Last night the SXSW party came to a grinding halt. An allegedly drunk driver went from getting picked up for driving under the influence to being charged with two counts of capital murder and 23 counts of aggravated assault with a vehicle. While this could start and stop as a conversation about drunk driving, it’s also an opportunity to talk about the need for better public and ground transportation options.
In the last few years SXSW it has grown exponentially – first with the addition of SXSWi, SXSWEdu, and SXSWEco. But more importantly the increases in the high-profile performers and corporate sponsorships have brought more people into the city. And that primed Austin for an explosion of unofficial SXSW events.
For a couple weeks in March, Austin becomes the host to a citywide party. And with that, conversation about the need to control some of the growth started – actions were taken to limit permits to host events and increase police presence. But supporting a citywide party means you have to support citywide ground and public transportation options as well. The question needs to be raised about whether or not everything was done to support safe rides for people during this citywide party.
Public transportation options were bus or train; Capital Metro specifically expanded their services for SXSW. But the infrastructure isn’t there to support everything that CapMatro seeks to accomplish with their services. There need to be other options available. Car services came to town to offer alternative safe rides for partygoers and festival attendees. But hit a wall with the laws requiring an operating permit, a chauffer’s permit and commercial insurance. I am not arguing that this is a petty requirement; I am arguing that Austin needs to create a system that allows for ride sharing and e-hail services for safe rides. It’s not going to be easy – there is a strong lobby here and for reasons that are not trivial. But it’s time to really address how to keep a booming population safe and provide adequate ground transportation resources.
If we cannot find a solution, we may end up with other restrictions that will affect the annual economic boom that SXSW is on Austin. And there are a hell of a lot of new hotels going up in downtown Austin that still need to be paid for.