Capital Metro, after waiting four years like everyone else for the MoPac Boulevard (Loop 1) toll lanes to open, will begin to run buses on them Monday.
The agency, along with the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, has touted the express lanes as a boon to transit because the toll rates rise and fall with traffic congestion — maintaining steady speeds in the toll lanes that should allow buses to stay on schedule.
Now Cap Metro will begin to test that hypothesis. And in January, three more express routes from Northwest Austin will begin to use the MoPac toll lanes as well.
The mobility authority will not charge tolls for Capital Metro buses or agency-registered vanpool vehicles to use the lanes.
The new 980 express route will run between a new, leased park-and-ride lot near Howard Lane, and the downtown/University of Texas area 11 times in the morning and 11 times in the afternoon. Two of those morning runs, at 5:44 a.m. and 6:46 a.m., and two evening runs, leaving the Dean Keeton/Speedway stop at 4:10 p.m. and 5:15 p.m., will extend to the Round Rock Transit Center at 300 W. Bagdad Ave.
The runs will make no stops between far North Austin, at a newly leased park-and-ride lot at the New Life Austin Pentecostal Church on Ida Ridge Drive, and the first downtown stop, at West Cesar Chavez Street and West Avenue. There are four other downtown stops along Lavaca Street, and three more near the university.
The buses will run every 15 to 30 minutes southbound between 6 a.m. and 9:15 a.m. (for the Ida Ridge stop), and northbound between 3:10 p.m. and 6:50 p.m. (for the Speedway stop). For the Ida Ridge to Lavaca/12th Street interval, the trip is scheduled to take 32 to 35 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes in the afternoon, according to Capital Metro’s website. The full run to Round Rock will take about an hour.
Capital Metro charges $3.50 for a one-way express bus ticket, $7 for an express day pass and $96.25 for a 31-day express pass, meaning it would take about 14 round trips to become cheaper than buying express fares a day at a time.
In January, the 981 Oak Knoll express, 985 Leander-Lakeline direct and 987 Leander-Lakeline express routes will likewise begin to use the MoPac express lane. The 985 currently uses U.S. 183 and Interstate 35 to get to Central Austin, while the 987 uses U.S. 183 and MoPac. In both cases, the buses first go to the UT area before heading downtown, something that would be reversed starting in January because the toll lane feeds only into West Cesar Chavez and West Fifth streets.
The 981 from the Pavilion park-and-ride lot along U.S. 183 will be a new route.
Capital Metro’s commuter buses are different from those used on regular routes, with coach-style, padded seats and a center aisle comparable to over-the-road coaches. They seat 40 to 50 people.