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Transportation

Capital Metro Will Offer Unlimited Free Rides In October

People boarding a Capital Metro bus
Gabriel C. Pérez
/
KUT
People boarding a Capital Metro bus in downtown Austin. The transit agency is waiving fares for the month of October.

Capital Metro is waiving all bus and train fares in October to build goodwill among customers who've been dealing with spotty service on the transit agency's network.

"Capital Metro recognizes the challenges the agency’s current level of service [has] brought to the community, and implementing free fares for a period of time is a small way to ease those challenges," the agency said in a news release.

Fares will be waived Oct. 1 through Oct. 31 on all Cap Metro services except the bicycle rental program, MetroBike.

Cap Metro began reducing frequency on 17 routes this week and temporarily suspended the E-Bus service that shuttles UT Austin students to and from Sixth Street. The schedule adjustments were part of an effort to increase reliability amid a shortage of bus drivers and mechanics.

The agency has been trying to lure new employees by offering hiring bonuses of $1,500. Applicants with a commercial driver's license can qualify for a hiring bonus of up to $3,500. Pay starts at $17.50 per hour and tops out at just under $27 an hour after six years of scheduled pay raises.

The average hourly wage for bus drivers in Texas — which includes both public transit and privately operated buses — is $20.27 an hour, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

"This labor market right now is very tough, and there are a lot of folks who are very desperate for staff," Capital Metro Chief Operating Officer Dottie Watkins said.

"We think that we have a several-month effort ahead of us to continue pushing really hard to hire and train in order to be able to build back our service levels," she said.

Watkins said the agency is looking "closely" at the possibility of increasing Capital Metro's starting wages for drivers.

The transit agency does not directly employ drivers; it contracts with three companies — MV Transportation, MTM Transit and Herzog Careers — that provide bus operators, train engineers, mechanics and other service personnel. Cap Metro also contracts with CARTS, the Capital Area Rural Transportation System, to provide regional transit service in non-urbanized parts of Central Texas.

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