June 29, 2011 by: Ben Heimsath

Using Alternative Transportation - MetroRailIt's not a scientific study, but the best way to find out whether alternative transportation is worth using is to try it.  My car was in the shop this morning.  Instead of asking a colleague, or the courtesy car for a free ride (still the best alternative if it is available), I decided to make use of the newest and highly promoted alternatives - MetroRail, Austin's light rail, and the Car2Go program.  In previous posts I documented my frustrations with the Car2Go sharing system, but I was willing to have another try.

The result of my morning experiment is surprisingly positive.  The rail stop happens to be a few blocks from the shop, so in the waiting room, I easily consulted the schedule on line.  Darn, I had just missed the stop.  Not to worry, the train frequency is now greatly expanded, another was due in 20 minutes.  This gave me just enough time to grab a breakfast sandwich and stroll over to buy my ticket.

Alternative Transportation - Austin's MetroRailFor a one-dollar fare, MetroRail was a delight.  A number of passengers were in the car, but there was plenty of room.  The crisp interiors were bright and comfortable.  One rider brought his bike, which hung easily on the rack by the door.  The stop closest to the office is still too long to walk on a hot day.  I made arrangements for a colleague to pick me up at the exact time of the scheduled arrival.  In minutes, we were back at work.

I had noticed a Car2Go vehicle parked near the office yesterday.  When the repair shop called to tell me they were done, I strolled up the block to find it.  The last driver had thoughtfully parked under a tree, mindful of the shade.  Car2Go - Alternative TransportationI pulled out my card to place it on the windshield reader and saw a new sticker right above the reader.  Car2Go reminds you to only use the BLUE card (see my previous post).

Car2Go InteriorThe blue card and the reader liked each other this time (see my other Car2Go post), so the car opened promptly.  I remembered how impressed I had been when I drove the previous Car2Go.  This time was even better.  These cars may be small on the outside, but they have roomy interiors.  I appreciated the generous headroom and legroom.  The car felt very solid on the road.  The semi-manual shift felt a little awkward, but I quickly got used to it.  I even found KUT, my favorite radio station, on the touchpad screen.

When I got to the shop, I made sure I parked as instructed in a legal space on the street.  There was a small spot open in a long row of cars that looked about the right size.  Parallel parking was a breeze, and the car is so small that I probably could have fit two cars. I made sure to pass on the favor extended to me.  I backed the car far enough to fit completely under the shade tree.Car2Go Parallel Parked

My alternative transportation experience was terrific.  Both transportation modes, the rail and the shared car, worked flawlessly.  But most of all, the quality of the ride and the overall experience was comparable to my expectations as a car owner.  In Austin, alternative transportation has definitely matured.  For my needs, it has become a credible choice that I will use at least occasionally or when my primary car is not available.

Transportation has a huge impact on our built environment.  Have you tried any alternatives to the single-passenger car?  Have they been as positive?  We'd love to hear any thoughts or observations.

Transportation/ Austin