A recent online opinion piece on Forbes.com discussed perceived drawbacks to commuter rail as a public transportation service, with a focus on MetroRail, which included an unfair and derogatory headline. We welcome input and inquiries from our customers, the community and journalists, as it provides Capital Metro with new perspectives on the range of services the agency provides. The thought and energy that go into the feedback we receive is remarkable and reflective of our community’s intelligence and thoroughness. There is some question as to the thoroughness of the Forbes.com post, however, and we would like to highlight a few things related to MetroRail and how the service works as a catalyst for new and exciting development in the region.
Had the author contacted us, we would have shared with him the following:
- He says the Leander Station is “essentially in a rural area” and that “the further north along the line I rode, the more obvious it became that this really was a train to nowhere.” In fact, Leander is home to more than 38,000 residents and is the fastest growing city in the USA with a population of 15,000 or more. It has seen a 43 percent increase in population since the beginning of MetroRail service in 2010. Leander is also served by MetroExpress bus service.
- The Leander Station is at the center of Capital Metro’s 14-acre transit-oriented development (TOD) zone and adjacent to a mixed-use development, a number of single-family homes and the upcoming 100-acre Austin Community College campus. St. David’s HealthCare is also developing a new medical facility on 52 acres adjacent to the zone.
- Had the author experienced the train during rush hour, he would have seen the trains are often standing room only, as they also are during the many special events held in Austin each year. On a related note, the author asserts that passenger rail should not be built because he believes it can only serve rush hours. If that’s the case, why would we ever add more lanes to major road arteries when they, too, are mostly crowded during rush hour?
- The author writes the 32-mile stretch of rail infrastructure had “little to no surrounding development,” but the site selection for MetroRail’s nine stations has served as a catalyst for significant TOD, with more than $95 million in private development since 2009 built around MetroRail Stations so far, including 5,520 new residences; 1,634 new hotel rooms; and 1.7 million sq. ft. of new office, commercial and retail space currently planned or in construction within a half-mile of MetroRail Stations.
- Knowing TOD is important to him, we would have shared more information about substantial development occurring around the Downtown, Plaza Saltillo, MLK, Highland, Crestview, Kramer and Leander MetroRail stations, plus our own investment in expanded Park & Ride facilities at Howard and Lakeline (to which we are adding 400 more spaces due to current overcapacity). We have also been approached by several major developers seeking to relocate stations to be directly proximate to their projects, a clear sign that investors in Austin realize the mobility and access value of MetroRail service.
- Similarly, the photos he took of the Downtown and MLK Stations depicting them empty were taken at 7 p.m. on a Wednesday. The last departure from the Downtown Station is currently at 6:30 p.m. After we add double tracking and more vehicles in 2018 as planned, we will likely add later service. Until then, freight operations, which support Capital Metro’s operating budget with $5 million annually, take over until the next morning’s commute, removing an estimated 120,000 18-wheelers off the road each year.
- It is important to keep in mind that MetroRail is not a light rail system but rather a commuter rail system (which operates differently) that is a critical component of the larger Capital Metro transit network. It has provided more than 4 million rides since 2010. Going forward, grant-funded vehicle and track additions will give Capital Metro the ability to move more MetroRail passengers at higher frequencies over longer periods of time.
- To clarify, the author writes the rail project’s costs “escalated” from $90 to $148 million, but the total cost was $139.9 million. While the overage certainly exceed initial estimates, because the rail already existed in the corridor, the MetroRail line was actually one of the least expensive commuter rail systems to be built.
As Central Texas continues to grow, so does our MetroRail service and the communities that have grown around it. Capital Metro welcomes all questions and concerns that come our way, but we must disagree with the Forbes contributing writer that our “urban and suburban transit is stagnant.” MetroRail is driving progress and will continue to do so long into the future with our community and business partners.