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Earth Day Houston
 

Earth Day Houston festival montage

The Earth Day Houston festival last Saturday drew a crowd of thousands, as consumers learned about keeping our planet green.

 METRO was there, too, with banners and METRO Q® Fare Cards, helping people learn how to reduce their carbon footprint by riding METRO.

"What an amazing Saturday we had at the Earth Day festival this past weekend," said Margaret Dunlap, Community Outreach representative.  "We debuted our green initiative banners - Live Life to the Greenest."

Those who signed up for a Q Card received recycled "green" shopping bags made from plastic water bottles. Recycled bamboo pencils were also given away.

METRO also recycles - tires on its buses, water in its bus washes - and uses green-tipped fluorescent  lamps which use less mercury than regular fluorescent lights. Of course, the biggest environment-friendly items are our hybrid buses.

Developed by Air Alliance Houston, Earth Day Houston showcased more than 150 vendors who encouraged people to preserve, conserve and enhance our city.

This family-friendly event also included eco-focused zones with interactive activities highlighting land, air, water, sustainability, healthy living and wildlife and habitat.

"METRO values Earth Day because we have an opportunity to show the community that we're an environmentally-friendly entity," said Dunlap. "We minimize the impact to the environment when we operate our more than 400-plus diesel buses, and we want the public to know."

Read more about Earth Day and how you can be a part of the billion acts of green.

#RideHoustonMETRO

 

No-Shows? Not Anymore
 

Woman in wheelchair coming down ramp of METROLift vehicleIn an effort to make METROLift more efficient and improve its on-time performance, METROLift is changing its no-show and late-cancellation policy.

After a survey, community meetings and independent research by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute,  METROLift reviewed its policies in order to match the right resources to transit needs.

METROLift is a transit service offered to customers who can't use the local bus routes or rail due to a disability. Eligible customers can call or go online to make a reservation and get door-to-door service.

Service costs $1.15 per patron with accompanying caregivers riding free. In 2013, METROLift had 700 no-shows or late cancellations per day - and those types of last-minute changes created issues for other patrons in a domino effect.

Starting June 1, METRO will launch a new no-show and late cancellation policy. A customer's no-shows and late cancellations will be added up every month. If the monthly total equals five or more and represents at least five percent of the customer's trips that month, the patron has violated the policy. The first month in violation will trigger a warning letter while the fifth month or more in violation will result in a 20-day suspension. Click here for details of the new policy. METROLift staff will be working with customers to find ways to reduce their no-shows and late cancellations and avoid service suspensions. 

This is not intended to punish customers but to improve the on-time performance and quality of service. METRO is scheduled to conduct five open houses where staff and American Sign Language Interpreters will be on hand to answer questions.

Click here for the schedule.

President’s Visit Prompts Closures

A visit to Texas by President Barack and Michelle Obama will prompt bus detours and some downtown street closures this afternoon through Thursday morning.

Primarily Park & Ride routes will be affected. Smith Street at Clay and the I-45 exit access to Jefferson Street will be closed from 12 noon today through 12 noon tomorrow. Parts of Pease and Brazos will also be closed.

Click here to see if your route is affected by the Smith and Jefferson Street closures.

We’ll have staff on the streets during the afternoon rush hour to help our customers.

The president and first lady are traveling to Houston to host several fundraisers for the Democratic National Convention and House and Senate Democrats,  reports the White House. The couple will stay overnight here and leave on Thursday.

Their Wednesday schedule includes a memorial service at 2 p.m. for the Fort Hood victims. They are scheduled to arrive in Houston at 4:20 p.m., and attend two fundraisers at private residences this evening.

On Thursday, they are scheduled to tour the LBJ Presidential Library in Austin for a “Civil Rights Summit” to honor the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson’s signing of the  Civil Rights Act in 1964. 

A Salute to Safe Drivers
 

Ernest Mudd, a bus driver who won a 30-year Safety AwardMETRO salutes its drivers who have achieved a Safety Award this year, honoring the women and men who navigate Houston's often treacherous streets - without a preventable accident.

We recognize drivers with no preventable accidents at 15 years, 20 years, 25 years and 30 years.

Only six of our 1,477 full and part-time bus operators won the prestigious 30-year award, showing how rare it is to drive 30 years accident-free.

Meet Ernest Mudd. Now a part-time operator who has driven for METRO for 33 years, Mudd says the key to safe driving: Stay focused.

"You keep focused on what you're doing. Stay in the mirrors. Watch what's going on around your bus, and watch what's happening on your bus," says Mudd, a spy 81-year-old, who bowls in a METRO summer league and is famous for his barbeque.

"You have to be aware. That's my job. I keep my mind on what I'm doing.  I'm driving a $595,0000 vehicle. It's not a little thing. There are things I was taught to do, and I have to keep in my mind to do them all of the time to stay out of trouble. It's not a playground. It's real life when you're driving a bus," Mudd continues. 

 The other five operators who attained the 30-year award are: Marshall Carpenter, Otto Conley, Edgar L. Johnson Jr., Buhl B. Perkins and James Wright.

Mudd says before he starts his run for the day, he walks around his bus and visually inspects it. Then he boards and says a little prayer. "I ask the Lord to carry me through the day, one trip at a time, doing the right thing," says Mudd.

He also makes sure he gets enough sleep the night before so he awakens rested each day. And he doesn't try to be a hero if he's not feeling well. Once, in the middle of his run, he called a supervisor to take over because he wasn't feeling well.

Mudd, who is married with six children, 21 grandchildren and 7 great-grandchildren, says the best thing about driving a bus is the patrons who ride it.

"I like taking care of the customers, making them have a good day just by doing the right thing, treating them like I want to be treated, answering questions if I can and making sure they're satisfied with the ride, " says Mudd, adding, "And trying to get them there on time as much as I can."

Click here to see the list of all the Safety Award winners, and see if your driver won. Thanks to all our METRO drivers who work hard to give us safe rides.

 

 

METRO Lauded as Healthy Employer
 

METRO gets award for 7th Healthiest Employer in its size. METRO has been named one of Houston's Healthiest Employers by the Houston Business Journal, ranking No. 7 in its size category.

The Healthiest Employers Awards highlight local companies that lead the way in workplace wellness. HBJ teamed up with Healthiest Employer LLC, a wellness technology and data research firm, to conduct surveys that measure the effectiveness of companies' wellness programs.

Companies were asked 75 questions and were scored out of 100 points in six categories. Those categories are: culture and leadership commitment; foundational components; strategic planning; communications and marketing; programming and interventions; and reporting and analysis.

METRO secured the seventh spot under the category "Companies with 500 to 1,499 Employees" (only non-union employees were included). Ascend Performance Materials, a manufacturer of chemicals, polymers and fibers, snagged the No. One position in that category.

"We've been able to offer a variety of ways for employees to exhibit healthy, active behaviors, in addition to our three required medical examinations - annual physical, dental exam and eye exam," said Ray Fischer, director of Benefits/Pension/Wellness. "The incentive to earn a Well Day off is a motivator for quite a few employees. So that has great value." In the photo posted above, left to right are: Karen Kauffman, vp of Human Resources, Tasha Joshua, Wellness coordinator, and Fischer.

To maintain a premium discount, METRO non-union emp;oyees must take the three medical exams. To earn a day off, they must accumulate 1,000 points within a time period. Zumba classes, walking, attending a wellness workshop, cycling in a charity bike ride - all of these are activities employees can do to earn points.

Retirees who are not yet 65 are also urged to participate in METRO's wellness program to get a significant discount in their health insurance premiums. "We encourage them to continue an active lifestyle, even in retirement," said Fischer.

As more companies embrace formal wellness programs, they are learning that good health means good business. What is your company doing to promote fitness? We'd love to hear from you.

 

Don't Speak English? We've Got Urdu, Korean, German, French

 

Google Translate iconIf you look at the home page of ridemetro.org, you'll see the Google Translate logo in the upper right side of the page next to the search field.

Now you can read our website in the top 10 languages used in the Houston region: Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Italian, Korean, Spanish, Urdu and Vietnamese - and of course, English.

We hope this new feature will help make it easier for you or your friends from another country to navigate our website and find the information you're looking for. If you're learning a language, it's fun to switch from English to Spanish, for example, and practice reading in that language.

"Now we can reach out to multiple cultures and languages. Before, we just had a Spanish-language version of the website. It's really nice to have this diversity now," said Jesse Quintanilla, Web designer, who worked on this feature.

 

Public Hearing on Friday

Here’s your chance to tell us what you think about our proposed service changes in June. 

METRO is conducting a public meeting this Friday at noon at 1900 Main in our board room. You are invited to attend. If you’d like to speak, simply show up and sign in once you get here.

 

For June, we are proposing tweaks to our running times to provide more reliable service and adding service to certain inbound and outbound trips to alleviate overcrowding.

For example, on the 46 Gessner we are adding two morning northbound trips on weekdays. On Saturday, we are adding  one northbound morning trip and two southbound afternoon trips – all to ease the passenger overloads.

 Click here to read about more proposed adjustments.

 

 If you can’t make it to the public hearing, we’ll be streaming it live.  See you then!

 

 

 

A Penny Saved is a Penny Earned
 

Ben Franklin on the train

Dressed in a 18th-century costume, Ben Franklin rode METRORail last Thursday, encouraging commuters to get savvy about money.

Not exactly the elderly Benjamin Franklin we remember from our history books - a portly man with round, wire-rimmed spectacles - this younger Ben Franklin handed out postcards on the train, promoting Houston Money Week, an annual city-wide event that offers free education on how to better manage money.

METRO's Office of Small Business has partnered with the Federal Reserve to help spotlight Houston Money Week from April 5 to 12. In the past, Small Business has conducted workshops on alternative lending for small businesses and managing credit, said Tiko Hausman, Small Business external relations officer.

"All the programs associated with Houston Money Week campaign are free - how to buy a home, how to monitor your credit, small business lending, a curriculum for children. Ben Franklin handed out postcards directing people to the Houston Money Week website to raise awareness about financial literacy," said Hausman. "Riders enjoyed it. It was fun."

If you missed Ben Franklin, he'll be riding METRORail again on Thursday, April 3, from 4 to 5 p.m. He'll be riding from the Downtown Transit Center to UH-Downtown.

In the meantime, check out houstonmoneyweek.org. There you'll find financial calculators that will tell you if it's better to rent or buy a home; how much you need to save for retirement; and how much college will cost. You can also register for events, such as "Road Map to Great Credit" and "Transform Yourself, Transform Your Wealth."


High-speed Rail Between Houston and Dallas
 

N700 bullet train

 

Imagine boarding a train in Houston and arriving in Dallas 90 minutes later.

That's almost as long as it takes for some commuters in Houston to arrive at the office.

The quick travel time between Texas' two major cities may become a reality with a high-speed bullet train that a private company, Texas Central Railway, wants to build and operate in the next ten years. Last week, the mayors of Houston, Dallas and Fort Worth endorsed the concept at a press conference.

Texas Central Railway, headed by Robert Eckels, former Harris County judge, wants to use the N700-I Bullet train system, used by the Central Japan Railway Co., according to DallasNews, the blog of the Dallas Morning News. The high-speed rain can travel at 205 miles per hour and has a smaller carbon footprint than most other systems.

The series N700 is a fifth-generation, high-speed technology that's been used for 50 years between Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka, transporting 391,000 passengers daily, according to Texas Central Railway's website. The bullet train will offer food and drink, wireless and cell service.

Right now, about 50,000 people drive between Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth more than once a week, say Houston officials. The drive takes about four hours and is expected to increase to seven hours by 2035.

"It's imperative that we give our residents an innovative alternative. If successful, Houstonians will have a reliable, private alternative that will help alleviate traffic congestion and drastically reduce travel times," said Mayor Annise Parker in a statement.

The Federal Railroad Commission is one to two months away from formally beginning an environmental impact study of the project, funded by Texas Central Railway, reports the Texas Tribune.  Any new rail lines would require federal approval.

Zipcar Arrives in Houston
 

Zipcar

Zipcar, the rent-by-the-hour car service, has arrived in Houston.

For an annual membership that starts at $6/month, members can choose from sedans, hybrids and vans and drive the vehicles by the hour or day. Gas and insurance are included in the rates. Users reserve a car online or on a mobile app, hold the Zipcard  - a credit card-like card - to the windshield, which unlocks the doors. Cars must be returned to the same reserved parking spot.

The Boston-based business is a subsidiary of Avis Budget Group Inc. and has been serving Rice University students on campus since 2009. The city of Houston uses Zipcar technology to manage city-owned vehicles.

"This is another major step forward in Houston's on-going effort to change and get around the city," said Mayor Annise Parker in a statement. "Sustainable transportation options offer convenience and are less of a burden on our pocketbooks and also have a big impact on our environment."

Zipcars will be parked in 10 prime locations around Houston, including the downtown area, Midtown and Greenway Plaza/Upper Kirby. The fleet has 25 cars now, and the company said it will add more cars in coming weeks. Rates start at $9 per hour and $73 per day.

Services such as Zipcar complement METRO STAR, a vanpool service in which riders share the cost of the vehicle, fuel, maintenance, parking and tolls.

"Car-sharing gives you an option for when you need a car to make that quick trip, so you can still take transit or other alternatives to work and not feel stranded during the day," said David McMaster, METRO's director of Commuter Services. "Zipcar is a good thing for reducing commuter dependence upon single-occupant vehicles to commute to work and also to provide mobility solutions that might remove a barrier to using transit or vanpool."

METRO STAR will help form customized routes, matching commuters with people whose schedule mirrors yours.

"These types of options are part of building a more robust and sustainable transportation system for our region," said McMaster.

 

 

 

HOV/HOT Lane to Open Late
 

The I-45 North HOV/HOT outbound lanes will open late today at 2:30 p.m. at all entrances.

This opening is occurring later than its usual 1 p.m. opening due to lighting work that needs to be done by city crews.

So if you get off work early today, please be aware of this change. Thanks for your patience, and have a great weekend.

Rodeo Ridership Sets New Record
 

Rodeo crowd at Reliant Station

A record number of riders rode METRORail on March 13, a combination of rodeo-goers and spring break revelers.

More than 71,000 trips were taken by light-rail with Maroon 5 performing at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. That compares to 70,611 trips on March 14, 2012, when The Band Perry performed at the rodeo.

"We couldn't be prouder of this accomplishment. Our operators and staff have been working overtime to earn this big belt buckle for ridership," said Gilbert Garcia, METRO chairman. "If you build smart transit...people will use it. This is a smart system, and the addition of our new North Line helped thousands more Houstonians get to Reliant Park for a really great show and exhibit."

Daily ridership on the record-breaking March 13 totaled 71,054. The average ridership for a typical rodeo concert day this year was about 62,000. The average ridership for typical Thursdays on METRORail for the first two months of 2014 was roughly 43,800.

The Red/North Line was extended by 5.3 miles last December, bringing light rail to Houston's near-north side. The Red/North Line extension contributed 5,129 boardings - or 7.3 percent of the ridership - to March 13's record.

The extension includes eight stations and starts at the University of Houston-Downtown Station, runs north on North Main to Boundary, crosses east to Fulton, then proceeds north to Northline Commons Mall and the Northline Transit Center.

Solutions to Getting Around

Pack a brown bag tomorrow and join YPT (Young Professionals in Transportation) for an informative and inspiring talk on “Houston’s Pending Transportation Crisis.”

Sam Lott, senior vice president of Kimley-Horn and Associates Inc., will discuss the growing congestion within the urban core, the demands for freight movement and how that affects passenger rail, and the challenges transporting people from the edges of the region to employment centers in the urban core.

Lott will offer solutions to address what he sees as missing elements.

This event is scheduled for tomorrow from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Houston Permitting Center on 1002 Washington Ave. in Training Room B. There’s free parking in Lots 1 and 2.

The brown bag luncheon is free and open to the public – both young and young at heart.

YPT provides career tips, fellowship and networking opportunities for young professionals in the transportation industry.

You can RSVP at transtalksamlott.eventbrite.com.

 

METRO Hosts National Transit Training
 

Training session of transit agencies on Disadvantaged Business Enterprises Every transit agency receiving money from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) must comply with strict government regulations.

And that takes training to understand fully how to comply. The National Transit Institute (NTI) at Rutgers University in New Jersey is in charge of that task, and asked METRO to host a national training session on the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) program.

A Disadvantaged Business Enterprise is a government term that is defined as a for-profit small business concern that is 51 percent owned by one or more persons who are both socially and economically disadvantaged.

Participants at the training event two days ago included Tulsa Transit, Chicago Transit, the Houston Airport System, the Fort Worth Transportation Authority and Des Moines Area Regional Transit.

Transit agencies received updates on the program's requirements, and were notified that the FTA is cracking down on fraud in the DBE program, said Tiko Hausman, Small Business External Relations officer.

"The training was exceptional," said Hausman. "By hosting the event, our entire staff was able to participate and hear directly from the FTA regarding program changes. There have been significant changes over the past couple of years and there are more anticipated changes."

The DBE program training is conducted six times a year across the nation. This was the first time METRO hosted the training.

"It was a chance to meet our peers throughout the nation and exchange ideas regarding lessons learned and share business development strategies," said Hausman.

 

Intelligent Crosswalks for Pedestrians
 

London pedestrians

The world's first "intelligent" pedestrian crossings are scheduled to be tested in London soon, giving pedestrians priority over vehicles.

Called "Pedestrian Scoot" after a system used during the London 2012 Olympics, the system will use video cameras to detect how many people are waiting to cross the street. Traffic signal timings will be adjusted automatically, allowing large groups of pedestrians more time to cross the road safely.

The pedestrian version of Scoot will also shorten the green light signal for the crosswalk, once pedestrians have crossed the street or have walked away.

If the pilot program is successful, Scoot could also help cyclists, especially during rush hour, reports The Independent.

If the Pedestrian Scoot can result in safer walking, that's good news for cities around the world. While pedestrian deaths are falling In the United States, they are up in Texas, according to a new report issued by the Governors Highway Safety Association.

Three states - California, Texas and Florida - accounted for one-third of the pedestrian deaths in 2012.

Here in Texas, 418 pedestrians were killed in 2011 - a 17 percent increase from the year before, with 83 pedestrian fatalities in Harris County, reports KUHF.

The Governors report says people age 70 and older have the highest per capita pedestrian death rate and that very few children are involved. It also states pedestrian deaths are an urban phenomenon, occurring frequently at night and often involving alcohol consumption by pedestrians.

Read the full report from the Governors Highway Safety Association here.

Free Parking for Go Tejano Day

Cowboy roping calf at rodeoGood news for rodeo-goers: You can park free on Go Tejano Day, this Sunday, March 16, at the Northline Transit Center/HCC Station.

For one day only, you can park free at the parking lot at 7705 Fulton and Crosstimbers. Once there, hop on the Red/North Line and ride the train all the way to the rodeo at Reliant.

The parking lot will be open from 10 a.m. to midnight. You can buy fare media right there in the lot from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. A wristband gives you a round-trip fare on METRORail for $2.50. Kids under age five ride free, and students and seniors ride for half price.

So dust off your boots and get out your cowboy hat. This offer lasts for one day only – Sunday, March 16. Celebrate Go Tejano Day at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. You’ll save yourself a few bucks as you enjoy your ride right to Reliant.

 

 

Record Transit Trips Taken in 2013
 

 

Bus in front of city skylineAmericans took a record number of public transportation trips in 2013, reaching the highest annual ridership in 57 years, according to the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), an industry group.

A report released yesterday said Americans took 10.7 billion public transit trips nationwide. This was the eighth consecutive year that more than 10 billion trips were recorded. Vehicle miles on roads increased 0.3 percent from a year ago, compared to public transit use, which increased by 1.1 percent from the year before.

Nationally, bus ridership in communities of all sizes remained stable, declining by 0.1 percent. In Houston, METRO's ridership increased 3.4 percent in 2013, compared to the year before. That percentage includes local buses, Park & Ride buses and bus bridges.

Since 1995, public transit ridership is up 37.2 percent, outpacing population growth. Here in Houston, average daily local bus boardings have been trending upward since the beginning of FY 2013.

"There is a fundamental shift going on in the way we move about our communities. People in record numbers are demanding more public transit services, and communities are benefitting with strong economic growth," said Michael Melaniphy, APTA president and CEO.

Keeping St. Paddy's Day Safe
 

Four-leaf clover

Next Monday is St. Patrick's Day, a time to celebrate the heritage and culture of the Irish. What started as a religious feast day for the patron saint of Ireland has become a global festival with parades, dancing, special foods, wearing green-colored clothes or shamrocks - and drinking.

It's also a day when many people choose to drive after drinking. From 2008 to 2012, 268 lives were taken due to drunk driving, reports the Fastlane, the blog of the nation's top transportation official. That's an average of 54 deaths on every St. Patrick's Day for a five-year period.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is using social media to warn others of the dangers of drunk driving. On Wednesday, March 12, at 2 p.m., follow the agency on Twitter @NHTSAgov, where you'll learn stats, tips and ways to have fun on St. Paddy's Day without drinking and driving.

When you see the hashtag  #buzzeddriving, retweet it to remind your followers that buzzed driving is drunk driving.

One great way to celebrate and stay safe: Leave the driving to METRO. Take METRORail, steps away from bars and restaurants downtown and midtown. Or take a local bus to your destination. The fare is   only $1.25 and half price for students. Find out more about the METRO Q® Fare Card. You can also get unlimited rides on METRO for just $3 a day with the METRO Day Pass.

Spring Forward This Weekend

 

Close-up of cowboy boots in spursRemember when you go to bed Saturday night to turn your clock forward one hour.

Daylight Savings Time starts this weekend. At 2 a.m. Sunday, March 9, all clocks will be moved ahead one hour.  Pay special attention to our rodeo bus shuttles and METRORail schedule, especially if you are going to the rodeo. At 2 a.m., it becomes 3 a.m.

The last southbound train from Reliant Stadium is at 3:25 a.m. Be sure to change your watch so you don't miss the train.

Being Prepared When Severe Weather Strikes
 

Drawing of a hurricane in progress

How prepared are you when severe weather hits? Here in Houston, we've dodged a hurricane for the past five years - but this winter, we've had to contend with icy conditions and slick roads. Icy weather has forced schools and offices to close - and METRO has shut down HOV/HOT lanes.

This week is National Severe Weather Preparedness Week, and two days ago we experienced a mini-weather crisis with icing and freezing temperatures.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) have teamed up to make sure companies are ready for weather emergencies. Last year, seven climate and weather disasters caused 109 deaths and losses exceeding $1 billion per event, said NOAA.

So it's important to be prepared. Here are six essential tips:

  • Develop an emergency plan and tell your employees.
  • Designate an emergency response team trained to use fire extinguishers, give first aid and shut down company operations.
  • Keep a copy of important records and files at an off-site, secure location.
  • Have a disaster supply kit with food, water and other essentials for employees who must shelter in place.
  • Train employees on the details of your emergency plan, including evacuation procedures, alarm systems and shutdown procedures.


Click here to read more on how to be prepared when hazardous weather strikes.

 

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