AUSTIN (KXAN) — Following the Austin Transit Partnership’s unveiling of its Project Connect light rail recommendation, officials are giving new insight into just how many riders they anticipate will use the system each day.

ATP is the organization tasked with designing and construction Project Connect, a multi-billion-dollar mass transit system approved by Austin voters in November 2020. Among other transit upgrades, the program called for the creation of a light rail system in the capital city.

On Tuesday, ATP announced it was recommending the 38th Street to Oltorf Street to Yellow Jacket Lane route as its preferred Phase 1 plan. The announcement comes after an initial reveal of five scaled-down proposals March 21, followed by a six-week community engagement period.

On June 6, ATP, CapMetro and the City of Austin are poised to adopt an official Phase 1 light rail implementation plan.

Under ATP’s recommendation, the transit corporation anticipates between 28,500 and 29,900 riders will utilize the light rail system each day. Estimated travel time from 38th to Oltorf streets is currently envisioned around 23 minutes per trip, while 38th Street to Yellow Jacket Lane is anticipated to take 31 minutes.

Phase 1 of the recommended route is projected to service 15 stations across a 9.8-mile light rail track, connecting riders to more than 136,000 existing jobs, over 200,000 future jobs and approximately 20,000 affordable housing units along the project corridor.

From a ridership standpoint, how do you develop a system? Do you go where existing customers are, or build out in areas underutilized?

It’s a question we took to Dottie Watkins, president and CEO of CapMetro. She told KXAN all five recommendations aimed to strike that balance between analyzing where current system users existed, while also being mindful that there are future customers who haven’t yet tapped into mass transit services.

“When we look at ridership, we look at it holistically in terms of who lives and works or goes to school within a reasonable catchment area of whatever investment we’re going to make — and we do that when we plan bus services as well as when we plan the light rail service,” she said. “Ridership is important. It’s important that we try and move as many people as possible, because that efficiency really makes a difference when you look at what it costs to provide that service.”

Among each of the options on the table, Watkins said Austin’s light rail addition is set to serve as the “spine” of Project Connect, with buildout connections linking the light rail service to existing CapMetro rail and bus operations.

“We look at the light rail as really being the spine of the transit network, and it becomes the workhorse that we can feed bus services to, or neighborhood circulators,” she said.