Announcing: MetroRail Friday evening and special event service dates

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.

44 thoughts on “Announcing: MetroRail Friday evening and special event service dates

  1. Erik

    I’m honestly surprised that you aren’t going about a cheaper way of determining your demographic and potential demand. Not to mention a means of marketing it. Send every resident a pre-paid survey ala the Census (with references to a URL for those who prefer). You’d likely get more accurate data. Trials to me seem like you’re not sure of what to expect. That’s a clear obstacale to your success. Good luck.

  2. Robyn

    This is great news! I have out of town friends visiting for SXSW & we live close to the Kramer station. This gives us a great option for getting downtown for the festival without having to worry about parking and designating a driver. Is there any option to buy a week long rider pass? That would be easier than buying tix for each ride.

    1. Erik

      I guess if you’re leaving downtown before 1130p during the music festival, you’re not planning on seeing any of the headliner acts? This could be beneficial for day parties though.

  3. Paul McGregor

    Trying to do special service for UT footbal games would be a problem simply because of the fact that you don’t have the station right next to the stadium. The University of Utah and the future station at the University of Washington are two examples of of a light rail stations located right next to the staduim. The probem is not so much with overoading the trains as much as it would be overoading the shuttle system that would be needed to shuttle between the stadium and the station.

    The special events you selected look like good choices especially SXSW. Other type of downtown events would also be good candidates.

    1. Erik

      It wouldn’t just be a problem, it would be a complete nightmare. Drunks are not patient. Plus the service would only operate hourly anyway, creating plenty of opportunities to disappoint. I’ve experienced first-hand Portland’s Rose Garden (TriMET MAX) and SF’s AT&T Park (CalTrain) — those destinations succeed because of the convenient walking proximity of the stations.

      1. RWILL

        OK Sorry I miss read the Friday schedule from Leander and that’s great but the special events should also include Leander also and Mid day usage should extend to Leander.

      2. Scott Wood

        I’m pretty sure you’re getting more than $1 million per year in services as is. I’m not saying service should be strictly rationed out that way, but I don’t think you have much to complain about regarding the quantity of express service. The absence of local service is another matter, but that’s complicated by Leander’s street layout and development patterns, and the non-participation of your neighbor to the south.

        Did you miss the part about needing to cut service to the rest of the line in order to fit Leander in?

    1. Erik

      Let’s be rational here. It’s not the *current* CEO’s fault that they didn’t lay down enough double-track to allow the level of service you’re demanding. It’s a matter of feasibility, not because of where you chose to live. And again with the $1 million in taxes argument? Do the math on that number and it becomes less and less debatable for leverage. It amounts to just under $1.50/week per resident. Consider also that CM’s intake of tax revenue is well over $100 million. That’s under 1% from Leander. Get real.

      1. RWILL

        Based on your 100 million figure that’s 2.40 for every austinite based on 800000 pop compared with 1.50 for every person in Leander so with paying half per capita taxes why do we in Leander only get 1/10 of the services.

      2. Erik

        That’s probably more of a question for Leander city council, but maybe it’s because you’re way less than 1/10th the population of Austin? As for MetroRail, you guys are serviced on 10 out of 32 trips/day, for a total of ~6 hrs.

  4. It is spin to claim that this service is “congestion-free” when it hits essentially zero destinations without requiring a transfer to a shuttlebus, which is most definitely not “congestion-free”.

  5. dk

    it’s also a bit of a stretch to claim zero destinations without a transfer. how many music venues, restaurants, and bars are within a 3-4 block radius of the convention center stop? not to mention all of the music, film, interactive panels and events going on at the convention center itself. plaza saltillo is also conveniently located near a lot of music venues.

    this might or might not be viable year-round, but march and sxsw should be a great time to try out the weekend/evening service.

    1. Yes, FOR SXSW, the destination end is not as much of a problem. For SXSW, the source end is a big problem – no hotels within a reasonable walk of a station; and not a lot of prospective local attendees driving to Leander and Lakeline park-and-rides.

      1. Scott, I think ridership for Pecan Street has some potential, but no way SXSW ends up being a hit. Locals generally aren’t coming in large numbers from the far suburbs for this; and out-of-towners generally aren’t staying within walking distance of a stop (and definitely wouldn’t want to drive to one of the P&R’s).

  6. RedATX

    This is perfect! A short walk down Kramer from my house to the station. This station could not be in a better location. Hopefully the economy picks up so we can see what the true development opportunity around this perfectly sited station is. Kudos Cap Metro!
    I only wish you could have started testing last year so that I could use the line to get to and from downtown every weekend.

  7. wolfgang

    If a tax-payed funded train leaves downtown Austin at 11:30P , with 7 people on it, travels 35mph, what time does it arrive in bankruptcy court?

  8. Stephen

    WHY I WON’T/CAN’T RIDE THE METRO RAIL:

    Connectors sometimes still take too long: i.e. commuting to Capital Plaza shopping center for work or ACC Northridge for me will take an extremely long time for me via CapMetro vs. driving.

    Bus routes have been cut from my neighborhood in Wells Branch to the Station, and the nearest bus stop is over a mile away by foot, almost have to walk all the way to Howard Station. If I am going to drive to the rail stop, I might as well drive the extra ten minutes to downtown…

    We are a small family with one car, and I really love the idea using Metro Rail, but it still has a good bit to go to meet our needs.

  9. Joe McLaughlin

    Moved down from Dallas / Ft.Worth several months ago where I was a big fan of DART. Was pleased to find out that light rail was an option in Austin and specificly selected a place to live with this in mind. I dont mind walking a mile or so to the station. From Avery Ranch I simply walk down the right-of-way to the Lakeline station.

    The train is a great option that doesnt cost any more than the gasoline we burn driving to work. It is less frustrating, possibly even relaxing, safer and with the wifi I can actually do work as I am on my way to work. I encourage people to take advantage of this service.

    1. Joe, I’m glad you are enjoying MetroRail. Thanks for riding!

      I gotta tell you, your comment about walking down the right of way gives us heartburn as a railroad operator. That is not a safe place to be.

      Eventually there may be a trailway incorporated into the right of way for that section of track, that would connect Avery Ranch to Lakeline Station. Funding is a challenge, though, so I don’t have a timeline to share with you as to when that might be a reality.

      Is it feasible to ride a bike down Parmer to Lakeline to get to the station? I’m not familiar with that stretch of Parmer, and whether it is a safe road for cyclists–but if it is, that might be a good alternative. Bikes are welcome onboard MetroRail.

  10. John Gower

    Are there any plans for chairs and perhaps some shading at the Highland stop? I know there is an “Airport Blvd” plan and perhaps you are waiting on that. But I walk a mile to the station and it would be nice to be able to sit when I’m early. I will say that Austinites are not so stuffy that we cannot sit on the platform but I suspect you do not want us to do that (sitting to the side, legs no where near the rails — just for those who might be a little anxious about my comment).

    1. Erik

      I’d wager that it was a purposeful decision, instead of lack of planning oversight, to forgo installation of benches. Let’s just say, oit’s likely to do with the overflow of various societal-deemed undesirables currently “hanging out” along the benches at the Bus junction on W. Highland Mall Blvd.

  11. Parker

    I am writting to see if anyone can help me i bought a day pass a few days ago from the highland station it printed out a reduced fare pass and the machine said out of order after the pass printed capital metro is not calling me back i never recieved an email and was asked to get off the train at crestview i had to get to kramer the officer was rude capital metro is ignoring me and i cannot just let this go what do i need to do in order to get another day pass or a refund also when the card printed it said i only put .50 in the machine i added a dollar in change and i still have the pass from that day please help

    1. Hi, Parker. Remember me? We met at Kramer Station in January. Let me ask around and find out what you need to do. How much money did you put in the machine? You wanted to get a regular-priced day pass but it gave you a reduced one? Is that correct?

  12. Z

    This is good news, we live in Cedar Park and will use it at least one Friday night in March. I think I will park at the station after work, enjoy happy hour downtown then have dinner and ride home. I also think plenty of people in CP/North Austin and Leander will use these stations during SXSW as long as the availability is advertised. It is really frustrating and expensive to find parking downtown during that week.

    A Cedar Park stop at the railyard shopping center or behind HEB would be ideal for many more to ride. This is walking distance to restaurants, motels, and shopping while the Lakeline and Leander stations are currently convenient to nothing.

    1. It’d be great to have a Cedar Park stop, agreed. Unfortunately Cedar Park isn’t in our service area, so Lakeline is as close as it gets for now. Communities have to contribute local sales taxes to be included in our service area.

      I’m excited about the evening and weekend service, too. I think it will be fun, and I’m hoping to meet some interesting people, too.

  13. parker

    Erica i do remember you from kramer that was a very busy day but hey i made the 6pm news on kvue lol it was good but anyways i will give you a call monday hope all is will with you and look forward to being more involved with metro in the near future i signed up to be a MetroAmbassador there is a drill coming up with the drill to simulate an accident which i am looking forward to helping out in

  14. Pingback: What CAN’T You Do in Austin This Weekend? | Kidding Around Austin

    1. Misty

      We would love to provide more service for special events, but we don’t have the resources to do so. Capital Metro only budgeted for four Fridays and three Saturdays of special service for FY2011. The poll showed SXSW and the spring Pecan Street festival as the most popular events, therefore we provided rail service for those events.

  15. Glenn Kelly

    Longhorn game days are not in the mix? How is that not a sure revenue resource? How can we show you the high interest in this from the community?

  16. Scott

    I’m not clear on how late the last train back to Leander or Lakeline station will leave the convention Center every day during SXSW this year. And if the schedule will apply through all three portions of SXSW or just the music portion. Anyone have that info?

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