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46 developed more specific criteria on performance levels and another 122 under contract. Annual ridership on all services governance from the very beginning. The sometimes ad hoc operated is 37.4 million. decision making has led to difficulty as the Circulator has matured. There is no objective standard by which to judge the requests that come from all areas of the city. DDOT is vigi- Circulator Origins and Operation lant about not diluting the circulator brand by extending new routes to areas that do not warrant service. Specific criteria This is the only case study of a downtown circulator that is not would be of great use in this effort, and the usefulness of set- presently operating. The `Dillo, Austin's downtown circula- ting performance criteria and governance structures at the tor, began operation during the 1970s as a parking intercept/ outset is one of the lessons learned. circulator service and went through several transformations as an iconic part of downtown before being discontinued in A principal lesson learned was the importance of building 2009 owing to budget issues. The old `Dillo logo is shown a strong brand with support from the business community. here, and Figure 17 provides examples of `Dillo branding. Possibly the most innovative part of the process of designing From the beginning through 2007 the `Dillo was free; Capital the circulator was to set up a separate nonprofit corporation Metro paid for the entire cost of operation. with the business improvement districts and the Convention and Tourism Bureau to use the marketing expertise of the pri- The Downtown Austin Alliance and the State Legislature vate sector in branding the service. (Austin is the capital of Texas) were key supporters of the `Dillo at its inception and in its early years. In the 1980s, Another important lesson is the need for frequent service. the `Dillo took on the character of a legislative shuttle, con- DDOT operates every 10 min for the entire span of service to necting the Capitol with other downtown locations. At its make the DC Circulator simple to understand for those not peak, the `Dillo carried 5,800 riders per day. Through the familiar with consulting timetables for transit routes. The efforts of a downtown task force, the `Dillo morphed again in 10-min headway gets people talking about the service and the late 1990s into a series of five daytime and two late-night draws choice riders who would not otherwise choose transit. routes circulating through downtown. The daytime routes, DDOT is committed to protecting this headway at all costs, named according to their colors, are shown in Figure 18. preferring to cut the span of service or route length to pre- serve frequent service. The five `Dillo routes were designed to maximize coverage and operated at different headways. Only the Silver `Dillo was A final lesson learned is the use of unique, distinctive, high- a linear route, operating on the one-way pair along 5th and 6th quality buses painted to stand out visually. The buses used on Streets. `Dillo riders appeared reluctant to get on a loop or cir- the DC Circulator are not commonly seen in the United States cuitous route, perhaps not being sure they could find their way and are very positively received by the riders. back. Capitol Metro received constant requests to extend the `Dillo routes beyond downtown into the nearby neighbor- DDOT's advice to another agency trying to replicate its hoods. Branding, the use of rubber-tired trolley replica vehi- program is to emphasize frequent service. Choice riders cles, and no fares all set the `Dillo apart from regular transit will not view a circulator as a reliable mode if they have to routes; however, in functional terms the separation between think about when the next one arrives. Also, turn the mar- regular and `Dillo routes was decreasing. keting and branding components over to experts in the field. Success is measured by ridership, which had been growing at an annual rate of 16% even before new routes were added. Success is also measured by riders' preference for the circu- lator over other modes, and by the ability to attract choice rid- ers. DDOT attributes this to direct service connecting major activity centers, an attractive price, the limited number of stops, and distinctive, comfortable buses. CAPITAL METRO-- AUSTIN, TX Capital Metro is the transit operator in Austin, Texas (the state capital), and the surrounding area. The service area population is 1.2 million. Capital Metro operates 225 peak buses directly and FIGURE 17 Examples of `Dillo branding.
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47 FIGURE 18 Former `Dillo routes (late 1990s). As noted earlier, the `Dillo's purpose had evolved through · Downtown only; neighborhoods to be served by regu- the years, and the five routes served different markets. The Red lar fixed routes. and Gold `Dillos served the community college and county facilities on the west side. Students and young hipsters were the Figure 19 presents the two `Dillo routes that resulted from primary market on the Orange `Dillo, along with some Capitol the task force recommendations. The streamlining was workers. The state employee market changed after the terrorist intended to provide frequent service in the most important attacks of September 11, 2001, when the `Dillo was rerouted to corridors in downtown. The northsouth route serves Con- serve the periphery instead of operating within the Capitol gress Street, looping around the State Capitol on its northern grounds. The Blue `Dillo was a true circulator through down- end. The eastwest route serves the one-way pair along 5th town, and the Silver `Dillo served a transit-dependent neigh- and 6th Streets, but is shortened to stay within downtown. borhood on the east side and a high school on the west side. The headway on both routes was improved to between 5 In 2007, Capital Metro reconvened the stakeholder `Dillo and 10 min (depending on the time of day), although traffic task force in response to changes in the market for `Dillo congestion made it impossible to operate 5-min headways routes noted earlier. The task force worked for more than reliably. The possibility of adding another northsouth route 6 months to refashion the `Dillo. The task force based its was left open. recommendations on two principal concepts: A final change in 2007 introduced a 50-cent fare. Before · Shorter, more frequent, and linear routes; an emphasis 2007, the `Dillo had been free. At this time, a $5 monthly pass on frequency as opposed to coverage; and was also introduced.
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48 FIGURE 19 `Dillo routes (2007).
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49 Ridership fell following these changes, as the economy Capital Metro offers several lessons learned through its slowed and gas prices fell. A strike by Capital Metro opera- operation of the `Dillo: tors did not improve the situation. By 2009, the two circula- tor routes carried only 1,000 riders per weekday, compared · If a fare is charged, it needs to be easy to understand and with 3,500 in 2006. Capital Metro concluded that `Dillo ser- pay. A major market for the `Dillo was young people in vice was not essential and discontinued the `Dillo as a cost- their first or second job, who would ride their bicycles as reduction measure. an alternative to the `Dillo. Paying electronically would have been second nature to this tech-savvy demographic group, who also would have welcomed the ability to purchase a monthly pass at convenient locations. Cash is Benefits and Drawbacks an old-fashioned concept to this market. The chief benefit of the `Dillo was its ability to provide mobil- · Select iconic, comfortable vehicles. If the `Dillo were to ity in downtown Austin. The iconic branding of the service re-start today, electric hybrid vehicles would be the choice. The replica trolleys were attractive but uncom- also enhanced the image of transit in Austin. Even one year fortable. after discontinuation, residents still ask about the `Dillo and · Consider traffic patterns and flow. Congress Street is why they never see it anymore. very congested and the `Dillo duplicated regular transit service in this corridor. The 2020 service plan envisions The primary drawbacks of the `Dillo were the vehicles and shifting regular transit buses to other corridors, and anti- the decision to charge a fare. Rubber-tired, replica trolley cipates commuter rail. A reconstituted `Dillo would vehicles are attractive and attention getting, but uncomfort- make more sense under this scenario. able to ride and even harder to maintain. Introduction of even a nominal 50-cent fare went against one rule for attracting Capital Metro's advice to another agency trying to repli- choice riders; as stated by the agency, nothing can be incon- cate its downtown circulator is to pay attention to the anchor venient or passengers will not ride. points of the routes in relation to the market for the circulator. A strong route will have anchors at either end. This is impor- tant in general transit planning, but is critical for downtown Changes and Lessons Learned circulators. If Capital Metro could change one aspect of the `Dillo opera- The `Dillo circulator experienced both success and failure. tion (aside from the timing of the 2007 changes as the econ- Its discontinuation was a result of low ridership and duplication omy began its downturn) it would have taken greater care in with other routes. Measures of success included an enhanced introducing the fare. Having no fare was a significant factor in image of transit in Austin as a result of the `Dillo's branding the branding of the `Dillo, and the adverse reaction from rid- and marketing and the support of a wide group of stakeholders ers was stronger than expected. who wanted it to succeed.