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Metro’s bus strategy

We know that the 2012 Metro referendum was intended to help Metro boost ridership by improving and expanding its bus service. Metro Board member Christof Spieler explains what that means.

First, in many cases, transit doesn’t go to the right places. Over time, Houston’s population has shifted as the urban core has redeveloped, older suburbs have changed, and new areas have appeared. But the local bus system, with routes that trace their origins to Houston’s streetcar network of the 1920s, has not changed. Nor has it adapted to a city that now has multiple job centers: It connects well to downtown and the Texas Medical Center, but not as well to Greenway Plaza and Uptown.

Second, our bus system discourages new riders. Where routes are frequent and clear, as on West­heimer, buses are packed. But buses on most routes are infrequent, so you need to plan your life around their schedules. They’re complicated, jumping from one street to another and branching to multiple destinations rather than following straightforward, predictable paths. They’re also hard to understand: Nothing at a typical bus stop tells you which destinations a route serves, which direction a bus is going, or how frequent the buses are.

The system works well for people who make the same trip at the same time every day. For everyone else, it can be intimidating. As a frequent bus rider, I understand why people who want to use public transportation can’t figure out how to use the local bus system.

So, we are starting with a blank sheet to create a more effective bus system. Rather than follow past practices of just tweaking today’s routes, we’re going to look at where people live and where people work, and then design the system that serves them best.

The first step is defining what our goals are. This isn’t simple. It appears obvious that we want to move as many people as possible and serve as many places as possible. But those are actually contradictory goals. To cover as much area as possible, we would need to reduce the bus frequency in the areas with the highest number of potential riders. This dramatically reduces ridership. These are not easy policy trade-offs, but we need to acknowledge them and make thoughtful decisions.

We can’t make those decisions without involving the public. We’ll talk with the community to learn what their priorities are, then develop a network to address those priorities. A task force representing neighborhoods, employment centers, educational institutions, health care facilities, local governments and other stakeholders will drive the process. At every step, we’ll have opportunities for public participation – including surveys and online forums.

This is all very sensible, and if you get a chance to hear Christof talk about this stuff in person as I have, I guarantee you’ll come away a believer. I’d like to see some metrics established along the way so we’ll know what Metro’s goals are for ridership and how they’re doing with them. If you get the chance, try to attend one or more of the upcoming engagement sessions, since this affects you whether you ride buses or just benefit from the lower traffic that would result from more people riding them.

On a related note, the Chron approves of Uptown’s plan for a BRT line.

Without traffic solutions, Uptown’s new offices and residences will undermine the area’s livability. So it makes perfect sense that Uptown Houston is taking matters into its own hands, and we’re pleased that Metro is on board – viewing the plan as a partner rather than a competitor.

The $177.5 million project will create an exclusive right-of-way for large buses that will act more like light rail, without the rail, running from the planned Westpark Transit Center near U.S. 59 up to the Northwest Transit Center at Interstate 10, traveling along feeder roads and an expanded Post Oak Boulevard. These paths could even eventually be upgraded to rail.

Linking the system with the Metro transit centers will provide some much needed transportation options for Uptown commuters, who are distinctly underserved by Metro’s park-and-ride system. Uptown has 15 percent of Houston’s Class A office space, but only three percent of Metro’s daily park-and-ride buses.

See here for the background. I hope Uptown makes some accommodation for bicycles on the BRT vehicles, and in general as part of a balanced solution for dealing with all that traffic. And as the Chron notes, I hope the completion of this line serves as a catalyst and a pressure point for getting the University Line going.

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4 Comments

  1. Mainstream says:

    I fall in the infrequent user category. But I would hope Metro would consider a set of Night Owl buses on key routes, or from major nightlife regions, using a smaller van bus if necessary. And I wish it were easier to get to the airports, and for visitors to get to NASA and quirky tourist sites (like Orange Show and Beer Can House and the Presidential statues) using some sort of tourist-oriented bus routing.

  2. […] the Heights, most likely in the locations suggested by Blake Masters. Alternately, as Metro’s re-architected bus route map gets built, or in the event of future streetcar/BRT/light rail construction along Washington, that […]

  3. Adam Socki says:

    I couldn’t agree more. Houston’s transit system needs an entire face lift. It should be on the new show coming out, ‘Extreme Makeover: City Transit Edition.’

  4. […] here for some background. The goal is to increase ridership, and there is a lot that can be done at […]