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A truck full of e-scooters is parked on an asphalt street  in front of a small, covered commuter rail station. A five-story building with sign that reads SXSW is in the background. One-way street signs are on the sidewalk.

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10 Austin transportation realities that didn’t exist 10 years ago

Transpo trends of the decade

Downtown Austin, 2019
| Getty Images for SXSW

A lot has changed in Austin-area transportation since 2010, not least the volume of traffic. Due mostly to a phenomenal growth rate in the Austin metropolitan statistical area in the past 10 years, traffic congestion, emissions, and safety have all become the focus of much concern, activity, and spending. Below are 10 Austin mobility realties that, for better or worse, didn’t exist in 2010. Let us know what we left out in the comments below.

A vertical rectangular sign hanging on a post. It has a graphic drawing of a car and says Rideshare in a square border. Under that square, it says Pick-Up Zone. Foliage and railings are in the background.
Ridehailing sign at ABIA

Ride-hailing and its discontents. One might say that ride-hailing in Austin had a rather inauspicious beginning. Lyft started operating in 2014, despite the fact that the Austin City Council position that it was not yet allowed to operate in the city. After that go sorted out, it was all systems go for Lyft and Uber locally. In 2016, after a referendum that would have overturned the City Council’s regulations of ride-hailing companies was defeated, both Uber and Lyft abruptly withdrew from the city. While their absences allowed a number of smaller startups to fill the void, the two companies took their case to the Texas Legislature and ultimately prevailed, with that body passing statewide rules that overrode Austin’s (and those of other cities in the state). By 2019, ride-hailing was as taken for granted as much as it is in any American city, with local nonprofit company Ride Austin the only local survivor in the game.

Two people on Lime scooters in front of a colorful mural Courtesy of Lime Austin and San Antonio

Scooters everywhere. As with the advent of ride-hailing, the introduction of dockless electric scooters to Austin was rocky and mildly illegal. Fast-tracked city regulations and franchise-type agreements drowned out the voluble but not particularly organized opposition to the vehicles’ ongoing Austin presence, and at the end of 2019, there are five scooter operators (Bird, Jump, Lime, Lyft, and Spin—we’ll get to Ojo in a minute) with approximately 10,250 scooters on Austin streets (and sidewalks, rights of way, and so on).

Bike-sharing takes hold. Austin B-cycle and its docks began appearing in Austin in 2013 (during SXSW, if memory serves) and proved popular in the central area it serves almost immediately. Owned by the city and operated by a nonprofit, it has grown at a steady pace since then. The introduction of dockless electronic scooters and bikes in 2018 seemed like it would provide formidable competition for the local program—some of which have dwindled in other parts of the country in recent years—but B-cycle adapted with the introduction of its pedal-assist bicycles (a standard feature on most dockless e-bikes). In addition, dockless bikes proved less popular than the scooters, and Uber-owned Jump bikes (which is pulling its bikes from some other cities) and Wheels, a sort of bike-scooter hybrid, are the only dockless bikes currently operating in the city. B-cycle now has 75 stations and about 500 bikes—not a huge amount, but it seems to be adding more stations at a steady rate.

Two smiling young people in helmets riding an electric moped with the word “Revel” on the front.
Revel moped
Courtesy of Revel

Moped sharing also happens. While electric mopeds are often thought of as part of the e-scooter cohort, a couple of things set them apart. One (the most obvious) is that they have seats, wider wheels, and other physical attributes scooters lack. The other is that they are regulated as road vehicles and must be fully street-legal (registered) and that you need a driver’s license to operate them. Ojo and Revel are the moped/sit-down-scooter companies currently operating in Austin.

Photo of the front of a commuter train with a sloped front window and a row of windows receding into the end. A sign on the top interior reads “Leander.” Part of a glass building with a square grid is visible to the left.
Capital MetroRail

Commuters got a rail line. After decades of arguing over and voting down various passenger-rail proposals, Austin finally got its first (and so far only) commuter rail line in the form of Capital MetroRail, which opened its Red Line in 2010. The 32-mile line, which uses already existing freight-train tracks, starts in downtown Austin and terminates in Leander, a suburb to the north of the city. While ridership numbers were an issue in the beginning, it has increased to somewhat acceptable levels over the decade. That trend will likely continue alongside development around stations, availability of bus connections, and—possibly—micromobility options aimed at the “last mile” problem.

Interior of a bus with aisle in center and chair backs to the camera. There are people in some seats and a person standing and holding a pole in the front.
Capital Metro bus

Bus trips got faster. Mid-decade saw the fruition Capital Metro’s 801 and 803 rapid bus lines, conveying passengers down two high-traffic, north-south corridors. In addition, MetroExpress busses, which take commuters from park-and-ride lots in the suburbs to the central city, emerged during the decade.

An photo of an asphalt road with one lane painted red and reading Bus Lane.
A dedicated bus lane

Transit priority and dedicated bus lanes exist. Several transit-priority lanes—the ones that cars can use only to turn from and that sometimes include dedicated bike lanes to their right—were introduced to the central city over the last 10 years. In addition, a completely dedicated bus lane with contraflow capacity (meaning it can travel against car-traffic flow) was completed on Guadalupe and Lavaca streets. It’s painted red, so you know it means business. There are many more to come in the next decade.

Exterior of an airport (rendering) at sunrise
ABIA expansion

Austin-Bergstrom Airport expanded. Designed by Gensler, the ABIA terminal expansion completed in 2018 added nearly 175,000 square feet and nine new gates to the terminal, increasing the gate total to 34 and international flight gates from two to six. The airport also added a south terminal with a different entrance in 2017. The airport continues to set passenger traffic records, the most recent being the 1,609,397 passengers traveling in June 2019 alone. Between the two terminals, it serves 18 commercial airlines.

An aerial photo of a lot of highways crisscrossing one another.
MoPac and US 183 exchange
Getty Images/iStockphoto

MoPac has express lanes. After a decade of political wrangling and a few years of construction, MoPac (aka Texas State Highway Loop 1) has tolled express lanes in both directions that, if you ask Twitter, are often backed up despite premium pricing.

Car-sharing services helped people ditch their cars. Car2Go, which provided members the opportunity to rent its tiny cars by the minute and on the go (they could be parked and checked in and out in any legal public parking space, and you found them with an app—much like one finds e-scooters and -bikes today), was on the scene early. (Technically, it started operating in Austin—its first US market—in 2009, but for the purposes of this list, let’s just say it “really got going” in 2010.) While the company was recently folded into Share Now and pulled out of Austin, it got many drivers in the car-sharing habit. Zipcar, which launched in Austin in 2012, operates a little differently, but fills the void nicely.