Capital Metro: SXSW rail, bus ridership breaks records

Capital Metro broke several ridership records during the South by Southwest Music and Media Conference on March 8–17, including total MetroRail ridership, which topped 49,200 boardings compared with 35,000 boardings in 2012 during SXSW.

"Trains were packed, and total ridership was up 40 percent from 2012," said Todd Hemingson, Capital Metro vice president of planning and development, during the March 25 board of directors meeting.

He said the highest single-day ridership was March 15, which saw 9,000 boardings. March 16 had the second-highest ridership with 7,700 total boardings. Some days the trains were so packed that Capital Metro had to use buses to carry the overflow, Hemingson said.

Besides increasing train frequency and service hours, Capital Metro increased the frequency on its MetroAirport bus that runs from Austin-Bergstrom International Airport to downtown. That change accounted for a 135 percent ridership increase to regular weekday service with 2,150 boardings compared with 910 boardings.

In planning for next year, Hemingson said the agency is looking at several solutions for bicyclists to store their bikes instead of bringing them on the trains. Linda Watson, Capital Metro president and CEO, said staff would direct bikers to nearby buses that they could ride with their bikes if the trains were too full.

"I have never seen so many bicycles in Austin as I saw downtown for SXSW," Watson said. " It was amazing to me the amount of bicycles."

Capital Metro SXSW statistics for 2013:

More than 100,000 people visited the Capital Metro website during SXSW, a 15 percent increase from 2012

42,000 page views on the agency's SXSW Web pages, a 250 percent increase compared with 2012

More than 70 volunteers handed out 20,000 Capital Metro maps March 6–17

158 percent increase in bus operator reports of at-capacity buses from 2012

28 percent increase in on-time performance from 2012

6 percent decrease in calls to the agency's GO Line, Capital Metro's customer information hotline, between March 8–17, which the Capital Metro credits to its planning efforts and work done at SXSW

"We think this means we did a good job getting information out through social media and at the bus stops and [with] the over 70 volunteers we had spread throughout the downtown area," Watson said.

Watson said next year the agency also plans to focus more on its late-night service.

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