MetroRapid bus passengers will pay a lower fare starting in January that could make Capital Metro’s transit system easier to navigate.

Capital Metro’s board of directors approved eliminating the premium fare tier today that is charged for MetroRapid routes, which run about every 10 minutes on Lamar Boulevard, Burnet Road and South Congress Avenue. Riders also pay the premium fare on Flyer routes, which offer limited service between neighborhoods and downtown.

Currently a single MetroRapid or Flyer ride costs $1.75 versus $1.25 on local bus routes. The commuter fare, charged for MetroRail, would remain the same price at $3.50 for a single ride.

Delia Garza, a Capital Metro board member and District 2 Austin City Council member, said reducing the fare is an exciting move.

“I have seen our buses get a little segregated because of the fare,” she said. “I’m really glad we’re taking the suggestion from the consultant.”

Here are three facts about Capital Metro fares:

MetroRapid Capital Metro's board of directors approved eliminating the premium fare charged on MetroRapid bus routes. Passengers will start paying the lower local bus fare price in January.[/caption]

1. The fare structure was adopted in 2013.

In 2013, the agency’s board of directors approved changes to its fare policy that became effective in 2014-15. These changes included moving to a three-tiered system with different prices for local bus service, premium service on MetroRapid and Flyer bus routes, and commuter service for MetroRail.

In 2016, Capital Metro hired consultant Transportation Management and Design Inc. to assist in creating its Connections 2025 service improvement plan. TMD recommended the agency eliminate the premium fare. The board is scheduled to adopt the remainder of the service plan initiatives in December.

2. The higher fare was charged for routes with more amenities and fare recovery.

MetroRapid bus service is more frequent than many local bus routes, uses newer buses and offers free Wi-Fi. But according to the Connections 2025 report, “the MetroRapid fare isolation from the mainstream local network is a major disadvantage for [trips that rely] more on the network rather than individual corridors.”

“When the consultants looked as the system, they saw [the different fares] as a disincentive for passengers and system users making shorter lifestyle trips,” said Donna Simmons, vice president of administration and risk management compliance, and interim chief financial officer.

Capital Metro aims to recover at least 20 percent of transit operating costs through fares. Systemwide, Capital Metro only recovers about 10 percent; however excluding MetroRapid, the agency recovers about 15 percent, according to Capital Metro board documents.

3.  A lower fare could mean lower revenue.

By eliminating the premium fare, the agency estimates the financial impact to be between $500,000 and $735,000 annually. Because the fare change would occur Jan. 8, after the start of fiscal year 2016-17, the reduction in revenue would only be between $375,000 and $551,250 in the first year.

Simmons said TMD also worked with Capital Metro on revenue projections as a result of the lower fare.

“They said we said could see increase in ridership on services affected by this change as a result of reducing this fare,” she said.

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