he clock is rapidly counting down to the Jan. 26 launch of MetroRapid, Capital Metro’s new high-tech, high-capacity transit service that will serve the densest and highest ridership transit markets in the region. In the final few days leading up to the start of service, Capital Metro is busy managing every last detail associated with rolling out a major new transit service.
MetroRapid will offer riders frequent service along Lamar, Guadalupe, Lavaca and South Congress, from Tech Ridge to Southpark Meadows. Service will run weekdays from 5 a.m. to 1 a.m., Saturdays from 6 a.m. to 12 a.m. and Sundays from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.
“Our incredible team has accomplished so much during the past four years to introduce this convenient, premium service to Austin,” said Capital Metro President/CEO Linda S. Watson. “There’s a lot of great buzz about MetroRapid, and we’re excited to bring this new transit experience to our rapidly growing community.”
To assist passengers using the service for the first time, Capital Metro plans to have nearly 200 staff members and volunteers at MetroRapid stations and onboard vehicles during the first week of service answering questions, demonstrating the new mobile ticketing app, and helping riders plan their trips.
MetroRapid’s package of service improvements are expected to boost ridership, similar to what has occurred in other cities with rapid transit systems. Ridership is projected to reach over 20,000 boardings per weekday within the first two years of operation.
Features of the new MetroRapid service include:
- Increased frequency: MetroRapid will run every 10-12 minutes during peak hours, and 12-20 minutes during non-peak times. Weekend service will run every 20-30 minutes.
- Fewer stops: MetroRapid will have just 44 stops along a 21-mile route to get people to their destinations quickly.
- New vehicles: All vehicles on the new route will be 60-feet long–enough to hold 101 passengers–with an accordion-style flexible middle section to make turning easy. They will feature three extra-wide doors for faster boarding, fully padded seats, extra headroom, higher ceilings and LED lighting to give passengers a premium experience.
- Wi-Fi: Free onboard Wi-Fi will give riders the chance to get some work done, or sit back and relax while they catch up on the latest news or enjoy other activities.
- Mobile app: The free app will let riders purchase passes with their smart device, then use the device as their pass. The app will also offer real time* arrival information, trip planning and a feature that finds the closest station. Called the CapMetroApp, it can be downloaded now through the Apple Store, Google Play and Windows Store.
- Traffic priority lanes: Dedicated transit lanes downtown on Guadalupe and Lavaca between Cesar Chavez and MLK Streets will help keep people moving.
- Unique stations: Stations will feature electronic digital signage that shows next arrival times, bench seating, and canopies to protect against sun and rain. Stations have been strategically placed to maximize connectivity to MetroBus and MetroRail services.
- 3-position bike racks: Racks on the front of the vehicles will be able to hold three bikes.
- Traffic signal priority: Onboard signal priority technology will allow buses to hold traffic lights green a little longer when a vehicle is running behind schedule
As part of the agency’s fare restructure that goes into effect Jan. 26, MetroRapid will be considered a Premium service. The cost to ride will be $1.50 for a Single Ride, $3 for a Day Pass, $13.50 for a 7-Day Pass and $49.50 for a 31-Day Pass. The Premium fare also includes access to all Local bus service.
Premium passes are now on sale at local retail outlets, Capital Metro's website and the Transit Store, located at 209 W. 9th Street downtown. Capital Metro passes will be temporarily unavailable at area H-E-B stores between Jan. 25-27, but will go on sale beginning the morning of Jan. 28. Passes cannot be used until the fare change takes effect.
As a special promotion between Jan. 20–Feb. 28, Capital Metro will offer a free 7-Day Premium Pass to those who use the new app to purchase a 7- or 31-Day Premium Pass. There is a limit of one free pass per customer.
The agency has been a regular fixture at community events and meetings, and various high-traffic bus stops, over the last several months to talk about the new service. Staff members have also given dozens of presentations to business and civic groups, and a new MetroRapid vehicle has appeared in a number of special events around town, including the Chuys Children Giving to Children Parade, the Downtown Austin Farmer’s Market and the MLK Day Parade.
The distinctive red and silver MetroRapid vehicles first began making regular appearances around Austin back in September when operator training began. By the time service launches, four full field simulation tests will have been completed.
“There’s great anticipation and high expectation for MetroRapid service,” said Downtown Austin Alliance Executive Director Charlie Betts. “Over the past year and a half, many of us downtown have witnessed the progress Capital Metro has made to bring this new service to Austin, from watching the new stations get built to seeing the accordion-style buses make their test runs. We’re hearing a lot of comments from the community that they can’t wait to try it.”
Approximately 80 percent, or $38 million, of MetroRapid’s $47.6 million project cost was funded with assistance from the Federal Transportation Administration Very Small Starts program. The agency has been planning and developing the project since 2009.
The launch of MetroRapid service is the culmination of years of planning and collaboration with the City of Austin and the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO). One of the recent projects with the city involves the construction of transit priority lanes in the downtown area, which will help the new service stay on schedule. The city is currently conducting outreach to ensure drivers know about the new lanes, and has information available on its website detailing how to use them.
This is the second major service launch for Capital Metro in the last four years, following the launch of MetroRail service in 2010. MetroRail has proven to be very popular with the public, with ridership tripling since service began and standing-room-only capacity during peak hours.
MetroRapid is a key component of the Project Connect regional high-capacity transit system, whose aim is to connect people, places and opportunities with an integrated system that uses regional, commuter and urban rail, bus rapid transit and express buses operating on express lanes.