Editor’s note: This post has been updated to reflect that actual frequencies for most of the Saturday trains will be about 35 minutes.
So far, just about everyone who’s tried the MetroRail Red Line has really liked it. The ride is comfortable, reliable, and congestion-free. There’s interesting scenery and free wi-fi too. As of last week, we’ve begun running midday service and to a degree expanded the “market” we serve beyond those peak period commuters. But we want to do more.
And we will. While funding limitations constrained the FY ’11 budget, our board of directors did have the foresight to include some trial service, namely four Fridays of extended evening service and three “special event” weekend service days. We’ve been evaluating how and when to best deliver this service, factoring in things like coordination with our freight rail operations, ensuring compliance with Federal Rail Administration requirements, ridership potential, and timing (we want to be able to evaluate the results and factor them into our FY 2012 budget development process which begins late Spring). And very importantly we wanted to give the community a chance to provide input, which we did over a few weeks via an online poll. As with other service adjustments, staff takes all the various factors into account and then makes a recommendation to the board.
We’re excited to announce our recommendation here at Capital Metroblog, and it’s as follows:
Friday Evening Extended Hours– every Friday in March (March 4, 11, 18 and 25) we’ll extend MetroRail service into the evening hours, with service running every 70 minutes from the Leander Station to the Downtown Station, and the last trip scheduled to depart the Downtown Station at 11:30 p.m. While we know that this is not as late as some might like, it will offer a broad range of the community the opportunity to try MetroRail to visit downtown or one of the other station areas outside of the typical commute period.
Special Event Service– All day service is slated to operate on the following days: March 12 and March 19 (take the train to SXSW!); and May 7 (take the train to the Pecan Street Festival!). March 19 and May 7 were both popular choices in the poll; March 12 was added to the planning discussion after the poll ended so that we could offer Friday evening and all day Saturday service for both weekends of SXSW. To provide more frequent service and more people-carrying capacity on what we hope will be very busy weekends, we’re proposing to operate between Lakeline Station and the Downtown Station only. The reason for this approach is that it allows us to provide a train every 35 minutes for most of the day. If we were to operate all the way to Leander, due to track and train constraints, service levels could not run as often and capacity would be reduced.
For those of you wondering about some of the other dates we put out for consideration, we did get strong interest in operating during the ACL Festival and also on New Year’s Eve. Others have expressed interest in seeing the train run for UT football games. While we’ll keep these in mind for the future, we did not recommend them for these demonstration days in 2011 because we were concerned about the nature of the events (with very large “surges” in ridership demand resulting from the precise end times- for example, when the UT game is over, everyone wants to leave at once, potentially resulting in more riders than we can reasonably accomodate). As we saw in our early weekend service demonstration, and other rail systems (DART at the Cotton Bowl) have seen, it can be extremely difficult if not impossible to provide quality service under such conditions. So we elected to go with days when we expect to be able to deliver a better customer experience and still get a good sense of community interest in rail during the evening and weekend periods.
In closing, we hope you’ll come on out and give MetroRail a try, and that your friends and neighbors will too. Better yet, if we see that the demand exists, and our budget can afford it, we’ll use these demonstration days to make a recommendation for additional MetroRail service in 2012. Let us know what you think.