By Amy Denney
July 30, 2018
Longstanding agreements with two higher education institutions in Austin were renewed Monday by the Capital Metro board of directors with a few changes that could increase student ridership.
Capital Metro has had a pay-per-ride agreement with Austin Community College with a 35 percent discount through Capital Metro’s MetroWorks program for higher education institutions. In September 2014, ACC began charging students $25 per semester for its transit Green Pass to use Capital Metro services to get to campus.
Ridership has been on the decline with ACC students, peaking at 130,717 Green Pass trips in October 2012. In October 2017, there were 56,163 trips, representing a 57 percent decline. Enrollment at ACC has also declined.
“This is another great opportunity to realign our relationship with ACC,” Capital Metro board Chairman Wade Cooper said. “There were changes in their practices that coincided with the downturn in ridership. They did a fair amount of work looking into the changes and what was driving the ridership decline.”
Under the new agreement, ACC will pay Capital Metro a flat fee of $429,000 with an option to extend the agreement for four years. ACC will also not charge students for the Green Pass.
The Capital Metro board approved a similar agreement with The University of Texas that consolidates its two separate agreements with the university into one.
UT will also pay a flat fee based on the 35 percent discount. The new agreement is expected to generate $19.4 million for Capital Metro.
Currently, UT reimburses the agency on a pay-per-swipe basis. UT shuttles will also be paid through the flat fee rather than by cost per hour, a method that had been decreasing ridership.
The agreement also allows students and faculty to use their IDs to ride other Capital Metro routes.
“One thing we found with these partner agreements is that when they’re paying per ride it gets more expensive for them when more people ride, which actually disincentivizes their interest to promote the program,” said Dottie Watkins, Capital Metro’s vice president of bus operations. “We really want the university to partner with us in promoting transit use.”
She said that in the past 10-15 years, UT has asked for a decrease in service hours provided by the transit system to help with budget crunches. In that period, Capital Metro provided 160,000 service hours per year compared to about 90,000 service hours in fiscal year 2017-18.
Cooper said some of the decline in service hours has been a result of increased density in Austin’s West Campus area near UT that led to students changing their travel patterns.
He said UT-related usage of the transit system has a significant effect on broader travel patterns within Capital Metro’s jurisdiction.
“This partnership, I think, is very important not just for Cap Metro but for our community,” he said.