Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority anticipates the Federal Transit Authority to green-light in March the implementation of a two-route, $47.6 million rapid-bus system with the goal of starting service in 2014.
“This is going to be our premium service. We want it to run the most frequently out of anything we operate, and we want it to run the longest of anything we operate,” said Todd Hemingson, vice president of strategic planning and development for Capital Metro.
The rapid-bus system will replace the transit authority’s limited-stop Route 101. One route will run along North Lamar Boulevard and South Congress Avenue from the Tech Ridge Park and Ride to the Southpark Meadows retail center on Slaughter Lane.
Another route will run from the North Austin Medical Center south on Burnet Road to the Westgate Transit Center on South Lamar Boulevard. Between the two lines, there are 77 stops.
“One of the unique things about these two lines is they form kind of an ‘X’ shape, and in the center they share a common path from Lady Bird Lake to UT,” Hemingson said. “Where we have really high ridership and demand for transit, they both will be operating. So instead of running every 10 minutes, they will be running every five minutes.”
Capital Metro plans to run the buses daily from 5 a.m. to 1 a.m. with fewer service hours on Saturday and Sunday.
Fast bus, slow start
The idea for a rapid-bus system stems from a 2004 comprehensive transportation plan, which identified 10 possible routes. Capital Metro elected to move forward on its highest ridership route, the North Lamar/South Congress route, and the Burnet Road/South Lamar route because of its close proximity to the first route.
“We had initially thought we could do these pretty quickly, but as it is not uncommon, there were budget challenges, and that budget shortfall was what really lead us to put in for the grant,” Hemingson said.
In February 2009, the FTA notified Capital Metro that it would receive an 80/20 local matching grant in which the federal agency would pay for $38.1 million and Capital Metro would fund the remaining $9.5 million from its operating budget.
The majority of the project cost—$25.4 million of $47.6 million—will fund the purchase of 40 new buses. The North Lamar/South Congress route will use 60-foot accordion-style buses, and the Burnet Road route will use 40-foot buses. The 60-foot bus holds 111 people with 56 seats, and the 40-foot bus has a 78-person capacity with 35 seats.
Capital Metro will also construct new shelters at every stop along the Metro-Rapid lines, with the exception of the park-and-ride locations, at a total cost of $9.6 million, according to the transit authority.
Each shelter will have a bench, system map, standard route sign and a real-time digital display to show riders the anticipated arrival times of the next two buses. The information will be transmitted from a GPS device on the bus that also communicates with the City of Austin’s traffic management system.
Getting there quicker
Ken Cartwright, strategic project management officer for Capital Metro, said that when one of the new buses approaches a traffic signal that is about to turn red, the bus’ GPS system will communicate with the city’s system to keep the light green for up to five more seconds. Cartwright said the buses cannot change a red light green or run a red light, but the system would allow the bus to pass through the intersection instead of being stopped, thus allowing for faster service.
“It’s not just a benefit for customers, it’s a benefit for Capital Metro because it reduces our cost,” he said. “Any time we can speed up our service, that’s lower cost and more efficiency.”
The rapid-bus routes also open the doors for Capital Metro to partner with other cities and counties in the future to connect service, although Cartwright said nothing is set in stone as the primary focus is on the existing service area.
“We know, based on license plate surveys, for example, that a lot of people that access the Tech Ridge park-and-ride are actually from points farther north, so they will be able to access Metro-Rapid there,” he said, adding those areas are mostly Round Rock, Georgetown and Pflugerville.