One year after bus system overhaul, Capital Metro sees consistent ridership gains

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In the year since Capital Metro revamped its bus system, the transit agency has consistently reported an increase in ridership.

The latest ridership numbers from June 2019 compared to June 2018 are the first year-over-year comparisons for the agency since the revamp. For Cap Remap, the agency modified more than half of its routes by doubling the number of routes with 15-minute service, realigning routes and replacing some existing routes.

Systemwide, Capital Metro data shows ridership across all services was up 3.4% in June 2019 compared to June 2018. The increase is consistent with prior months, including an 8.6% increase in April 2019 compared to April 2018 and 11% increase in May 2019 compared to May 2018, President and CEO Randy Clarke said.

“I really think this emphasizes the point that we need a big investment in public transportation here,” he said.

The agency’s Express commuter bus service saw a 25.6% year-over-year in June, in part because of additional service to complement MetroRail, and MetroRapid saw a 6.8% increase. MetroRail, however, had a 36.2% decline that Clarke attributed to the temporary closure of the downtown rail station through 2019.

Construction on the new downtown rail station began in March, and the new expanded station will open in spring 2021. Clarke said double tracking work along the rail line was completed and will allow trains to pass in opposite directions and result in more frequent rail service in the future.

“Infrastructure along the whole corridor means the entire service from Leander to downtown works better,” he said.

After Cap Remap, Clarke said 80% of Capital Metro’s customers are now within a short walk of its high-frequency bus network that provides 15-minute service seven days a week. About 40% of the area’s minority population is now within a 10-minute walk compared to 25% before Cap Remap, he said.

“We’re serving more parts of our community,” Clarke said.

Although service may not have increased in every area of town, Clarke said the agency is looking into how to improve service in areas where a fixed-route bus service might not make sense, such as in less dense parts of town.

An example is the agency’s Pickup service, which offers on-demand rides in a select service area, that launched in Manor in June and will be available in four new areas this fall. These include near St. David’s North Austin Medical Center, Johnston Terrace, Rogge Lane and Exposition Boulevard.

“I do think hearing and working with the community is the most important piece,” Clarke said.

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  1. Nice job on this Amy, but let’s look at the overall budget of Cap Metro. Through May ’19 Cap Metro collected $14.5 million in all ridership fares. During this same period, the salary cost to deliver these services was $27.6 million and I’m not even counting professional services at $12.6 million which to me is probably outside contracted services. So conservatively Cap Metro lost $13.1 million dollars just providing the people necessary to deliver the services. And the cherry on top? $8 million in fuels cost to drive around and pick up no one. Of course their ridership is up, going from zero to one rider is a 100% increase!

    The overall budget for Cap Metro is $335 million of which $245 million comes from our sales tax dollars. Solve the homeless issue in Austin? A one-time diversion of these sales tax dollars and we could fix homelessness in Austin in one year. The tens of folks who do use Cap Metro would have to ride in one year older buses. Small give back to solve a major issue in Austin.

    https://capmetro.org/uploadedFiles/New2016/About_Capital_Metro/Financial_Transparency/Monthly_Financial_Status_Reports/CapMetro-Monthy-May2019.pdf

    • Philip Drexler

      No mention is made in the article of the fact that during this same time period Cap Metro also reduce fares on Metro Rapid Buses and started to permanently allow children under the age of 18 to ride the all buses and trains for free. These measures have artificially inflated Cap Metro’s ridership numbers while reducing the amount of fare revenue it takes in. Perhaps this short fall has been recouped through increased grants or other funding sources, but I, personally, am unaware of any such.

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Amy Denney
Amy has been reporting in community journalism since 2007. She worked in the Chicago suburbs for three years before migrating south and joined Community Impact Newspaper in September 2010. Amy has been editor of the Northwest Austin publication since August 2012 and she is also the transportation beat reporter for the Austin area.
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