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Capital Metro’s ghost stations haunt city sidewalks

Monday, October 31, 2016 by Caleb Pritchard

Before you ride the bus this Halloween, be sure that you’re not waiting at a ghost station.

Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority data reveals scores of inactive stops throughout Austin, relics of routes either altered or no longer part of this mortal plane.

A handful – approximately 20, according to one agency planner – still feature shelters and benches that once provided respite for travelers of days past.

Even though Capital Metro has blamed bad weather for its recent ridership woes, transportation planner Louis Alcorn told the Austin Monitor that the agency has no plans to dig up the stations and relocate them.

“The construction of the old stops involved digging a trench, putting piers into the ground 5 feet down and pouring the concrete. And then when you remove it, you have to drill all the concrete up and repave it when you’re done,” Alcorn said.

Capital Metro has been expending its limited resources recently on making its stops compliant with the federal Americans With Disabilities Act, Alcorn added. Now that that work is mostly complete – more than 90 percent of stops are in step with the law, Alcorn said – crews are turning to address the lack of shelters at active stops.

In recent years, the agency has adopted a new type of shelter that is much easier to install. Unlike their predecessors, the new structures are simply bolted down to the sidewalk on which they stand.

The new shelters also have a smaller profile that allows them to fit into areas that would not have accommodated the old shelters.

Alcorn was unable to provide an exact dollar amount for the cost of the new shelters, but he said they come at a quarter of the cost of the older versions. Capital Metro’s freshly adopted 2017 budget earmarks $150,000 for bus shelters.

Many of Capital Metro’s stops feature little more than a posted sign. However, each MetroRapid stop – all of which are officially regarded by the agency as “stations” – includes benches and an overhead covering. Those structures also display estimated arrival times of the next MetroRapid bus. Alcorn told the Monitor that that branded trademark complicates plans to add more MetroRapid stations. The draft version of Capital Metro’s long-term service plan, Connections 2025, calls for new stations along existing MetroRapid routes as well as for two new MetroRapid lines altogether.

“Because of the real-time information’s electric component, Austin Energy has to come out and install an electric meter. It has to be tapped into the grid,” Alcorn said. While no particular design has yet been embraced, he suggested that future stations could be solar-powered, which naturally leaves open to question what happens to these living stops after the wispy strands of twilight turn to nightfall.

Bus stop courtesy of Capital Metro. Photo does not depict actual ghost stop.

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