The city of Austin’s public transit agency is considering several changes to its service that would bring residents more opportunities to connect to transit.
The first of these changes could begin in January after Capital Metro finishes a yearlong study of its service network called Connections 2025.
“With the changing demographics and new mobility options that are out there, for us to grow ridership we have to be more convenient, and frequency is a very big part of that as well as the notion of having this network,” said Todd Hemingson, the agency’s vice president of strategic planning and development.
Last September, Capital Metro’s board of directors approved hiring transportation consultant Transportation Management & Design Inc.—at a cost not to exceed $466,276—to develop a 10-year plan of ways to improve upon the agency’s service. Capital Metro began public outreach this spring and will host other outreach efforts in the next eight weeks to allow the public to weigh in.
“We heard overwhelmingly that frequency is what our customers desire most,” Capital Metro planner Lawrence Deeter said.
Although all proposed service changes are subject to approval by the agency’s board of directors, here are eight changes Capital Metro is considering:
1. MetroRail frequency, bus service on I-35
These services are located in their own dedicated right of way, including MetroRail.
In 2018, Capital Metro will upgrade MetroRail’s frequency to every 15 minutes because of a $50 million grant from the state to purchase new rail cars. Another $11.3 million from the federal government is going toward adding a second set of tracks near three rail stations.
The agency is also working with the Texas Department of Transportation to add bus-rapid transit, which typically operates in its own lane for more reliable service, on a new pair of lanes that would be added to I-35.
“What we’re proposing is an inline station where the bus would not get off of the expressway,” Deeter said. “It would provide fast service to downtown from stations north and south.”
2. Consolidating duplicate routes
Capital Metro is proposing to combine its MetroRapid bus routes with their local bus route counterparts. routes 801 and 1 would become Route 801, and routes 803 and 3 would become Route 803.
Route 803 would also extend farther south along Manchaca Road, ending on Slaughter Lane.
A new route 820 would also be added to replace routes 20 and 100. The route would run every 10 minutes from Austin-Bergstrom International Airport along South First, Guadalupe, Lavaca and Dean Keeton streets as well as Manor Road to the US 183 and Hwy. 290 interchange.
Capital Metro would also add a new east-west MetroRapid route that would use Fifth, Sixth and East Seventh streets and Lake Austin Boulevard.
Stations would also be spaced every 1/3-mile, and the service would run 24/7.
Capital Metro is proposing to expand its Frequent Service Network of faster bus service.[/caption]
3. Higher frequency routes
In 2015, Capital Metro launched its Frequent Service Network of bus routes that operate every 15 minutes. The agency is proposing to add eight more routes to the network for a total of 12. These new routes would serve William Cannon Drive, Stassney Lane, Rosewood Avenue, Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, Cesar Chavez Street and Rundberg Lane.
“Being able to use multiple routes easily and conveniently is all about frequency,” Hemingson said. “When you step off one bus, like a north-south bus, to go east-west, if you don’t have that frequency that can be a not-so-pleasant experience. But when you are running every 15 or 10 minutes, connecting … becomes much more functional and usable.”
Deeter said 85 percent of customers would have access to Capital Metro’s network within a 1/2-mile, an increase from 50 percent. For Austin residents, that percentage increases from 30 to 50 percent of residents being within a 1/2-mile of a frequent bus route.
“That is an increase of 200,000 people having access to frequent service; 500,000 people will now have access to frequent service,” he said. “This is where I believe Capital Metro can see significant ridership gains.”
4. Consolidated fare structure
TMD recommended the agency have one fare to allow passengers easier transfers between types of service, such as MetroRapid and local buses routes.
“The nature of MetroRapid in part due to the larger buses, in part due to faster service is more cost effective per trip,” Hemingson said. “We can carry more people for every dollar spent. To a degree we can maximize ridership on that service even with a lower fare what they concluded was that’s a better net return for the agency.”
Currently, passengers pay $1.75 for a single MetroRapid ride compared with $1.25 for a ride on a local bus.
“We’re really trying to focus on the network aspect of it so that all of the different pieces work as a system and that it’s easy and convenient for people to make connections between routes,” Hemingson said. “Whereas before, we heard from customers that was a hindrance to working MetroRapid and the local [buses] as one system because they had different fares.”
5. Faster local service
Routes that provide more coverage throughout the city would operate every 30 minutes. Capital Metro is planning more service along east-west streets, including Slaughter Lane, Ben White Boulevard, Koenig, Anderson and Braker lanes.
6. New Express bus service
Capital Metro has negotiated for additional parking on Howard Lane near MoPac to add a new Express bus route that would serve downtown Austin via the new express toll lanes when the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority opens them by the end of 2016.
7. Adding circulators
Capital Metro is still looking at how these circulators would operate, whether on a Capital Metro bus or through a partnership; these connectors could operate at The Domain and Mueller development. The agency would also have three connectors serving downtown Austin on Congress Avenue as well as Red River and First streets.
8. New mobility hubs
These hubs could be on- or off-street and would provide riders with connections to other forms of transportation, including taxicabs, transportation network companies, and bike and car share.
Hemingson said the agency’s app would also provide these other options to help people in planning a trip.
Capital Metro will host public outreach events in September to give the public an opportunity to weigh in on the proposed changes.
During the agency’s Oct. 24 meeting, TMD and Capital Metro staffers will update the board about any changes stemming from the public outreach process. The board is scheduled to approve the service plan at its Nov. 16 meeting.
This story was updated to correct the current price the MetroRapid fare.