More runs for Metro­Rail?

Cap­i­tal Metro weigh­ing mid­day, Fri­day night, Satur­day ser­vice

Austin American-Statesman - - METRO & STATE - By Ben Wear AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN STAFF

Grap­pling with lack­lus­ter Metro­Rail rid­er­ship, Cap­i­tal Metro of­fi­cials are con­sid­er­ing ex­pand­ing ser­vice to mid­days, Fri­day nights and pos­si­bly some Satur­days.

And the ex­ist­ing 19 week­day runs prob­a­bly will shift to some­what later de­par­ture times.

“The very first trip in the morn­ing, at 5:35 a.m., is not well uti­lized,” Todd Hem­ing­son, Cap­i­tal Metro’s vice pres­i­dent of strate­gic plan­ning and devel­op­ment, said at a meet­ing of the Cap­i­tal Metro board’s rail com­mit­tee Wed­nes­day.

Train rid­ers, un­like bus rid­ers, don’t have to be concerned about traf­fic get­ting worse as 8 a.m. ap­proaches, of­fi­cials said, and thus don’t have the same in­cen­tive to leave for work be­fore the sun comes up.

Hem­ing­son said that to hold down costs, the mid­day train runs prob­a­bly would orig­i­nate from and go as far as Lake­line Sta­tion, the sec­ond-to-last north­bound stop. Cus­tomers want­ing to go on to the end of the line in Le­an­der would have to trans­fer to a bus for that fi­nal leg.

Mid­day trains, rather than run­ning 35 min­utes apart like the cur­rent morn­ing and af­ter­noon runs, prob­a­bly would run an hour apart,

he said.

The rec­om­mended changes, as well as es­ti­mated added costs, will be pre­sented to the board in Au­gust, of­fi­cials said, and a de­ci­sion is likely then or in Septem­ber, when the board will ap­prove its 2010-11 bud­get.

The changes would not take ef­fect un­til Jan­uary.

Given the agency’s frag­ile fi­nan­cial pic­ture, the board will have to bal­ance the added cost of more train runs with es­ti­mates of what they would pro­duce in board­ings. Fares cover only 5 to 10 per­cent of the cost of run­ning the train; most of the rest is cov­ered by the agency’s 1 per­cent sales tax.

In 2004, when the line from Le­an­der to down­town Austin was up for pub­lic ap­proval, the agency had es­ti­mated that first-year rid­er­ship would be 1,700 to 2,000 board­ings a day. In­stead, av­er­age rid­er­ship in June was 837 board­ings a day, up slightly from 779 in May. April, the first full month of ser­vice, saw 901 daily board­ings.

Cap­i­tal Metro later this sum­mer will be­gin a $230,000 mar­ket­ing and ad­ver­tis­ing blitz in hopes of in­creas­ing train rid­er­ship. Cap­i­tal Metro had done very lit­tle of that in the runup to the March 22 open­ing of Metro­Rail.

“We as­sumed up­front that we would have more rid­er­ship gen­er­ated from what we call ‘earned me­dia,’ ” said Cyn­thia Lu­cas, Cap­i­tal Metro’s mar­ket­ing man­ager. But the heavy news­pa­per and broad­cast cov­er­age in the weeks be­fore rail opened did not have that ef­fect once fares kicked in March 29.

Doug Allen, Cap­i­tal Metro’s in­terim chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer, said the agency is also pon­der­ing tweak­ing fares.

Cur­rently, rid­ing the train costs more than ex­press buses from the Le­an­der and Lake­line stops — $70 for a 31-day pass for the train, ver­sus $63 for the bus — and shorter train rides cost twice the $1 charged for nor­mal bus rides.

Allen said those might be made equal, but did not say if the train would cost less or if the bus would cost more.

Some mem­bers of the pub­lic have com­plained about the lack of ser­vice be­tween 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., af­ter 8 p.m. and on the week­ends.

Cap­i­tal Metro of­fi­cials say the mid­day ser­vice prob­a­bly would in­crease morn­ing and af­ter­noon rid­er­ship. More po­ten­tial com­muters would be com­fort­able us­ing Metro­Rail, Hem­ing­son said, if they knew they could catch a train back home early if need be.

In the short run, the tran­sit agency plans to be­gin run­ning shut­tle buses to and from the Kramer Lane sta­tion in North Austin, con­nect­ing train rid­ers to nearby em­ploy­ers like IBM, Na­tional In­stru­ments and the J.J. Pickle Re­search Cam­pus.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.