Two years after Capital Metro's MetroRail Red Line started rolling for the first time, MetroRail will begin to offer Friday night and Saturday service to riders. The Red Line rolled out passenger service officially on March 22, 2010, moving passengers from Leander at the northern end to the downtown station located at East Fourth Street and Trinity Street in Austin. The expanded weekend service will begin March 23.

Originally, the Red Line just ran during the morning and evening rush hours Monday through Friday. Then, in January 2011, MetroRail added midday service, which Capital Metro CEO Linda Watson said helps alleviate some concerns the agency had heard from potential riders.

"It's a big security thing for people, just knowing if they had to get home in the middle of the day, they can. It also caters to the trips of the university students," Watson said.

Now, after action from the Capital Metro board Feb. 27 and the Austin City Council on March 1, the Red Line will run until midnight on Friday nights and offer service on Saturday from 4 p.m. to midnight, though Leander is not served on Saturdays. The additional trips will be provided through a $5.7 million interlocal agreement with the City of Austin.

Ridership for the Red Line averages 1,800 boardings per day. The three stations with the highest ridership are Howard, Lakeline and Leander. Watson said part of that is probably because those three stations have park-and-rides, but she added those with the farthest to travel have the most to gain from riding on commuter lines.

MetroRail critics, especially former Urban Transportation Commission member Mike Dahmus, do not think it is equitable that the Lakeline Station and the Howard station are located so close to the Austin city limit with cities that do not contribute sales taxes to Cap Metro.

"These stations are right on the edge of the city," Dahmus said. "Most people don't backtrack very far to ride transit."

Dahmus contends that since Cedar Park withdrew from Capital Metro in 1998 and does not send any of its sales taxes to Capital Metro, Cedar Park residents should not have the convenience of Lakeline Station. Though the station is in Austin, it is quite close to the Cedar Park city limits.

Watson pointed out that passengers from non-member cities who take the train into Austin spend money in Austin, a portion of whose sales tax is captured by Capital Metro.

"Our job is focused on mobility, and whether they're visitors to the community, they're here for South By Southwest, they live in Cedar Park or some other nonmember community, our job is to ease the congestion and preserve the quality of life in this area, so we'll cater to everybody," Watson said.

Additional reporting by Amy Denney and Mitzie Stelte