Austin City Guide

By: Amy Lemen

Getting In, Getting Around Austin

©2006 Micha Capital Metro is Austin's bus system -- rides cost just 50 cents within the downtown business district.

Austin is an easy city to navigate, in general. You can drive around town or take advantage of Capital Metro, the city's bus system. Just be sure you watch out for occasional road construction. Before making your plans to head to Austin, read this primer on Austin transportation.

From the Airport

Rental car: Car rental is one option for getting from Austin-Bergstrom International Airport to downtown Austin. The major car rental companies are conveniently located on the lower level of the airport, just down from the baggage claim area. The companies include Ace, Advantage, Alamo/National, Avis, Budget, Dollar, Enterprise, Hertz, and Thrifty.


Taxi: Taxi stands are located just outside the doors of the airport's baggage claim area. The city of Austin regulates taxi rates, and the current meter rate is $2 for the first 1/4 mile, 25 cents for each additional 1/8 mile, and a gas surcharge of 10 cents per mile (currently in effect). Waiting time is $22.50 per hour.

Taxi rides that originate at the airport have a $1 surcharge. There's no additional cost for extra passengers, and as many as four passengers can ride for the price of one. As for tipping, it's encouraged for good service. Drivers are independent contractors and they work for themselves. 

Public transportation:Capital Metro, the city's bus system, is another option to get from the airport to Austin. Go to the airport's lower level, where buses depart every 40 minutes. Most individual rides are 50 cents, but make sure to bring quarters because drivers can't make change. For an updated list of bus routes serving the airport, check the Web site.

Shuttle buses to hotels are no charge for guests. Commercial shuttle fares vary, depending if you want a one-way or round-trip ride.

Driving In

Rush hour: Rush hours in Austin can be challenging on the major north-south thoroughfares, Interstate 35 and Mopac (so-named because it parallels the old Missouri-Pacific railroad line). Rush hours are typically 6 to 9 am and 4 to 7 pm weekdays. Be prepared, especially if you're heading north of the city, since delays can range anywhere from 35 minutes to an hour. Still, Austin traffic isn't as bad as many other large cities, and most traffic clears by about 7:30 pm. As for the weekend, driving anywhere is relatively painless with minimal traffic, unless there's a road construction project scheduled that weekend.

Rules of the road: If you're driving, grab a map at the airport before you head out. Austin is a generally easy city when it comes to driving around town, but recent construction means you might be navigating traffic and the occasional alternate route.

Directions to downtown from the airport are well marked; East 7th Street will take you straight into downtown and is an easy route to follow. Once you get downtown from the airport, you'll soon discover that, like many cities, Austin's streets have a naming convention all their own.

As for driving etiquette, never block a crosswalk, especially downtown. This is a city with numerous people who like to walk, and they get very upset if they are forced into oncoming traffic just to cross the street. Cyclists are also in abundance here, thanks to Austin resident Lance Armstrong, so take care when driving and watch for bike riders.

In some areas of town, the middle lane is often used for making right or left turns, so watch for oncoming traffic to be safe.

Getting Around

Public transportation: Capital Metro, the city's bus system, is one of the best ways to get around town. The cost is cheap, too, with individual rides costing just 50 cents within the downtown business district. Make sure you have quarters because drivers can't make change.

You can buy a $5 card that's good for 20 rides (half price), and $10 passes that are good for unlimited riders within one calendar month. Buy passes and fare cards and pick up free bus schedules and route maps at the Capital Metro Transit Store (323 Congress Ave), and at most major supermarkets like H-E-B and Randall's.

Capital Metro also operates a free historic trolley car, called 'Dillo' as a nickname for armadillo. There are several routes, and they all hit popular downtown-area tourist attractions, like the State Capitol, the Lyndon B Johnson Public Library, Barton Springs, and more. There are also free trolley cars that run late Thursday through Sunday for a safe ride after late night downtown partying. For route schedules, check the Web site.

Taxis, on foot, or by bike: With the recent downtown expansion of the Second Street District, plus Austin's Sixth Street Entertainment District and the Fourth Street Warehouse District, walking safely to restaurants and bars is very easy to do. Austin is a walkable city.

Taxis are a good idea if you're heading from one side of town to the other, say from dinner to drinks. A five-minute cab ride is often worth it to avoid blisters from high heels, and taxis are plentiful most days of the week. The current meter rate is $2 for the first 1/4 mile, plus 25 cents for each additional 1/8 mile, and a gas surcharge of 10 cents per mile (currently in effect).

Pedicabs, or tricycles attached to a two-seat mini-carriage, also line the city's downtown streets, as do charming horse-drawn carriages; both are practical and even romantic options to get around downtown on the weekends. Catch a pedicab on 6th Street or in the Warehouse District. Licensed by the city of Austin, cyclists work for tips from customers. The pedicabs comfortably fit two people, but it's best to ask the driver if you want to add more.

When visiting Austin, you'll have your choice of historical sites, music festivals, sporting events, and other activities to keep you busy. Keep reading for our guide to Austin special events and attractions.