Capital Metro won't return to a full schedule this summer after all
Capital Metro will not return to a full schedule in August, despite the agency's now-departed CEO raising hopes earlier this year that bus frequency would be restored by the time kids head back to school.
Randy Clarke — who will be starting a new job next month as leader of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority — told KUT in February that routes reduced in response to a driver shortage should be restored "when UT comes back and AISD and the school systems come back."
But the service changes now scheduled for August keep the schedules adopted last September, including reduced frequency on 17 routes, scaled back late-night service on the high-frequency MetroRapid routes and no E-Bus to shuttle partying college students home from Sixth Street.
While CapMetro has made progress on recruiting drivers, hiring 205 since January, the agency is only starting to stabilize schedules after a grueling few months for many riders.
"Throughout the spring period from January through May, we were having a difficult time providing all of the scheduled services," said Dottie Watkins, who took over Monday as the agency's interim CEO. "We don't want to overcommit and not be able to provide the services."
CapMetro ridership, while up significantly from a year ago, is still only about 65% of pre-COVID levels — another factor prompting the agency's leadership to hold off on boosting service frequency.
That raises an obvious question: Is ridership down because of the reduced frequency or is reduced service slowing gains in ridership?
"I think it's impossible to know for sure," Watkins told KUT. "The one thing we have the most control over is our reliability ... so as we provide more reliable service, we'll be able to see where that service is most often taken advantage of and be able to plan according to that demand."
Capital Metro executives gave an update to a panel of the agency's board members Monday and said service quality is trending in the right direction. Buses were late or didn't show up 6% of the time in May compared to 11% in April and 12% in March, according to an agency presentation.
But riders have complained for months about buses not stopping or not even showing up.
"I hate waiting, especially because it's so hot," said Viviana Perez, who was standing at a bus stop at Pleasant Valley Road and East Seventh Street. "Sometimes it takes a while. My son, he usually rides the bus to school and he said he's been missed a few times, like they'll just pass him on up."