After years of declines in ridership, Capital Metro's ridership increased in 2018. The boost comes in a year that saw the transit operator's largest overhaul of its bus system, known as Cap Remap, which affected more than half its lines.
Overall, Cap Metro's ridership went up 5.4 percent in December 2018 compared to the previous year, with its largest individual ridership gains on its MetroRapid lines, 801 and 803.
Todd Hemingson, Cap Metro's executive vice president of planning and development, says ridership increased in the months after Cap Remap's initial rollout in June.
"We've, at least initially, reversed what had been a several-year-long trend of decreasing ridership," he said. "And now we've kind of bucked that trend and bent the curve back in a positive direction."
In December 2018, rides on the 801 and 803 lines increased by 54,000, about 15 percent, compared to December 2017. Those lines debuted in 2014, when the agency first started to see slipping ridership numbers.
Hemingson says that decline in Austin was also felt at other transit agencies across the country. One tool Cap Metro has used for years to boost ridership dip is to increase frequency along routes – something the agency heard about in its public feedback ahead of Cap Remap's rollout.
Hemingson says the feedback process isn't over. He says the agency is continuously evaluating Cap Remap, tweaking the plan as riders respond to the changes. For example, this month the agency altered a handful of routes to respond to demand, or lack their of.
Hemingson says some routes that were prioritized in the revamp haven't been performing as well as the agency initially expected and some have been eliminated altogether. Others have seen overcrowding, he says.
While he says it's a boon to see the ridership up after so many years, the full impact of Cap Remap isn't entirely clear yet.
"Really it takes a whole year to understand the impacts when you do something as massive as what we did," he said. "So six months is a good kind of marker, but really from our vantage point, you need a whole year to be able to understand what's happened, how the community's responded and to really be able to dig into the data at all levels."
The Capital Metro Board of Directors will get an update on Cap Remap at its February meeting.