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Courtesy of Argo AI.

KVUE — You may have already seen some of the white Ford cars driving around the streets of Austin with the Argo AI emblem. Argo AI started operations in Austin back in 2019, but it is now expanding more of its services to the public.

The group has about 20 self-driving cars on Austin streets, but for now, they still have a testing specialist in the driver’s seat.

“Our vehicles are designed to be autonomous, so that someday in the future, when they meet the standard for both safety and quality, there will not be testing specialists in the vehicle,” said Sly Majid, the government relations manager for Argo AI.

Right now, a pilot program is underway for autonomous grocery delivery. Argo AI partnered with Walmart and is serving customers in Austin, and soon they will be starting a new pilot program with Lyft.

“The really interesting and cool opportunity that's coming up is that residents in the community will be able to use their Lyft app to hail a ride in an autonomous vehicle,” said Majid.

They did not give an exact date on when this will be launching, but said it would be in the near future. Although an actual person with Argo AI will be in the car to pick up Lyft users, they hope that won’t be the case for long.

“For right now, we will have a testing specialist in the vehicle, but one day that will change,” said Majid.

Argo AI is the only autonomous vehicle company to have self-driving operations in two cities. The first it started in was Miami, which already has public Lyft operations underway. It also has done some testing in Pittsburgh, Detroit, Palo Alto, Munich and Hamburg. He said Austin is a perfect place for testing due to how busy it is. He said if they can operate in Austin, then they can operate anywhere.

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Austin's MetroRail suspends all service for weeklong maintenance

Travel Woes

KVUE — Capital Metro has announced that it will temporarily halt all MetroRail service from July 15 through 23 in order to perform necessary maintenance.

Buses will take the place of the 32-mile MetroRail during the downtime.

The buses "will operate as a shuttle serving Leander, Lakeline, and Howard Stations before heading to Downtown Station," CapMetro said in a July 13 release.

The majority of MetroRail stations will also have buses taking passengers to the downtown Austin area, but not directly to the Downtown Station. A full list of alternative services is available here.

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Courtesy of RedCoach

Affordable luxury bus rolls out new Texas routes with $15 fares

On the road

A luxury bus service is adding a new Texas stop to its map.

On April 28, RedCoach will launch service in San Antonio, marking the eighth Texas city served by the company. The new stop will provide luxury transportation between San Antonio and Austin, as well as nonstop service from San Antonio to Dallas, Houston, Richardson, and Waco. Fares are priced as low as $15 each way, and the San Antonio stop is at 165 Bowie St., near the San Antonio Marriott Rivercenter.

“We understand that the travel industry is causing stress for residents with increased gas, airline, and car rental prices, so RedCoach is thrilled to add a San Antonio stop to our Texas routes. We have now completed the ‘Texas Triangle’ and are serving the state’s five largest cities,” Florencia Cirigliano, vice president of marketing and sales at RedCoach, says in a news release.

The transportation company serves Texas with 26-seat luxury buses featuring amenities such as bed-like seats that recline up to 140 degrees, complementary Wi-Fi, 110-volt power outlets, on-board entertainment, reserved seating, and no baggage fees.

Last October, RedCoach launched nonstop routes serving Houston, Dallas, Austin, Waco, and College Station. In February, RedCoach added two stops in Katy and Richardson.

According to RedCoach’s website, the company plans to expand in the near future to Fort Worth and San Marcos.

Courtesy photo

Austin parks in the No. 3 spot for worst traffic in Texas

rush-hour resentment

Honk if you hate Austin traffic! According to a new study, you’re more than justified in laying on the horn to express frustration over the Capital City’s clogged roads.

The study, released by geolocation technology company TomTom, shows the typical Austin driver wasted 46 hours last year due to traffic congestion. Austin’s traffic congestion rate was 20 percent.

Jammed-up traffic congestion was up 2 percent from 2020 but down 7 percent from 2019, parking Austin at the No. 3 spot for the worst traffic in Texas, No. 21 in the U.S., and No. 221 in the world for traffic congestion, further highlight the drive-me-up-a-wall status of Austin commutes.

While Austin’s snarled traffic can certainly cause bumper-to-bumper exasperation, it’s not as bad as some other Texas cities. Houston ranks first in Texas for traffic congestion, with Texas A&M Transportation Institute data published in December showing the 610 West Loop was the state’s most congested stretch of roadway in 2020, trading places with I-35 in Austin, which held the top spot in 2019.

On top of that, Houston is home to 10 of the 14 worst trucking bottlenecks in Texas, according to an American Transportation Research Institute ranking released earlier this month. The absolute worst: I-45 at I-69 and U.S. Highway 59. The institute deemed that intersection the third-worst trucking bottleneck in the country for 2021.

“Bottlenecks around the state continue to waste time and money, further damaging the already fragile supply chain,” John Esparza, president and CEO of the Texas Trucking Association, says in a news release. “With the newly available federal resources for infrastructure projects, there’s no excuse. These bottlenecks must be addressed. A reliable and stable transportation network is essential to our economy — just like the trucking industry.”

Outside of Austin, here’s how other major Texas cities fared in the TomTom study:

  • Houston ranked first in Texas, 16th in the U.S., and 214th in the world for traffic congestion. Time wasted in traffic last year for a typical driver: 46 hours. Congestion rate: 20 percent. Congestion was up 4 percent from 2020 but down 4 percent from 2019.
  • McAllen ranked second in Texas, 18th in the U.S., and 218th in the world for traffic congestion. Time wasted in traffic last year for a typical driver: 46 hours. Congestion rate: 20 percent. Congestion was up 4 percent from 2020 and up 1 percent from 2019.
  • Dallas-Fort Worth ranked fourth in Texas, 37th in the U.S., and 305th in the world for traffic congestion. Time wasted in traffic last year for a typical driver: 39 hours. Congestion rate: 17 percent. Congestion was up 4 percent from 2020 but down 2 percent from 2019.
  • San Antonio ranked fifth in Texas, 41st in the U.S., and 318th in the world for traffic congestion. Time wasted in traffic last year for a typical driver: 36 hours. Congestion rate: 16 percent. Congestion was up 3 percent from 2020 but down 3 percent from 2019.
  • El Paso ranked sixth in Texas, 44th in the U.S., and 324th in the world for traffic congestion. Time wasted in traffic last year for a typical driver: 36 hours. Congestion rate: 16 percent. Congestion was up 4 percent from 2020 and the same as 2019.

Not surprisingly, the TomTom study awards New York City the title of the worst-congested place in the country. In 2021, the typical New York driver wasted 80 hours in traffic, with a 35 percent congestion rate.

Racking up a congestion rate of 62 percent last year, Istanbul, Turkey, claimed the title of the world’s worst city for traffic. There, motorists wasted 142 hours in traffic in 2021.

Courtesy photo

Luxury bus operator expands Austin-to-Dallas service with select $89 fares

trippin' across texas

In a major turnaround from the raging pandemic times of 2020 and 2021, travel demand is now exceeding expectations in the Lone Star State, and luxury bus operator Vonlane is hitting the road more frequently to get Texas travelers where they want to go.

According to a February 7 release, Dallas-based Vonlane has introduced 24 new departures per week to its two most popular routes, Dallas-Austin and Dallas-Houston (both ways). In addition, Vonlane is lowering fares to $89 on select departures for a limited time.

The newly added departures are:

  • Dallas-Austin: 8 am and 8 pm on Monday, Thursday, and Friday.
  • Austin-Dallas: 8 am and 8 pm on Monday, Thursday, and Friday.
  • Dallas-Houston: 7 am and 8:30 pm on Monday, Thursday, and Friday.
  • Houston-Dallas: 7 am and 8:30 pm on Monday, Thursday, and Friday.

For the first time, Vonlane offers service every two hours between Dallas and Austin, beginning at 6 am, both ways. There now are eight daily trips between Dallas and Houston on these days, beginning at 6 am.

A more limited schedule operates in all cities on Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays.

Last year, Vonlane also revived service between Dallas and Oklahoma City, a route that had been on hold due to the pandemic. It is the only route outside of Texas, although service to Nashville and Atlanta had been announced pre-COVID.

To help travelers get back on track for business and leisure travel in 2022, the company is offering $89 one-way fares for late departure times, but only through the end of February. (Normal fares are $99-$109.) The reduced fares apply to departures at 7:30 pm, 8 pm, and 8:30 pm in Dallas, Austin, and Houston.

Vonlane launched its high-end bus service in 2014 with the Dallas-to-Austin route. Each bus, which holds fewer than two dozen passengers, features amenities like Wi-Fi, satellite TV and radio, and leather seats. For many Texas travelers, it’s become a convenient way to bypass the hassles of airline travel in recent years.

“Vonlane’s signature experience — including a spacious cabin, leather chairs, complimentary Wi-Fi and snacks, and onboard crew service — has created a loyal following of travelers throughout Texas and Oklahoma,” the company says in the release.

For more information, schedules, and booking, visit the website.

Courtesy of Project Connect via KVUE

New Austin light-rail project could remove cars from The Drag

back on the rails?

KVUE — The Austin Transit Partnership, created to act on behalf of Capital Metro and the City of Austin, held two workshops on Wednesday, December 8 for the public to share their input on a light-rail line coming to The Drag in the future.

The light rail would run through the section of Guadalupe Street that divides the University of Texas from West Campus. It will be part of the Orange Line, a 20-mile light-rail line that would operate along North Lamar Boulevard and Congress Avenue from the Tech Ridge park-and-ride at Howard Lane south to Slaughter Lane.

The Orange Line is part of Project Connect, a massive voter-approved transit plan for the city of Austin. CapMetro wants input from University of Texas students, staff, and faculty, along with community members.

Two different potential designs were presented at the workshop: an option including the rail and a traffic lane in each direction, and another including the light rail and no traffic lanes.

Option A includes the light rail and one bus/traffic lane in each direction. This layout would mean narrower sidewalks and no separated bike lanes. The traffic lanes could create slowdowns for all traffic in the area, according to the information sheet provided. Bus-to-rail transfers are more direct in this option.

Option B features a transit mall with no traffic lanes or dedicated bus lanes. However, it may be possible for buses to share the light rail guideway. Bus-to-rail transfers with this option may be less direct.

One in-person workshop was held at the William C. Powers Student Activity Center on the UT campus on Wednesday afternoon, December 8. A second workshop was held in a virtual format the same evening at 5:30 pm.

According to the Project Connect website, the Orange Line was identified as one of the dedicated-pathway, high-capacity transit corridors in the project.

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26 Austin restaurants and bars that are giving back on GivingTuesday

Tastes Good

Even Austinites who love to give time and funds on a regular basis — weekly volunteering, donating in friends' names for birthdays, participating in crowdfunding when it comes up — it’s a lot to keep track of. Especially during the holiday season, shopping for friends, family, and busy-time-of-the-year incidentals, a lot of our good intentions fade to the background.

There is a worldwide holiday to keep people on track: GivingTuesday, a recent addition to the Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday pipeline, asks people to take a step back from the consumerist shuffle and think about what they can give outside of their usual habits.

This year, it falls on November 29, and local nonprofit I Live Here, I Give Here (ILHIGH) has a long cheat sheet for Austinites looking to make a difference, including a roster of 26 food and drink businesses donating a portion of proceeds from November 26 to December 2.

GivingTuesday is split into regions, by country and then further by city. ILHIGH, the organization that founded Amplify Austin Day in 2013, is going into its sixth GivingTuesday as the official leader of the Central Texas region, offering a searchable, categorized list of Austin nonprofits that would love some help. The restaurant portion is a little different; organized in partnership with Good Work Austin, a restaurant industry support system that also works against food insecurity, the initiative gets Austinites familiar with local restaurants while knowing their tab is going to a good cause.

The 26 restaurants participating in ILHIGH’s GivingTuesday initiative are:

  • North Austin: Barrett's Coffee, Black Star Co-op, Brentwood Social House, Casey's New Orleans Snowballs, Eldorado Cafe, Epoch Coffee, Little Ola's Biscuits, West Pecan Coffee + Beer (Pflugerville)
  • Northeast Austin: L'Oca d'Oro, Southern Soul Bowl, Taterque, Tso Chinese
  • East Austin: Bento Picnic, Dai Due, Flitch Coffee, Greater Goods Coffee, Hillside Farmacy, The Cavalier
  • Downtown: Little Wu, Olamaie, Swift's Attic, Wu Chow
  • South Austin: Maie Day, Patika, Tso Chinese, House Wine
  • West Austin: Chez Zee, Epoch Coffee

Interested donors who can’t make it for a meal can use amplifyatx.org to donate to ILHIGH directly, or to donate to another organization, to which they may add an additional contribution to the ILHIGH fund before checkout.

More information about the GivingTuesday campaign is available at ilivehereigivehere.org, and on the organization’s social media.

H-E-B unveils merch for super fans, plus more hot Austin headlines

Hot Headlines

Editor’s note: It’s that time again — time to check in with our top stories. Here are five articles that captured our collective attention over the past seven days.

1. H-E-B unveils merchandise for brand super fans, available exclusively at one store. Kerrville was chosen to launch the company's new line of H-E-B-branded merchandise in celebration of its 117th anniversary.

2. Austin bar transforms into a magical winter wonderland this holiday season. Don your favorite elf socks and meet the lovely citizens of “Tinseltown.”

3. Draft 'Vision Plan' for Zilker Park unveils land bridge and more possibilities. Austinites are invited to comment on a vision plan that will inform the future of Zilker Park.

4. Austin ranks among world’s 100 best cities in prestigious new report. Austin is the No. 43 best city in the world, according to a new study. (And yes, we beat Dallas.)

5. Austin airport launches new SkySquad travel assistants in time for the holiday rush. Austin-Bergstrom International Airport is keeping lines moving during a period of heavy travel with a new team of airport assistants.

Steven Spielberg opens up personal history in The Fabelmans

Movie Review

For over 40 years, director Steven Spielberg has been delivering some of the most popular blockbuster movies of all time as well as a bevy of Oscar-quality dramas, a combination that’s unique to him. For his latest, The Fabelmans, he’s decided to go more personal than ever, telling a thinly-veiled version of his own childhood.

Sammy (played mostly by Gabriel LaBelle) is one of four children – and the only son – of Mitzi (Michelle Williams), a concert pianist, and Burt Fabelman (Paul Dano), a computer engineer. From an early age, Sammy is enthralled by the art of filmmaking, first remaking a train crash sequence from The Greatest Show on Earth, and gradually moving on to more adventurous stories.

Burt’s advancing career, which moves the family from New Jersey to Arizona to California, causes stress for various members of the family, most notably Sammy and Mitzi. Sammy must deal with anti-Semitic bullies, while Mitzi falls deeper into a mental health crisis. Sammy’s movies continually offer a respite for the family, though, giving him a creative outlet and the rest of them a chance to forget their troubles for a while.

Written by Spielberg – his first writing effort since 2001’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence – and Tony Kushner, the film is heavy on emotions but presented in a way that those feelings don’t always translate. Spielberg is no stranger to depicting fraught family situations in his long career, but in showing ones from his own family, it feels like he pulled back, not wanting the scenes to be overwrought or schmaltzy.

The result is a story that isn’t as universal as some of his other films. As the film is told from Sammy’s perspective, it’s easy to get caught up in his pursuits and various discoveries as he gets older. The mindsets of the rest of the family are less clear, even though his parents and sisters are ever-present. Mitzi’s state of mind is a concern from the start, but it’s not always treated as such by other important characters.

Just as Sammy’s movies are an escape for his family, so too are they some of the best parts of the film. Sammy figuring out the process and secrets of filmmaking is informative and often thrilling, especially if you’re a cinephile. Spielberg has been considered a master for so long that watching him revisit the days when he was learning as he went is catnip for movie lovers.

In addition to being a dead ringer for a teenage Spielberg, LaBelle is a fantastic actor. It’s no easy feat to carry a movie on your shoulders, and LaBelle makes the assignment look easy. Williams’ performance will likely be more polarizing; she employs a very mannered speech pattern that works in some situations, but not all. The film also includes memorable short appearances by Seth Rogen, Judd Hirsch, and David Lynch.

Spielberg has provided the moviegoing public with such pleasure over the years that he deserves to have a movie that’s mostly for him. The initial viewing of The Fabelmans left this critic wanting, but perhaps it will gain more traction on a second screening.

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The Fabelmans is now playing in theaters.

Photo by Merie Weismuller Wallace/Universal Pictures and Amblin Entertainment

Gabriel LaBelle in The Fabelmans