I wrote this letter to the editor/article to the Austin American Statesman to highlight an Austin deficiency.
I am a Rotary Foundation Ambassadorial scholar living in the capitol city Asunción, Paraguay. It is a landlocked South American country, bordered by Argentina, Bolivia, and Brazil and it is the second poorest nation on the continent (ahead of Bolivia—the other landlocked nation). I write this to highlight a startling difference between Asunción and Austin: public transportation.
Before moving to Paraguay I lived in Austin for two and a half years on Congress and Riverside and then on 2222 and MoPac (where I will return in December when my scholarship period is over). In that time I became intimately familiar with the lack of a public transportation system. Moving from Boston, Massachusetts—where a subway system, buses, and taxis made owing a car unnecessary, even excessive—only highlighted Austin’s public transportation shortcomings.
Austin has a bus system, yes; however, it is inadequate in providing wide-ranging service to all parts of Austin and its surrounding cities. One must wait at bus stops that are few and far between for a bus that might not arrive for 20 minutes. Furthermore, the small fleet of buses serves as a reminder that much needs to be done to provide a comprehensive public transportation system. Taxis exist too, but they can be costly and difficult to find when one truly needs one.
Asunción, on the other hand, has a remarkable public transportation system. It might be the second poorest country in South America but it ranks far superior to Austin in its public transit infrastructure. Although Asunción does not have a subway or commuter-rail, its bus system more than makes up for those perceived pitfalls. Buses and bus stops are numerous and located in popular areas. Routes are plentiful. Service is fast and safe. One may take any number of buses to neighboring towns and cities or even the airport. To compliment the buses, there are an abundant number of inexpensive taxis that serve the city.
I mention these differences not to pan the city in which I live. I show them to illustrate a point. If a little-known South American city, with its significantly weaker economy and dramatically less funds, can give its residents a comprehensive public transportation system then surely Austin—a city with the money, resources, and political will—can do the same.
Furthermore, with Austin’s desire for more residents to move downtown and the increasingly ‘greener’ stance of its citizens, the city should embrace this lesson from its South American neighbor and its all-encompassing public transportation system. Increased bus and taxi service combined with a commuter-rail system (that is continually promised but continually delayed and, hence, never delivered) would dramatically improve Austin’s public transportation system. It would also give its citizens a much more viable option than they have now. Public transportation only becomes a feasible alternative to cars when it provides fast, reliable service combined with a service grid that has stops in places where people want to go.
Toll roads are not the answer. An efficient, effective public transportation infrastructure is.
The author is the recipient of a 2008-2009 Rotary Foundation Ambassadorial Scholarship, which allows him to study abroad for an academic year. He received his Bachelor’s degree in Interdisciplinary Humanities from Michigan State University and his Master’s degree in Dramatic Arts from Harvard University. He wrote this article while watching buses race down the street in front of his apartment at dizzying speeds.