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Harrisburg Overpass Meeting
 

If you live in the East End, you may want to attend a public meeting on the Harrisburg Overpass project.

We are conducting a meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 23, at 6 p.m. at the METRO Service & Inspection Facility located at 5880 Texas Ave.

The new overpass is part of the Green Line (East End) that is under construction. We are reviewing the overpass before we build it, and we would love to hear your thoughts on the design. The overpass will be located at the railroad crossing on Harrisburg Boulevard, west of Hughes Street.

Our meeting will be in the community room of our Service & Inspection Facility. See you there!

#RideHoustonMETRO

Click Here to See Your Bus Route on Service Map
 

Woman pointing to a location on a paper map

We just made it easier for you to ride our system.

Today, we posted a new and improved interactive service map that has cool features and fewer clicks to make your METRO riding experience easier.

This map is fun to use. Click on the interactive service map tab under "schedules and maps" and a map of the city pops up. Above that you'll see eight icons.

Let's go to "bus routes." Click that and all our bus routes pop up in a list with a check box next to it. I clicked a check mark next to 88 Hobby Airport and 2 Bellaire. Then I clicked "return to map" and saw  two routes clearly marked in red.

The eight icons at the top of the map are: Bus Routes, Rail Lines, HOV/HOT Lanes, Transit Centers, Park & Ride, METRO Q Retailers Network, Trip Planner and Map Settings.

The new one added to the map is Google's Trip Planner. Click it and a box pops up for you to enter a "from" and "to" address. I entered 1900 Main as my starting point and then "The Galleria, Westheimer" as my end point. Three suggested routes using public transit popped up, along with their travel times - the 82, 81 and a route involving the Red Line and then 73.

If I need to load more money on my METRO Q® Fare Card and want to see if there's a retailer near me, I click "Retailers Network" and dozens of blue Q circles appear. Mouse over one and the name of the store and address appear.

Play with our interactive service map, and tell us what you think.

 

 

  

METRO’s Proposed Back-to-Basics Budget

METRO’s fiscal year starts on Oct. 1, and before that our board of directors must approve a budget.
A public hearing on our FY2015 operating and capital budgets is scheduled for next Wednesday, Sept. 24, at 12 noon at 1900 Main St. in our board room on the second floor.
In this new fiscal year, METRO will continue to concentrate on a back-to-basics approach with these priorities:
·        Sustain service quality
·        Begin revenue service on the Purple (Southeast) and Green (East End) Lines
·        Focus on ridership and implement System Reimagining, our redesigned local bus route system that will offer more service to more people
·        Sustain our workforce
Read the draft of the METRO Business Plan & Budget FY2015.
Want to Feel Better? Walk to Work

 

If you walk to work – or even walk a part of the way – you will be happier and more productive at work.

That’s according to a new study by the UK government conducted over an 18-year span, asking 18,000 British commuters to rate their various levels of “well-being.”

The study concluded that even walking 10 minutes during your commute time is linked with a boost in well-being, according to The Atlantic CityLab. The psychological benefits were equivalent to receiving a salary increase or starting a new relationship.

If you’re driving to work, consider leaving your car in the garage and taking METRO. You can feel good about that short walk from your bus stop to your office and know that an active commute will make you happier.

Or consider a bi-modal commute with bike and bus or bike and rail. All our local buses have bike racks mounted to the front of the bus, accommodating two bikes. Our Park & Ride coach buses have room in the belly of the bus to store your bike.

METRORail has designated cars where you can roll your bike aboard during non-rush hours. The study showed that biking to work is also more beneficial than driving to work.


Ticket Machines Get a Makeover
 

 

Ticket vending machine getting wrapped

Train riders will start to notice spiffier stations with ticket machines sporting a new wrap in a color that coordinates with the rail line it is on.

The ticket vending machines (TVMs) are getting new wraps that will not only improve their looks but will also give customers clear directions. You'll see directions that say: "Please Pay Here" and "Tap Here" for METRO Q® Fare Cards. The wraps will also identify the stations with the line color - red machines for the Red/North Line; purple machines for the Purple/Southeast Line; and green machines for the Green/East End Line.

In some of the downtown stations where two lines merge, the ticket vending machine will sport a unique design with colors of both lines on the wrap.

We hope to have the TVMs all wrapped by mid-October.

 

METRO Wins Top Financial Transparency Award

With only one or two clicks, the public can find out how much METRO spends on utilities and how much debt it has.

That kind of thorough financial transparency – along with making it easy for people to find financial information on our website – earned METRO a Platinum Award, the State Comptroller’s newly created top award level in the Texas Comptroller Leadership Circle. The Platinum Award recognizes entities that “go above and beyond providing financial transparency.”

“METRO is the only transit agency to receive this top honor, and it’s among just a handful of all statewide entities getting this distinction,” said METRO Board Chairman Gilbert Garcia. “This is a testament to our on-going commitment in providing the public easier access to our financial and budget information.”

METRO scored 20 out of 22 points, evaluated on such criteria as: annual budget, check register and budgets for the three most recent fiscal years. The agency was able to achieve the new Platinum level by posting its debt information on the agency’s RideMetro.org website, said Debbie Sechler, METRO’s chief financial officer.

“A lot of it is information we already have and that we do keep up in our finance department. But what we’re doing now is putting that in a format that is easily accessed by the public. Our check registers we post every two weeks,” said Sechler.

She said this ease of finding financial numbers has garnered good comments from the public.

“It’s all about accessibility, understanding and access so that everything is out there and available to our constituents and taxpayers,” said Sechler.

In addition to the Platinum Award, METRO’s finance department achieved another prestigious honor: the Certificate of Achievement in Financial Reporting by the Government Finance Officers Association.  This is the 22nd year that METRO has received this honor for its financial reports. This year,  METRO received it  for its FY2013 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report.

 

 

Need a Job? Try METRO
 

METRO bus operatorIf you enjoy working with the public, you may want to consider a career opportunity at METRO as a bus operator.

We are hosting an open house this Saturday, Sept. 13, from 9 a.m. - 12 p.m.  where  you will have a chance to apply for the position of a part-time bus operator. The event will be held at our Kashmere Bus Operating Facility located at 5700 Eastex Freeway.

Part-time bus operators earn $15 an hour for up to 33 hours per week. They receive paid training and free renewal of a commercial driver's license. You must be at least 21 years of age and possess a valid driver's license. Being bilingual is a plus. A high-school diploma or GED is preferred but not required.

Some of the benefits of working at METRO include: raises every six months; vacation, sick days and holidays based on the number of hours worked; an opportunity to advance from part-time to full-time employment; and free public transportation for employees and spouses.

So if you're looking for an exciting career that gets you out of the office, come visit us this Saturday at our open house at Kashmere.

 

Innovation Challenge
 

Are you a young transportation professional with an innovative transit idea?
If so, YPT Houston wants to know.

Young Professionals in Transportation is inviting you to get involved in the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) Workforce Development Initiatives. "We invite forward-thinkers to get in front of an audience of public transportation professionals at APTA's Expo 2014 and present your innovative idea that offers an ‘out-of-the-box' solution to complicated public transportation challenges," says YPT Houston.

Abstracts are due Sept. 10, and applicants selected to present will be notified by Sept. 17. A $500 cash prize will be given to winners in each category. Click here for more details.

If you want to mingle with other young transit professionals, come to the next YPT luncheon talk on Thursday, Sept. 18, from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Patrick Walsh, director of Houston's Planning and Development Department, will speak. This event will be held at Dannenbaum Engineering Corp. at 3100 W. Alabama St.

The luncheon is free to all YPT members. Click here to join YPT.

 Register here if you want to attend the luncheon talk. Seating is limited.

Big Texas Train Show
 

Attendees at Big Texas Train Show 

Welcome aboard to the Big Texas Train Show.

If you're fascinated with trains, this is the place to go this weekend. This event is on Sept. 6 and 7 at the George R. Brown Convention Center. The show is a project of the Gulf Coast Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society, a nonprofit educational organization.

You'll find educational railroad-related displays and vendors, along with door prizes. Local model railroad clubs will be operating trains in all scales - from tiny Z scale to big garden-size trains. Collectors will be able to find model trains, train sets, toy trains of all sizes, timetables, lanterns and books.

Admission is free for those 16 years old and under, along with scouts and scoutmasters in uniform. Tickets are $9 for adults. Find a $1 off coupon here.

Save even more money by riding METRO to the George R. Brown. Take any of these buses: #18, 81 or 82 to step off right in front of the convention center. You can also take the Red Line and exit at Main Street Square, about a one-fourth mile walk from center.

 

Recycling Streetcar Tracks for Bicyclists

 

 

Cleveland’s got a bright idea on how to transform unused streetcar tracks that have been paved over into protected lanes for bicyclists.

The city’s streets are wider than needed for traffic because they were once used to accommodate streetcars. When people chose driving cars over riding streetcars, city planners decided the easiest and most cost-effective solution was to pave over the streetcar lines.

Now there is a plan called the Midway, reports the Plain Dealer. Streets – some are 72-feet wide – would be reconfigured to accommodate a 16-foot wide bike lane, protected by 8-foot wide planted boulevards, separating the bike lane from traffic and parking lanes.

Bike advocates and city officials hope these dedicated lanes will make biking safer and create an option for commuters, resulting in less congestion and cleaner air. The bike lanes would be shared by pedestrians and runners. Read more about this plan in Urbanful, an online publication of Smart Growth America.

The Midway group is applying for a transportation grant of $250,000 this fall to design a more detailed plan, including routes. The entire project would cost $1.2 million to $1.7 million per mile.

Here in Houston, we are getting our first protected, on-street bike lane downtown on Lamar Street, connecting Buffalo Bayou trails to downtown and Discovery Green. 

Your Input on Harrisburg Overpass
 

Design of overpass on HarrisburgThe East End community has a chance tonight to share its views on the Harrisburg overpass.

METRO officials will be hosting a meeting at 6 p.m. at METRO's Service & Inspection Facility located at 5880 Texas Ave. Look for us in the community room.

The new overpass is part of the Green Line, currently under construction. The overpass is being reviewed before construction, and we'd like your input on the design. The overpass will be located on Harrisburg Boulevard at the railroad crossing, just west of Hughes Street.

Football Parking Bargain
 

Football in grassIf your Labor Day plans include the Wisconsin Badgers vs. LSU Tigers game on Saturday, you can score big by parking at the Fannin South Park & Ride lot.

The Tigers take on the Badgers at NRG Stadium - a great way to get there is to park for only $15. You'll get free round-trip service on the Red Line for everyone in your vehicle.

If you're a contract parker at the Fannin South Park & Ride, your METRORail ride to the game is included in your monthly fee.

So enjoy the game - and don't get stuck in traffic or in line. Just park and go at the Fannin South Park & Ride.

Labor Day Holiday Schedule
 

U.S. flag

In observance of Labor Day, METRO will operate the following schedule on Monday, Sept. 1:

  • Buses and METRORail will run on a regular Sunday schedule.
  • Park & Ride service will not run.
  • METROLift's Reservations and Customer Care offices will be closed, resulting in the cancellation of all Monday subscription trips. To schedule a trip on Sept. 1 or Sept. 2, you must call the reservations line at 713-225-6716 from 8 a.m. - 6 p.m. tomorrow. Or use MACS (METROLIFT Automated Call System) from 5 a.m. -5 p.m. the day before your trip.
  • All RideStores and Lost & Found will be closed.
  • METRO's Customer Care Center will be open 8 a.m. - 8 p.m. on Labor Day.

Happy Labor Day, everyone, and stay safe!

 

City to Install Bike Lane Downtown

Bicyclists, rejoice.

Houston is expected to create  the city’s first on-street, protected bike lane as early as October.

The  two-way bike lane will link the Buffalo Bayou trails west of downtown to Discovery Green and areas east of that, reports the Houston Chronicle. The protected bike path will run about three-quarters of a mile.

An existing lane of Lamar Street will be used for the protected bike path, separated from the other three lanes of traffic by a barrier of plastic “humps.”

“The key here is that physical separation, which makes cyclists feel more comfortable that their space is defined,” Michael Payne, executive director of Bike Houston, told the Chronicle.

If you’re biking downtown, remember you can board any of our buses and trains with a bike. Our local buses have a bike rack at the front, suitable for two bikes. Park & Ride commuters can store bikes in the luggage department in the belly of the coach bus. You’re free to roll  your bike on the train during non-peak hours. Some of our trains have bike racks on-board to hang your bike.

Blue Light Signals Emergency Help

 

Blue emergency light at rail platform

The next time you are standing on a rail platform waiting for a train, look up from your smart phone and check out the round blue light next to the station sign.

This light pulsates with a blue light to get the attention of emergency responders when you need them. The Talk-A-Phone devices function as one-touch emergency call stations, immediately connecting commuters to METRO dispatchers, 24/7.

"In an emergency, the button is pushed, and the light changes from steady blue to flashing," said Tim Kelly, METRO police chief. "The individual is immediately connected with METRO police dispatch personnel at Houston TranStar, who will remain with him or her until an appropriate resolution is reached. That means riders have a direct line to help."

Touching the "HELP" button on the brushed-metal plate is the equivalent of dialing 911. Please use this only for critical, life-threatening calls to police, fire or ambulance.

The Talk-A-Phone devices have also been installed at our Park & Ride lots, too.  Almost 100 emergency alert poles are available throughout the METRO system.

 

Would You Use a QR Code?
 

 

QR codeMETRO is considering using QR codes at our bus stops and shelters.

QR stands for "quick response" and is the trademark for a type of two-dimensional barcode. First designed in Japan for the auto industry, a QR code is a machine-readable optical label that has information attached to it.

We have a short, three-question survey we'd love for you to take. If we displayed QR codes at bus stops and shelters, would you use them to access a map of your location, or a schedule? Are there other ways QR codes on the METRO system could help you?

We'd love to hear from you. It would take about a minute to give us your thoughts. Thanks!

Service Changes on August 24
   

This Sunday, METRO is implementing route and service changes that fall into two categories: modified schedules and added trips to deal with overloads; and detours due to the city's closure of the Hernandez Tunnel.

The Hernandez Tunnel on Main Street, just south of Casa de Amigos/Burnett Transit Center rail station, is scheduled to close on Sept. 2. Five routes will be detoured due to this closure: 1 Hospital, 5 Kashmere, 9 North Main, 52 Hirsch and 78 Irvington.

Read here about other service changes effective Aug. 24.  

Smart Crosswalk Signals for Seniors
 

Elderly man crossing street in Singapore

This morning as I was driving to work, I saw an elderly lady with a cane crossing the street with a middle-aged companion. The two were caught in the middle of the intersection at Gray and Louisiana Streets when the light changed to green for oncoming traffic.  

A driver in a black sedan started honking full-blast at the two pedestrians, who were clearly walking as fast as they could. The driver, a man sporting wraparound sunglasses, then sped up and stopped about three feet away from the couple, still honking. It was a rude and unnecessary action, apparently designed to frighten the two ladies.

This wouldn't happen in Singapore.

City planners have developed a system that gives seniors and people with disabilities six more seconds to cross an intersection. The Green Man Plus system lets qualified individuals tap a specially activated card to request more time at pedestrian crosswalks. The person taps a sensor on a light pole above the usual button to request a cross signal.

Singapore has installed several hundred of these new Green Man Plus crossings, especially near housing complexes for the elderly or disabled. Singapore's Land Transport Authority says it wants to have 495 Green Man Plus locations by the end of 2015. Click here to watch a video of how this works. The photo posted above is a screenshot from the video.

Of course, said a spokeswoman, the agency also considers the effect of those extra seconds on traffic and chooses intersections where the impact on traffic is manageable.

In the meantime, here in Houston, we could certainly manage a little more courtesy on the roads.

 

 

The Future of City Cycling
 

Are we going back to the future with bicycles?

 

With more bike-sharing programs cropping up in cities across the nation – for example, B-Cycle here in Houston - what role do bicycles have in getting around our cities?

Come find out tomorrow at a YPT (Young Professionals in Transportation) luncheon at 11:30 a.m. in the Energy Corridor. YPT is featuring Shawn Turner of  the Texas A& M Transportation Institute,  who will be speaking on “Wheels of Change – Cycling’s Role in Cities of the Future.”

 

Turner has managed and performed transportation planning and traffic operations research since 1992 when he joined the TTI. His focus has been on data collection, data archiving, management and analysis.

 

Lunch is free for YPT members. If you’re not a member, you can join here.

 

The luncheon meeting is from 11:30 to 1 p.m. at the Energy Corridor District Office at 14701 St. Mary’s Lane, Suite 290.  To get there by riding METRO, you can take the #67 Dairy Ashford bus, which drops you right off in front of the building.

 

 

Watch "METRO Matters" on System Reimagining

 

System Reimagining Logo

Imagine never consulting a schedule for the next bus. You walk outside and know that every 15 minutes a bus will appear - even on weekends.

That's what METRO is proposing in a huge project to redesign our local bus routes. It's called System Reimagining. On a frequently traveled network, buses would arrive every 15 minutes or better, seven days a week. On little used routes, a new type of shuttle type service would transport residents to various destinations in their neighborhood and also provide connections to other regional bus routes at key locations.  

Watch this latest episode of "METRO Matters" and hear Kurt Luhrsen, vice president of Planning, explain how this will work if the plan is approved by the METRO board.

The video runs about 15 minutes. After viewing this, please tell us what you think about this plan.

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