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Commuter Rail on Friday and Saturday Nights? City Closer To Footing Bill

Photo by KUT News

Austin’s public transit agency has known for a while that its fledgling commuter rail service could see a lot more riders if they let people take the train on Friday and Saturday nights. Back in May, we reported on how Capital Metro broke ridership records when they did that during the Pecan Street Festival.

But the problem was always money. Six months ago, the cost estimates were around $1 million annually for Friday and Saturday night service.

“That’s arguably a million dollars we don’t have,” Cap Metro Board Chair and Austin Mayor Pro Tem Mike Martinez told us in May. The head of Cap Metro, Linda Watson, said the agency was in talks with the city to secure funding.

Fast forward to the present, and costs estimates are now closer to $2.7 million per year, but it appears the city is willing to pay for it.

"It's based on the idea that the (limited) weekend service has been very successful," Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell told the Austin American-Statesman, adding that he would expect the funding to be a stop-gap measure until the Texas Legislature allows Central Texas to create a new mass transit agency with taxing authority. Whether the Legislature would vote to do that is an open question.

So where would the money come from? Capital Metro says the talks are still underway, but one option floated has been the extra cash the city expects to reap from extended parking meter hours downtown.

“A lot of it is still being tossed around and they haven’t really settled on anything yet,” CapMetro spokesperson Misty Whited said. “We’re hopefully getting close to making a decision soon because both of us, the city and CapMetro would like to see some [Friday and Saturday night] service in January.”

Nathan Bernier is the transportation reporter at KUT. He covers the big projects that are reshaping how we get around Austin, like the I-35 overhaul, the airport's rapid growth and the multibillion dollar transit expansion Project Connect. He also focuses on the daily changes that affect how we walk, bike and drive around the city. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on Twitter @KUTnathan.
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