watson

 

Project Connect funding is a House of Cards

Project Connect, an over $240 million/mile light rail transit plan, fails every cost-benefit analysis. Sold as a “new” concept developed by public input sessions, it’s not. Much of the plan was soundly rejected by voters in 2014. A powerful group of corporations, rail contractors, and politicians are behind this spending plan, many of whom have an interest in its outcome. They have conducted an ambitious media grooming operation and a multi-year sales campaign, with many “supporters” who rarely – if ever, use transit. Illusory claims are being made related to federal funding, population growth, and light-rail travel times that ignore getting to the transit stop and vehicle delays.

Project Connect comes at a time of financial crisis for taxpayers and government. We are now in a recession and efforts to stabilize our economy promise tremendous inflation. Because it will be years before actual tracks are laid, inflation will dramatically increase the cost of Project Connect, something not reflected in proponents’ presentations. Cost overruns will fall squarely on the shoulders of Austin homeowners and renters. Project Connect construction will disrupt countless businesses and is likely to spawn litigation that will add an inestimable cost. Where will that money come from?

The federal funding used to sell Project Connect is competitive, uncertain, and expected from a government in crisis – far from the “done deal” purported by proponents. Given the unprecedented federal debt and deficit spending, the future of public transit grants is unsure. This is why the City of Austin will not include a condition to secure these federal funds in the ballot language.

WITHOUT AN OFFICIAL COMMITMENT, FEDERAL FUNDS ARE ‘VAPORWARE’ THAT SHOULD NOT BE FACTORED INTO THE COST OF PROJECT CONNECT

THIS CBO REPORT IS A MUST-READ: https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R45350.pdf

FURTHER SUGGESTED READING: https://www.ntu.org/foundation/detail/reforms-will-be-needed-to-fix-the-worsening-budget-outlook

 

ELEPHANTS IN THE ROOM:

Proponents claim Project Connect operation cost will be funded by Capital Metro. 

One word: HOW?!  Capital Metro doesn’t have a reliable revenue source for an extra $20 million a year, much less $200 million.  It has no ability to raise this amount of taxes on the public.  Regardless, this cost will ultimately come from taxpayers and renters and will be in ADDITION TO the cost for the rail system itself.  IF FUNDED BY PROPERTY TAXES, THESE OPERATING COSTS WILL REQUIRE INCREASED TAXES ON THE AVERAGE VALUE AUSTIN PROPERTY OF OVER $750/year.

Proponents claim Project Connect can be funded with a $0.11/$100 tax increase 

It has become clear, there will be an attempt to fool the public into believing a $0.11/$100 tax rate increase will fund Project Connect.  THIS IS COMPLETELY FALSE!  That tax rate wouldn’t even cover the operating costs.   Apparently supporters believe repeating the magic word “transformative” over and over, will make people believe.   If you have a calculator handy do this math:  $0.0011 (proposed tax rate for Project Connect) x $157,880,603,576 (net taxable tax roll) = $173,668,663 an amount less than the $220,000,000 annual operating costs quoted by Capital Metro.  The claimed capital cost is $9.8 billion, divide that by $173,668,663 – it comes to FIFTY SIX YEARS.  Even in the unlikely event the cost was reduced by 45% to $5.39 billion with a federal grant, that works out to THIRTY ONE YEARS! 

There is now discussion of a smaller ‘starter’ option that costs $7 billion.  It is intended to get a ‘foot in the door’ then come back for more.  This $7 billion plan is the SAME PLAN proposed by Capital Metro only a few months ago for $9.6 billion.  Apparently there is a sale at the light rail used car lot!  The puzzling thing is how no one questions this.  How do we have essentially the SAME plan for $2.6 billion less?  This demonstrates Project Connect is a bag of guesses, guesses that vary by BILLIONS of dollars, leading to the conclusion the numbers we are given not dependable.  ONCE THERE IS A FINAL DECISION AND BALLOT LANGUAGE, WE WILL RE-CALCULATE THE INFORMATION ON THIS WEBSITE TO PROVIDE THE PUBLIC ACCURATE COSTS.  THE COST ESTIMATES WE PROVIDE TODAY, ARE STILL VALID FOR THE ENTIRE PLAN.

LIKE THE 2016 MOBILITY BOND, VOTERS ARE BEING MISLEAD WITH A FALSE NUMBER THAT IS INSUFFICIENT AND WILL REQUIRE MORE DEBT AND TAXES IN THE FUTURE. 

Simple math and public information show these amounts are misleading, mathematically incorrect, and grossly insufficient to fund the Project Connect vision. They have built surveys and public opinion on this misinformation, bringing Project Connect’s “public input” into doubt.  “Low ball” tax estimates and “creative” funding cannot change: 1) TOTAL program costs (I&S + M&O), 2) Tax base valuation, 3) Debt servicing costs, and 4) Resultant increases in property taxes and rent to fund the ultimate total expense.  They cannot fully fund Project Connect with a bond – it is so much money that it would more than max out Austin’s borrowing capacity, jeopardize the cities bond rating (which Moody’s already recently downgraded, because of pension funding problems) and cripple future borrowing.  

Proponents have concocted a confusing funding scheme that combines taxing entities, creates corporate entities, imposes sales and property taxes, and speaks of Tax Rate Elections, road impact fees, sequence models, escrow/fund accounts, transportation user fees, tax increment funding, integrated cost models, and more all under the guise of “transparency.” It all obscures the true cost to the ultimate buyer: the taxpayer. Funded with a bond, as is typical, the Project Connect “vision” will increase taxes and rent, on an average value property, well over $2,000 annually. [See: Funding Project Connect]

IMPORTANT NOTES: 

We currently seek to do a deep dive into the detail consultant records of Project Connect to better inform the public.  Capital Metro is attempting to thwart disclosure of information.  We are waiting for a decision from the Texas Attorney General in the matter.  It is ironic that proponents claim “transparency’ but want to withhold detailed information FUNDED BY THE PUBLIC!

Capital Metro is disbursing significant public funds to promote, advertise and market Project Connect, efforts that go well beyond public information, are strongly biased and we believe are not factual and contain specious content.  We expect legal action to stop these activities.

IF YOU LIKE HOW OUR CITIES LEADERSHIP HAS HANDLED OUR HOMELESS PROBLEM, YOU WILL LOVE THEIR TRANSPORTATION PLAN: PROJECT CONNECT

Homeowners and renters must honestly answer two questions:

1) Are you going to discontinue use of your car and shift to public transportation for your daily mobility needs?
2) Is it worth over $2,000/year to you, particularly if you do not?

 

As population dramatically increased, Texas largest cities spent billions on rail and public transit. The result of their “investment”?  Public transit ridership in Texas is lower today than it was 20 years ago.  Dallas and Houston’s light-rail ridership declined the past two years, a trend mirrored nationally. This reality, based on empirical evidence, stands in contrast to the rosy ridership projections for Project Connect.   The facts speak for themselves: “high capacity” Metro Rail’s actual ridership is less than 20% of what Capital Metro promised, begging the question: Can we trust the rosy ridership projections for Project Connect?  Time consumption, inconvenience, contagion risk, and emerging superior mobility alternatives will continue to depress traditional public transit ridership.

 

Nearly 90% of Project Connect spending is for three, short distance, slow (average: 15-20 mph) trains with unsightly overhead wiring that tap a power source driven by fossil fuels, including COAL.  They are of little value beyond the limited central city corridors they would serve.  Light rail is a “one-trick pony” that fails to serve commercial needs, material/goods transport, service providers, police, fire, EMS, and most household trips.  Additional bus routes of dubious value are thrown in to give the illusion of a larger service area.  The reality is: almost all of the Project Connect spending is confined to a small part of our community and short-changes most of our community.  

 

Project Connects’ massive consumption of local transportation funds assure continued neglect of the roadway network that serves the other 99% of our region’s mobility.

 

Light rail has not solved any American cities traffic congestion – ANYWHERE!  America’s fourteen worst congested cities were duped by this false promise/sales pitch; ALL have growing traffic congestion WORSE than Austin, ALL have higher taxes to fund aging rail systems and ALL struggle to pay the exorbitant operating and maintenance expenses.

 

FURTHER SUGGESTED READING ON TRANSIT & TRAFFIC CONGESTION:

 

When individual commuters find that congestion has become intolerable because of population growth, they relocate closer to their job or change to a job closer to home. That is why Census Bureau reports show the average commuting time for most urban areas stays under 30 minutes decade after decade. In addition, the work-from-home shift accelerated by the COVID crisis, will have a powerful impact on commuting patterns and congestion.

 

Project Connect will have no discernible effect on global climate change. For price of the 1.6 mile tunnel, we could put solar panels on every house in Austin!   Unlike Project Connect, that could have real impact on climate change, and at the same time, reduce or eliminate electric utility bills for most of our citizens. Austin could be a leader in renewable energy, affordability, and fighting climate change.

 

“Big and bold” is an emotional sales pitch to sell debt – the same pitch recycled from the 2016 Mobility Bond that has failed to deliver on its promises. We must use reason and logic, particularly at a time of great change, and as Austin struggles with increasing inequity, cost-of-living, homelessness, and financial uncertainty. There’s a better way forward.

 


 

Public transit investment has had little return, as ridership is lower today than 20 years ago. The bright spot has been work-at-home. As transit has declined, work-at-home has substantially risen. This trend has been drastically accelerated by the recent pandemic (not reflected in the charts below). The results are less cars on the road and reduced traffic congestionwithout massive debt.  

 

 

DOES PROJECT CONNECT LIGHT RAIL REALLY SERVE EMPLOYMENT?

Of the eight (8) employment growth centers (in purple) on the “Imagine Austin” map, Project Connect light rail would serve the tip of only one.

Source: Imagine Austin

 

Public transit isn’t the choice of workers, even when they live near it!  It’s slow, takes too long to get to work, and steals your most precious resource: TIME!

 

 

 

 

AMERICA’S 14 MOST CONGESTED CITIES 

All paying higher taxes for aging light rail that hasn’t fixed mobility or traffic

Project Connect claims rail will FIX TRAFFIC CONGESTION – does it? Let’s see how light rail is working in other U.S. cities.

Of the top 14 most congested cities, ALL are deep in debt for expensive train systems, ALL rank far worse than Austin for traffic congestion, and ALL but one are experiencing declining transit ridership!  

  1. Boston
  2. Chicago
  3. Philadelphia
  4. New York City
  5. Washington D.C.
  6. Los Angeles
  7. San Francisco
  8. Portland
  9. Baltimore
  10. Atlanta
  11. Houston
  12. Miami
  13. New Orleans
  14. Seattle

Data source: Inrix

                     


A NEW MOBILITY 

Our existing transportation network is in a state of evolution. Global, national, statewide, regional and localized transportation, are being transformed by technology. Most of our general transportation system, is built on old, inefficient technology. It’s a system at the mercy of human error and demand, as a result, it’s dangerous and often congested. Austin public transit is expensive, has low ridership, and with rare exception, is inefficient. We’re trapped in an “in-the-box” status-quo, driven by low-resolution thinking that is overdue for a transformative upgrade. Austin needs a holistic approach – a “New Mobility.”

 

The New Mobility transitions from fossil fuel to renewable, clean energy. Migrating both mobility and residential power demand to renewables, provides a one-two punch at climate change. A public investment in solar can also offer a path to greater affordability.

Source: renuteq

 

This paper focuses on the New Mobility components appropriate to our local transportation. They include express bus, autonomous bus, micro-transit, electric cars and micro-mobility all operating in a demand based environment.  Fixed-Route/Fixed-Schedule is rapidly becoming obsolete, if for no other reason than its inconvenience.  The New Mobility, particularly for local transportation, prioritizes convenient, On-Demand/Doorstep-to-Destination operation. The superior convenience, time savings, cleaner environment and greater efficiency of the New Mobility, make it the obvious choice. Why would we invest in obsolete transit that’s losing ridership, when new technologies are revolutionizing the industry?

 

The big picture is a seamless, hierarchal, transportation network, providing global mobility. A network that, at the long-distance level, includes new generation aircraft with improved efficiency and diminished environmental impact (See this video by NASA on new generation aircraft), high-speed rail between major population centers, regional express bus systems like VonLane, and perhaps at some point hyperloop transport.

 

 

At the local level, distributed, responsive transportation, scaled to demand will become the standard. It doesn’t require a twenty-ton pavement busting, 50 passenger bus to move a handful of 150-pound passengers. Unlike light rail, the New Mobility network is multi-modal, serves a variety of transportation needs and employs a diversity of tools. From commuters to first responders, service vehicles to transport of material goods, shoppers to recreation; all facilitated by the same infrastructure. Scaleable, shared, distributed, and electrified; there’s a better way forward.

 

The New Mobility includes upgrades to infrastructure that enable leaps in efficiency for existing roadways. It starts with V2X technologies to coordinate vehicles in motion. That includes speed, lateral movement, collision avoidance, vehicle spacing/distancing, weather condition adjustment and roadway information. The end result is less accidents, lives saved, smoother flow, and a reduction of traffic congestion in peak demand periods.

 

At the most basic level, a network of ‘Tri-Mode’ pathways can provide safe, efficient, localized mobility. These are essential conduits for pedestrians, bicyclists and electrified micro-mobility vehicles in the urban environment. These pathways can integrate V2X control to improve safety and coordinate utilization. Almost half of Austin’s urban transportation can be satisfied with micro-mobility – a staggering number of “cars-off-the-road” and reduced emissions. This shift alone would have over 100 times the impact on climate change of Project Connect. To properly enable micro-mobility, we must design and implement specific infrastructure to meet demand and develop associated public policy. Our existing structure and policy is a patchwork, largely developed in reaction to a flood of scooters and special interest lobbying. We need a thoughtful, long-term vision to move us forward.

 

The New Mobility uses mobility hubs and passenger access zones. Places where mobility supply and demand can efficiently come together. These spaces can be built around community activity and parkland.

 

We can’t ignore the impact of the coming fleets of autonomous cars. This technology, promised five years ago, will exist five years from now; we appear to be mid-point in that cycle. It takes 8-10 years to deploy a status-quo, light rail system, huge change will occur in that time. Autonomous vehicles operating in an economic driven, mobility-as-a-service, shared environment will take cars off the road and provide unprecedented convenience.

 

To realize the New Mobility, we need to fund it. Widespread demand already exists; technology improvement will further energize that demand. We should freeze unused funding in the 2016 and 2018 bonds earmarked for transportation and pedestrian infrastructure. Much of that spending is based on decade old designs and don’t reflect today’s – and more importantly, tomorrow’s – mobility landscape. Another New Mobility advantage is much of it is funded by private entities, not tax dollars.

 

We must stop and consider how billions of dollars could fund a myriad of major, transformative projects that would benefit ALL our city – why would we settle for a single, dubious project that will (at best) only serve a small minority of residents in central Austin.

 


PUBLIC TRANSIT IN THE AGE OF PANDEMIC  

COVID-19 is our wake-up alarm; will we learn from it or hit the snooze button?

Public transit, particularly high capacity, put humans in close proximity – the antithesis of communicable disease mitigation and “social distancing”.  Studies demonstrate most public transit vehicles harbor pathogens.  No cleaning is absolute; the first infected passenger undoes it.

COVID 19 May be With us for a Long Time

Many experts predict the COVID virus is part of our lives going forward.  A paper from the Yale School of Medicine states “COVID 19 can stay with us forever” https://medicine.yale.edu/news-article/24941/   Dr. Anthony Fauci states: “[a COVID vaccine] might not last forever and its effect will be finite“.  He goes on to say: “We might need a boost to continue the protection, but right now we do not know how long it lasts…….the durability of immunity that’s protective ranges from three to six months to almost always less than a year” https://www.deseret.com/u-s-world/2020/7/8/21316087/coronavirus-covid-19-vaccine-booster  CNBC reports in an interview with a noted virologist and former head of the CDC: “Even With a Vaccine,  COVID is here to stay…… it might be with us forever” https://www.cnbc.com/2020/07/28/even-with-vaccine-we-will-be-dealing-with-this-forever-virus-experts.html

The bottom line is, we don’t know the future of COVID 19,  a reality that makes investing huge sums into public transit a reckless endeavor.  Perhaps even more disturbing, due to climate change and other factors, pandemics are increasing in frequency; what will the NEXT pandemic bring?

 

 

THE LESSON OF NEW YORK

COVID19 cases in New York City, largely correlate to public transit and population density. New Yorkers, many of whom don’t own a personal vehicle, are forced to accept health risk for mobility.  No easy answer exists for a stranded, public transit dependent population, other than to avoid creating the problem in the first place.  As of July 28th there have been over 4,000 MTA workers who have tested positive and 131 have died – these numbers support the concern of public transit contagion.

Related read:The Subways Seeded the Massive Coronavirus Epidemic in New York City” 

 

 

“…They stand on station platforms and at bus stops, nervously waiting for rides in confined spaces with strangers — prime conditions for spreading the virus. They board thinking the virus could be lurking anywhere — on subway poles, bus seats or floating in the air around them from another passenger’s uncovered cough or sneeze.” 
– Washington Post

 

IS MASS TRANSIT COMPATIBLE WITH “SOCIAL DISTANCING”?

 

Most of the Capital Metro vehicles do not have openable windows, limiting fresh air circulation in the confined cars. The majority of filtration systems are ineffective against COVID-19 and many other microscopic pathogens.

 

 

 

PANDEMICS ARE OCCURRING AT A HIGHER FREQUENCY

Four pandemics occurred in the 20th century (Spanish Flu, Asian Flu, Hong Kong Flu and HIV/AIDS) – an average of one every 25 years.  Since 2002, we’ve had FIVE (SARS, Swine Flu, MERS, Ebola and COVID-19) – one every 4 years!

Spanish Flu killed over 50 million people (675k in the U.S.); since that time, global population has grown over 400%. Medical experts warn that more lethal pandemics are coming, along with antibiotic resistant staph “super-bugs”; it’s not a matter of “if,” but “when.”  As risk increases, so must our defense.

 

Today, worldwide, there is an apparent increase in many infectious diseases, including some newly-circulating ones (HIV/AIDS, hantavirus, hepatitis C, SARS, etc.). This reflects the combined impacts of rapid demographic, environmental, social, technological and other changes in our ways-of-living. Climate change will also affect infectious disease occurrence.”
– J Patz / World Health Organization

 

“I think what we’re looking at now with SARS-CoV-2 [COVID-19], is that process of becoming a new seasonal human pathogen. And so, in that sense, humans will be with this virus forever.”
– Prof. Paul Kellam virology professor, Imperial College

 

COVID-19’s effect on traffic congestion and air quality, provide insight into the future benefits of work-from-home, micro-mobility, renewable energy and electrification. It also brings an awareness that public transit and high-density development, can provide fertile ground for viral transmission. COVID-19 has decimated public transit ridership, will be with us for some time to come and could become endemic.

 

COVID-19 is shown to have more dire effects on people of color, many of whom use public transit. Public transit disproportionately exposes this demographic to a  potential high contagion environment, with greater risk for infection.

 

Knowing what we know now, borrowing billions for a transit system, so vulnerable to communicable disease, makes no sense. The New Mobility’s distributed, lower-density model is far less susceptible to these failings.


DRIVER EDUCATION 

Of all the things we can do to improve traffic congestion, improving driver skill is top of the list. It comes at little cost and provides a lot of bang for the buck.

 

Traffic congestion is typically a result of two things: 1) Roadway displacement by excess vehicles, and 2) Human error. Significant mobility improvement can be economically achieved through driver education.

 

Common bad behaviors:

  • Following too closely
  • Speeding
  • Excessive lane changing
  • Failure to obey roadway rules/marking
  • Last minute travel decisions
  • Vindictive driving
  • Distracted driving

 

These are major contributors to our traffic congestion and accidents.  Many of these issues will increasingly be mitigated by on-board safety technologies, all of them will be resolved by widespread V2X (defined on next page) roadway coordination.

 

 

But what can we do today? First, we begin running public service announcements to educate drivers. Second, we increase penalties for failure to follow the guidelines.


V2X 

Of all the evolving transportation technologies, V2X (Vehicle to Everything) promises the greatest change in the short term. V2X communication, is a way for cars, trucks and other vehicles on our roadways, to coordinate with their environment and each other. Federal Pilot programs, to prove and refine this technology, have been ongoing in a number of cities for years. V2X functions on several platforms: On-board, Dedicated Short Range Communication (DSRC), Cellular (C-V2X), Millimeter Wave and 5/6g networks.

Source: Intellias

 

If improved roadway safety and less congestion is your goal, here’s the answer.  This technology will progressively and profoundly change the flow of vehicles in our city. Benefits include safety, reduced travel time, accident reduction and a cleaner environment. By imposing overarching control on vehicles, combined with redundant, on-board safety systems as a back-up, we can enforce uniform speed and operating distances. V2X will provide dynamic routing based on current road/traffic conditions, enforce collision avoidance and provide information on infrastructure, pedestrians, travel conditions and weather.

 

On-board, V2X type functionality already exists in many vehicles and is becoming standard on new production cars. Advanced Driver Avoidance Systems (ADAS) currently offer collision avoidance, lane keeping, blind spot/lane change alert/avoidance, anti-lock brakes, adaptive cruise control and automatic braking.

 

Austin Transportation had the foresight to recruit a nationally known expert in this technology for our city. He has specific talents in the area of V2X and is already at work implementing the technology. Expect 15 V2X intersections this summer, with dozens more coming. That’s a bright spot, let’s build on it.

 


5-6g COMMUNICATION 

5/6g will usher in one of the greatest technological leaps in our lifetimes. Austin should be at the forefront of this ‘next generation’ of digital communication. For mobility purposes, 5/6g will provide a foundational communication layer that enables connected transportation to function at a high level.

Austin should remove all roadblocks to 5/6g implementation and lead in its deployment. High-speed data transfer is vital for low-latency applications like V2X. Adoption of evolving technologies like V2X and the “Internet of Things” (IoT), will demand even greater bandwidth, including millimeter wave transmission.

 

The recent COVID-19 crisis has underscored our reliance on digital communications. The shutdown will have lasting effects on our society and applications like work-from-home and e-commerce will demand more bandwidth. That demand will increase as we re-orient society in response to this crisis and in the future.

 

There are a some who are suspicious of 5g and believe it is a conspiracy or that it has dire health effects. The good news is there is very little to no evidence to support those beliefs. The science shows that the positives of 5-6g communications far outweigh any risks.

 

5-6g will require a great number of transceivers to provide robust, wide area coverage. These “antenna” sites need to be coordinated and authorized in the public sphere by government. We need to get going.

 

Images: systemoneservices.com and Geospacialworld.net

 

To show real leadership, we could go one step further: create a citywide, 5/6g municipal network with access for all citizens. Like water and electricity, data has become a vital resource for our community, and the faster the better.

 

Let’s make high-speed data access a public utility and provide it in an equitable fashion. Higher data rates offered by 5/6g, open the door to a smart, connected Austin and improved mobility. The shift to a distributed workplace environment will further expand demand for this resource as commuter mobility demand contracts.

 

An “Austin Network” could provide content and functionality for our entire city and assure internet equity for all citizens regardless of income and neighborhood. For less than the cost of the Blue/Gold Line, we can implement this service – a service that affordably serves ALL our citizens and parts of our city with this vital resource.

 

Besides offering low cost Wi-Fi to citizens, the ‘Austin Network’ would handle huge amounts of data and the many functional bits-and-bytes for control and monitoring systems. Security, network integrity and physical implementation, will require work, but 5/6g is the coming future. Mission-critical services and applications, like Internet of Things (IoT), Blockchain/Tangle, power grid and transportation control will be a priority, while others, like smart meter readings, are less time-sensitive. Our ‘Austin Network’ must be both flexible and scaled to the various services based their respective needs.

 

Some interesting things developing in the high speed data communication world.
One is the Quantum Internet, a quantum mechanics based transmission concept that allows secure and fast data transmission.  This internet would operate in parallel with the one we have today and promises a secure, high speed global network.  “a fundamentally new way in which we communicate with each other and share information. It’s something that cannot be done with the existing internet.  This technology allows you to build extraordinary sensors. It would allow cities to monitor things like water levels, pollution levels, the behavior of the energy grid and how to rebalance energy distribution very efficiently” David Awschalom, University of Chicago  
Another is Elon Musk’s STARLINK.  Starlink is already partially in place and hopes to eventually have over 40,000 satellites in low orbit.   Musk’s company Space X provides the transport vehicles that carry an amazing number of satellites per launch.  There are currently over 500 in orbit.  In a test conducted with the U.S. Air Force, Starlink was able to achieve speeds in excess of 600 Mbps.  Because Starlink satellites operate in low earth orbit at about 350 miles, they offer superior coverage and low latency compared to other communication/data satellites.  The satellites are relatively small and built with materials that decompose as they enter the earth’s atmosphere when their usable life is expired.   Musk hopes Starlink will become the dominant global internet provider and it is designed to provide coverage across the globe, particularly to places where access is limited today.

DEDICATED SHORT RANGE COMMUNICATION (DSRC)

An alternative to 5/6G, Dedicated Short-Range Communication (DSRC) is a wireless communication protocol designed to allow automobiles in the intelligent transportation system (ITS) to communicate with other automobiles or infrastructure technology. DSRC technology operates on the 5.9 GHz band of the radio frequency spectrum and is effective over short to medium distances.

DSRC offers secure, low latency, high reliability that supports interoperability. It receives very little interference, even in extreme weather conditions, because of the short range that it spans. This makes it ideal for communication to and from fast-moving vehicles.

 

Competition over radio frequency spectrum has put 5.9Ghz DSRC in a rivalry with 5/6G.  C-V2X, initially proposed by Qualcomm, which uses cell phone 5/6G is a strong contender.

 


MOBILITY-AS-A-SERVICE (MaaS) 

Imagine a world where most people don’t own cars and use vehicles on-demand. It’s predicted that in ten years, only a quarter of Americans will own a car and the MaaS (mobility as a service) market will be worth $1.76 trillion.  Intel announced at the 2020 Consumer Electronic Show that it’s going “all in” on MaaS.

Source: CBInsights

 

Sophisticated vehicles will be produced, fielded, and maintained for public conveyance by fleet operators.  Maintenance will be done by trained technicians in special facilities to assure the vehicles are fully functional and compliant with coming standards like V2X.

 

We are in the formative years for this service; Uber, Lyft, rental bicycles, and scooters are all early on-demand, public MaaS offerings.  As pervasive as they are today, they’re baby steps to the future. These more exclusive options provide less exposure to pathogens, have less surfaces exposed to contagion and unlike public transit, can be sanitized in the field, resulting in a cleaner, safer transportation option.

 

MaaS offers the ultimate equity, vehicles are available to all citizens in all parts of town. Low income riders can benefit from subsidies, based on Median Family Income and funded by existing public transit taxes that currently go to CapMetro. We can finally achieve true transportation equity and equality with a superior on-demand/door-to-door system.

 

MaaS is a distributed, on-demand, real-time platform that can include any combination of transport methods such as car and bike sharing, robo-taxi, micro transit, and car rentals/leases, and provides everything for the consumer from travel planning to payment.

 

Subscribe to an app and you could have access to a scooter, bike, car or a transit pass, for however long you need it. The end result is a more convenient and affordable method of getting around.

  • Easy route planning— Real-time route planning allows users to plan journeys often using multiple modes, based on intelligent suggestions tailored to personal preference.
  • Simplified payments— MaaS users can pay for transportation using phones, smartwatches and bank cards, before or after their journey, or on a subscription basis.  It eliminates physical payment, where contagion is a concern.  Subsidized ridership benefits can automatically be entered into the system, making a more frictionless process for low income travelers.
  • The personal touch— MaaS is a fully personalized service that builds relationships between users and the transport providers. By using big data, two-way communication and constant user feedback, MaaS systems become the ultimate customer-focused transportation platform.  User needs and routines are defined and the appropriate services made available.

 

 

“Breakthroughs in self-driving cars are only the beginning: The entire way we travel from point A to point B is changing, creating a new ecosystem of personal mobility. The shift will likely affect far more than transportation and automakers —industries from insurance and health care to energy and media should reconsider how they create value in this emerging environment.“
– Deloitte, The Rise of Mobility as a Service


SHARED MOBILITY 

Source: Alphabet

People riding together = cars off the road. Viability of shared, fixed-route/fixed-schedule systems, like light rail, is handicapped by their logistical and physical shortcomings. They offer good service to the few who live along their fixed paths, but are too inconvenient for everyone else. Unless you have extremely high density, something that doesn’t exist in Austin and is unlikely to ever exist here, they cannot reach their ridership potential. Those riders are captive to the fixed schedules and numerous stops and starts made by rail systems.

 

Artificial intelligence coordinated, application based, on demand/point to point ride sharing, overcomes those impediments. Modern ride sharing software, powered by artificial intelligence, can match riders by destination, demand and travel window – from anywhere in the city at any time. Ridesharing and carpooling, foster efficient, less cars-on-the-road, commuting; expanding this segment of mobility should be a priority.

 

Ride Hailing – Transportation Network Companies (TNC)

Uber, Lyft and other TNC’s have had profound impact on our transportation.  They are early symbols of the emerging, On-Demand/Door to Door, transportation age.

 

Development of ride hailing software and its capabilities to coordinate transportation requests provides a foundation piece of the on-demand New Mobility.

 

Because they encounter a fraction of the disparate ridership of public transit, sanitized TNC vehicles offer a safer and more convenient alternative.  Vehicle cleaning doesn’t require a special facility and most service can be performed in the field.  Less surfaces, less passengers and easier servicing offers safer mobility.

 

Eventually we will see autonomous shared services in the ride hailing industry.  Waymo, Zoox and others are already exploring this space.  This will increase efficiency, reduce ridership cost and decrease congestion.  It will also devastate inconvenient public transit.

 

Shared Access Vehicles (SAV)

Vehicle sharing will become more commonplace as time goes by.  The average personal automobile sits unused most of the time.  Vehicle sharing can make vehicles more efficient by extending their service time; lowering the cost of mobility.  A purchased vehicle can become an investment, where the owner obtains a return from its use by others.

 

Car Clubs

Car clubs can reduce the cost of mobility. Vehicle cost and utilization shared among members is common practice in aircraft and recreational watercraft. Traditional rental companies and manufacturers are getting involved, with Hertz, Enterprise, Ford and BMW recently investing in or acquiring car clubs. Clubs can provide a more personalized transportation experience for people who can afford to upgrade to more exotic vehicles. The concept already exists with entities like Dream Cars and the Houston Motor Club.

 


MOBILITY HUBS/PASSENGER ACCESS ZONES

As simple as a street corner, or elaborate as a specialized plaza.  Mobility hubs consolidate supply and demand into one location; a “mobility marketplace.” This consolidation, reduces starts and stops and encourages shared use across modes. Most importantly, these hubs can be located where demand actually exists, not on artificial transit corridors designated by bureaucrats to accommodate obsolete fixed route public transit.

Source: Flash Parking

Combining multiple modes of transportation together in one physical location has many advantages. Typical components include carshare stations, robo-taxi access, bike parking, wayfinding elements, docked bicycle & scooter access, charging stations, public transit, and consolidated pick-up/drop-off points. The result is more ride sharing, micro mobility, less automobile use and cars off the road.

 

Austin-based Flash Parking is an emerging leader in this space. They re-purpose existing parking facilities into Mobility Hubs, combined with traditional parking, that frees up curb-space for alternative use.

 

 

 

A BETTER USE FOR THE ORANGE LINE FUNDING

 

For the cost of the Orange Line light rail, we could do the following:

  • Implement park and rides on all major arterials into our city
  • Implement the “Austin Network” a 5/6G city utility to equitably deliver high speed communications throughout our city, at no or low cost to consumers
  • Create a comprehensive network of convenient, safe, illuminated, sheltered mobility hubs and hundreds of passenger access zones to serve the New Mobility
  • Fund a robust Internet of Things (IoT) program for public infrastructure
  • Fund implementation of V2X infrastructure on all major and secondary arterials
  • Provide $10k rebates on 10,000 electric vehicles and $500 rebates on 40,000 electric scooters
  • Build a world class concert venue like the Hollywood Bowl at Auditorium Shores
  • Put $1 billion into affordable housing, effectively ending homelessness as an issue

 


MICRO MOBILITY

Half of car trips span less than five miles, making them ideal for short-range travel options like Micro Mobility – a major player in the New Mobility. It has the potential to reduce cars on the road by 40% or more in urban settings.  Austin is a perfect fit for Micro Mobility, a study by INRIX shows Micro Mobility can potentially satisfy 45% of Austin’s urban travel.

 

INRIX TOP 25 CITIES FOR MICRO MOBILITY – Austin is 21st

 

 

This growing form of transportation utilizes smaller, single-occupant vehicles like docked and dock-less bicycles, e-bikes, tricycles and electric scooters.  They reduce the footprint needed to move people short distances and take cars off the road.  Micro Mobility reduces reliance on the automobile and fight greenhouse gas emissions at the same time.

 

Micro Mobility vehicles are typically compatible with bicycle lanes and can greatly expand the usefulness of this existing infrastructure.  As cities face population growth, moving more residents through existing transportation networks becomes a greater challenge.  We must think beyond bicycle lanes.

 

 

Austin needs to wake up and get serious on micro mobility. We need regulatory policy that assures responsible, safe operation that includes:

  • Safety equipment – helmets
  • Registration of owned vehicles
  • Audible signaling and lighting
  • Liability insurance
  • A city insurance pool for low income users to join
  • Rules on storage/placement of vehicles
  • Right-of-way rules
  • Distracted operation rules
  • Speed limit
  • Appropriate enforcement

 

Funds exist from prior bonds for urban trail and bicycle infrastructure, can be dedicated to help create micro-mobile pathways. Before another foot is paved or designed, we should make sure all future infrastructure is tri-use compliant (Bicycle/Pedestrian/Micro Mobility) wherever possible. Austin should be a leader in designing for micro mobility. Bollards along Shoal Creek put homeowners and motorists at odds with the bicycling community, and are an inferior band-aid that is substandard for long-term future mobility. We can do better.

 

These pathways should be specifically designed for this new generation of mobility. To attract significant ridership, they must be safe and inviting. Most importantly, they must be functional and practical. These pathways should constitute a logical network that allows reliable travel with a minimum of interruption through the demand areas of our city.

 

For a minuscule portion of Project Connect’s cost, we can create a world-class, dedicated micro mobility pathway system; let’s lead, not follow. While inexpensive alternatives exist (bollards, paint), it makes no sense not to do it right. Resources that serve a greater demand justify greater investment.

 

If the city wants to realize its vision in the Strategic Mobility Plan this will be a key component. It has already begun: https://data.mobility.austin.gov/micromobility-data/

 

Source: National League of Cities

 

A BETTER USE FOR THE BLUE/GOLD LINE FUNDING 

 

For less than the cost of the Blue/Gold Line light rail, we can implement a first class, illuminated, V2X enabled, tri-modal network throughout our city, designed to support Micro-mobility.

 

Austin would be a global leader in Micro-mobility and bicycle infrastructure; setting the standard for others to follow.  A safe, secure inviting network for recreation and commuting, that will take far more cars off the road than the train.

 

While a localized Blue line would only serve a small segment of our city; a comprehensive tri-mode trail network, would provide ALL Austinites infrastructure they will actually use and benefit from.  Finally, a community project of this magnitude would create significant employment in our community.

 

 

BICYCLES, E-BIKES AND TRICYCLES

Bicycles are, within the constraints of weather, an excellent short/moderate trip option for the physically enabled.  Electric motor assisted bicycles (E-Bike) extend the user base and range.

 

 

An E-Bikes classification has been developed by the Bicycle Product Suppliers Association and PeopleForBIkes that lay out legal concepts and a three level ‘low-speed electric bicycle’ classification system:

 

  • A “class 1 electric bicycle” or “low-speed pedal-assisted electric bicycle,” is a bicycle equipped with a motor that provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling, ant that ceases to provide assistance when the bicycle reaches the speed of 20 miles per hour.
  • A “class 2 electric bicycle,” or “low-speed throttle-assisted electric bicycle,” is a bicycle equipped with a motor that may be used exclusively to propel the bicycle, and that is not capable of providing assistance when the bicycle reaches the speed of 20 miles per hour.
  • A “class 3 electric bicycle,” or “speed pedal-assisted electric bicycle,” is a bicycle equipped with a motor that provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling, and that ceases to provide assistance when the bicycle reaches the speed of 28 miles per hour, and is equipped with a speedometer.

 

HOW MANY E-BIKE ARE SOLD EACH YEAR IN THE U.S.?  Current estimates are 260,000, they constitute the fastest growing segment of bicycle sales, with approximately 75% year over year growth.

 

HOW MUCH DO E-BIKES COST?  Entry-level e-bikes start about $1,200 and can rise to over $5,000 or more.  As adoption rates and competition rise, prices will fall.

 

CAN E-BIKES BE SAFELY OPERATED ON BIKE PATHS?  Yes. Based on research, e-bike riders exhibit similar safety behavior to riders of pedal powered bicycles. They travel faster when riding on roadway (+1.8 mph), but actually slower than regular bikes riders when on bicycle paths (-1 mph).

 

Source: peopleforbikes.org  

 

SCOOTERS

Stand up platform “kick” scooters provide the most visible form of Micro Mobility in Austin. Bird, Lime, and others have inundated our city with these devices. While hurdles still exist in the area of regulation and safety, they are here to stay.

Scooter technology is improving and larger, electric powered, sit down scooters, with cargo capacity are available. India, Spain, China and France are leaders in their use. They will soon be common in American urban environments. Let’s get ready!

 

PERSONAL MOBILITY/OTHER – SEGWAY, HOVERBOARD, SKATEBOARD

This class of vehicle allows portable transportation that can function in both pedestrian (sidewalk) and bicycle/micro-mobility pathways. It’s a class of transportation, that is seeing tremendous development, declining cost and increasing range.

 

Segway/Ninebot is a major producer of equipment and produces many of the kick scooters in the market (like Bird and Lime). They are committed to Micro Mobility and developing exciting products that will expand this market.

 

“You don’t need a 4,000lb vehicle, to move a 150lb human a couple of miles.”
Dean Kamen, Segway

 

E-MOTORCYCLES & ROAD TRI/QUADCYCLES

A next step up from scooters, these vehicles are capable of highway speeds, two passengers with greater range, and cargo capacity. In many countries, small displacement motorcycles and sit-down scooters are ubiquitous for short-mid range transportation. Because of higher speed and capacity, they are more for use on general roadway infrastructure and incompatible with micro mobility pathways that share bicycles.

 

Electrification and rapidly advancing on-board technologies are also improving this class of vehicle. Antilock brakes, stability control, collision avoidance, traction and other ‘ride by wire’ systems can enhance safety.

 

MUST WATCH: VISIONARY TALK ON MICRO/URBAN MOBILITY


TRACKLESS ELECTRIC TRAMS 

With far more capacity than a ‘bendy’ bus and a sophisticated suspension system that eliminates the roadway issues that plague buses, this new high capacity system is now being tested.  Many transit experts believe it can replace light rail at a fraction of the cost. Benefits include, easy re-routing, no need for expensive rail bed, elimination of much of the disruption during construction and a sophisticated, quieter rubber tire advanced hydraulic undercarriage that gives a rail smooth ride. A rechargeable battery system eliminates the costly and unsightly, overhead cable power system. Proponents claim it is 1/10th the cost of light rail and can operate in both a dedicated or shared guideway.

 


 

MICRO TRANSIT 

Micro Transit consists of vehicles that typically serve 16 or less passengers. They operate in a distributed environment, that can include fixed routes and schedules where justified. Project Connect would continue the status quo, running large, usually empty, “one size fits all” buses to fixed destinations. That kind of stale thinking is ceding way to Micro Transit that scales to ridership and destination demand.

Transit agencies and numerous private companies like Bridj, Uber, Dollar Van, Via and others, are already migrating to micro transit solutions around the world.  Superior service using small-scale, on-demand vehicles that offer flexible routing.  Ideal for commuter “ride pooling” and mobility hub group pickup application, they offer greater efficiency, lower emissions and diversity of operation, things no large bus or rail transit system can provide.

 

PRIVATE SECTOR – Corporate shuttles allow businesses to move employees between company locations and can offer express commute services on an exclusive V2X pathway.

 

Firms like Via and Transloc offer small vehicle pick-up services and circulators providing mobility in urban areas for profit. Think of it as the “missing middle” in commuting and transit.

 

Driver-only buses are worse than single occupant automobiles.”

PUBLIC SECTOR – CapMetro runs a lot of empty buses around Austin. This is particularly true during non-commute hours. It’s time to move to smaller vehicles operating in a distributed on-demand model. Vehicles like Toyota’s ‘E-Pallet’, a small, 12-passenger electric vehicle can do double duty for delivery of goods. CapMetro could also invest in docked vehicles and offer them at transit stops or mobility hubs where they frequent, for last/first mile solutions or short trips under 5 miles.

 


AUTONOMOUS VEHICLES 

Source: Smart Cities World

 

A coming revolution is on the horizon. Of all the impending AI based technologies, autonomy will have the greatest impact on our mobility. It is a game changer on the scale of the horse and buggy to automobile transition of 100 years ago. Level 5 autonomy is already proven technically achievable, under controlled circumstances.  New federal guidelines are encouraging this transformation (USDOT AV 4.0) and standards are evolving.

 

Regrettably, autonomy has been over-sold by enthusiasts over the past decade, fostering unrealistic expectations and subsequent criticism. Make no mistake, however: hundreds of billions of dollars fuel this transportation revolution with major companies like Google, Intel, Ford and GM planning their futures on it. Like any complex technology, it takes time to get it right. It’s still early, but autonomous vehicles will be commonplace before Project Connect is completed.

 

Corporate and manufacturer-owned fleets of autonomous vehicles, appear likely to dominate this form of transportation. These will be vehicles people use, as oppose to own. There are economies of scale for maintenance performed in a fleet environment. Improved efficiency in mobility, a smaller universe of vehicles, and micro mobility will expand the capacity of our roadway infrastructure and reduce travel time.

Source: Governors Highway Safety Assn.

 

Autonomous vehicles have logged millions of miles with lower incident rates than human operated ones. The technology is in a constant state of improvement. Systems, like Intel’s ‘Mobileye’ already exist in over 50 million vehicles globally. Companies like Nvidia, are harnessing advanced computer technologies of incredible power.  Products like their ‘Jetson’ and ‘Drive AGX’ will have a transformative effect in manufacturing, construction, food production, material delivery, marine products and human mobility; it’s all about to change.

 

A whole new class of autonomy is arriving with products like ‘Open Pilot,’ a $1,000 retrofit that upgrades newer level 1 vehicles to level 2-3 autonomy. This is a breakthrough product category that is constantly evolving using AI, crowd sourcing and machine learning.

 

The integration of autonomy will be in phases. It has already begun in vehicles that have lane keeping, collision avoidance and adaptive cruise control. Human oversight will be needed for the first couple generations as technology refines and autonomous cars and Robo Taxi’s become ubiquitous:

 

  • Sensor systems and awareness of the dynamic world around the autonomous vehicle is still evolving. Low cost, uniform standards need further development.
  • V2X has had several successful tests and standards are in process, but widespread implementation of the technology is still to be done. This is an area of investment Austin should be focusing on.
  • Consumer confidence levels and acceptance of the technology, by the public at large still needs improvement. People will be surprised by the pace of technology and the speed of transition.

 

 

It’s a good time for Austin to keep our powder dry. Cities burdened with obsolete, expensive-to-operate rail systems will envy our restraint. A lot of forward-thinking programs exist at the Federal level to foster the New Mobility. As technologies prove their merit, policy will shift accordingly, as it has with solar and electrification. Forward-looking projects will have better opportunity for Federal funds without standing in line for a diminishing pot of money. The Federal Capital Investment Grant (CIG) program for transit is overwhelmed and many cities have complete applications ahead of Austin. Better funding opportunity may exist off the beaten path.


FUTUREPATH

Source: techcrunch.com

 

Austin has an opportunity to set a new standard for express urban transportation. Project Connect would dedicate billions to the “Orange Line” alignment, to serve a tiny fraction of our transportation demand.

 

Austin traffic congestion centers on north-south travel. The existing primary conduits, IH-35 and Mopac, need help. The US183/Bergstrom expressway and 360 improvement will improve flow, but more can be done. That could come in the form of a revolutionary, ‘FuturePath’: a dedicated express pathway, designed for the New Mobility and V2X; an efficient people and material moving machine. Imagine the expertise and funding this prototype would attract.

 

We could create a 4-6 lane dedicated pathway along this alignment, with mobility hub pull outs, to get loading/unloading and exiting vehicles out of traffic flow. Many of these hubs can also serve as pocket parks and community gathering areas. Associated tri-use micro mobility lanes could connect the hubs to the neighborhood.  Over passes at east/west cross streets will eliminate intersection conflict.

 

Most importantly, ‘FuturePath’ will be exclusively for V2X enabled vehicles. It would be particularly valuable for first responders and emergency vehicles, providing quick access to six Austin hospitals. These are vital functions in an urban environment, public transit cannot provide. As technology advances, we will have infrastructure to take advantage of it. FuturePath could serve as a technology test bed, attracting key players in the industry; Austin’s smart mobility program was established for new mobility ideas like this.

 

One lane on Mopac and IH-35 could similarly be dedicated to V2X enabled vehicles (and HOV/express use). This will also foster demand for connected technology to begin cutting traffic congestion in a safe, controlled environment.

 

We shouldn’t waste time and money engineering Project Connect. Those resources could be channeled into Austin’s ‘FuturePath,’ something that can deliver on Project Connect promises to more people.


E-COMMERCE & AUTOMATION

Automation has been quietly and rapidly changing our world. It began in the 80’s with the advent of inexpensive micro-processing. Automated teller machines and word processors were in a first wave. Self-checkout, online banking, video education, record access via internet and other applications are commonplace. Proof of this progress can be seen in the growth of FANG stocks (Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, and Google) in the past decade. Big change will come with quantum/GPU/edge computing power, artificial intelligence, machine learning, 3d, robotics, sensor/IOT, and more.

 

 

ONLINE SHOPPING

Historically, shoppers drove personal vehicles around from store to store. Today, much of that activity is done in the comfort of the home, with a computer.  Less “shopping” trips, equal cars off the road and lower demand for retail space.

 

This diversion of consumer purchasing activity has put pressure on traditional brick and mortar storefronts.  Where stores pull up stakes, the locations and parking lots can be re-purposed into a mix of housing, commercial and public/pedestrian spaces. This can occur without a lot of disruption and complication since development and infrastructure already exists there. It can be the beginning of a new “conversion industry.”

 

In-home purchasing migrated from mail order catalogs and 800 numbers, to the Internet where Amazon has emerged as the largest retailer. Grocery operations like HEB, Walmart, Whole Foods and others have also launched online stores with delivery service. At some point, the Internet of Things will increasingly automate routine consumable purchases.

 

An associated leap in efficiency also exists in the actual delivery of goods and material to the end user (logistics), helping diminish roadway demand, but more is needed. The supply chain, from manufacturer to end user, has become more direct. Goods go from automated distribution centers directly to the consumer, reducing trucking and transfers of goods through traditional retail sales outlets. Coordinated and consolidated delivery systems, soon to be automated with ‘internet of things’ (IoT), will make the process even more capable.

 

Growing demand for e-commerce delivery will result in 36% more delivery vehicles in inner cities by 2030.  Autonomous airborne and ground-based delivery systems, will augment or replace many of the delivery vans we see today. UPS, the USPS, Federal Express and others are experiencing a revolution in their industry and business models.  They are already planning a transition of services and have pilot projects for intelligent delivery in progress. This isn’t the future; it’s today!

 

Source: World Economic Forum

FURTHER SUGGESTED READING: https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/insights/focus/future-of-mobility/future-of-freight-connected-data-intelligent-automation.html

  

AUTOMATION

The robots are coming; jobs and traffic congestion is leaving!

A coming wave of automation system integration, on the scale of the 18TH century industrial revolution, is transforming manufacturing and the workplace.  A growing number of low skilled work positions, are being assumed by robotic systems.  Already commonplace in large manufacturing facilities, automation is extending outward and downward.  Food services, retail, construction, finance, transportation and other industries are all targets for this change.

 

Demand for “living” wage, leave benefits and imposition of government employment regulation, has helped drive the automation transition.  Systems are now becoming more “off the shelf” with pre-packaged solutions that are cheaper to implement.  As automation systems are deployed, an associated decline in workforce will occur; less workers mean less commuters, less commuters mean less traffic congestion.

 

It’s hard to predict what the world will bring in the next decade.  The safest prediction is that things will change.  Instead of burdening citizens with higher taxes for a questionable transit plan, we should be working to make Austin more affordable and prepare for the impact of automation on jobs.  Our unprecedented low unemployment and growth won’t last forever.

 


ALTERNATIVE TRANSPORTATION ENERGY

ELECTRIFICATION

Source: Volkswagen

Driven by concerns for air quality and climate change, future vehicles powered by brushless electric motors, will become a standard.

 

They aren’t completely free of environmental cost, due to toxic chemicals used in their construction and the emissions from electric generation (unless their charge comes from nuclear or renewables). Electric vehicles (EVs) also place a high demand on certain materials like copper, with the associated environmental impact from mining and refining.

 

Electrified mobility is the future and we should embrace the technology to become less reliant on fossil fuel alternatives. Greatly simplified mechanicals, lower maintenance, enhanced durability, and carbon neutrality make electrified the logical choice for the New Mobility.

 

Electric vehicle fuel cost per mile, is a fraction of one powered fossil fuel.  As solar generation becomes more efficient with power often directly sourced by the consumer, the operating cost will continue to drop.  America has significant domestic fossil fuel reserves that assure legacy vehicles a stable fuel source, for their remaining useful life.  There is also likely to be a growing number of hybrid vehicles for applications that need greater range of operation between charges and load capacity.

 

The cost to maintain an electric vehicle is far less than one with an ICE. Fewer moving parts, mean less maintenance and adjustment. The driveline components are far more compact and lend themselves to a modular design, reducing manufacturing and repair costs. Regenerative braking, suspension, and steering systems are electronically controlled and contribute to reliability.

 

INHIBITORS OF ELECTRIFICATION

  • Range anxiety: Electric vehicles now commonly break the 200 mile/charge baseline, with some exceeding 400 miles. There is a trade-off between battery capacity and range and evolving battery technologies are moving the goal post. https://rmi.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/rmi_breakthrough_batteries.pdf
  • Charging Station infrastructure: Austin has been a leader in implementing accessible charging stations, but we are going to need more, a lot more.
  • Roadway and on-board charging technologies: Many are in development to augment charging stations.
  • Vehicle purchase price: Current offerings are expensive; prices will fall as sales rise. Vehicle cost will plummet when China enters our domestic market. They have positioned themselves as global leader in electric cars and buses.
  • Comfort with the technology: As with anything new, mass adoption takes time. People need to develop comfort and confidence in the technology.

 

 

As the share of electrification in our mobility network rises, mobility costs will fall, along with public transit demand. Think smaller, simpler, cleaner, quicker, quieter, safer, cheaper – a lot of “er’s.”

 

Three things will hasten the demise of Fixed-Route/Fixed-Schedule public transit:

  1. Time-value: Inherent time-consuming inconvenience, particularly in our modern “on demand” world, where time is more valued.
  2. Better alternatives: Superior decentralized, on-demand/point-to-point options
  3. Lower-cost personal vehicles: Electrification and renewables will deliver.

 

Status quo public transit systems like Project Connect are about to be caught in a perfect storm of cost, convenience, and better alternatives. When costs for more convenient alternatives fall, so does transit ridership. Think Uber and Lyft.

Source: American Public Transportation Association; U.S. Energy Information Administration

 

Electricity is less expensive than gasoline and EVs are more efficient than gasoline vehicles. Electricity prices are also generally much more stable than gasoline prices. On a national average, it costs less than half as much to travel the same distance in an EV than a conventional vehicle.”
U.S. Dept. of Energy

 

HYDROGEN-POWERED VEHICLES

Another energy option is hydrogen power. Three automakers currently produce hydrogen vehicles: Toyota, Honda and Hyundai.  The current weak links are fuel cost, availability and refining emissions.  These are all areas in need of improvement.  Vehicle and fuel production costs, make this a limited, fad technology for the near term.

 

HUMAN-POWERED VEHICLES

Human-powered bicycles, skateboards, tricycles, kick scooters and roller skates all facilitate mobility at little cost to the environment. Reduction of carbon output and health benefit from the exercise. A win-win for Austin, lets be sure they have safe space to operate.


 

RENEWABLE ENERGY

To meaningfully address climate change and hold temperature rise in this century to 1.5°C, vehicle electrification and clean distributed solar source power, is requisite. Like the New Mobility, our vision of the energy future is also distributed. Carbon reductions from Project Connect, would be insignificant and are a trendy sales pitch.  We support conversion and investment into renewable energy. Around 60% of human-generated carbon emissions come from electricity generation and transportation – we can change that.

 

 

Solar panel energy capture efficiency is advancing at an amazing rate.  Based on the current evolution of solar panels, solar will dominate the energy market.  Higher efficiencies allow more practical implementation of solar in less space.  Enough energy from the sun hits the earth in one hour to power our entire planet for a year!  High-efficiency photovoltaic collectors, integrated into electrified vehicles, will help recharge their batteries.

 

Currently, renewable energy technology is unable to consistently meet demand; for that reason, a storage component is required. There are many technologies and methods for reserve energy storage. Here’s a good primer video on the subject:

 

 

Massive investments in battery manufacturing and steady advances in technology have set in motion a seismic shift in how we will power our lives and organize energy systems as early as 2030. Battery/storage products like Tesla’s “Power Wall” are being developed by several well financed companies. Electric vehicle batteries may someday contribute to a distributed storage network, that provides distributed power when the sun’s not shining – a ‘Napster’ for power. Our cars and homes can become part of a transactive energy environment. Currently we use centralized generation electricity – coming from a power plant. A lot of future power demand will be fulfilled by a distributed generation network, where generation is closer to and often owned by the end user. To realize this future, there will be the need to overcome special energy interests that want to perpetuate the centralized model – like the City of Austin’s Austin Energy.

 

Improvement in solar panel technology is driving down cost. Technologies like dual side and 3D panels, transparent panels, thermophotovoltaics, perovskite crystal and flexible panels are shifting the industry. The existing efficiencies of 12-18% are soon to be eclipsed by new technology panels boasting 25% and higher. (Video on current solar panel technology: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8t_DFI4O6v4.) New material science, like capture technology and battery storage advances, promise cheap, efficient, and abundant solar power. Widespread integration of solar into everyday infrastructure will help meet future demand for electricity.

 

Austin has abundant sunlight and some of the lowest solar integration costs in the country. Just as distributed, on-demand mobility, will render fixed-route public transit obsolete, distributed transactive power generation & storage will make coal-fired power plants obsolete.

 

A BETTER USE FOR THE TUNNEL MONEY

For the cost of the dubious Project Connect tunnel, we could install solar panels on all of the residential structures in Austin.

 

This would provide a smaller carbon footprint, modernization of our power grid, and a leap to equitable, affordable, clean energy. This plan would create thousands of semi-skilled, ‘clean energy,’ economy-boosting, jobs. Distributed, solar power, sets us up for the coming clean, electrified New Mobility. The best part?  Reduced or eliminated electric bills for Austin residents!

 

In contrast, Project Connect, for many times the cost of this solar plan, would only serve a small segment of our community, cost massive sums annually to operate/maintain, and despite the claims would have little net impact on climate change.

 

We can be a leader in renewable energy, fighting climate change and affordability, or, we can spend a generational investment on an expensive, obsolete liability. The choice is clear.

 


ROADWAY IMPROVEMENT 

IMPROVED ROADWAY MARKING & CONTROL

The day will come when we no longer need traditional traffic control devices. It’s difficult to precisely predict the timing and implementation of advances in technology, but roadway control 20 years from now will look and function very different from today.

 

We need to make sure our roadway line striping, pavement and signage is up-to-date. On-board driver assist and safety systems rely on camera sensors and look for lane lines. As pavement wears and fades, the marking contrast also diminishes. High-contrast striping, besides helping human drivers, allows camera-based recognition systems better discriminate the roadway, improving performance and safety.

 

Roadway agencies will continue to maintain roadways well into the future for a mix of human, machine and fully automated vehicles. In this shared environment, marking definition will likely increase in importance. Level two and higher automated vehicles benefit from enhanced road markings to safely navigate problem areas like work zones.

 

ROADWAY EXPANSION – RECONFIGURE FOR HIGHER THROUGHPUT

Systems like INRIX’s AI based transportation analysis, provide unprecedented ability to analyze activity on our roadways with high granularity. We now have the ability to accurately define and target the segments of our transportation system, where greatest need exists. The growing use of expert systems, employing AI, machine learning and advanced software, is central to improving mobility and will bring major change.

 

TxDot’s intersection work on 360 is long overdue, it will prove transformative for vehicle movement in that corridor. Already congested 620, must resolve existing conditions and accommodate future growth in the corridor.  These are only a couple of the many places Project Connect does nothing for.

 

Roadway capacity improvement, reduces the needs for new road building.  Many existing roads have ample right-of-way to support additional traffic lanes. Extra lanes can serve as turning ques and help keep straight lanes open.  Our city is littered with constrictive, frustrating roadway conditions that can be remedied at reasonable cost and with limited disruption. Good examples are South 1st at Annie & Mary where turning is inhibited and backs up traffic. Another is Guadalupe at the UT campus, where frustrating conditions exist, much of it a result of removing lanes for public transit and inhibiting turns.

 

The “Go Big” mobility bond passed four years ago promised bus pull-outs to get loading and unloading vehicles out of the traffic lane. How many have been implemented? How much traffic needs to be stifled behind buses on main arterials like Lamar and Burnet before the promise is kept?

 

HOV DUAL-USE LANES

Dallas and Houston use HOV lanes to great effect, why doesn’t Austin? If the goal is higher occupancy, reward it.  V2X enabled vehicles and express transit should also capitalize on HOV benefit. Dedicate the inside free lane on Mopac and IH-35 to HOV during commute periods. 360 also has abundant right of way and is a prime candidate for a V2X/express/HOV corridor.

 

INTELLIGENT SIGNAL SYSTEMS

Modernizing our traffic signals is another promise made to sell the “big/bold” 2016 mobility bond. Since that bond was passed, we could have done scores of intersections and achieved long promised “synchronization.” We haven’t.

 

Smart camera-based traffic controls that integrate machine learning, artificial intelligence and fuzzy logic can efficiently reduce wait times at intersections. They save time, move traffic, and reduce emissions. The cost is surprisingly low because much of the technology is mature and “off-the-shelf,” and supporting infrastructure (like poles and equipment cabinets) typically already exist. Other cities have implemented these cost-effective improvements on a large scale; why hasn’t Austin? The Austin Transportation Department has made efforts in this direction; it’s a good start, but much, much more needs to be done.

 

 

There are efforts to apply artificial intelligence (AI) to make sense of large amounts of information and change the way that we move around our cities.  INRIX rolled out their AI traffic analysis last year, its resolution lets us analyze our movement in great detail.  This promises a revolution in the targeting and resolution of traffic congestion.

 

Researchers are exploring how traffic management systems can become more dynamic and responsive through the use of AI and information sources like Inrix.  Surtrac technology is being used at 50 intersections in Pittsburgh and since launching, it has reduced wait times at intersections by up to 40%, according to the company. It also claims that journey times in the city have fallen by 25% while vehicle emissions have dropped by up to 20%.

 

The Austin Smart Mobility program plans 50 DSRC/V2X compatible intersections in the near future, 15 by this summer. They are also looking at putting signal equipment below ground, freeing up right-of-way, for physical intersection and roadway improvement.

 

Future traffic controls will be so complex that technologies like AI will be vital. Machine learning will allow us to constantly update the traffic patterns and thus traffic flow. This results in less idle time and fewer emissions.

 

RAMP METERING

More than 2,100 ramp metering installations exist in 29 metropolitan areas; none are in Austin. IH-35 and Mopac (i.e. Steck, Far West, 38th) are ideal for this improvement.

 

 

Examples of Ramp Metering benefits:

Source: Federal Highway Administration

  

INTERSECTION ENHANCEMENT FOR CAPACITY, EFFICIENCY AND THROUGHPUT

Re-configuring intersections can have tremendous benefit for traffic flow and safety. We should be using the latest INRIX AI data to target intersection upgrades based on traffic flows.  Longer turn lane ques buffer turning traffic and get it out of thru lanes in busy intersections.

The improvement of Mopac and Slaughter, a simple re-configuration to diverging diamond, made this a model intersection. Displaced left turn, diverging diamond, median U turn, thru U turn, quadrant, and roundabouts offer a diverse toolkit to improve flow, reduce intersection dwell time, and traffic congestion.

 

Between Austin Transportation Department and TxDOT we have an abundance of talented roadway engineers.  For a small portion of Project Connects cost, we can empower them to reduce intersection congestion and delay.  Wasting funds on Project Connect will assure these needed improvements go unfunded and the unacceptable status quo remains.

 

ROADWAY IMPROVEMENT FOR THE NEW MOBILITY

Highway construction or expansion should include provision for the expanding Micro-Mobility whenever possible.  A comprehensive network of Tri-Use pathways, should be as much as a priority as general roadway in our urban core.  Our goal should be to implement a safe, inviting conduit for bicycles, pedestrians and micro-mobility.  In the New Mobility, this infrastructure can move just as many people in urban environments as roadways.

 

Shared mobility and micro transit have their own roadway needs.  Passenger access zones and mobility hubs will need right of way and facilities.  Public-private-partnerships can help defer the cost for this infrastructure.  It is crucial these facilities remove loading/unloading vehicles from the traffic flow; anyone stuck behind a bus, can attest to the value of that.


ROADWAY MANAGEMENT

Transportation experts and police understand, the leading cause of traffic congestion and accidents, is driver error.  We can reduce this key problem with policy, at low or no cost, here’s some suggestions:

 

Increase penalties for distracted driving  Distracted driving is a major cause of accidents – its reduction will improve safety and traffic congestion, at little to no cost. Existing state and local laws prohibit cell phone use while driving, yet these laws are violated with impunity. Escalating penalties and making sure the public is aware of the increase, could correct most of this bad behavior. $250 for first offense, $500 for a second and $1,000 thereafter should curb violation.

 

Increase penalties for aggressive driving  Aggressive drivers speed, excessively change lanes and follow too closely on our highways. Often, their actions result in road rage, accidents and physical altercation. If we are to reign in the bad behavior, violators should be subject to similar fines, as those for distracted driving. Once people feel the financial sting of their bad behavior, they will reform.

 

Public education outreach to reduce driver error, aggressive and disrespectful driving  People routinely turn across double yellow lines, solid white lines, double white lines and jump curbs. They follow too closely, change lanes too frequently, fail to drive proactively, use exit lanes as their private passing lane, fail to yield and rush to the front of traffic backups – exacerbating and perpetuating the backup. We should be producing and airing public service announcements to illustrate bad behavior and teach proper roadway etiquette.

 

Improve roadway accident and breakdown clearing with response teams   Proper accident response, can mitigate the resulting congestion. Major roadways should have assigned tow and accident response teams to quickly remove vehicles and debris from the roadway. Houston’s “safe clear” created a coordinated response for inoperable vehicles on major roadways. CTRMA’s ‘Hero’ program is also a step in the right direction. Unfortunately its odious overuse of emergency lighting, generates traffic congestion. Their large arrows confuse people into thinking a lane is closed ahead, setting up mass lane change conflict.

 

Reduce and minimize use of emergency lighting for non-emergency conditions There’s excessive blue/red light use for non-emergency conditions on our roadways. It distracts drivers, slows traffic and foments congestion. Emergency lighting in the blue/red range should be exclusive to emergency vehicles and employed in emergency situations, with yellow for non-emergency application. Excessive use of emergency lighting for routine applications like work zones, desensitizes drivers and reduces their effectiveness.

 

Reduce traffic enforcement during rush hours  Nothing is more frustrating than sitting in a line of stop and go traffic, expecting an accident or road closure ahead, then finding it’s just a traffic stop. This disruption degrades roadway flow, often causing far more problems than it resolves, including collisions. Rush hour traffic stops should be restricted to the most egregious of offenses.


TRANSPORTATION DEMAND MANAGEMENT

Traffic Demand Management (TDM), uses information, encouragement, penalties and incentives to reduce cars on the road, particularly during high demand periods. There are both traditional and innovative technology-based services to help people use transit, micro-mobility, ridesharing, walking and telework.”  The COVID19 crisis illustrates the effect of TDM.  It has reduced the demand on our roadways and shortened trip times, particularly in the commute periods.  The ‘silver lining’ of that black cloud is that people and businesses are learning work-from-home is viable and even desirable.  We expect to see significant roadway and public transit demand decreases as a result of COVID19.

 

CONGESTION PRICING

“Congestion pricing is a way of harnessing the power of the market to reduce the waste associated with traffic congestion. Congestion pricing works by shifting some rush hour highway travel to other transportation modes or to off-peak periods, taking advantage of the fact that the majority of rush hour drivers on a typical urban highway are not commuters. By removing a fraction (even as small as 5 percent) of the vehicles from a congested roadway, pricing enables the system to flow much more efficiently, allowing more cars to move through the same physical space. Similar variable charges have been successfully utilized in other industries – for example, airline tickets, cell phone rates, and electricity rates. There is a consensus among economists that congestion pricing represents the single most viable and sustainable approach to reducing traffic congestion.”

Source: https://ops.fhwa.dot.gov/congestionpricing/cp_what_is.htm

 

WORK-FROM-HOME & TELEWORK

Telecommuting/Telework, around for decades has taken off in recent years – largely due to technological advancement in the form of Personal Computers and reliable internet connectivity. Employees can now stay connected via video and data networks. Just as in transportation, the distributed model in the workplace, promises great change. Banking, customer services, on-line education and medicine are all areas that can benefit from telework efficiencies. 

 

IMPACT OF TELECOMMUTING:

Source: EHSToday

 

Almost 40% of the American workforce already works remotely in some form. More Austin workers telework than use public transit! Lower cost electronics with better reliability, combined with high speed internet and home networks will continue to expand this segment going forward. Leaps in hand held computing power, provide function beyond the business computers of only a decade ago. Tablets and smartphones offer portable business solutions that can make anywhere a workplace for many jobs.

 

With a quarter of all employed Americans working from home, telecommuting has moved beyond being just another Millennial trend. It’s become a way of life, disrupting the traditional workplace as we know it with employees who are happier and more productive.”
-Forbes magazine

 

Studies show those who work from home have less stress and are more productive than workers in traditional 9 to 5 jobs. Telecommuting/Telework not only saves time and money, it results in fewer cars on the road, reducing the emissions that contribute to pollution and global warming.

 

Tele-work benefits: http://www.teleworkva.org/whatIsTelework/benefits.aspx

 

The recent COVID-19 crisis has accelerated the adoption and demand for work-from-home and tele-medicine. It provides a “test run” for virtual workplace expansion in government, medical and business. Expect this transition to become permanent as workers migrate to distributed workspaces, further reducing traffic congestion and reducing demand for public transit. To fully realize the distributed workplace model, we need to resolve security, computing power, and socialization issues.

 

SUGGESTED FURTHER READING: https://www.forbes.com/sites/andrealoubier/2017/07/20/benefits-of-telecommuting-for-the-future-of-work/#6c6bd81316c6

 

ALTERNATIVE WORK SCHEDULES & COMPRESSED SCHEDULES TO SHIFT OR REDUCE COMMUTES

Compressed Work Schedules allow employees to work longer hours and have one or two regular days off per pay period, reducing the number of days employees need to commute to work.

 

Flexible Work Schedules allow employees to vary their start and stop times each day, and can be used to avoid peak traffic hours.

 

Maxiflex is a type of Flexible Work Schedule that allows employees, within the limits established by their organization, to: vary their start and end time each workday, vary the total number of hours worked each workday, split their schedule up to 3x in one workday, and/or vary the total number of hours worked each week. These flexibilities can be used to alleviate commuting frustrations in a wide variety of ways

Source: https://traffic.nih.gov/Pages/workschedule.aspx

 

PARKING “CASH OUT” INCENTIVES

Cashing out employer-paid parking, can benefit commuters, employers, taxpayers, and the environment.  An employer can provide employees a choice of a parking spot or cash stipend. Employees can then use the cash to leave the car at home, carpool, use rideshare/TNC, transit, micro mobility or if proximity allows, buy some good walking shoes. Bike lockers and showers can make bicycling more practical for many workers, particularly on hot summer days.

 

We may someday discover improved efficiency in mobility results in excess capacity on existing infrastructure and decreased travel time. That, ironically, would make policies discouraging and penalizing automobile use largely worthless.


CITY OF AUSTIN

“SMART MOBILITY” PROGRAM

There are promising signs at Austin Transportation and their preparation for future mobility technologies. They hired an enthusiastic department head, with significant private sector experience to run smart mobility. This fast paced, rapidly changing area requires engaged, intelligent staff to keep Austin in the game and up on evolving technology. It is the “tip of the spear” for Austin’s mobility future and implementation of the New Mobility.

 

We’re encouraged by the Cities efforts in Smart Mobility. It is a part of government where Public-Private partnerships, can benefit our mobility. This group should be generously funded and given priority in determining mobility for our city. All roadway improvement should go through their review and validated through the lens of coming technology.

 

We’re concerned, Project Connect, if passed, would consume needed funding for the work of the Smart Mobility group. Project Connect is the past, Smart Mobility is the future; let’s make it a priority.  

 

“Smart mobility involves deploying new technology to move people and goods through our city in faster, safer, cleaner, more affordable and more equitable ways. Austin Transportation seeks to foster creative, mutually beneficial partnerships to carry out real-world testing of smart mobility technology, such as shared, autonomous, connected and electric vehicles.”

Source: http://www.austintexas.gov/department/smart-city

 

“COMMUTE CONNECTIONS” PROGRAM

The Commute Connections Program helps City of Austin employees understand their sustainable commute options and take action to reduce their drive-alone work trips, especially during peak travel times. The ultimate goal is to minimize the impact these commutes have on traffic congestion and air quality in our region

Source: http://www.austintexas.gov/commuteconnections

 

TRANSPORTATION DEMAND PROGRAM (TDM)

Our department’s Transportation Demand Management Program works to encourage sustainable modes of travel and relieve traffic congestion in Austin and its regional neighbors. Transportation demand management promotes solutions that move trips to off-peak hours or shift drive-alone trips to other forms such as public transit, walking, biking, teleworking, carpooling, and vanpooling.”

Source: http://www.austintexas.gov/department/transportation-demand-management

 

URBAN TRAIL EXPANSION

Urban trails can offer an additional tier of transportation infrastructure for bicycles, micro-mobility and pedestrians.  They typically have the wonderful side benefit: communing with nature.  Fortunately, we have significant right-of-way in Austin for these trails.

 

Some urban trails are better suited for recreation and exercise than transportation.  The trail from Govalle Park to Decker lake is a great example.  It’s an asset to our community and offers cyclists an excellent facility for their pastime.

 

Use of urban trails for micro-mobility must be carefully controlled.  Mixing motorized vehicles with pedestrian traffic can have safety issues.  Regardless, a good plan and judicious implementation can make this a safe, efficient, transportation option.  We should install compliant, safe, inviting, 10-12 ft+,  tri-mode upgrades on all compatible urban trails.

 

TRI-MODE PEDESTRIAN/BICYCLE/MICRO-MOBILITY LANES

Micro-mobility infrastructure should protect vulnerable users from cars/trucks, avoid conflict and co-exist with other modes; particularly in the urban core.  While everyone isn’t comfortable with, or able to ride a bicycle, a major segment of citizens can take advantage of this form of travel.  It has the side benefits of physical fitness and low carbon output.

 

Micro-mobility vehicles, for the most part, present a similar pathway profile to the bicycle. If we properly lay out our bicycle lanes to share, it will enhance their value as a mobility asset. Tri-mode, cement, 12 ft+ width, is the gold standard. Like urban trails, implementing reasonable safety rules and regulation, can make dual-use lanes a safe, efficient, environmentally friendly option. The City should be investing in a robust micro-mobility compatable, tri-mode pathway network.

Source: https://austintexas.gov/department/shared-mobility-services

 

RECONSTRUCTION OF EXISTING SUB-STANDARD STREETS

Austin has a number of streets that have fallen into dis-repair in need re-configuration and re-paving.  These efforts can provide opportunity to modify these transportation conduits to meet future demand.  The City has leaned on TxDot to do much of the work for them, it’s time they step up to the plate, dedicate the funds and bring our neglected infrastructure up to par.

 

Expanding the roadway, adding bicycle/micro-mobility tri-mode pathways, re-configuring intersections and putting signal infrastructure below grade to better utilize right of way, can help bring sub-standard roadways into the 21st century. It will also benefit more citizens than Project Connect and have a far greater impact on traffic congestion at far lower cost.

 

ELIMINATE CITY OF AUSTIN EXCLUSIVE PARKING – PUBLIC TRANSIT MANDATE

If shared mobility and less cars on the road is the city’s goal, it should lead by example. Reserved City employee parking should be eliminated, starting with the Mayor, City Council and City Manager on down. These spaces should be available to those that paid for them, at their maintenance cost. City employees should be required to use public transit or shared mobility unless they have a valid reason to commute in a single occupancy vehicle.

 

The mayor and city council should be required to use public transit or shared mobility for city business and commutes to/from their office. How can they expect others to use public transit if they won’t themselves? They should be intimately familiar with the associated inconvenience and time sacrifice. Without that perspective, how can they craft informed policies on the subject? If City leaders are sincere in their beliefs, they will set the standard for the behavior they want others to adopt by example. If they’re not embracing public transit, why should anyone else?


CAPITAL METRO

CAPITAL METRO “METRO ACCESS”

We believe there is no more important mobility service a community should provide, than that which serves our disabled and handicapped.   We support the paratransit efforts of Capital Metro, however we could be providing superior ON DEMAND, POINT to POINT service to these travelers without the overhead and bureaucracy of Capital Metro.  Project Connect would do little to serve this vulnerable group and in many cases, requires them to transfer vehicles, struggle to get to pickup points and fails to take them to their ultimate destination.   We should be providing ride-share passes for this segment of our community along with a dedicated fleet of micro-transit vehicles specifically designed to serve these travellers.

 

CAPITAL METRO’S “METRO RIDESHARE”

The program provides eligible groups of 5 to 12 riders with a month-to-month vanpool lease agreement, including insurance, maintenance, 24-hour roadside assistance and an optional fuel purchasing program.

 

“The MetroRideShare program is sponsored by Capital Metro and operated by Enterprise, a national vanpool service provider. Together, we provide all the services necessary for you to enjoy a comfortable, convenient and economical commute to work.

To start or join a vanpool, register with Enterprise or call 512-477-7433 (RIDE) to get started.”

 

EXPRESS COMMUTER BUS – PARK & RIDE EXPANSION – METRO RAIL

A bright spot in Capital Metro’s ridership, this is a function they can do well and provides benefit to our community. Most of the ideas in this paper are beneficial for short to medium range mobility. But what about long-range commuting? Express commuter bus offers a good alternative.

 

More Park & Rides to service bedroom communities are needed. Additional HOV lanes should be implemented to allow express buses to move passengers more quickly.

 

The Metro Rail is losing money, lots of it. Funding for improvements were allocated in 2014, but ridership is so low, they are hard to justify. This train costs too much, does too little, and illustrates how Austinites, outside a few peak commute hours, have a little appetite for rail. It may be time for CapMetro to cut their losses on its “high capacity” Metro Rail.

 

BUS ELECTRIFICATION

“The agency’s board of directors approved a contract that will put the first electric buses on Austin streets by the end of 2019, and started the transformation of a former Serta Mattress warehouse into a storage and smart charging facility for future electric vehicles.

 

The vehicles are manufactured by Proterra, Inc., one of the three manufacturers that provided electric buses to the agency in 2018 for a demonstration project. An all-electric fleet is a primary goal of Project Connect and a crucial component of its plan for sustainable public transit.

 

The new bus yard will be able to accommodate 214 buses. The agency is in the demolition phase of construction process, removing the former Serta warehouse in north Austin. Construction is scheduled to start in the fall of this year, and the bus yard could be ready for operations in summer 2020.”

 

CAPITAL METRO’S “PICKUP” PROGRAM

Capital Metro is offering On-Demand / Door-to-Door service to a three Austin areas and Manor where it replaces the 470-bus run. This application-based service mimics Uber or Lyft’s service available in most major cities.  Capital Metro charges $1.25 per trip and under 18 rides free. They also offer 7- and 31-day passes. The service is available weekdays from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.  Based on statements made by Randy Clarke, Capital Metro’s CEO, the Manor run has resulted in a major ridership turnaround. “Pickup” is a heavily subsidized service that isn’t sustainable on a large scale. It does however, demonstrate the door-to-door/on-demand model is far superior to the current fixed-route/fixed-schedule methodology. Paratransit and Metro Access has given Capital Metro some good hands on experience. We see the potential of this service to migrate to micro transit, and become a primary function of Capital Metro.

 

“Book a ride using the Pickup app for $1.25 per trip – the same as a single ride for MetroBus and MetroRapid”

 

“Our on-demand service allows you to seamlessly share your trip with other riders also going your way. Book a ride and within seconds our powerful algorithm matches you with a vehicle that can pick you up. Pickup by CapMetro is a new model of on-demand transit – ride hailing that is also truly ride sharing, with a bus that comes to you when and where you need it.”

Source: https://www.capmetro.org/pickup-faq/

 

CENTRAL TEXAS TRANSIT FACE-OFF:
SAN ANTONIO’S VIA vs. CAPITAL METRO

 

Project Connect proponents often compare themselves to “peer cities” in other states – typically those who have gone deep into debt and raised taxes for light rail. Curiously, San Antonio is rarely part of the conversation, which makes no sense.

 

San Antonio, only 80 miles away, has similar demographics and climate to Austin’s. Both San Antonio’s transit agency (VIA) and Capital Metro are regulated by the same state transportation code, don’t have light rail, and both impose a sales tax as their primary funding source. Fare revenue and rider service ratings are comparable. This is where the similarities end.

 

·      VIA MOVES 20% MORE RIDERS than Capital Metro (36 million vs 30 million in 2019)

·      VIA’S SERVICE AREA IS OVER TWICE AS BIG (1,213 vs 544 sq miles)

·      CAPITAL METRO SPENDS 42% MORE PER RIDE TO OPERATE ($249m/yr – $6.92/boarding vs $294m/yr – $9.80/boarding)

·      VIA’s SERVICE AREA HAS A 40% HIGHER POVERTY RATE (18.6% vs 13.3%)

·      VIA’s 2020 OVERALL SPENDING IS FAR LESS ($310m vs $403m)

·      CAPITAL METRO’S SALES TAX RATE IS DOUBLE VIA’S ($0.005 vs $0.01)

 

Something is very wrong here. How does VIA provide 20% more ridership in a service area over twice Capital Metro’s for LESS MONEY?

 

Project Connect/Capital Metro likes to compare Austin to Seattle, a highly unique city, yet they disregard the most relevant comparison – San Antonio. Why? Perhaps they want to avoid this question: How does VIA provide more public transit, at far less cost than Capital Metro?  This fundamental question must be answered before trusting Capital Metro with billions in additional funding and responsibility.

 

 

FAIR/FARE PLAN

If the sincere goal is to provide mobility for those who are transit-dependent and/or low income, Capital Metro should implement a “FAIR/FARE” plan. Issue fare discount cards based on Median Family Income (MFI) and set a higher rate for riders able to pay their fair share.

 

Anyone participating in the following programs should be eligible for a discount card:

  • Medicaid
  • Medicare
  • Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP)
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
  • Comprehensive Energy Assistance Program
  • Housing Choice Vouchers
  • Texas Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
  • Texas Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children

 

Fair/Fare will improve fare recovery, cash flow and make Capital Metro more fiscally sustainable based on its service.  It will at the same time, target services to those most in need in a cost-effective way.  We must, in a modern society, help provide transportation for people who are disabled, elderly and/or low-income, who may be reliant on public transit.

 

Charging higher fares to those who can afford them is fundamental to making the agency more fiscally sustainable and gets riders to support the services they use. Taxpayers shouldn’t be subsidizing transit for those able to pay their fair share.

 

A CAPITAL METRO OF THE FUTURE

Capital Metro should be migrating to a distributed, micro-transit model, scaled to demand and spring-board off their “Pickup” application. They should concentrate on regional Park & Ride services for commuters that leverage HOV/V2X/Express lanes, establish Mobility Hubs, and expand into docked micro mobility solutions. Capital Metro can find new relevance delivering MaaS across several platforms.

 

ELIMINATE CAPITAL METRO ALTOGETHER

The current pandemic has exposed the vulnerability of public transit as a viable entity. Ridership plunges that are likely to become the new normal make a system that already had poor ridership even less feasible. Perhaps this is the time to consider moving to a better way forward.

 

Capital Metro’s 2020 spending, divided by projected ridership, shows a boarding cost of over $13 their fare recovery is $0.73.  Since 1990, Capital Metro’s primary revenue source has increased over 500% with no ridership increase; Capital Metro is providing LESS for MORE!

 

We should end the practice of publicly subsidizing riders who don’t need it.  That would leave a robust pool of funding to subsidize, on-demand/door-to-door mobility options for residents who are transit-dependent and/or low-income. A subsidized, outsourced, on-demand rideshare model would eliminate most of Capital Metro’s overhead and eliminate running all those buses with few riders.  It would also allow conversion of several prime tracts occupied by Capital Metro for affordable housing. The result? Superior mobility services for those who need it most, lower tax overhead, and affordable housing.

 

Public transit systems, in their current state, are dinosaurs doomed to extinction. Project Connect would double-down on that failing paradigm. The New Mobility is going to change things, let’s start thinking out of the box and begin investing in the future, not the past.

 

CAPITAL METRO 2020 BUDGET HIGHLIGHTS

NOTES:

  1. Passenger Revenue represents 5% of Total Funding/Expenses
  2. Passenger Revenue represents 5% of Sales Tax Revenue
  3. Ridership percentage increase (2019/20) is below population growth %
  4. Total Expenses ÷ Ridership = $12.96 / boarding
  5. Ridership table has no reference for the est. 3,000,000 free rides given to under 18

 

METRO RAIL BUDGET O&M

METRO RAIL CAPITAL EXPENSES I&S

NOTES

  1. 2020 cost per boarding = $37.25 (Total Expenses: $21,160,112 ÷ 568,020 Metrorail riders)
  2. 2020 cost per boarding including Capital Expenses = $69.57 ($21,160,113 + 18,356,106 = $39,514,219 ÷ 568,020 Metrorail riders)

 

PROJECT CONNECT BUDGET

NOTES:

  1. Total operating expenses increased 126%, for a program unapproved by voters
  2. Consultant fees increased 565% from 2018
  3. Consultant fees increased 128% from 2019
  4. Professional fees increased 233% from 2019
  5. Advertising Installation increased 1068%
  6. Advertising and Promotion increase 543%
  7. Maps and Schedules increased 2112%, yet there is no system running or established

RED LINE PARKWAY INITIATIVE

 

“The Red Line Parkway Initiative (RLPI) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization founded in 2017 that empowers diverse communities to enjoy, develop, and enhance the Red Line Trail and Parkway corridor to serve Central Texas mobility, recreation, parks, arts, affordability, social equity, physical & mental health, public space, and economic needs.  The Red Line Parkway is a proposed linear park and public space along the planned Red Line Trail, extending 32 miles from Downtown Austin to Leander. Our vision is a thriving, inclusive, multi-functional parkway that provides convenient, enjoyable, car-free access to transit, parks, public art, and other urban, suburban, and rural destinations.  Our vision for the Red Line Trail includes a paved surface, separate parallel trails for bicycling and pedestrian access where feasible, complete grade-separation from motorized street traffic (bridges and tunnels at streets), and gentle inclines of 1-3% grade.”

Source: https://www.redlineparkway.org/

The initiative seeks to create a pathway that could serve micro-mobility in our city.  While not specifically designed for consistency with the tri-modal concept, this initiative has the right idea.   This idea could assume the entire right of way used by Metro Rail allowing an initial spine for micro-mobility.  Because Metro Rail is such a failure and consumes so much money, it could make sense to eliminate it altogether and use the valuable right of way for superior micro-mobility use that will serve far more mobility in our community.


MOVABILITY CENTRAL TX

 

This is a public transit-centric entity that somewhat duplicates the efforts of the Cities TDM (Transportation Demand Management) department. They operate as a non-profit and appear to be as more a cheerleader for Project Connect as a transit entity. They are currently involved in a program where the city is giving them hundreds of thousands of dollars in city taxes to fund free rides on Capital Metro.

 

“Movability is Central Texas’ first and only transportation management association. We are solely dedicated to working hand in hand with employers to improve the regions’ economic vitality by connecting commuters with mobility options that save time and money.”

Source: https://movabilitytx.org/


CAPITOL AREA COUNCILS OF GOVERNMENT

“Commute Solutions is a ‘one-stop’ transportation resource in Central Texas promoting sustainable options that reduce traffic and improve mobility.

 

Commute Solutions encourages alternative travel options like carpools, vanpools, transit, bicycling, teleworking and walking. They work to help you learn about your regional mobility choices no matter where you live or what your needs are.

 

By reducing the amount of single-occupant vehicle trips, sustainable transportation can save you money and protect our environment. Sustainable commuting reduces traffic congestion, benefits economic development, and improves quality of life for all.

 

Commute Solutions resources serve the citizens and businesses of Bastrop, Blanco, Burnet, Caldwell, Fayette, Hays, Lee, Llano, Travis, and Williamson counties.”

Source: https://mycommutesolutions.com/

 

SMART TRIPS AUSTIN

“The Smart Trips Austin program is designed to help Austinites find transportation solutions that work for your everyday trips. Whether it’s riding the bus, carpooling, biking, walking, or trying one of our city’s ever-expanding mobility options, we’re here to help you get around—and avoid traffic in the process. Smart Trips Austin hosts free events like transit adventures, walking tours, and bike rides; offers transportation information and resources; and provides one-on-one personalized support.

The program, which is a partnership between the City of Austin and Capital Metro, focuses on different neighborhoods within Austin each year. To find out where we’ll be next, stay tuned here and on Facebook.”

Source: https://smarttripsaustin.org/


MARKET-DRIVEN SOLUTIONS

Demand and innovation will define many of our future mobility options. Price will dictate their quality and success. A new industry is emerging. Transportation is central to our lives, society and civilization.  Just as personal computer, internet and smart phone technologies changed our world; technology in transportation will lead to an age of New Mobility. This, for the most part, will take place in the free market funded by private entities, not government debt.

 

We can no longer afford to develop, implement and invest in policies and infrastructure that rely on yesterday’s transportation and mobility solutions.

– Tina Quigley GM, RTCSN

 

HYPERLOOP

With speeds up to 700 mph, hyperloop is an intriguing mobility concept with great promise, particularly for regional transportation. While still in the conceptual stages, operational prototypes are functioning and being refined. Much work remains to be done and it will take massive investment and engineering to bring hyperloop to market. Regulatory and finance issues are still to be worked out. At this time, it’s more of a play toy for futurist billionaires like Elon Musk and Richard Branson – do they know something we don’t?


FUNDING PROJECT CONNECT

Project Connect is sold with the “done deal” promise 40-45% will be paid by the Federal government.  This promise is being made by political leadership in cities across our nation at a time of crisis and economic turbulence.  This is not a good time to be expecting massive sums of money from a federal government in crisis.

 

OVERALL FEDERAL FINANCIAL CONDITION

Our expanding national debt currently exceeds $25 trillion dollars (over $200,000 for every taxpayer); when George W. Bush left office, this balance was $10.6 trillion. Our national debt is now over 117% of GDP, it doesn’t take an economist to see we are on an unsustainable path. This debt is projected to rise indefinitely because we spend more than we take in, as opposed to having a balanced budget and have to spend more to service the debt (interest). Where the money will come from is unknown; few ask, and those in power have no answer other than to spend and spend more. We seem to exist in an alternate reality where the debt/deficit don’t exist and the party can continue on forever. Be forewarned: A soft landing isn’t in the cards.

 

Our nation saw one of the worst recessions in history a little over ten years ago. More money was being spent than was in reserve or could be paid back. When defaults began, the house of cards started toppling. Today we are in an even greater recession, on that could turn into a depression. Is it sound reasoning for Austin to depend on a government faced with the greatest fiscal crisis of a lifetime?

 

“Today, the United States faces the most serious fiscal threat in its modern history. Yet, this issue does not rank among the top five for American voters in the 2020 election campaign.”
– Public Policy Center, CED Conference Board

 

2020 TRUSTEE REPORT – SOCIAL SECURITY/MEDICARE: https://www.ssa.gov/oact/tr/2020/

 

SOCIAL SECURITY:

“Social Security’s total cost is projected to be higher than its total income in 2021 and all later years…. OASI and DI Trust Fund asset reserves become depleted and unable to pay scheduled benefits in full on a timely basis in 2035”

 

2020 TRUSTEE REPORT – MEDICARE: https://www.cms.gov/files/document/2020-medicare-trustees-report.pdf

 

MEDICARE:

“The Trustees project that the HI Trust Fund will be depleted in 2026.  Medicare costs will grow from approximately 3.7 percent of GDP in 2018 to 5.9 percent of GDP by 2038”

 

MEDICAID:

Medicaid is a struggling program with funding shared by Federal and State governments.  Investors Business Daily, sums it up:

 

Medicaid’s costs are swamping state budgets, climbing from 9% in 1989 to 20% today. The National Commission on Financing 21st Century Higher Education says that Medicaid’s explosive growth is crowding out funds that states used to spend on higher education… It’s the biggest budget-busting health care monster of all.”
– Investors Business Daily

 

FEDERAL FUNDING FOR PUBLIC TRANSIT

From ‘Transportation for America’; a transportation policy group:

  • Any cuts to transportation would be likely to fall disproportionally on transit. New transit construction is discretionary.
  • More than 40 percent of America’s buses and 25 percent of our rail transit assets are in ‘marginal’ or ‘poor’ condition.
  • USDOT identified a backlog of $90 billion in capital investments needed to bring bus and rail systems just into a state of good repair.

 

Recent reporting shows New York City’s crumbling transit system is $45 billion in debt for repairs. $17 billion was approved in December to cover operating expenses, which are still projected to run a $1 billion/year deficit. MTA says another $40 billion is needed over the next decade for key infrastructure repairs. NYC transit system annual debt service has risen to 16% of spending at $2.6 billion – and rising. NYC transit ridership has decreased every year since 2015. The NYC MTA accounts for two-thirds of national rail transit.

 

Chicago has a $19.5 billion backlog just to achieve a minimal state of “good repair.” Costs are accelerating to maintain their aging system and people in their market are frustrated by massive incurable public debt and taxation. CTA is $30 billion short for needs of today and their 10-year capital need program, is $37.7 billion behind, as they scramble to find $3 billion a year. Like New York, San Francisco, and L.A., costs are rising as ridership falls.

 

We should be learning from these deteriorating “premier” transit systems.

 

FTA CAPITAL INVESTMENT GRANT (CIG) PROGRAM

The discretionary Capital Investment Grant (CIG) program provides funding for fixed guideway investments such as new and expanded rapid rail, commuter rail, light rail, streetcars, bus rapid transit, and ferries, as well as corridor-based bus rapid transit investments that emulate the features of rail. All projects must be evaluated and rated by FTA in accordance with statutorily defined criteria at various points in the development process.

 

This discretionary program requires projects to proceed through a multi-step, multi-year process, to be eligible for funding, with FTA evaluation and rating required at various points in the process. The first step is called Project Development and the second is a construction grant agreement.

 

Cities all over the nation, encouraged by rail lobbyists and consultants, are making the same federal funding promises as Austin. Many hands are out, for a shrinking pot of money.  Given the federal debt/deficit, and COVID crisis these discretionary programs are tenuous.

 

“The program is also drastically oversubscribed. In recent years, about $2 billion annually has been appropriated to the New Starts program. However, over $23 billion worth of projects are currently in the New Starts “pipeline.”
– TransitCenter, March 2020

 

From the 2020 Capital Investment Grants (CIG) report: 

“The FTA is recommending a total appropriation of $1.505 billion in Section 5309 Capital Investment Grants Program funds in FY 2020, with the proposed distribution as follows:

  • $995.29 million for 10 existing FFGAs, including eight New Starts and two Core Capacity projects;
  • $494.85 million in funding for other projects that may become ready for Section 5309 CIG or 3005(b) Expedited Delivery Pilot Program funding during FY2020; and
  • $15.05 million for management and oversight (1.0% of the 2020 funding level)”

 

From the 2021 CIG report:

The FTA is requesting in the President’s Budget, a total appropriation of $1.889 billion in Section 5309 Capital Investment Grants Program funds in FY 2021, with the proposed distribution as follows:

  • $945 million for 10 existing FFGAs, including eight New Starts and two Core Capacity projects;
  • $774.8 million in funding for other projects that may become ready for Section 5309 CIG funding during FY2021;
  • $150 million in funding for projects that may become ready for Section 3005(b) Expedited Project Delivery Pilot Program funding during FY 2021; and
  • $18.89 million for management and oversight (1.0% of the FY 2021 funding level.)

 

The grants in the pipeline, far exceed the funding appropriated. The program has been recommended to “wind down” and “not enter into any additional agreements.”

 

The AntiDeficiency Act, as Codified in Title 31, United States Code:

§1341. Limitations on expending and obligating amounts

(a)(1) An officer or employee of the United States Government or of the District of Columbia government may not-

(A) make or authorize an expenditure or obligation exceeding an amount available in an appropriation or fund for the expenditure or obligation;

(B) involve either government in a contract or obligation for the payment of money before an appropriation is made unless authorized by law

§1350. Criminal penalty

 

This is why the underlying CIG statute (49 U.S.C. §5309) states that while a full funding grant agreement “may include a commitment, contingent on amounts to be specified in law in advance for commitments under this paragraph, to obligate an additional amount from future available budget authority specified in law,” that “The agreement shall state that the contingent commitment is not an obligation of the Government.”

 

“If Congress decides to stop funding FFGAs halfway through construction, the local transit agency has no legal recourse. The grant agreements clearly spell that out in legalese. Nevertheless, the transit agency would be in a world of financial pain were such a thing to happen.”
– ENO Center for Transportation

 

BALLOT LANGUAGE MUST REFERENCE FEDERAL FUNDING 

Because of the tenuous nature of the Federal funding, taxpayers should be protected.  Ballot language must make approval of Project Connect contingent on securing the promised Federal funding. In normal business practice, there would be some guarantee of the funds, like a bond or letter of credit. Austin citizens could find themselves with an unfunded mandate that could raise the cost to local taxpayers 40%.    

 

GOING DEEP INTO DEBT AND SPENDING BILLIONS IN THE MIDST OF A GLOBAL CRISIS IS INSANITY!

  • A proven COVID-19 cure does not exist. It may be a long time before an effective vaccine is available, it may only have limited efficacy. COVID appears to be here to stay. Life as a result will be risky and require sacrifice and safeguards.
  • We are not just going to snap back to pre-March 2020; that’s a fantasy. The world has undergone change that will be lasting.  It’s not just a case of jumping in our cars and going back to business as usual.
  • We have taken our economy off line for an extended period, an unprecedented action that will disrupt real estate, production of goods and the service industry.
  • Our economy is in recession, potentially a new “greatest” recession, with unprecedented depth and breadth. It’s likely the effects will last for many years to come.
  • Unemployment has reached 14.7%, far higher than the 10% of the “great” recession, the peak is still unknown. Many jobs will come back, many won’t.
  • The “shelter in place” and “social distancing” edicts, will have lasting effect on the food/beverage, entertainment, wedding, convention (as we plan to expand our center), air travel, hotel/motel, sporting, large event industries and particularly public transit.
  • Unemployment, decreased commerce and COVID related response have distressed tax revenues at all levels of government.
  • Attempts to stabilize our economy has added trillions in debt to the government balance sheet.
  • The Federal Reserve and our government’s expansion of the money supply, is diluting the dollar in a low interest rate environment. It’s probable this will result in INFLATION like most of us have never seen.  As basic costs rise, tax increases will force working families to make some hard choices.
  • A pension crisis looms. Most pension funds do not meet the reserve balances needed to backstop promised benefits. Decreased tax revenue will stress that imbalance.  If equity markets fall, the reserve funds will also evaporate. Many local governments keep two sets of books, with the pension fund deficits off budget.
  • State and local governments have coming challenges that will demand higher tax revenues to address. It’s not the time to be borrowing billions and counting on a tapped out federal government to send money. 

FUNDING PROJECT CONNECT WITH PROPERTY TAXES

Capital Metro and the City appear determined to get Project Connect on this years ballot.  Given the reduction in tax revenue, rising unemployment and economic uncertainty, you would think they would postpone this plan.  Unfortunately they appear tone deaf to the difficulties our communities plight and don’t want to lose the momentum their marketing campaign (funded with public funds) has achieved.  They want to make this a partisan issue, even though mobility affects BOTH parties, and exploit the extreme political climate of this presidential election.  They now propose a $7 billion ‘foot in the door’ plan and will come back later for the rest.  We will adjust our information to provide you accurate costs when a ballot initiative is developed.  For now, we present the cost for the entire plan as proposed.

Project Connect
Annual Tax/Rent Increase Estimator

This calculator shows the property tax increase needed to fully fund Project Connect

Increase based on traditional bond funding that taxpayers are most familiar with and M&O property tax levy. $9.798b principal, 20 year term, 2.33% APR, M&O $226m and current TCAD net-taxable real property value.

City Tax Only

 

People want to know one thing: What will Project Connect cost ME? 

It has become clear, there will be an attempt to fool the public into believing a $0.11/$100 tax rate increase will fund Project Connect.  THIS IS COMPLETELY FALSE!  That tax rate won’t even cover the Project Connect operating costs.   Apparently supporters believe repeating the magic word “transformative” over and over, will make people believe.   If you have a calculator handy do this math:  $0.0011 (proposed tax rate for Project Connect) x $157,880,603,576 (net taxable tax roll) = $173,668,663 an amount less than the $220,000,000 annual operating costs claimed by Capital Metro.  The claimed capital cost is $9.8 billion, divide that by $173,668,663 – it comes to FIFTY SIX YEARS.  Even in the unlikely event the cost was reduced by 45% to $5.39 billion with a federal grant, that works out to THIRTY ONE YEARS! 

LIKE THE 2016 MOBILITY BOND, VOTERS ARE BEING MISLEAD WITH A FALSE NUMBER THAT IS INSUFFICIENT AND WILL REQUIRE MORE DEBT AND TAXES IN THE FUTURE. 

 

To gain better understanding of Project Connects cost to Austin citizens, we do a 10 step, good-faith tax cost estimate, using traditional bond calculation, consistent with election code §3.009 and using data from:

  • Travis County Appraisal District (TCAD) 
  • Texas Bond Review Board
  • Project Connect/Capital Metro/City of Austin

 

Approval in November will obligate Austin citizens to the entire amount on the ballot with an “unlimited tax levied,” regardless of when it is issued. Our calculations are made using current appraisal district net-taxable values (the actual numbers used to calculate the taxing unit’s revenue), not subjective “median” or “market” values that distort reality. No prediction of recession, cost over-runs, budget surpluses, appreciation or depreciation of the tax base, grant approvals, tax revenue declines, or tax payer default are assumed. 

 

PROJECT CONNECT PROPERTY TAX INCREASE ESTIMATE (Full System):

Average value property*: $2,882 / year

Average homestead market*: $2,426 / year

Average homestead after exemption*: $2,079 / year

*TCAD current net taxable real property values

 

 

 

A section in the Texas Election Code (3.009) is designed to reign in creative accounting that deceives voters – a “Truth in Funding” statute reads:

The Debt Obligation Election Order must distinctly state: “The estimated tax rate of the debt obligations authorized… based on the market conditions at the time of the Election Order.”

 

 

FUNDING ANALYSIS

Project Connect supporters have offered up a funding enigma. Two taxing entities, creating a third partnership entity, to channel property and sales taxes levied by both, using “alternative tax sources”: TRE (Tax Rate Elections), motor vehicle taxes, unsecured federal grants, “other” system revenue, “Pay Go,” revenue bonds, integrated financial models, indeterminate state funding, federal TIFIA loans, TIF (Tax Increment Financing), and dubious “fund balances,”  It all conceals Project Connect’s full cost to the people by design. Large public projects are typically funded with General Obligation bonds, the cost taxpayers are most familiar with. Because of the enormous tax increases involved, supporters want to obscure this cost to gain approval. In an effort to develop better public understanding of Project Connect’s full cost potential, we estimate that traditional bond tax impact.

 

Proponents claim Project Connect will require a $0.11/$100 tax increase and/or $200/year on the average home.  Simple math and public information show these amounts are misleading, mathematically incorrect, and grossly insufficient to fund the Project Connect vision. They have built surveys and public opinion on this misinformation, bringing Project Connect’s “public input” into doubt.  “Low ball” tax estimates and “creative” funding cannot change: 1) TOTAL program costs (I&S + M&O), 2) Tax base valuation, 3) Debt servicing costs, and 4) Resultant increases in property taxes and rent to fund the ultimate total expense.  They cannot fully fund Project Connect with a bond – it is so much money that it would more than max out Austin’s borrowing capacity, jeopardize the cities bond rating (which Moody’s already recently downgraded, because of pension funding problems) and cripple future borrowing.  Repeated messages to City of Austin Deputy for Finance Officer to discuss funding details have gone un-returned.

 

The 40-45% federal funding supporters promise from the Trump administration are not committed or guaranteed and should not be factored. Important billion dollar decisions should not be based on speculationWe must demand safeguards in the ballot language making approval contingent upon a guarantee of federal funding and/or that impose a ceiling on any related tax increase; NO BLANK CHECKS!   

 

$0.11/$100 TAX RATE ELECTION (TRE) INCREASE  


WHAT THAT MEANS:  A permanent 25% property tax increase  ($0.11/$100)

What’s it going to cost me?

  • Average value property* = $552 / year
  • Average homestead market* = $499 / year
  • Average homestead after exemption* = $427 / year

 

 

10 Steps to Estimate the FULL Cost of Project Connect to Taxpayers if paid through property taxes


STEP #1
AVERAGE BOND TERM FOR AUSTIN DEBT

Average from Texas Bond Review Board City of Austin bond portfolio (data attached below).  Maturity date – Issue date = term years, sum of term years for all bonds ÷ number of bonds

20 YEARS

 

STEP #2AVERAGE INTEREST RATE ON AUSTIN DEBT

From Texas Bond Review Board City of Austin bond portfolio. 

4.6634%   In response to the COVID crisis, we cut this rate in HALF: 2.33%

 

STEP #3:  CITY OF AUSTIN NET TAXABLE

From Travis County Appraisal district’s (TCAD) Certified Totals report

$157,880,603,576

 

STEP #4:  AVERAGE TAXABLE PROPERTY VALUE

(TCAD Net Taxable ($157,880,603,576) – personal property) ÷ Taxable Property Count = $538,532

$538,532

 

STEP #5:  ANNUAL DEBT SERVICE PER BILLION DOLLARS

Amortize $1B, 20-year term, 2.33% interest

$63,203,098

 

STEP #6:  TAX RATE NEEDED PER BILLION (I&S)

Net Taxable (step 3) by a number to equal annual payment (step 5): ($157,880,603,576 X .0004 = $63,152,241)

$0.04/ $100

 

STEP #7:  AVERAGE PROPERTY TAX INCREASE TO REPAY $1 BILLION (I&S)

Average taxable property value ($538,532) multiplied by the tax rate ($0.0004)

$215

 

STEP #8:  AVERAGE PROPERTY TAX INCREASE FOR PROJECT CONNECT’S $9.8 BILLION CAPITAL COST (I&S)

Per billion tax rate (step 6) $0.04 x 9.798 = $0.392/$100 then $0.00392 x Average property value ($538,532)

$2,111

 

STEP #9:  TAX RATE TO FUND OPERATION COST (M&O)

(M&O from Project Connect 11/19 presentation for 2032 operations – non elevated rail option = $226,000,000 yr)
Multiply Net Taxable (step 3) by a number to equal the Operating Cost: $158,880,603,576 X $0.0014315 = $226,006,084 

$0.14315 / $100

 

STEP #10:  AVERAGE PROPERTY TAX INCREASE FOR OPERATING COST (M&O)

Average taxable property value (step 4) x M&O tax rate (step 9)  $538,532 x .0014315 = $771  

$771

 

 

 

SOURCES AND METHODS:

  • STEP #2 CALCULATION – Average city bond portfolio interest rate

  • STEPS #3 and #4 – Travis Appraisal District, Net Taxable, and Average Taxable Value

  • STEP # 5 – Annual payment for $1 billion bond

 

NOTES:

  1. Current TCAD net taxable (tax base) = $157,880,603,576
  2. TCAD average real property net-taxable value = $538,532
  3. TCAD average homestead net-taxable value = $453,314
  4. TCAD average homestead exempt net-taxable value = $388,559  
  5. TxBRB average City of Austin bond term = 20 years
  6. TxBRB average City of Austin bond interest = 4.6634% – REDUCED TO 2.33%
  7. Estimated Tax rate to repay EACH billion (I&S) = $0.04/$100 value
  8. Project Connect claimed capital cost (6/20) = $9,798,000,000.00
  9. Project Connect claimed operating cost (2040 M&O – 11/19 & 6/20) = $226,000,000 / year
  10. Estimated Tax rate to repay $9.798b (I&S) = $0.392/$100 value
  11. Estimated Tax rate to pay annual operating cost (M&O) = $0.14315/$100 value
  12. TOTAL estimated tax rate $9.798b Project Connect (M&O and I&S) = $0.53515/$100

 

City of Austin bond debt, from the Texas Bond Review Board (2 pages):

NOTE: This is the latest (6/2020) TBRB listing and does not include the over $1B in approved, but unissued bond debt held by the City or any recently retired debt.

 

OBSERVATIONS FROM THE CITY OF AUSTIN BOND PORTFOLIO:

  • Repayment owed per Austin citizen = $10,125
  • Cost to borrow $1 = $1.54

 

Paid for by Our Mobility Our Future PAC