Recently the issues plaguing downtown have been garnering a lot of attention.
As a former downtown bartender I’ve had many conversations about Austin’s poor choices for getting home safely, and I’ve witnessed first hand all of the forthcoming complaints more times than I can count.
Tightening down on DWI’s, adding police presence and checkpoints are all reactive responses, not pro-active. Let’s face it- the decision starts when someone chooses to drive instead of using alternative means to get to and from their destination(s).
So why do people make that choice?
For many people I’ve spoken with it boils down to three issues:
- A poor public transportation infrastructure.
- A distinct shortage of cabs who often provide terrible customer service.
- A fear that if they leave their car behind it will be ticketed (sometimes repeatedly), vandalized or towed.
Cap Metro: They end too early and many run too infrequently later on to be helpful to the average rider who has other means of transportation. Austin is incredibly active late into the night and it would be nice to see changes brought to public transportation that reflect that. Increased reliability, heavily expanded late night and/ or 24 hour bus service to more parts of town including outer Austin would help people view the bus as a viable alternative to driving. Areas dense in student residents would benefit tremendously from affordable, legal and safe ways home. An massive expansion of the rail system would help remove cars from the road and offer speedy and well lit rides to outlying areas.
Taxi/ ride share: If you were to ask any group of people their impressions of Austin taxis it would be largely negative. Even on a non- festival weekend night it is nearly impossible to hail a cab. Complaints include fares being refused due to distance/ location/ lack of cash/ size of party, ordered cabs taking hours or just not showing up, complaints of inappropriate sexual behavior, and unnecessarily long routes. Students seem to be frequent victims of all of these practices.
Why are “gypsy cabs” and ride-share programs are so popular? Because everyone I’ve spoken to have had better experiences with them in terms of reliability, price, cleanliness and ease of use. The city would do well to listen to the complaints of the people and not the companies when it comes to making changes to city code regarding ride share programs. The people are voting with their dollars and it’s for a new system.
Leaving their car behind: Austinites live in fear of their car being towed or ticketed. Everytime someone is ticketed, towed or their car is broken into it reduces their comfort level in leaving their vehicle behind. You’ve effectively all but guaranteed they are going to be leery of choosing public transportation the next time around. Would perhaps a warning ticket for the first offence on that license plate be equally effective at educating them without costing them a lot of money and stranding them after dark?
The city and the police need to be discussing how their regulations and often overzealous enforcement have negatively impacted people’s perception of how safe their car is being left behind. For someone living paycheck to paycheck a tow fee or a pile of tickets from one night can often be out of financial reach.
And that goes for all the above points. Austin needs more public options for affordable, safe and reliable means of transportation during peak hours day AND night.
The discussion needs to be changed from how to stop drunk people driving home to how to help sober people feel safe and comfortable leaving their car in their driveway