MetroRapid proves not to be so rapid

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MetroRapid, Capital Metro's newest transportation initiative, includes technological featrues such as signal priority and an application that provides real-time arrival information and mobile ticketing.
MetroRapid, Capital Metro's newest transportation initiative, includes technological featrues such as signal priority and an application that provides real-time arrival information and mobile ticketing.

Update (5:01 p.m. Sept. 4): According to Capital Metro spokeswoman Melissa Ayala, Capital Metro was experiencing technical issues with digital signage at stations, and the issue since has been resolved. 

On Aug. 24, Capital Metro launched its new MetroRapid 803 bus line traveling along Burnet Road through downtown to South Lamar, a route that is one of the most used and most contentious transportation corridors in Austin. On an early Friday afternoon at a cool 90 degrees, I walked a short .8 miles, taking 17 minutes to the nearest stop, waited 12 minutes for the next bus – which the marquee said would come in 6 minutes – and rode the bus for 19 minutes to the West Mall at UT.

What is normally a 15-minute commute in a personal vehicle during non-peak hours turned into almost 50 minutes, nearly 30 of which were spent outside. A longer commute is expected when using public transportation, but the incorrect “real-time information” on next bus arrival times is unacceptable.

With the launch of MetroRapid, Capital Metro initially received pushback from long-time riders who were comfortable with their fixed schedule routes, according to Capital Metro communications manager Francine Pares. But the provider promised that MetroRapid would offer frequent, faster and more reliable service. MetroRapid aims to operate at around 15-minute intervals during non-peak hours, which would make a 12-minute wait more than reasonable. However, there is no way to know when the previous bus came and left.

Though the 803 line had only been carrying passengers for five days at the time I conducted my little experiment, a full-scale field test began July 15, almost a month before the official launch. I’d blame the false information on adjustments to back-to-school traffic, but Capital Metro has received nearly 100 complaints about the frequency of MetroRapid’s flagship 801 line since its launch in January.

The city can’t realistically construct dedicated guide-ways that would truly make the 30 minutes of sweating worth it as you cruise by standstill traffic on the bus. But a projected wait time that varies up to 100 percent significantly erodes rider confidence and will assuredly scare off potential riders. The least Capital Metro can do is provide accurate information about how long Austinites will sweat.

Haight is an associate editor.