Austin’s new bus routes appear to be working

The view of my bike on the 803 MetroRapid route.

This is great news that I missed when I was shivering in Northern California the other week. I see that a few transit geeks were tweeting about it a week ago, but I haven’t seen any account of it in the media.

Anyway, the June ridership figures for Cap Metro are in and they suggest that the agency’s new routes (Cap ReMap) are having the desired effect: MORE PEOPLE ARE RIDING THE BUS!

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The crux of the ReMap was increasing the number of frequent routes (where buses come at least every 15 mins) from six to 14.

However, the gain we see in June comes almost entirely from a major increase in ridership on the two MetroRapid routes. Both of those routes were already frequent, but under the ReMap, they became even more frequent.

MetroRapid consists of the 801 and the 803, which began in 2014 and run down Lamar/Guad/Congress. They’re the sexy WiFi-equipped red buses with the sexy (albeit useless) bus shelters. In their first years of operation, they suffered from low ridership due to a number of boneheaded decisions by CapMetro, including charging riders 50¢ more for tickets (and thus forcing people transferring from another route to buy another ticket) and spacing the stops way too far apart.

Cap Metro ditched the higher ticket prices for MetroRapid at the beginning of 2017 and its fortunes began to reverse. In June of 2017, MetroRapid ridership was 37% higher than it was in June of 2016. In August of 2017, Cap Metro sought to further boost MetroRapid ridership by increasing the frequency to every 10 minutes during weekdays (thanks for reminding me, Caleb). Beginning in June, those buses now come at least every 15 minutes on weekends and run until 2:30 a.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.

Well, whattaya know? If you improve the service, people might just use it.

So what are we to make of the 1% decline in the use of the other routes? Hopefully we start to see those numbers improve, but the 1% decline is already much better than those routes were doing in the previous months. In May, fixed route ridership was down 6.6% from the May ’17. For April, March, February and January ridership was down 6.2%, 9%, 5.3% and 10.7%, respectively.

These figures strike me as pretty encouraging. It’s important to remember that the ReMap didn’t go into effect until June 7, so we have yet to see a full month worth of post-ReMap numbers. In addition, the behavioral change that Cap Metro is hoping to deliver through increased frequency will take time. Not everybody who now lives near to a frequent route is yet aware of it.

Let’s cross our fingers for the July numbers. It will be interesting to see how the new routes fared amidst last month’s godawful heat.

3 thoughts on “Austin’s new bus routes appear to be working

  1. What about the impact of gas prices at the pump increasing by 25% in Jun ’18 vs. Jun ’17? (Based on the nationwide AAA index.)

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