Transit Goals: Thousands ride buses and rails to Austin FC games

Austin FC fans disembark at CapMetro’s McKalla Station.
Austin FC fans disembark at CapMetro’s McKalla Station. Image credit: Kit O'Connell

A sea of green swept out of the new McKalla Station rail stop on the way to Austin FC soccer team’s Q2 Stadium just before the May 29 kickoff for a match against the Portland Timbers. Many fans skipped driving – giving transit ridership a boost.  

The Austin FC rail stop is so popular that, depending on when and where fans board, they might trade car-traffic hassles for a standing-room-only ride. The May 29 home game approached Q2 Stadium’s capacity of 20,500 people.

Riders caught up with old friends and made new ones as they packed onto the rail car. With snacks and beverages, it seemed more like a moving college football tailgate party. One fan, Marek, who declined to give his last name, told AFP that rail is more convenient than driving, even if there’s room for improvement. “On the way back, they could use more trains,” Marek said, “because everyone’s trying to leave at the same time.” 

CapMetro officials say the transit system greatly boosts capacity and adjusts ride schedules to meet fan demand on game days. During an average service hour last month about 29 people rode the red line, according to public CapMetro data. But on game day, when the MetroRail is packed, passenger capacity can rise to 200 people. The city’s lone commuter rail route connects downtown to Leander. On game nights the red line runs green, full of regular spectators and hardcore supporters with the Los Verdes fan club.

Transit officials told CapMetro that they can shuttle more than 2,000 riders to and from Q2 by both bus and rail on match days. The rail service, which normally runs five trains a day, adds four additional ones during peak hours surrounding a game, officials said.

Pass forward: Fans ride rail to Austin FC game.
Pass forward: Fans ride rail to Austin FC game. Image credit: Kit O’Connell

The route 803 express bus between the Westgate and Domain shopping centers also drops off just west of the stadium. It normally runs every 10 to 15 minutes on weekdays. CapMetro adds 20 additional buses when it needs to take fans to and from the game. 

Some fans arrive early for pregame parties at nearby pubs such as HopSquad Brewing Co. In fact, a transit-oriented nonprofit leverages such beverages to boost mass-transit ridership. Partnering with Los Verdes, Transit Forward hosted its first of three “Choo Choos and Brews” events on March 30. Participating fans toured five breweries and pubs along the red line as they traveled to Q2 for kickoff against FC Dallas.

Bill McCamley is a Los Verdes member and the executive director of Transit Forward. He told Austin Free Press that McKalla Station and other transit improvements make the city more attractive to major sporting events. Q2 will host two games in this summer’s prestigious Copa America soccer tournament as well as next year’s Major League Soccer All-Star game. “That’s great for Austin businesses,” he said. “It’s great for workers. It’s just great for the economy as a whole.” 

Marek said he has taken the game train several times since McKalla Station debuted on opening day in February. The games may have helped push up rail usage. CapMetro data show ridership up 66 percent this February over February of 2023. CapMetro spokesperson Jorge Ortega wrote in response to Austin Free Press inquiries that “there are a ton of factors that contribute to ridership fluctuations.” Ortega added that, “Special events, like soccer matches at Q2, present a unique opportunity for riders to be introduced to public transit.”

These transit services haven’t always been smooth for fans. According to CapMetro officials, 4,500 riders took the bus or train to Q2 on opening day in February leading to numerous delays and serious overcrowding. This led many fans to cry foul, prompting CapMetro’s CEO Dottie Watkins to apologize. At Thursday’s game, police and temporary workers wearing yellow safety vests kept the flow of riders moving efficiently in and out of the game. CapMetro “busted their tails to improve the system as the season’s gone on,” McCamley said.

While CapMetro may have helped Austin FC meet some of its transit goals, it could not assist out on the pitch. On May 29 the Portland Timbers shut out Austin FC 2-0.

Disclosure: Austin Free Press Board Member Gissela Santa Cruz is Austin FC’s senior director of community impact.

Correction: An early version of this story mischaracterized CapMetro’s red line as “light rail” instead of “commuter rail” and misspelled the name of its CEO: Dottie Watkins.

Scroll to Top