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.

Continue reading “Announcing: MetroRail Friday evening and special event service dates”

ServicePlan2020: Striking a Balance

Earlier this month, I began a discussion online about ServicePlan2020. This coming Monday, Feb. 22, our board will be considering adopting this comprehensive plan that will guide our service changes over the next several years.

ServicePlan2020 attempts to strike a balance between a lot of key factors. At Capital Metro, we believe (and ServicePlan2020 supports the idea) that this community would benefit from an enhanced public transportation system with more coverage, frequency, route directness and hours of service. Yet we don’t have the means to deliver all of that within the available budget.

For example, the Bus Rider’s Union provided some very thoughtful input into the process early on, proposing a grid-like system of routes blanketing Central Austin with 24-hour service, and better yet with all routes operating once every 15 minutes! Cool idea that makes a lot of sense. However, when we ran the network through a preliminary cost analysis, we found that it would cost about 2.5 times more to operate than our current system. Capital Metro simply could not run such a system under our current funding structure.

The reality, then, is that some fundamental tradeoffs have to occur to balance things out, just as is the case at transit agencies across the country. Consider the following perspective, which is elaborated much more fully by transit planner Jarrett Walker on the Human Transit Blog:  transit is expected to fulfill not one, but two primary objectives. Continue reading “ServicePlan2020: Striking a Balance”

ServicePlan2020

Capital Metro’s Board is preparing to consider adoption of the recommendations of the year-long planning process known as ServicePlan2020. In short, ServicePlan2020 is a ‘big picture’ look at our entire bus system, involving input from several important sources: technical analysis, customer input, and staff and consultant analysis. The purpose of the effort is to figure out how best to structure the system to serve the changing needs of the community over the next five to ten years.

Big deal, you might say, Capital Metro changes its bus routes a few times a year, so how is this any different? The difference is in the scope. Whereas our three-times per year service adjustments are typically focused on individual routes, sections of routes, or areas of the city, Service Plan 2020 goes well beyond that. It looks at the existing network of routes and beyond while recognizing that indeed it is a system, one in which all of the parts should work well together.

Equally important, the effort attempts to approach this assessment from a customer perspective. It is informed by direct customer input through dozens of meetings and hundreds of surveys. Continue reading “ServicePlan2020”

I want to ride my bicycle, I want to ride my bike…

It always seems to start out the same way. I wake up, remember that this is a day that I’m supposed to ride my bike to work, and soon my half-awake brain begins to work to find an excuse for why I can’t. Then, after some coffee gets me thinking a bit more lucidly, I recall all the reasons why I do bicycle:

  • good for me physically (love that fact that I can kill two birds with one stone by getting in my exercise while also doing the mandatory commute to work);
  • good for the environment (less than six miles each way isn’t much driving but it adds up); and
  • good for me mentally (as the other bloggers have noted the level of interaction with the environment around you is MUCH more engaging on a bike).

So I usually manage to overcome my own mental inertia to do the easy thing (drive) and away I go on the bike. Of course nowadays it’s especially good to ride because my kids get to ride too, and we get to enjoy a few minutes of quality time together in the open air rather than in the car before they stop off at school…and they sure seem to fight less when biking than when stuck in the back seat together!

Back to the opening point- every time I ride, without exception, I’m glad I did. So why the heck is it that my brain tries to come up with excuses not to do it? Sure, maybe it takes a little extra prep time to pack my courier bag with my work clothes. I have to be careful to fold my shirt so it doesn’t come out all wrinkled and to not forget things like a belt or socks (which I’ve done and felt goofy all day long without). And yes, it’s true that biking burns calories which generate heat which makes me sweat, but I have a place to change clothes and towel off and cool down before putting on my work clothes, so it’s not really a big deal. As I like to joke, the side benefit of riding is that my meetings tend to be really short on those days (all the while hoping that I’m not really stinky)! Yes, riding the bike can complicate the situation when I have meetings out of the office, but that can be overcome by riding the bus or catching a ride. And finally, riding does take more time than driving, but in reality the difference is piddling, less than 15 minutes extra time in the worst case and sometimes fewer than ten.

Clearly the benefits far outweigh the costs. So again, why the internal resistance? Perhaps it’s a metaphor for a broader phenomenon of the human condition (or at least mine)- the innate desire to go with the known, the easy, the safe, the comfortable, the routine. As I’ve learned through biking to work and in countless other ways, though, that is not the recipe for a fulfilled life. No, instead it’s to push, to challenge, to try new things, and to explore. So, as they say, get on your bike and ride!