MetroRapid faces mixed reviews after launch

AUSTIN (KXAN) — After hearing complaints about the new MetroRapid system, KXAN News put the buses to the test.

KXAN News took two buses from the Oltorf and South Congress stop north to the Triangle stop near 47th. One of the buses was a MetroRapid bus, the other was the No. 1 route bus.

“I’m hoping to get on a No. 1,” said bus rider Byron Pratt. “I might be able to get on the next one. It might be full. The Rapid buses I can’t afford.”

One of the complaints Capital Metro has heard is that regular routes, like the No. 1, were crowded, while the MetroRapid buses were lightly used.

When KXAN News reporter Kevin Schwaller got on the No. 1 bus around 5:20 p.m. Tuesday, there were several empty seats. Some passengers chose to stand.

The MetroRapid bus that left shortly after the number one started out with empty seats. However, in rush hour, it quickly started filling up.

Capital Metro official say the crowds on MetroRapid an regular routes depends on the time of day, location, and other factors.

The reviews coming into Capital Metro are also mixed.

“[Some passengers say there are] more opportunities for them to get where they need to be, seven days a week. We’ve also heard from folks you know, concerns about the fare change,” said Roberto Gonzalez, manager of service planning for Capital Metro. “And then of course the overcrowding, to which we’ve been trying to respond by making sure that we have extra vehicles when they’re need to respond to those loads.”

The routes have also been altered. Passenger Johnny King says the switch in routes means he now has to switch buses, adding time to his trips.

“So just getting on and off the buses is just something we have to learn again, you know,” King said.

Capital Metro is working to help riders with the changes.

“Educating some folks on what the changes are. If there are questions about the fare structure, making sure that we get them the right answers. And in some cases offering them, which we’ve been doing throughout the system, some complimentary day passes,” Gonzalez said.

In the KXAN test the MetroRapid bus traveled from the Oltorf station to the Triangle stop in about 45 minutes. The “1″ arrived at the Triangle stop in about 54 minutes. At least in this test during rush hour, the MetroRapid did travel faster than the bus on the traditional route.

The MetroRapid project cost $47.6 million. According to Capital Metro about $38 million, or about 80 percent of the cost, was covered with help from the Federal Transportation Administration.

Capital Metro’s newest rapid transit system launched January 26, bringing upgrades like larger buses and faster routes to Austin.

MetroRapid offers frequent service along Lamar, Guadalupe, Lavaca and South Congress, from Tech Ridge to Southpark Meadows. Every station provides real-time arrival information on electronic screens and a canopy to protect riders.

Service will runs weekdays from 5 a.m. to 1 a.m., Saturdays from 6 a.m. to 12 a.m. and Sundays from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. MetroRapid is scheduled to run every 10-12 minutes during peak hours, and 12-20 minutes during non-peak times. Weekend service will run every 20-30 minutes.

The 40 Red and Silver 60-foot long accordion style buses look similar to the MetroRail and can hold 101 people each. Riders will find features like free WiFi on-board buses. Drivers will have the capability to make a green light longer when MetroRapid is running behind schedule

“I love this bus, the technology is so great and the smoothness and the quietness and it’s got everything you would want to be comfortable to go to work.” driver James Frank said.

“I am sold,” said Michelle Connolly, one of the first riders. “It’s a hit. We loved it. We all had a great time.”

The plan has been in place for years. The buses use special lanes downtown. Regular cars aren’t allowed in the lanes on Lavaca and Guadalupe unless you’re taking a right turn.

The buses can also hold green lights a bit longer when they’re running behind and also have new stops.

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