Can't We All Just Move Along?

Apr 30, 2015 - 12:11 pm

Now that we have a long break before the next major festival in Austin, let’s take a look back at SXSW 2015 and the insights we’ve gained about mobility (especially of the non-car variety!) during this incredible time of year. Perhaps some of these mobility insights and lessons learned can be applied to the rest of the year and in the future.

Lesson 1: SXSW brings more than 90,000 people to Austin over 10 days to events that take place mostly within a two-mile radius. Some events take place outside the downtown and east Austin areas, but for the most part, 90,000+ people are moving into and around a 2-mile radius.

The official number of SXSW conference attendees varies greatly from the number of people who come for non-conference related events.  That said, SXSW brings an enormous number of people to Austin, and each year the number grows. This year, the number of music conference participants (including registrants and Artist wristbands) hit 30,308, up from 27,991 in 2014. SXSW Interactive participants increased to 33,825 (32,798 in 2014), Film participants topped out at 20,252 (18,747 in 2014), SXSWEDU saw 6,307 (5,933 in 2014), and the SXSW Trade Show attendance increased to 70,552 (65,000 in 2014).

While it’s hard to say how many people are here for the un-official music shows, you can guess that the number of people who traveled to Austin for SXSW, including those without an official SXSW badge or Artist wristband, is well over 100,000.  These are not minor numbers; in 2014, SXSW was directly and indirectly responsible for more than $315.3 million in revenue for Austin economy. 

Lesson 2: SXSW attendees know how to move around Austin, and it’s often not in a car.

Austin’s B-Cycle bike share program had an astounding 21,177 total bike trips during SXSW, compared to fewer than 17,800 trips during SXSW last year. Each B-Cycle bike was checked out an average 57 times during the 10 day festival, with the most trips taken on March 19, when there were 3,032 trips, an average of 8.2 trips per bike.
Capital Metro also saw a tremendous increase in their ridership over the 10-day period.  During SXSW Capital Metro increased the number of service hours by 1,700, which resulted in a 15% increase in use of MetroRapid and MetroRail.  A total of 63,000 rides were taken on MetroRail, with the highest one-day total of 9,000 rides taken on March 19th.  MetroRapid routes were utilized 100,000 times, with a one-day high of 13,000 also on March 19th.
Uber and Lyft also made a tremendous impact on SXSW this year, by providing more than a combined 250, 000 safe rides home from SXSW events.  Last year’s tragedy involving alcohol and event goers resulted a collaborative effort in our community to examine our late night transportation issues and possible solutions.  Since then, the number of people using services like Uber and Lyft has dramatically increased.

Lesson 3: Austin has the capacity to move thousands of people to, from, and around downtown without relying heavily upon vehicles.

So, let’s take a quick review. In just 10 days, alternative modes of transportation allowed for more than 100,000 (estimated) additional people to move in and around a 2 mile area without driving themselves. To give this number context, we currently move close to 125,000 commuters in and out of downtown Austin every day, 70% of whom drive alone to downtown instead of carpooling.

We have demonstrated that it is possible to move thousands of additional people using our transportation system with some valuable tweaks that helped move more people across expanded service times. With greater promotion of other services, like carpooling, or taking advantage of the commuting resources available from Movability Austin, perhaps we can move our 125,000 downtown commuters via other channels.

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