Transit experts: Urban rail must be viable, before it's vote-able
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Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell has urged voters to decide by November 2014 if they want Urban Rail, but transit experts from across the country sent local leaders home with a pile of homework to do first. At the top of the list: make urban rail more than just a way to ease congestion.
“What we've tried to do is make transit attractive to people who could otherwise drive - who normally choose to drive - to make it a choice of preference," Ric Ilgenfritz with Sound Transit said.
Ilgenfritz said Seattle's Sound Transit's accomplished this goal by offering free wi-fi on buses and trains. Riders can use a cell phone app that allows them to see the time they're saving by not taking a car.
Before Austin can offer those perks, Ilgenfritz said leaders need to convince the federal government that the city deserves the money. The first phase of urban rail is expected to cost more than a half-billion dollars.
“There are a lot of cities around the country that are competing for a relatively constrained funding source at the federal level,” Ilgenfritz said. “In order to compete effectively, you really have to show your work."
Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell says pitching the project to the federal government and taxpayers must happen at the same time. He said it’s crucial that all Central Texas mass transit systems work well together in order to reach people who would use them. This must all be completed before voters and federal officials can give the green light.
The transit consultant firm, Urban Land Institute, will continue advising Austin over the next year and will deal directly with Mayor Leffingwell and council member Chris Riley. They will learn more at a transit conference in Philadelphia this April.