Capital Metro’s board approved a $10.2 million contract July 25 with Nova Bus to buy 15 new buses: seven 60-foot accordion-style buses and eight 40-foot buses. These will serve routes 801 and 803 running between North and South Austin.
Expanded hours and increased frequency on MetroRapid is planned to start in August 2017 and are also included in the proposed fiscal year 2016-17 budget. Proposed service changes are subject to Capital Metro's board of directors approving the budget Sept. 26.
“[The changes] will make the service more attractive across the board,” said Todd Hemingson, Capital Metro’s vice president of strategic planning and development. “It’s increased freedom. You [will be able to] walk out and know the bus will come at any moment.”
Frequency would increase from running every 13 minutes to 10 minutes on weekdays and every 15 minutes on weekends. Buses would operate with longer hours on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Changes will amount to an additional 70,000 new service hours each year, Hemingson said.
He said planning for MetroRapid began in 2008, and the agency had estimated the time it would take for buses to run from one end of the route to the other.
“The time we assumed turned out to be longer because of increased congestion,” Hemingson said. “… We really need to ramp up our service. The bottom line is we’re trying to get to service every 10 minutes.”
When the MetroRapid project came in under budget, the Federal Transit Administration—which awarded the agency $38.1 million for the $47.6 million project—told Capital Metro it could not use the remaining funds to add new stations or buses to increase frequency.
Capital Metro was later denied another federal grant to increase service, and the city of Austin also did not provide funding under the Quarter Cent Fund, which is funding that stemmed from the failed 2000 light-rail proposition. Capital Metro agreed in 2001 to share 25 percent of its annual revenue—money previously allocated toward light rail—with the city to fund transportation projects.
Reducing stop gap
Capital Metro will also build eight station pairs for a total of 16 new stops before expanded service begins in August 2017.
Two stop pairs would be on Route 803, which serves Burnet Road and South Lamar Boulevard from The Domain to Westgate shopping center. Route 803—operating along North Lamar Boulevard and South Congress Avenue between the Tech Ridge Park & Ride and Southpark Meadows—would get the remainder.
Hemingson said agency staffers analyzed station locations by using ridership data from MetroRapid as well as on local bus routes. Capital Metro also gathered public input, such as from Wheatsville Co-Op, which advocated for a stop outside its store at 3101 Guadalupe St., Austin.
“There was a gap in the network for MetroRapid they wanted to see resolved,” he said. “[After] we were doing planning of these stops a number of years ago, these corridors ... exploded with growth. There are developments there now that we didn’t know were coming.”
He cited Camden Lamar Heights on North Loop and Lamar and the area surrounding the Broken Spoke on South Lamar as examples.
In the following interactive map, the locations in red are proposed Route 803 stops. Locations in black are proposed Route 801 stops: