One of the many reasons that Amazon supposedly was never seriously considering Austin, along with many other cities, is that it had no interest in dealing with a metro area that doesn’t already have top-notch public transit. In these United States, that’s a pretty short list of cities.
But that doesn’t appear to be a major concern for Apple’s much smaller campus, which it announced last week will be plopped down on Robinson Ranch, a massive tract of land in Northwest Austin, at the intersection of Parmer Lane and SH 45.
As it stands, Robinson Ranch is about as far away from transit-oriented as a work place in the city limits could possibly be. For instance, I asked Google maps for directions from the Capitol to Robinson Ranch via transit and it told me it “could not calculate transit directions” for that journey. I asked for transit directions from the Domain, which is about 11 miles closer, and still no dice.
But at first glance, there is a glimmer of hope. You see, Robinson Ranch is just a whisker away from the tracks of MetroRail, the Leander-to-Downtown boondoggle that has diverted millions of dollars away from Cap Metro’s bus service. Right now, Cap Metro is spending about $19 per MetroRail passenger (compared to $4 + change for every local bus rider), but things might improve significantly if we could put a station right in front of the new Apple campus, making it a compelling commute option for thousands of Apple employees.
In fact, I can imagine Apple marketing it to employees coming to down: here are the locations you can live that will provide you direct access to your job. It would be a pretty good range: downtown, MLK, Plaza Saltillo, Highland Mall, Crestview, the Domain, plus a few suburban locales. The proliferation of scooters around those first six locations might help expand the distance from the station that people are willing to travel. And Apple, ever the woke capitalist, would no doubt be happy to provide workers with discounted transit passes.
But putting a new station there is not easy. It will not only cost millions to construct another station, but the tracks would have to be realigned. That’s why Cap Metro has said a station is unlikely to come in the near future and has instead emphasized putting bus service on Parmer Lane. But that hardly sounds like a promising solution given how sparsely populated that area is and how disconnected it is to the rest of the city’s transit network.
Cap Metro spokesperson Mariette Hummell told me the following in an email:
“If we did a major track realignment, then we could potentially add a station within walking distance of the new campus. It’s something that may be possible if we have the partnership and financial support.”
That financial support should come from Apple.