Transit planners kicked off a major shift in Houston bus service Thursday, betting that the benefit of faster service on key routes will outweigh riders’ concerns about adjusting to new schedules and service patterns.
The Metropolitan Transit Authority on Thursday released a draft of its “reimagining” plan, intended as a sweeping upgrade to the region’s bus system. The map, which officials say will change over the next few months based on public suggestions, focuses on distributing service more efficiently.
Some officials said the plan, if approved in about four months, could help increase ridership by 20 percent or more after two years.
Metro buses, still operating on a system largely developed in the 1980s, are essentially delivering the best service for Houston in 1990, said Geoff Carlton, a consultant on the reimagining plan.
“New job centers exist that maybe didn’t a while ago and we need to respond to serving them,” Carlton said.
Often, bus routes are redundant, especially downtown, wasting resources. Some buses also take circuitous routes to cover neighborhoods where few people ride.
The changes involve about the same about of service, but make service on some major lines much more frequent by developing a grid pattern. Popular north-south and east-west routes that pass by major job centers like Greenway Plaza, southwest Houston and the Uptown area will have buses arriving every every 15 minutes or less.
Less-popular but important routes will have service every 30 minutes or less, while low-use routes in less dense areas of Houston will have service every hour or less.
With the changes, which also re-route buses to avoid some delays like freight rail crossings, 93 percent of current riders will be able to catch a ride at the same bus stop they use now, according to the analysis used to create the map.
The full Chron story is here. See TransitSystemReimagining.com for all the details, and see here for a copy of the presentation that was given to the board. As it happens, I’m in that seven percent of riders who will not be keeping his old bus stop; the current #40 bus that among other things ran down Bayland in the Heights is no more. I’ll have some other reasonable options, and as someone who generally only rides once a week it’s not a big deal. The #40 was not heavily used – the closest replacement to it, the new #17, is one of the “every hour or less” routes – and the overall gain in the system looks to be vast. Certainly, the new routes, which operate as a grid and which operate much more frequently out west where they’re really needed, are sensible and easy to understand. My first impression is positive, and I think it will go over well and will be well received. There will be plenty of opportunities to give your feedback to Metro, and I’m sure all of our friendly neighborhood light rail critics who have been just begging Metro for years to Do Something about bus service will be right there giving their honest appraisals and cheering them on. Anything less on their part would just be tacky, after all. What do you think about the new routes?