LEANDER (KXAN) — Leander’s decision over whether to keep or ditch Capital Metro is now in the hands of voters. The Leander City Council voted 6-1 Thursday night to put the Capital Metro’s future relationship with Leander on an upcoming ballot.
If voters decide to cut ties with CapMetro, that would end the city’s bus and train service immediately.
This vote took place as one of the last acts of outgoing Leander Mayor Troy Hill. Incoming Mayor Christine Sederquist and Council Member Becki Ross were sworn in right after the CapMetro vote.
Voting as a Leander City Council member and not as mayor, Sederquist was the lone person to vote against the ballot item. Mayor Hill and Council Members Kathryn Pantalion-Parker, Annette Sponseller, Jason Shaw, Chris Czernek and Marci Cannon voted in favor.
The City Council still has to order an election before it can place the Capital Metro item on the ballot. That’s expected to happen by Aug. 16 to get this on the November ballot.
Why Leander would ditch Capital Metro
In July 2019, Leander seriously considered ending its run as a member city with Capital Metro due to the cost. Currently, Leander pays for CapMetro through a one percent sales tax. In 2018, that translated to about $5 million.
But at the time, then-Mayor Hill said this accounted for half of Leander’s annual sales tax revenue. He said he did not think the service the city was receiving was worth the cost. Hill suggested Leander leave as a member city and then contract with CapMetro, similar to what Round Rock does for bus service. He said that financial obligation would not be as large.
If a member city leaves Capital Metro, the Texas Transportation Code requires it to still pay off millions in financial obligations. In 2019, that would have been $9.1 million.
On Friday, Mayor Christine Sederquist said in a KXAN Live interview the current number is a moving target, but last she heard it was estimated to be about $39 million, which would be paid over the next three to five years.
Leander added train stops — but then the pandemic hit
After meeting with CapMetro, Leander ultimately decided not to pull out of its agreement with CapMetro, and CapMetro announced extra services for the city, including more rail stops, and the introduction of its Pickup Service to request rides within six miles of the train station.
Capital Metro’s recent numbers show ridership averages only 82 daily riders. In 2019 before COVID-19, daily riders hit just under 500.
Leander’s new mayor was stunned Thursday by the vote taken moments before she took office.
“I haven’t even had a chance to meet with CapMetro,” said Sederquist. “How much is it going to cost us to provide our own service; what does that service look like? Every single question you could have is unanswered. It was basically just ‘put this on the agenda.'”
CapMetro reacts to Leander City Council’s decision
In a statement, Capital Metro questioned the way Leander City Council went about this decision, saying it did so with no public notice or public input. It also mentioned the recent return of Saturday rail service and service from Leander to the Domain and Austin FC’s Q2 Stadium.
“Capital Metro is committed to continuing to serve the residents of Leander who rely on and enjoy the benefits of our services. We were not notified of this potential action prior to the Leander City Council meeting, as it was not posted in a manner to give public notice or receive public input from the Leander community on this specific action.-Capital Metro
“We recently announced the return of Saturday rail service, and we saw our Leander customers respond positively—especially as many people are making summer plans, venturing out to the Domain, and planning their very first trips to Q2 Stadium.
“We look forward to continue working with the new Mayor and council on our partnership.”