Although he said they are planning on BRT in that corridor, he hasn’t given up on rail yet. “Realistically not in my lifetime, but realistically they will have rail on that corridor. When; I don’t know. But it will be just an evolution, so it’s better to go ahead and put BRT in there and try to get what we need.”
Gilliam says that due to Austin’s layout the agency doesn’t have a single dedicated bus lane. To offset this on the agency’s MetroRapid line, the city is allowing Capital Metro to use traffic signal preemption.
“We’ll hold the light green as we approach or change it to green with the exception of emergency,” Gilliam says.
“And so that will give us a 20 percent advantage on the speed. We believe that is sufficient enough to make it attractive. In fact, we are currently in the process of restructuring some of our service because we have on this same corridor, we have limited stop and regular stop.
“And we’re at looking at changing that to more frequency on the limited stop and on the regular service we will change it a little bit more infrequent and make the other real frequent. What we would encourage you to do is if you are in between, take a local up to the stop and then catch the express if you are going very far. We believe that will change people’s habits and also increase ridership.”
Gilliam says the agency plans to mark specific stops as BRT stops and will also identify the vehicles as BRT with level boarding.
“Our intent is to have special vehicles that you’ll identify. We want it to be as close to a rail concept as you possibly can get,” Gilliam says.
“And we have 10 of those planned. And we’re … the first one we are going to do with local money. And the next three we’re looking at Small Starts [to] see if we can get some federal money.
“[The Federal Transit Administration (FTA)] has been working with us. They have not been discouraging at all from that standpoint. I believe we’ll get sufficient consideration for that.
“The community has embraced BRT, too. It’s not like everything we do has to be rail. We’ve got some folks here that would like just only rail. But this city is laid out in a way in topography-wise and everything else that some areas of the city we couldn’t put rail if we wanted to. There are some areas of the city that the density would not support it for the investment,” Gilliam says.
For BRT to work, Gilliam says that managed lanes will be a critical component. The agency has looked at using highway shoulders as passing lanes and that option passed through the Texas Senate and the agency hopes to get it passed by the House in the next legislative session.
Fred Gilliam says that at Capital Metro, “We like to delight you on every trip.” While even he says you can’t do that every time, it does show the agency’s dedication toward not just customer service, but to bringing great service to the customers.
“That means that [the] operator needs to look out for you a little,” Gilliam says.
“Make sure you get on the bus. We want to make sure they welcome you on the bus. And make sure you are treated with respect.”
Gilliam says that right now Capital Metro does its best to test potential drivers and make sure that they are hired for their attitude and not their driving skills.
“If you don’t have some public involvement type experience, you don’t have as good of a chance to get hired as an operator as you would be compared to a truck driver,” he says.
“We’ve determined we cannot train your attitude, but we can train you for skill. So we hire you for attitude and train you for skill.
“I talk about the seriousness of what the work is and say it’s OK if you’ve decided this is not for you, that’s OK. But just understand this, we expect you to treat our passenger with respect and dignity. We expect you to treat your fellow man with respect and dignity.
“And that shouldn’t be a surprise to [our employees] because we’re a people business. We exist because people have a need to go from point A to point B and we’re the provider then.”
Gilliam tells new employees that the safety of the driver and the passengers comes before anything else, but beyond that, operators need to treat people the way they want to be treated themselves and to always look for one more passenger.