It has been roughly a year since Austin voters shot down a proposal for a light-rail starter line. And in that time there has been next to no movement from government leaders to produce a new way to help alleviate the traffic congestion Austin has started to come accustomed to. City Council’s new 10-1 structure is filled with logistical challenges involved with bringing a working proposal to the table. Meanwhile, a few well-connected entrepreneurs from around the city are looking into new ways to serve Austin’s mass-transit needs, particularly in Central Austin.
Here’s a breakdown of some of the proposed solutions, along with the people who thought them up.
Downtown Austin Shuttle Fleet
Just as the name suggests this is a fleet of shuttles with a quick circulation route around the heart of Downtown Austin. The CEO of Austin-based RideScout Inc, Joseph Kopser, admits this idea may not be the sexiest one out there, but it is certainly the most practical.
The idea is similar to the old Dillo bus that stopped running its downtown treks in 2009 after being shut down by the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority, only with a slightly larger running route as the downtown district has grown quite a bit since then.
The fleet of buses would be released during various high-congestion times starting at the Austin Convention Center and heading west through Eighth and Sixth street toward Whole Foods Market and then return east to the convention center via Fifth and Second streets. A circular route that would continue making laps during peak hours.
(Rendering of a proposed PRT or “Personal Rapid Transit” vehicle.)
A Subway in Austin
Likely the most improbable on the list, and definitely the most ambitious, is the idea to bore out the (possibly too hard) limestone ground underneath the central city to make way for a subway system. This idea was brought to light when the brilliant minds of Silicon Laboratories CEO, Tyson Tuttle, and former Dell Inc. CFO, Tom Meredith, combined back in January.
This proposal would start with the purchase of a tunnel boring machine that runs in the neighborhood of $50 million. Though this sounds a bit grandiose it should be noted that the proposal that was shut down last year was bid at $1.4 billion. Of course this doesn’t account for the cost of the project overall, but it doesn’t seem as difficult a start when considering the duo’s list of friends that would likely help invest in the project.
It was stated however, that a project such as this is still five to six years away from coming into fruition.
Personal Rapid Transit – No Longer a Thing of the Future
Have you ever seen the movie Minority Report with Tom Cruise and thought, “Wow, a car that drives itself. How convenient would that be?” Well, the proposal of Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) is another privately-initiated option that is being discussed. Okay, maybe we won’t have cars scaling buildings like Minority Report, but Austin CEO, Richard Garriott, has introduced the idea of connecting Austin with a PRT system.
The idea is based around a group of small, automated, mini-van sized vehicles that will transport riders to and from specified locations on demand.
After returning from a 12-day trope to the International Space Station, he came back to Earth and funded the hushed 2010 plan that mapped out a PRT system for the University of Texas from Ultra Global PRT, the company behind Heathrow International Airport in London. The plan is being recirculated by Garriott among some of the higher ups in Austin’s economic development scene.
So far there are only three active PRT systems in use around the world.
A dated system in Morgantown, West Virginia, has been transporting student, staff and members of the public across West Virginia University’s hilly campus since the 1970s. Heathrow Airport claims another spot, and then there is the newer, more high-tech system that recently became operational in Dubai.
There has not yet been one built that is designed to serve as a citywide transit option.