Bus and train riders might have something different to ride in or arrive at depending on some future plans.
The Taylor City Council heard from the Capital Area Rural Transportation System (CARTS) for an update on current services and future plans. David Marsh, general manager for CARTS, gave the presentation and informed the Council of his idea of transforming the area around the train station, an idea that had been attempted before.
“In 2005, we designed a beautiful project that was going to transform that part of downtown into something really viable. We failed,” said Marsh, “but I’m back today, 15 years later, and we’re going to try again.”
Marsh envisions upgrading the platform’s facility, maybe adding a gateway or canopy.
“We think it’s important that Taylor has a proper platform and amenities for people that arrive here on the train,” said Marsh “It’s embarrassing to all of us I know that when you get off the train here, you got to walk through train gravel.”
Although he’s committed to the project, the idea is still in the early stages since proposals need to be submitted and funding needs to be sought.
“It’s going to be a tough project because you got to coordinate with Amtrak and (Union Pacific) and so on and so forth.”
Despite the potential obstacles, Mayor Brandt Rydell said he was heartened by the idea of upgrading the platform. He mentioned meeting with Amtrak officials a few years earlier who wanted something similar.
The CARTS station on Second Street was one potential location for adding a platform. However, both Rydell and Marsh agreed downtown needed to be where trains arrive and depart.
“As much as that sounds like a good idea, I really want something downtown,” said Rydell. “I want people to disembark from Amtrak downtown with everything we have going on down there.”
Regarding CARTS bus services, the group is in the pilot stages of testing out a new service, CARTS NOW. The service is an on-demand transit in which riders could call for an immediate ride instead of having to schedule ahead of time. A similar version has proven successful in Manor according to Walsh.
“We think that if we can have more immediate service for people in town to use, we’ll be able to use our country bus to do more for the country,” he said. “Hope we can be able to bring that to Taylor some day.”
The first pilot version will begin in Bastrop in May. Three more pilot cities are planned pending funding from TxDOT in September, after which the pilot cities would be started one at a time.
“Taylor’s on the list, high on list,” added Walsh.
Councilmember Mitch Drummond inquired into the prospects of a fixed bus route noting the potential savings a route could have on citizens.
“Having an automobile sitting in the driveway is a huge expense,” said Drummond. “Families could use that money somewhere else instead of having to maintain their vehicle.”
Marsh said in order to have a fixed route system serve Taylor sufficiently, he calculated it would likely take a 4-bus system and at least $500,000 a year.
“It would take a big investment from the city and CARTS for us to do it,” said Marsh “There’s no answer to serving a community like Taylor for real mobility unless you make a large investment.”
Marsh said micro-transit could be a bridge to moving citizens around in the area.
“We’re here to do whatever the city thinks is in their best interest,” said Marsh, “and we’ll assist in whatever way we can.”
What is CARTS?
CARTS is governed by a board of local elected officials and responsible to the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) and the Texas Transportation Commission. The organization is a rural transit district, a quasi-local government, established by state law in 1979 serving nine counties, 169 communities and 7,200 square miles.
“We don’t have a lot of money. We spread our resources very thin,” said Malsh. “We don’t do a lot anywhere, but we try to do our best.”
CARTS’ three services include the country bus, interurban transport and national intercity. The country bus picks up citizens at their residences, takes them to their destination and returns them home.
“It’s a service that is very useful for people that are elderly, have medical needs, a lot of other things but it’s also open to the general public,” said Malsh.
Interurban service is a regional intercity route providing connection between Austin, Bastrop, Bertram, Georgetown, Liberty Hill, Lockhart, Luling, Marble Falls, Round Rock, San Marcos, La Grange, Giddings, Paige, Smithville and Elgin. The route also connects with some Greyhound buses and Capital Metro. National intercity service provides access to more Greyhound and Arrow Trailways bus services at some CARTS stations.
Walsh credited the East Williamson county Collaborative (EWCC) for furthering service development in Taylor. The EWCC has also helped CARTS set up community meetings in the Granger and Thrall areas to work on outreach there.