Georgetown City Council green-lights bus service
Georgetown residents will have a new way to get around town by August once the city’s new fixed-route bus system launches after more than two years of planning.
The new system includes four bus routes that will connect at a transit center near the Georgetown Public Library on Eighth Street as well as complementary paratransit services for individuals with disabilities, Georgetown Transportation Analyst Nat Waggoner said.
The system was approved as part of the city’s transit development plan, or TDP, adopted by City Council on Sept. 13 with a 4-2 vote. Council members Tommy Gonzalez and John Hesser voted against the plan, and Council Member Ty Gipson was absent.
“In ordinary times I would be opposed to pressing forward with a fixed-route system,” Council Member Steve Fought said. “I’m willing to go against the way I would normally have voted because of the advice of people I respect and also the fact that we have a buffer in there that says we are going to see how we do going forward.”
According to the plan, if the system fails to meet certain performance measures, it will be brought back to the council for review for potential route updates or other possible changes, Waggoner said.
However, some council members said it was too soon for the city to implement the fixed-route bus system.
“Once you invest in the infrastructure and start the progress, it’s very hard to get out of it,” Gonzalez said, adding that the routes do not benefit his district. “I don’t think we’re ready for a fixed-route system.”
Along with the TDP and the fixed-route service, City Council also approved a three-year funding agreement with the Georgetown Health Foundation, which is promoting sustainable health initiatives in Georgetown.
According to the agreement, GHF will pay up to $200,000 a year for three years to help fund the system’s operational costs, GHF Director of Community Resources Suzy Pukys said.
“We at GHF are delighted that City Council voted to approve the [TDP],” she said.
Pukys said the bus system could help connect those who lack access to transportation to “social determinants of health,” including health care, recreational and educational opportunities as well as healthy foods.
“We reached out in support of whatever [the city] is doing in terms of multimodal transportation,” Pukys said. “I really think the plan is strong.”
According to the city’s 2016 citizens survey, 63.3 percent of respondents said they would support a dedicated property tax increase for transit services. In a 2012-13 citizens survey, 27 percent of respondents supported a tax increase for transit services.
“We are meeting an expressed need with fixed-route buses and complementary paratransit services that we define through the TDP and numerous citizen surveys,” Waggoner said. “We are going to learn how best to meet those needs … by actually doing the service.”
Creating a service
The TDP was created through an agreement between the city and Capital Metro. Because the city is a part of the Austin Urbanized Area, city transit planning and funding is completed through Capital Metro, said Michelle Meaux, Capital Metro regional coordination planner.
Along with the GHF grant, the system will be funded using Federal Transit Administration funding, which can change based on population and density as the city continues to grow as well as the city’s annual budget.
Meaux said the fixed-route system will be operated by Capital Area Rural Transportation System, which operates the city’s existing on-demand and paratransit services.
“CARTS has operated services in Georgetown for decades, and so [the city] was comfortable working with them,” she said.
Waggoner said the city will create a steering committee for the bus system with representatives from Capital Metro, the city, CARTS, Faith in Action Georgetown and GHF.
“We will be meeting as a working group to develop a work plan and talk about formally defining our goals as a group,” Waggoner said.
Part of that work plan could include defining bus stops, recommending bus fares and developing a marketing plan.
Meaux said proposed stops are outlined in the TDP; however, the working group will take the next 10 months to finalize the fixed-route system’s details.
During the council’s workshop session Sept. 13, council members also directed city staff to continue studying how the city could implement a voucher program that could use transportation network companies, or TNCs, such as Uber and Lyft, to complement the city’s fixed-route system.
“I think it would be helpful [for] council to know what their options are in respect to vouchers,” Mayor Dale Ross said.
Waggoner said the city would continue to investigate a potential voucher program.
“That could improve access to transit,” he said. “How can we harness the innovation in those [TNCs] and pair them with our transit plan to make sure that we are fully addressing all of the transit needs in the city? I think the fixed-route was the first step.”