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What’s going on with Metro’s ridership numbers?

I have no idea what to make of this.

Houston’s heralded bus system redesign – garnering kudos from local riders and transit supporters around the country – is running into the reality that nothing can boost transit when fewer people are riding to work.

When the Metropolitan Transit Authority revamped its bus system in August 2015, officials said it would boost ridership by 20 percent in two years. However, transit use in Houston has been declining.

In November, fewer people boarded Metro buses, hopped on trains and commuted to work via the park-and-ride system. When all types of transit except service for the elderly and handicapped are considered, Metro handled 13,625 fewer trips daily, a 4.6% decline last month, according to figures released last week. Commuter bus ridership has plunged by more than 10 percent each of the last two months.

Now likely unable to reach their predicted ridership growth, which would have been unprecedented in the history of Houston mass transit, Metro officials concede more refinement is needed to gain riders on buses and trains.

They blame the declining ridership on fewer oil and gas industry jobs in the area and the transition of many jobs away from downtown Houston. Though the job cuts have been evident in the region’s economic outlook for months, the switch to the new bus system last year might have hidden the negative effect of fewer daily commuters.

“What I think we are seeing is the unemployment rate has had a real effect on ridership and it is just now exhibiting in our numbers,” Arthur Smiley, Metro’s chief financial officer, said.

I say I don’t know what to make of this partly because I can’t tell what the numbers actually are. They’re presented in bits and pieces throughout the story, and it’s not always clear to me when the stated declines are in comparison to the previous month, or to last year at the same time. I realize that I’m more number-oriented than most people, but please give me a table or chart with all of the relevant data. Context is everything.

As for the reasons for the decline, the recent slowdown in the local economy, specifically with energy sector jobs, is one possible factor. Others, not mentioned in the story, may include continued low gas prices and possibly a side effect of Uber’s penetration into the market. No one felt confident putting forth a firm idea, and with much of the decline coming on park-and-ride routes and high-volume local routes that didn’t really change in the system redesign, I’d say more study is needed. It was just four months ago that we were celebrating a big increase in the first year of the new local bus system map, so I’d say it’s a little early to panic. Maybe ridership fluctuates for reasons that aren’t always clear. Let’s do some work to figure this out, and then see what if anything we can do about it.

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11 Comments

  1. Neither Here Nor There says:

    Well I guess the route changes did not materialize added ridership?

    As a former bus rider, there are many things that Metro could do encourage people to ride those buses.

    Before rail, I could take the 65 all the way into downtown. They now make you switch to rail, that sucked. They forced people into those rail cars. https://www.ridemetro.org/MetroPDFs/Schedules/BusSchedules/n065-Bissonnet.pdf

    After that I went with Park and Ride, which is not bad but more expensive and they don’t carry people all day. So if one needs to leave early they are stuck having to catch a bus, a train, and a bus.

    Some people do love rail.

  2. Bill Daniels says:

    Assuming the goal is to get bread and butter, regular work and school commuters to take Metro, reasonable gas prices are most probably the reason ridership is off. With a few exceptions like the park and riders, most people looking to take public transit are going to experience a much longer commute, and as Neither anecdotally mentions, a transfer or two, as well.

    That extra commute time to take Metro results in a lower quality of living, as people have less time to spend on everything else. That isn’t something that all the “reimagining” in the world can solve. Making multiple stops is time consuming, period.

    @Neither:

    I’m enjoying the irony of your reaction to the trains. You know, it wasn’t conservatives or even libertarians who insisted on all those choo-choos, it was liberals like yourself who wanted to force the square peg of trains into the round hole of Houston, a city ill suited for light rail.

  3. Bill Daniels says:

    Oh, and in case it doesn’t get said anywhere else, Merry Christmas to Kuff and all the OTK’ers!

  4. Neither Here Nor There says:

    Bill besides being a racist you assume things that you don’t know anything about. I have voted against rails and I dare you to find anything that I have ever written in support of rail. In fact I voted against the original Metro tax. There is only one bond issue that I have ever voted in favor

    So stick to your racists bs and hating on Mexicans. Other than your hate of Mexicans, Blacks, and Muslims you are much more liberal than I am.

    However, I will support getting rid of the cap on City finances as the County and State have not done the same. Have to play by the same rules.

    I voted for Kay Bailey when she first ran for Senator and voted against her when she ran the third time. She broke her promise to only run twice.

    But I will support all Democrats because the Republican have become the party of racists loving commie Russian supporters.

  5. Bill Daniels says:

    @Neither:

    Since you brought it up…..

    Want to boost mass transit ridership? Crack down on illegal aliens driving with no license. Every illegal here should be using mass transit, because, as the law abiding citizens they are, they would never consider driving with no license. Also there are a fairly significant amount of legal residents and citizens that have had their licenses suspended and revoked. Crack down on them, too. People without a license, whatever their “immigration status” ought to be scared straight to Metro to get around. That means no more catch and release with a traffic ticket.

    Think Kim Ogg will help out with that goal by zealously prosecuting people driving with no license and referring the illegal ones to ICE? That would make Houston safer and make a dent in Houston’s traffic problems by getting cars off the road. It would also be an environmental win as fewer cars on the road means less pollution and less of that evil gasoline being burned.

  6. robert says:

    How does a post about Metro Ridership turn into hateful comments….I always think “what would my mom think if she read/heard this” and found out it was something I wrote…. I’m sure you guys were raised better than that…..

  7. Bill Daniels says:

    @Robert:

    My mom is elderly, so she uses the same non politically correct kind of speech I use. She still wishes people a Merry Christmas. She refers to undocumented residents as illegal aliens. She is anti-criminal. I think the only things she would read here that she would roll her eyes about are my support for legalized drugs, and gay marriage, because Mom is a traditional conservative, not a libertarian like me. Of course, her area isn’t served by Metro, so I doubt she would be reading this particular thread.

    I can’t speak to what Neither’s mother would think about her child’s posts.

  8. Neither Here Nor There says:

    Bill you mean undocumented, contrary to your simple thinking, the fact that they are here is not criminal. Look it up. Plus at least half of them arrive here legally via student visas, tourist, etc. and then stay. People may be criminals but they are not illegals.

    Bill why not look into Metro’s policy as to how one gets a Metro Card. You will find that it is difficult for undocumented to get one because of the policy.

    When they left the pay in cash they lost riders.

    That is not the function of the D.A.’s office Bill. So if an undocumented person were to witness an American Citizen murder your parents, they should not testify but should be deported, right Bill?

    Too much hate Bill, get over it, all studies how that they are less likely to commit crimes than Americans.

    Why did you become so concerned when a Democrat won and not when it was run by racist commie Russian loving Republicans?

    Bill so your mom is a racist therefore you are a racist. Well I am glad she was not a mass murderer.

    Have a great Christmas Bill and a very Happy New Year Bill. Maybe next year your hate will subside.

  9. Bill Daniels says:

    @Neither:

    You are wrong about not being able to use cash to ride the bus. I had occasion to ride Metro earlier this year, when I had a loved one hospitalized in the Med Center. My truck does not really fit in the TMC parking garages, and I had no problem purchasing a “Q Card” at one of Metro’s self serve kiosks.

    I won’t take your other bait, but will point out that insulting mothers is a line decent people won’t cross. You chose….another path.

  10. Neither Here Nor There says:

    Insulting mothers? You did that Bill, you said you take after her.

    Are you telling me that the machine dispensed the Q Card? I know you can do that with the rail. But at the local bus stop that is not available.

    Once tried to get a Metro Card (My card was stolen) that was prepaid, had to provide proof with government issued document with photo. I had my work card and a State issued Card with no photo. Did not have my license with me, they refused to give a Metro Q card.

    Your mothers uses names to refer to people, so she does it so it is Okay. “My mom is elderly, so she uses the same non politically correct kind of speech I use.”

    Again you have a Great Christmas Bill, see Bill I use Christmas always have, it is commie loving Russians Republicans or so called Libertarians that think that all people like me don’t use those words.

  11. Neither Here Nor There says:

    Bill I am a father, grandfather, (maybe as old or older than your mother) so you see nothing wrong with insulting me. In fact you started it by writing ” it was liberals like yourself who wanted to force the square peg of trains into the round hole of Houston, a city ill suited for light rail.” That is an insult Bill you knew it when you wrote it. What had I written to make you insult me, on this particular article.

    Hillary was a mother and grandmother, but Libertarians like you had no problems insulting that mother and grandmother.