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Transcript of Web Chat with Frank Wilson
Thursday, April 30, 2009 5:23 PM

Frank Wilson dictating answers to Mary Sit. Joanne Wright, chief of staff in background. Thanks to all of you who joined our Web chat today at noon. METRO's President & CEO Frank J. Wilson hosted today's chat, where questions ranged from light-rail service to both airports to our new Quick Line Signature Bus service to debut in June.

We ran out of time and couldn't answer all of your questions - but keep reading this blog. We will try to get answers to your questions and write about those topics in future posts.

Pictured here is Wilson, me typing his answers and chief of staff Joanne Wright in the background.

 

 (12:03:36 PM) Frank J Wilson:

Welcome, everyone. Thanks for joining our Web chat today. Looking forward to a lively conversation.

 

 (12:10:27 PM) Frank J Wilson:

Q. : Bugs Bunny ridding a bus. The METRO Quick Line Logo is a Rabbit. June 1 for the 402, right! Now, we need to see Bugs' relatives on WESTHEIMER?


A : Good question. The first signature bus line goes into operation in June on Bellaire. The second one is scheduled to operate between the Palm Center and the Medical Center, along Old Spanish Trail. That's scheduled at least probably more than six months from now. Westheimer is on the drawing board and not likely to begin until mid 2011.

 

 (12:12:06 PM) Frank J Wilson:

Q : What's up with the University Line? I thought it was to be the first new line built. Now it looks like it will be the last. When will construction start and when will it be completed?


A : The University Line from the very beginning was scheduled to be the last of five light-rail lines to be completed. The original schedule and the current schedule have the University Line construction start-up approximately one year after the current construction plans (first four light-rail lines). And at this time, we're right on schedule.

 

(12:12:39 PM) Frank J Wilson:

Q : I'd like to ask about Metro's service during inclement weather.


A : Yes, we operate during inclement weather. Go ahead, ask a more specific question.

 

(12:14:56 PM) Frank J Wilson:

Q : Is the Uptown Line still scheduled to have groundbreaking this year? Or is it contingent on the University Line?


A : In many respects, we are scheduled to begin work as a function of when the street and utility work is completed. The current plan is to have the Uptown Association manage that work. When that work is completed, METRO will come in and build the light-rail related facilities.

 

As you might imagine, construction along Post Oak is highly dependent on the retail sales cycle. So, little or no construction will happen between November and January each year. So this is a tricky task to specify the exact timetable for the METRO construction work because we are dependent on the schedule for the roadway work.

 

 

 (12:18:22 PM) Frank J Wilson:

Q : There were no morning 82 when it rained on Tuesday, so I had to walk to get the 42. I did see the #53, so I don't understand it


A : The storm front that hit us Monday night and Tuesday morning created havoc with our ability to run a normal schedule. Just to state the obvious, flooding on local streets, as well as the major thoroughfares, prevented our operators from getting to the garage and to take the buses out in service on time. In at least one case, our buses were flooded in and couldn't get out of the garage. So we had to deal with the same miserable weather, roadway, and traffic conditions that plagued everyone else. We're sorry for the inconvenience, but we worked real hard during the day on Tuesday to ensure a normal afternoon rush hour.

 

 

(12:21:43 PM) Frank J Wilson:

Q : Thank you for scheduling this Web chat. The community appreciates your accessibility. My questions are, what are the plans for future alignments for light rail? Specifically how will the line connecting downtown to the Northwest Transit Center be determined? How will the affected neighborhoods' input be taken into account?


A : The alignment to the Northwest Transit Center has essentially been decided. It will run from the Hillcroft Transit Center in the south, north along Post Oak Blvd. to the 610 Loop where it would operate in some configuration along 610 exit onto local roads, and into the Northwest Transit Center.

 

The effect on neighborhoods and property is essentially limited to the commercial properties along Post Oak and of course, in the interstate freeway. We've been working for the last two years with those commercial property owners and expext to reach mutually agreeable alignment decisions with them before construction starts.

 (12:24:38 PM) Frank J Wilson:

Q : Looking forward to the Quick Line service. Why are 2 Bellaire customers segregated from 402 Quick Line customers? We have been without shelters for 8 months and the stops were moved up to a block away from the old stops. This has been very confusing and many riders who wait at the shelters are left confused when the buses pass them without stopping.

A : The Quick Line is designed as an express service with limited stops for those who are traveling longer distances. In effect, it is a new service overlaid on top of the existing service. There's no intention to degrade the quality of the existing service, and if we need additional shelters along the current Route 2 service, we'd be happy to entertain any requests that our customers might have. Granted, that any time you introduce change where there has not been any for many, many years, one can always expect some confusion. But we'll do our best to minimize that confusion until the service patterns are completely understood by our customers.

(12:24:58 PM) Frank J Wilson:

Q : Also, is the Uptown alignment still in the middle of the West Loop between Memorial and Post Oak?
A : At this time, it is.

 

 (:

 

(12:27:51 PM) Frank J Wilson:

Q : I ride the P & R 244/247/249 off and on, may I ask why local/express busses such as the 88 do not go to P & R locations, they would be a great connection and back up to get to the south side of town...other cities do this why Houston does not? Makes no sense....


A : Thanks for the suggestion. You're quite right that many cities used their Park & Ride lots and transit centers as a place for convenient transferring from one type service to another.

 

 I am forwarding your question to our operations planning department primarily to send along your good idea, and then secondarily, to have them give you a more detailed, analytical reason for why we don't do this today or why we will do it in the near future. Let me know how our guys do. Give us your e-mail on the blog, and we'll be able to give you some answers.

 

 

 

 

(12:28:50 PM) Frank J Wilson:

Q : The current bus schedules as published on your web site in PDF format do not work well on mobile devices as many do not have PDF readers. How about putting the schedules up in more mobile-friendly form like just plain HTML tables?


A : Our information technology services is looking this now, and is looking to implement this in the coming year.

 (12:34:55 PM) Frank J Wilson:

Q : Mr. Wilson, which local routes do you ride most often? How reliable do you find them to be?


A : The service I use frequently is the light-rail line on Main Street - extraordinarily reliable and rarely have to wait more than two or three minutes. There seems to be a train always in sight. More importantly, you ask which routes do I find reliable.

 

 I can offer to send you a new report that we've created that shows the top 13 routes in our system. They're top routes because they carry almost 70 percent of our riders. As a sneak preview, I will tell you that you might be startled to see the reliability level in the 65 to 69 percent on-time category.

 

 But why I say this is a surprise is that most transit systems report that all their buses are running between 88 and 98 percent on time. I've worked in five transit systems in my career across the nation, and most of them were among the largest in the country. And I can personally say this: The 80 to 90 percent level of performance in those systems is fiction. What we report, like it or not, is accurate. We'd rather know the truth and do something about it (obviously improve it), than attempt to fool our customers and ourselves by publishing bogus data.

 

 In the future, if you like, I'd be happy to return to cyberspace and have a deeper discussion about this topic because at METRO, we don't duck tough issues. We deal with them. And while we're not proud of our record to date, we are proud of the improvement plans that we're implementing now that should have a dramatic effect on our on-time performance. Thank you for asking. This is an area that we are providing serious attention to.

 

(12:36:44 PM) Frank J Wilson:

Q : You have the #102 to BUSH I A H LIMITED/WAYFOREST/VIA HOV and the #102 to BUSH I A H LIMITED/WRIGHT ROAD/VIA TERMINAL C/VIA HOV. But the one to Wayforest does not to IAH, so why is BUSH IAH in the description of the route? Why not call that bus the 103 or some other number? This naming caused me to have to take the 500 and pay $15 as I was late!


A : Sorry that our route designations have caused you so much difficulty. We'll examine a better way to label the routes and try to get them redesignated by our next service change.

 

 

(12:39:19 PM) Frank J Wilson:

Q : Thanks for the answer on the #82 situation, but I am confused as Westheimer was fine in certain parts and you were able to run the #53 which runs almost the same route as the #82. Also, if you had an alert system I could sign up for it and you could have told me the bus was not running. Please do better next time the weather is bad as we depend on the Metro bus to get to work, rain or shine. Thanks.


A : Good suggestion, and we are using a new prototype information system on our Signature bus lines. This technology will tell you exactly how much time until the next bus arrives, and if there's no service for whatever reason, it will tell you that, too. Eventually, by using your cell phone and knowing the number for a particular bus shelter, or intersection, you'll be able to retrieve the same information. Try riding the Route 2 Bellaire if you get a chance because we will preview it there, starting in June.

 

 

 

(12:42:45 PM) Frank J Wilson:

Q : A Light Rail question: Will we ever have service to the airports (IAH and Hobby)?


A : I live in hope that we will see some form of rail service to both airports some day, but I must be honest and tell you that it's not likely that we will see the type of rail service (light-rail service) that we have on Main Street taking you to the airport. The reason is it would not be very customer-friendly for an airport customer. No place for luggage, too many stops, hopefully crowded conditions. This is not the kind of service that would be successful. We would need a rail line that would have limited stops, maybe two or three would run at high speed, maybe 80 mph and would provide more accommodating seating and space for luggage. Then it's possible for light-rail service.

 

 (12:44:34 PM) Frank J Wilson:

Q : May I also suggest that METRO publish rail schedules, especially for early mornings, late nights, and weekends? 20 minutes is a long time to wait for a train in the dark. I also have almost missed flights at Hobby because the first southbound train to arrive at Fannin South is almost an hour after the published start of service.


A : When you run the service every six minutes, a schedule is not necessary. However, you make a good point. When the service gap gets to 20 minutes or longer, we should provide scheduled times instead of frequencies. Look for a change in our publications, hopefully with the next service change, which comes in June.

 

 

(12:45:34 PM) Frank J Wilson:

Q : As a follow up to my previous question, I was referring to light rail service directly from downtown to the Northwest Transit Center, not the currently planned route through the Hillcroft Transit Center, and how it would affect the neighborhoods along Washington and through the Heights?


A : I assume with this clarification you're talking about commuter rail service from downtown to Northwest Transit Center, not light-rail. Yes or no?

 

 

 

(12:47:31 PM) Frank J Wilson:

Q : Are the new, hybrid buses in service now the 2008 purchases? When will the order for 2009 start coming in? And are seats with slightly more padding under consideration?


A : We have about 120 hybrid buses in service today. We expect by the end of this year, early 2010, we should have in excess of 200 in service. The 2009 purchase of 100 more hybrid buses are not likely to be in service for at least a year.

 

 (12:54:35 PM) Frank J Wilson:

Q : You seem to appreciate the high frequency of service on the Red Line, so I think you'll understand that we local bus riders would appreciate more frequent service, too. Some routes, like the 34 Montrose and 18 Kirby, aren't given a chance to succeed because a bus every 45 minutes isn't convenient for anyone.


A : You are touching on the chicken-and-egg phenomenon that has plagued the transit industry since the wheel was invented. Which comes first? Frequent service or massive numbers of riders?

 

 The Main Street rail line carries 45,000 people a day. We don't have any other route in the system that does that. But we understand that sometimes you need to put the service out, advertise it, of course run it properly, educate the latent customers (potential customers) that the service exists and try to build ridership at all times during the day, so that making service more frequent makes more sense.

 

We try to do this. Sometimes the ridership responds, sometimes it doesn't. When the frequency of service gets to the level of 30 to 45 minutes, it often feels like we're fighting a losing battle with preciously scarce resources. And while service is our Number Two goal, only behind safety, it becomes a delicate balancing act to decide whether we are using our financial resources wisely.

 

 If we don't run METRO as a successful business, we may not be in business to provide any service. Witness the unfortunate plight of so many of our businesses today. Because of bad business decisions, they're facing extinction. So what we do run, we have to run economically. Therein  lies the long-standing challenge of what comes first. Service or riders?

(12:55:22 PM) Frank J Wilson:

Q : Thanks for looking into the #102 situation. How do I get a credit for the error?


A : Are you open to negotiation?

 

 (12:56:58 PM) Frank J Wilson:

Q : What is going on with the Fuqua park & ride? Yesterday when myself and my carpool arrived there we were informed that we could no longer park there. This is very unfair, and the alternative lot where we can park will cost us about 15 minutes in our commute, and almost makes using the HOV lane worthless.


A : Parking at this Park & Ride lot is extremely oversubscribed. Our first priority is obviously to our bus customers. As much as we appreciate you doing the environmentally preferred way to travel in a car, we'd love to have you on our bus.

 

(1:02:22 PM) Frank J Wilson:

My time is up now. Thanks for joining us today. Wish we could do it every day, but let's promise to do it again soon. For those we weren't able to get to, we'll try to find answers from our other more knowledgeable staff and answer you on the blog.

 

Comments

C said:

ctrl + c

ctrl + v

# April 30, 2009 7:19 PM

C said:

Q : Mr. Wilson, which local routes do you ride most often? How reliable do you find them to be?

Mr Wilson totally avoided the question.

# April 30, 2009 10:11 PM

C said:

Ms Sit,

Can you find out what happened to the bus shelters between the Hilton and the mall on Greenspoint drive along the SB 102, 56 and 86 routes? They were removed like 2 weeks ago and never replaced when I was last there.

I parked there Tuesday and we were out in the elements.

And I have recommend many times that there be at least 2 earlier 102 SB trips with no response. Some days I have to be downtown at 5am and I have to drive to the Kuykendahl P&R. So a 4:30 and 5:15 Greenspoint departure would be great. That way 5a and 6a folks can get downtown without riding 56 for an hour. Or have the 202 make a short detour for the first few trips. There are always plenty of seats.

My company only reimburses me for travel on METRO.

# April 30, 2009 10:32 PM

light rail schedule said:

Whoever asked the question about a little rail question rules! I hate waiting 20 minutes for that thing in the evening and on weekends. We will have to wait and see if there is a schedule in June...The light rail is pretty amazing when it comes to the schedule at being on time. It is just extremely difficult to remember what time it is going to be arriving at each station. I would say 90 percent of the time the thing is within the minute. I have an alarm that goes off every time I ride the light rail home. I tried to use Dadnab.com which uses txt messaging service to state the next departure times for the light rail, but a schedule would do. Dadnab sometimes doesn't work that well.

# May 1, 2009 7:06 AM

Ed said:

A : Parking at this Park & Ride lot is extremely oversubscribed. Our first priority is obviously to our bus customers. As much as we appreciate you doing the environmentally preferred way to travel in a car, we'd love to have you on our bus.

(1:02:22 PM) Frank J Wilson:

My time is up now. Thanks for joining us today. Wish we could do it every day, but let's promise to do it again soon. For those we weren't able to get to, we'll try to find answers from our other more knowledgeable staff and answer you on the blog.

What a wast of time. Next time answer the questions. I want a refund for my Qcard. You give us no way to get home if we have to park else where.

# May 1, 2009 7:55 AM

C said:

Good luck "Ed said" trying to get that refund. You have to go to the treasury department where there's this rude woman working. But shes enforcing the rules of METROs hierarchy, poor woman.

Then you have to wait in the lobby with a bunch of drunks. So suck up the money you lost with METRO, consider it a donation.

# May 1, 2009 2:08 PM
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