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System Reimagining, Day One

So far, so good.

HoustonMetro

Bruno Davi waited Monday morning for a Metro bus in his usual spot on Heights Boulevard, but his trip wasn’t the same.

It’s a situation thousands of Metropolitan Transit Authority riders faced as the agency’s new bus network, which officially launched Sunday, got its first workday test. Though months of planning and community outreach went into the change, riders were still left with first-time jitters and the task of changing longstanding habits.

“It’s like the first day of school,” said Davi, 40, who coincidentally was toting a large backpack.

Metro predicted some confusion would arise as riders adjust to changes that focus on developing core, frequent routes that make a grid pattern around the region and decentralize service away from the downtown area.

Any change is hard on some riders, Metro CEO Tom Lambert said, and transit officials are hearing a variety of reactions to the new routes.

“We’re getting some folks who don’t like what we’re doing and they are eloquent in expressing their views,” Lambert said. “We’re getting folks who love what we’re doing, and they are also eloquent in expressing their views.”

At times, with riders looking for answers, Metro was unable to handle demand at its call center. Officials increased the staff in the center to 70, from about 45, to handle the additional demand. At peak times, the center was averaging about 330 calls per hour, more than double its normal volume.

Call volume in some cases exceeded the number of incoming phone lines, which means some calls are being dropped. As lines become available, incoming calls can get through, Lambert said.

Each call is taking longer, he said, as Metro staff re-educate the caller on travel options.

[…]

Lambert said it could be up to two weeks before officials get a first glimpse at reliable ridership information and accurate figures on whether buses are arriving as frequently as Metro promised. He said early information indicates most routes are moving as predicted.

“I think each day we are going to get better feedback,” he said.

There were a few anecdotes from affected riders, and a couple more in this accompanying story about energetic young Metro employee Barrett Ochoa and his efforts to assist people on Day One, but if that’s as bad as it gets, this is going to be a piece of cake. I don’t mean to minimize this – there will be problems, and Metro and its staff are expending a huge amount of time and effort into making this work – but given that some people – OK, one persistent Metro crank – were predicting disaster and riders getting fired for missing work due to new route confusion, I think it’s important to maintain some perspective. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: We will get through this. Take a deep breath, check the various tools that are available to figure out what bus you need to take, and give Metro a call if you still can’t make sense of it. And if you feel confident and want to test yourself, go take the Houston Tomorrow Department of Transportation New Bus Network Challenge. Whatever you do, happy riding.

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