The Cedar Park City Council received an update and report Thursday on the results of the Cedar Park Transit Study.
The study examines the public's interest in different types of public transit and what would be the strength, weakness and cost of these options. The council took no action at Thursday's meeting but will incorporate the study's finding into future city planning decisions.
According to the study, several factors could affect the city's future needs for public transportation, including the projections of increasing population density along Bell Boulevard and New Hope Drive, any future spikes in fuel prices, demographic shifts and whether any future legislation reduces how much is required for cities to participate in the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority system.
Cedar Park originally was part of Cap Metro but citizens voted to leave the system in 1998, re-purposing the 1 percent sales tax contribution required from member cities for economic development and stormwater projects.
Notably, Cedar Park residents still benefit from Cap Metro despite not being a member because residents can utilize the nearby Lakeline Station, located just over the city's border. Because several council members have previously expressed disinterest in the option to rejoin the Cap Metro system, citing the access to the Lakeline Station and high cost of membership, it was not included as a final suggestion by the study.
Besides its final conclusions, the study provided insights into Cedar Park residents' transportation habits and commuter needs.
According to the study, Cedar Park remains a "bedroom community" with only 3 percent of its 79,104 residents both living and working within the city. As a result, 93 percent of the city's employed residents work outside in other cities, primarily in Austin, while 87 percent of the people who work inside Cedar Park commute in from other cities. Lastly, local citizens have a high rate of vehicle ownership with 99 percent of residents having access to at least one personal vehicle.
In terms of residents with potential public transportation needs, 8 percent of Cedar Park's residents are senior citizens, 4 percent have disabilities and the Austin Community - Cypress Creek campus enrolls approximately 4,000 students.
Cap Metro's MetroRail or MetroExpress transports 900 people from the Lakeline Station to Austin each workday. and CapMetro's busing or van service drives about 40 people a day from the Lakeline Station to the city's Austin Community College campus.
Lastly, the study also conducted a poll of local residents' opinions on different transit options, which wasn't used to make the study's final recommendations but was provided to give council members a snapshot of public opinion.
The 1,150 people who responded expressed a majority interest in commuter rail, the type of train service provided by Cap Metro, while being evenly split interest on busing or microtransit options and almost no interest in options to partnering with ridesharing apps like Uber or Lyft.
Ultimately, the study recommended the council consider creating a pilot program for microtransit, which is a system where residents can request a ride from a minibus from and to any location, typically through an app. However, unlike private business options like Uber or Lyft, the service is subsidized by the city to make riders' fares minimal and affordable, and the destinations for the request are limited to only locations within the designated service area.
The study noted the city's contribution to meet estimated demand for this option would be approximately $487,000 annually. By comparison, the city's contribution for hiring a private contractor to provide express bus options would be $377,000 annually without flexibility in destinations for riders.
The study's second recommendation was for the council consider having meetings with Cap Metro officials to discuss potentially contracting only specific services from Cap Metro, such as more bus routes or microtransit, instead of rejoining the system. The study recommended Cap Metro in particular because its infrastructure and resources mean Cap Metro could potentially be contracted at a lower rate than a private contractor organization.
The next step in the process now goes to the council, which will consider over the coming months whether to bring an agenda item in the future for either of the recommended options.