In recent years, Austin's authorities have made a concerted effort to invest in the improvement of the city's public transport system to make getting around in Austin fairly easy. While the number of residents using public transport is on the rise, Austin remains a largely car-dependent city.
With the emergence of e-hailing services and car-sharing schemes, this reliance on personal vehicles is slowly dwindling as residents take advantage of the various different options available to them.
For those that enjoy a little exercise, Austin is exceptionally well-equipped with cycling infrastructure and there are plenty of walkable neighbourhoods.
Public transport in Austin
Capital Metro is the authority that oversees Austin’s multimodal public transport system. The system, which consists of a light rail network and an extensive system of bus routes, operates with an integrated ticketing system.
It is possible to buy single tickets, but for those that plan on using the system regularly, a weekly or monthly pass affords commuters a substantial saving. Tickets can either be purchased online, at local grocery stores or via the CapMetro app, the latter is also a great tool that provides commuters with up-to-date travel information and real-time arrival information.
New arrivals in Austin will find the city boasts a pretty comprehensive network of bus routes. The network is an intricate mix of neighbourhood, express and downtown bus routes.
The frequency of the buses varies depending on the route. Generally, most of the popular routes run every 15 minutes on weekdays. Other routes run less frequently and weekend schedules are quite varied, so it is best to consult the app when planning a journey.
Austin’s commuter rail service consists of a single line that connects the northwestern suburbs of Leander and Cedar Park with the downtown area. The light rail service is intended for commuters travelling to and from work, so services are less frequent outside peak hours.
Driving in Austin
Despite improvements to public transport and the increased availability of e-hailing services in the city, driving still remains a popular way to get around Austin.
Austin’s road network is pretty easy to navigate. Commuters will just need to be aware that traffic congestion is severe during both the morning and evening rush hours. One thing that new arrivals will need to get used to when moving to Austin is the rather complex system of toll roads. There are often ways to avoid these once drivers become more familiar with the city’s road system.
Parking is expensive and often difficult to find in the city centre. Drivers should be aware that the streets are heavily patrolled and parking illegally will incur hefty fines. Expat drivers from certain countries are eligible to drive legally in Austin under driving privilege reciprocity for up to a year, but once a Texan resident, new arrivals will have 90 days to apply for a Texas driving licence.
As public transport improves, Austin residents are becoming less reliant on their vehicles and looking for alternative ways to get around the city. A happy medium between solely using public transportation and driving is car-sharing schemes. These are great for those who want to commute using public transport during the week but may need a car for the weekends and other specific occasions.
Car2go and ZipCar are the two main car shares operating in Austin. To become a member, newcomers to the city will simply need to download an app, which will then allow them to find available cars nearby. The user then gets a specific code with which to unlock the car and drive to their destination, where they can leave the car for another user to pick up. There are various different packages available depending on an individual's usage patterns.
Taxis in Austin
Taxis are available in Austin, but it is generally best to call ahead and book a service in advance. While it may be possible to hail a taxi from the side of the street in busy parts of the downtown area, it's rare to see taxis just waiting in other areas of Austin or in the suburbs. The prominent taxi companies in Austin include Yellow Cab and Austin Cab Company.
E-hailing services have become more established in Austin over the last couple of years, and Lyft and Uber are now available 24 hours a day. There are also a number of smaller e-hailing services operating in the city, which include Far, InstaRyde and GetMe. While these companies have smaller fleets and may have longer waiting times, they often run special offers to encourage people to choose them. In most cases, users simply just need to download an app onto their smartphone and register for the service with a credit card.
Cycling in Austin
Long associated with being home to Lance Armstrong, Austin is a cyclist city. There is a strong community of cyclists in the city, ranging from the competitive to the recreational pedallers.
The infrastructure in place to support cyclists in Austin is excellent, with lots of designated cycle lanes and bike storage facilities available.
MetroBike is Austin’s bike-sharing scheme that allows users to unlock shared bikes that are scattered across the city and ride to another docking station to deposit the bike when they’ve completed their journey. Users just need to have the app downloaded onto their smartphones. There are various packages available and various discounts on offer too.
Beyond the daily commute, the city boasts an array of exciting recreational biking trails as well as mountain bike routes for those looking for an adventure.
Walking in Austin
Despite being a largely car-dependent city, there are several areas and suburbs of Austin that are actually pretty walkable. Austin’s downtown area and neighbourhoods around the University of Texas are great places to take a stroll. Newcomers will love exploring parts of Austin on foot, as it will allow them to discover their new home at a more leisurely pace and appreciate things they may not have the time to do if they were rushing around in a vehicle.