Capital Metro’s ridership is continuing its upward trend, with rail and special event service seeing the most growth during the past fiscal last year.
A recent American Public Transportation Association’s (APTA) report showed momentous growth also occurring around the country, with a record 10.7 billion trips taken on public transportation in 2013, the highest ridership reported in 57 years, according to the report.
In particular, the APTA report showed that rail ridership, including commuter and light rail, continued to show significant gains around the country.
Capital Metro’s MetroRail was no exception, with ridership up by over 33 percent from the previous year. In FY2013, the agency reported 767,000 rides taken on its commuter rail line. The growth in MetroRail ridership is significantly higher than the national average of 2.1 percent reported by APTA, which stated that 20 out of the 28 transit systems nationwide that offer commuter rail showed ridership increases. MetroRail ridership has more than quadrupled since the service began in 2010 (176,434 trips in FY2010 compared to 766,858 trips in FY2013).
“We are seeing a clear demand from the community for more rail service in the area,” said Capital Metro President/CEO Linda S. Watson. “Our weekday ridership continues to grow, and train service during special events is also seeing tremendous gains, as evidenced by the amount of trips we provide during SXSW and Formula 1. Given that, we’re working hard to expand our rail service as much as possible within the budget we have available.”
Capital Metro plans to spend more than $27 million over the next few years on improvements to the Red Line. These include enhancements to the signal system and double-tracking along segments of the line, which will allow trains to operate at higher speeds, thereby improving frequency. Funding will come from the $11.3 million federal TIGER grant the agency received last year and $15.9 million in local funds,
Regarding special event service in FY2013, ridership increased again from the previous year, as Capital Metro continued its expansion of services for large-scale events.
“During the SXSW festival this year, for example,” said Watson, “we ran MetroRail until 2 a.m. for the first time, used every available train in our fleet, ran the late night E-bus and Night Owl routes with extra frequency -- and we were still running at capacity much of the time. Preliminary numbers show we carried more than 54,000 people on MetroRail this year compared to 48,000 last year. We just keep seeing more people choosing to take transit instead of driving.”
Regarding its fixed-route bus service, Capital Metro gave over 27.4 million bus rides during FY2013, a slight increase of almost one percent over the number of rides taken the previous year (27.2 million).
Overall, Central Texans continue to rely on Capital Metro’s wide range of services to get around. For FY2013, Capital Metro saw over 34-million boardings system-wide, an increase of nearly three percent from 2012. In addition, the UT Shuttle service provided nearly five million rides to students and staff, an increase of almost seven percent over 2012.
In January, Capital Metro launched the city’s first ever Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line, MetroRapid 801. The high-frequency, high-capacity bus service is already showing incremental increases in ridership, with over 111,000 total trips taken from the end of January when service began, through the end of February.
During SXSW, MetroRapid had several days where ridership exceeded 7,000 trips, with the highest ridership day occurring on Friday, March 14 with over 9,000 trips. The second MetroRapid line, Route 803, will begin service later this year.
MetroRapid and MetroRail are just two of the pieces of the regional high-capacity transit vision for Central Texas known as Project Connect, a partnership between Capital Metro, the City of Austin, Lone Star Rail and the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO). In addition to MetroRapid and MetroRail, Project Connect’s transportation network includes transit in Express Lanes on MoPac, high-capacity transit in the form of urban rail or additional BRT lines, park and ride facilities throughout the region, Express and Connect bus services, and more.
“It’s never been more important for all of us to work together to support an integrated and connected transportation system in this region,” said Watson. “Over 30,000 people are moving to Central Texas every year, most of them with cars, so as this area continues to grow, we must likewise add to the choices people have for getting to their destinations reliably and safely every day.”