Capital Metro President and CEO Linda Watson calls 2016 the year of planning for the city’s transit agency.
“[It’s] going to be a pivotal year for us when you think about everything we’re going to be doing to lay the groundwork for future services,” she said.
From expanding MetroRail operations and Park & Ride facilities to conducting an analysis of its service network, Watson said these actions will pave the way for advances the agency will make in its system.
Capital Metro received state and federal funding totaling $61.3 million to expand MetroRail operations and build a new downtown rail station near the Austin Convention Center. The existing MetroRail station is the smallest yet the busiest, Watson said. The downtown station project is in its final stages of design and engineering and has incorporated public feedback such as an adjacent pedestrian plaza.
Tracks that run through the Plaza Saltillo future development will be relocated by March, and the agency will be adding a second set of tracks at three of its rail stations. It will also purchase new rail cars. These investments will double the capacity and frequency of MetroRail.
“[The grant funding is] the reason we’re really able to do this project; otherwise we would not be expanding,” Watson said.
Every five years the agency updates its service plan to look at existing service and what has changed since the last plan was completed. Capital Metro is working on its Connections 2025 service plan in 2016 and will use public input to gather recommendations on where to add or expand services. Recommendations could be implemented as early as January.
“There’s been such tremendous growth and development, there’s been so many changes that we think [Connections 2025] is going to be huge for us,” she said.
Development of the plan will also include analyzing data on demographics and trip origins and destinations and conducting focus groups of riders and nonriders.
“We’ve got a lot of planning efforts in order to deal with, not just what’s out there today, but in 10 years the population is projected to grow by 30 percent,” Watson said.
In late 2015 the agency’s board of directors also approved an agreement with the Texas Department of Transportation to build a Park & Ride off Ben White Boulevard near the Westgate shopping center. Construction could begin in 2017 with a target opening of early 2018.
Capital Metro also has a number of Park & Rides planned in its service area, including two locations near the Y at Oak Hill, near I-35 and SH 45, along the MoPac South corridor, and somewhere on the SH 45 SW corridor, which is under development.
Outside of its service area, Capital Metro would have to work with other jurisdictions, including Buda, Round Rock and Pflugerville, to fund future Park & Rides.
“We know people who live in these communities are commuting every single day to the downtown area,” Watson said. “They’re saving some money to move out to these areas because of housing, but they’re spending a lot of money coming in [for work].”
The agency is working on transportation development plans in Buda, Round Rock, Pflugerville, Hutto and Georgetown that could address adding the proposed Park & Rides.
Capital Metro will release an update to its mobile app during or soon after the South by Southwest Conferences and Festivals. App maker Bytemark has a partnership with HaCon, a German transportation software maker. The update will include additional tools for users to plan trips.
The agency also will roll out a new website this summer that will be easier and faster for customers to use, said Dan Dawson, vice president of marketing and communications.
“Customers’ expectations around transit are really changing,” he said. “… People want immediacy, and that’s why things like our mobile app, our frequent-transit network, our MetroRapid lines—those are the things people respond to because they’re fast and immediate. It really feeds into that customer experience that people want.”