For Austin, Wheels in Motion for Bus Rapid Transit by 2014

It’s been a little over two years since MetroRail debuted as Austin’s urban rail. Following a trend that started in Latin America and has spread throughout the world, Austin says it is preparing to break ground on a high-capacity rapid bus. That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is coming to Austin.

Thanks in large part to Department of Transportation grant that will fund 80% of the project, construction of a two-route, $47.6 million rapid-bus system known as MetroRapid will begin this fall. The FTA’s Very Small Starts program will cover some 80 percent $47.6 million total cost.

Capital Metro says MetroRapid can anticipate at least 20,000 daily boardings after the service opens. Plans include two high-capacity, rapid bus lines that would run north-south across the city for a total of 37.5 miles. The North Lamar Boulevard/South Congress Avenue line will run for a total of 21 miles from Tech Ridge Park and Ride to Southpark Meadows. The Burnet/South Lamar Boulevard will total 16 miles and will run from North Austin Medical Center to Westgate Transit Center.

Like other BRT systems, MetroRapid will feature sleek, modern buses that are more efficient and have greater passenger amenities on the bus and at the station that a standard bus. MetroRapid’s fleet will consists of 60 accordion-style buses is expected to run at intervals of 10-15 minutes from 5am to 1am – much shorter than anything Austinites are used to.

The buses would arrive by 2014, and the lines would open after completion of 70 stations that would be located every mile or so, on both sides of the street. Each of these “Enhanced Bus Stops” with a bench, system map, standard route sign and a real-time digital display of anticipated arrival times.

Austins’s far from the only city in North America looking to BRT. In Texas alone, both San Antonio and El Paso
expect to open their own BRT systems within the next 1-3 years.

Rick Steves: Study Abroad a “Necessity”

Long-time writer, television host and all-around travel dork Rick Steves made some unexpected waves last week when he declared that “Study abroad is a necessity, not a luxury” article in a USA Today opinion piece. His opening lines were:

Even in challenging economic times, making sure that study abroad is part of our college students’ education is a vital investment. If we want a new generation of leaders and innovators who can be effective in an ever more globalized world, sending our students overseas is not a luxury. It’s a necessity.

I’d imagine that nearly everyone in international education would support Rick’s general idea here (i.e., that more students should study abroad) – and it’s always nice to have someone come from the outside and  advocate. His op-ed piece was perhaps lacking in spec

ifics and even more so in solutions. In practice, though, students are deterred from study abroad for a host of varied and individualized reasons. What’s holding your students back? I have included the two most common roadblocks to international education in Texas, and possible solutions for reference:

Financial Reasons – Even if the Senator Paul Simon Study Abroad Act were passed tomorrow, it’s hard to imagine that 2% participation rate rising much above a couple percentage points at most. Dependent on their home institution’s policies, advisors are constrained as to what they cam do. With that said, educating students about scholarship opportunities and advisement on lower-cost programs can help.

Curriculum or Credit Transfer ReasonsUniversities with clearly-articulated policies for study abroad that are well-understood by staff/faculty – not to mention students – are likely to send more abroad. This requires coordination with different parts of campus (Financial Aid, Registrar, VP of Academic/Student Affairs, etc.). Once policies are finalized, your goal is to educate everyone on campus as to what they are – and why it matters.

While one should never rule out top-down institutional change entirely, it’s more likely that participation will grow incrementally and as a direct result of your efforts.