I rode the commuter rail last week. Here are my random impressions. (If you want critical analysis, just google M1EK.)
My son and I took the 4:40 from the Convention Center north to the Howard Lane station and rode back. It was about an hour and a half round trip.
You haven't ridden a train unless you've ridden one with a four-year old obsessed with trains. I was treated (or subjected) to constant questions and observations. "There is an old track; why aren't trains running on it?" "Is that where they repair the trains?" "What's that green paint doing on the train track?" You get the idea.
The train was comfortable. The ride was smooth. It was on time to the minute. But it was only a third full or so when it left downtown. We picked up passengers as we headed north. By the time we got to the Howard station, the train was packed. And we picked up a bunch more passengers there before we headed back. I suspect the train was at its standing-room capacity on the return trip. It was obvious that most of the passengers were just checking it out; I doubt many commuters were heading south in the late afternoon.
The car is comfortable, of course. The windows are large, perfect for viewing the neighborhoods as we rode by. Austin's neighborhoods are frankly not that interesting, though -- just one suburban-style neighborhood after another, segregated by streets lined with strip malls. Urban neighborhoods are more interesting to look at it; there's just more going on visually. The most interesting neighborhood by far was East Austin between Cesar Chavez and MLK. (I really like Saltillo Plaza, by the way.)
Buses were queued at each stop,ready to take passengers to their ultimate destinations. They looked to be mostly empty. In the rain, they looked a little forlorn.
The Cap Metro folks were handing out cardboard replicas of the train. William plans to take his to show-and-tell next week.
That's about it. Nothing terribly deep here. I imagine that if I lived close to one of the stations, I'd use the train. But the stations in north Austin have no place to park, so getting there by bus is the only option. If I lived a bus ride from the station, I probably wouldn't take the train. Having to hop on a bus once I got to downtown frankly wouldn't bug me, though.
We'll ride it again sometime. William has a list of friends to take. I don't think Cap Metro's would counts us as its core riders, though.