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Small change brings big boost to MetroRapid

Tuesday, April 25, 2017 by Caleb Pritchard

MetroRapid’s popularity has taken off after a small but significant tweak the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority made in January.

So far in 2017, both lines of the limited-stop service have together seen a 26-percent increase in ridership compared to the same period in 2016.

The service saw its best month ever in March, when the Nos. 801 and 803 were boarded altogether by a record 347,022 passengers. The previous record of 287,177 passengers was posted in October 2016.

The news was delivered to the board of directors at its monthly meeting on Monday afternoon. Staff attributed the positive gains to the fare adjustment the agency implemented in January. Packaged as part of the agency’s new long-term service plan, Connections 2025, the adjustment wiped out the premium fare of $1.75 that passengers paid for each MetroRapid trip and replaced it with the $1.25 the agency charges on the rest of its fixed-route buses.

While ridership did decline somewhat on the locals as passengers switched to the more frequent MetroRapids, the dip did not cancel out the gains made on those two lines.

“After we crunched the numbers, we’re very glad to see that it is a net increase in ridership and not just people moving between services,” Todd Hemingson, vice president of strategic planning and development, told the Austin Monitor.

On the 801 corridor, which is also served by the Nos. 1, 201 and 275, ridership grew by 7.8 percent to 14,486 trips per day.

The news is a rare moment of glory for MetroRapid, which blundered out of the gate amid much hoopla in 2014. The service was sold as a form of bus rapid transit, an enhanced bus line that generally operates at high frequencies in dedicated lanes. However, the premium fare, long distances between stops and minimal use of dedicated lanes (that are shared with regular buses) helped keep ridership below expectations.

The fare adjustment partially corrects that problem, and Capital Metro is planning on additional changes that will likely further boost ridership. As part of the August 2017 service changes the board approved on Monday, the agency will increase daytime MetroRapid frequencies from every 12 to 15 minutes to every 10 minutes. Workers will also fill in gaps along the lines with new stops, including one at Guadalupe Street and West 31st Street, near Wheatsville Co-op.

Hemingson was exuberant about the possibilities.

“I think we’re going to see both corridors quickly exceed what they were pre-MetroRapid,” he said, referring to the peak ridership levels that the new service has yet to reach. “I think we’re going to frankly blow that out of the water when we have the additional stations and the 10-minute headways.”

Photo courtesy of the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

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