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Broken buses slow Capital Metro schedules

A view from inside a Capital Metro bus as four unidentified passengers sit in their seats.
Karina Lujan
/
KUT
A bus parts shortage plaguing transit agencies nationwide is forcing more CapMetro vehicles off the roads this week, prompting a reconfiguration of schedules that leaves people waiting longer for buses to show up.

Capital Metro bus commuters — already coping with reduced schedules put in place last year — are this week facing further frustrations as they try to catch a bus.

The regional transit agency says a shortage of bus parts is keeping a small percentage of vehicles off the road each day. But the number of sidelined vehicles is enough to leave riders waiting extra minutes.

On a typical weekday, CapMetro needs 345 buses out of its fleet of 425 on the roads in the morning. On Tuesday, the agency started the day 19 buses short. Most of those vehicles — 16 of them — were kept off the road because their air conditioning systems were broken.

"It does affect our on-time performance a little bit," said Andrew Murphy, Capital Metro's director of vehicle maintenance. For a high-frequency route like MetroRapid, that could mean buses arriving a couple minutes late. Less busy routes might see their frequency shift from 30 minutes to 45 minutes, he said.

"It's not like we're cutting a route," Murphy said. "You will get service, but it may be a little bit more time before your bus shows up." The schedule changes are supposed to show up on CapMetro's app in real time.

People line up to board CapMetro bus #20 on Guadalupe Street. The destination sign on the front of the bus says, "20 Heads Up/Phones Down."
Karina Lujan
/
KUT
Some sidelined buses could be put back in service soon with new parts shipments expected over the next couple weeks.

Murphy was less sure when the out-of-service vehicles could get back on the road. CapMetro is expecting a parts supplier to send at least eight air conditioning compressors within the next week or two. That would get eight buses back on the road.

Another five or six buses could be put back in service with a long-awaited shipment next week of parts used in the bus locator systems used by dispatch.

Other parts are harder to find. For example, the lack of a particular custom-sized hose needed for engines has kept four buses off the road through October. Mechanics, when possible, have pulled components from idled buses to keep others up and running.

This latest squeeze on riders comes after the agency's board of directors voted in September to continue reduced schedules into 2023. The agency is still trying to hire drivers and mechanics while ridership remains stuck at about 70% to 75% of pre-COVID levels.

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Nathan Bernier is the transportation reporter at KUT. Got a tip? Email him at nbernier@kut.org. Follow him on Twitter @KUTnathan.
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