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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.

DART Starts Rail Service to Airport
 

DART light-rail car

Starting today, Dallas/Fort Worth residents can ride the rail to the DFW airport, linking the nation's longest light-rail system to the nation's fourth busiest airport.

Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) opened its final five-mile segment on the Orange Line today, connecting Terminal A to Belt Line Station with continuing service to major spots in Dallas, including downtown Dallas.

The light-rail extension opened about four months early and under budget at a cost of about $150 million. DART is the biggest light-rail network in the United Sates in terms of route mileage. It includes 90 miles of track and 61 stations.

"This is a momentous day for our customers and for DFW Airport because passenger rail is a critical component to DFW's status as a top-tier international getaway," said Sean Donohue, CEO of DFW Airport, in a statement. "With the DART Orange Line connecting DFW to downtown Dallas, DFW is now on a par with global hub airports that have integrated rail, which is a major selling selling point for customers and conventions."

Dallas/Ft. Worth recorded 28.6 million passenger enplanements, following Atlanta, Chicago O'Hare and Los Angeles, according to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

 

College and Med Students Get Their Q On
 

Montage of Q Card event for Baylor & HCC students

Hundreds of international students and future doctors learned about METRO's services and received their discounted METRO Q® Fare Cards as METRO staff made on-campus visits recently.

At Baylor College of Medicine, METRO's Revenue staff conducted a two-day Q Card sign-up event during orientation of freshmen medical students. "We processed cards on site and students could load and use them that day," said Nicole Adler, sales rep at Customer & Ridership Services. "Most were new riders."

The event on July 30 and 31 was METRO's fourth annual Q Card event at Baylor, and METRO signed up 352 students. "At Baylor, they were appreciative that METRO took the time to come out on site to issue Q Cards. They're so busy as medical students, they don't have time to come to 1900 Main," said Adler.

On August 8, METRO staff worked with 600 Houston Community College international students at the Marriott in the Galleria. Jose Pulido, Public Affairs representative, gave them transit basics and showed how easy it is to ride METRO. METRO staff processes student Q Cards

"It went very well. They were very excited. They are individuals that are used to riding transit, so educating them and letting them know how to use METRO here was very well-received."

If you are a student, or your son or daughter is one, come get a discounted student Q Card while we have extended RideStore hours. We are also open two Saturdays: August 23 and 30.

Students ride for half price, making METRO a great transit option.



Going to the Texans Game? Park Here.
 

Close-up of footballIf you've got tickets this Saturday for the Texans game, we have a bargain parking spot for you.

Park at our Fannin South Park & Ride lot for only $15. That price includes a round-trip ride on METRORail that takes you to and from Reliant Park Station, right in front of NRG Stadium.  

Gates open at 3 p.m., and kick-off is at 7 p.m. for the Atlanta Falcons vs. Texans game.

If you are a monthly contract parker, event parking is already included in your monthly fee, along with your round-trip, light-rail ride.

So avoid the traffic gridlock at Reliant and, instead, slide into a parking spot at Fannin South and hop aboard the train. It's quick and easy on your wallet.

Making a Difference on a Train from Sea to Shining Sea

Imagine a coast-to-coast train trip with young entrepreneurs who are ready to change the world.

Oh, and along the way, you get to dine on locally-sourced food prepared by gourmet chefs, meet community leaders and find ways to make your ideas a reality.

That’s what happening now with the Millennial Trains Project – a 10-day, seven-city journey paid for by crowd funding. Starting in Portland, Ore., and ending in New York on Aug. 17, the transcontinental trip is designed to encourage creative and civic-minded millennials to explore America’s new frontiers.

Fulbright scholar Patrick Dowd founded this project after inspiration from a similar train journey in India. The former New York investment/banking analyst quit his job to start the Millennial Trains Project.

The entrepreneurial participants have different visions of what they want to achieve – ranging from helping small business owners redefine success with Generation Y to building transformative conversations on racial healing. Another participant wants to empower middle and high school students with leadership skills.

Along their journey, the young people are meeting with community leaders and testing their ideas.

Click here to watch a video about this train trip that focuses on building communities across our land.

 

Back-to-School with METRO
 

Notebook, textbook, apple, rulerIf you have school-aged children, you probably braved the crowds to snap up school supplies and new clothes during last weekend's tax-free shopping.

One of the most important items to obtain before school starts: the discounted student METRO Q® Fare Card. Students ride the bus or train for half price, making a METRO ride one of the best bargains in town. Click here to find out how to get a student Q Card.

We are extending our RideStore hours this week and next week (8 a.m. to 6 p.m.), plus we'll be open on two Saturdays: Aug. 23 and 30.

METRO employees will be on hand at two back-to-school festivals where you can meet our friendly staff and find out about all the services we offer. The Mayor's Back2School Fest is this Saturday, Aug. 16, at the University of Houston.

Or drop by next Saturday, Aug. 23, for the Spring Branch Back2School Health Fair at the Spring Branch Family Development Center at 8575 Pitner in the northeast section of Spring Branch.

We'll tell you about some of the exciting METRO projects designed to build a better transit system for Houston. Two new light-rail lines are opening soon - the Green/East End Line and the Purple/Southeast Line. We're also redesigning our local bus routes from scratch and seeking your input on our proposed plan, System Reimagining.

 

Ah, Relief! More Parking Spots
 

Map

If you are planning to park your car and hop on our new Red/North Line, it's just gotten easier for you to find a coveted parking space.

METRO and HCC Northeast- Northline Campus have partnered to provide 50 parking spaces available to METRORail customers. Last Friday, HCC and METRO celebrated the extra parking spaces with a ribbon-cutting ceremony, attended by METRO Board Members Jim Robinson and Allen Watson, as well as Tom Lambert, our president & CEO. HCC was represented by Board Trustee Zeph Capo, Chancellor Dr. Cesar Maldonado and Dr. Margaret Ford Fisher, Northeast campus president.

Congressman Gene Green, representing the 29th District, also attended the ceremony.

 

First Downtown Electrical Testing of Trains
 

Before dawn had broken on Thursday morning, while most of us were sleeping, METRORail engineers and technicians were conducting the electrical testing on the downtown portion of our new Green and Purple Lines.

Our electric trains gather power from overhead wires and send that through traction motors that propel the train.

"The black arm-like device on the roof of the train that collects electricity is called a pantograph. We were testing the interaction between the pantograph and the contact surfaces on our overhead wires to verify the wire and other overhead components were installed properly," explained Ken Luebeck, system integration director, who is managing this start-up/testing phase.

The eight-and-a-half hour test was completed about 2:30 yesterday morning. We tested a two-car train, starting on the Purple Line (Southeast) at Texas and Nagle Streets to Hobby Center, just east of the BBVA Compass Stadium, where the Houston Dynamo team plays.

The test continued all the way through downtown to the west end of the line over the Buffalo Bayou. We also tested a short segment of the Green Line (East End) near EaDo Station at Texas and Dowling/BBVA Compass.

"What made this different was trying to get through downtown," said Luebeck. "Our signal system cannot be tested until this test is done. So we had a 10-car police escort."

Called "System Integration Testing" (SIT), this is a necessary series of tests to make all rail system components work together properly - and that includes everything from the rails to the wire to the software.

Houston, get ready for rail. Two new lines are coming soon.

Back to School with METRO

 

 

Young girl holding booksThis guest post was written by intern Sanjana Palla.

Summer is coming to an end, and METRO is preparing for the busy back-to -school season.

We're extending the hours of the RideStore at 1900 Main St., giving parents and students longer hours during the work week, as well as Saturday morning hours.

METRO is extending RideStore hours the last two weeks of August. Here are the extended hours:

Weekdays

Aug. 18- 22: 8 a.m. - 6 p.m.

Aug. 25-29:  8 a.m. - 6 p.m.

Saturdays

Aug. 23 and Aug. 30: 8:00 a.m.  - noon

METRO offers all students 50 percent off the regular fare of $1.25, making a bus or train ride one of the best bargains in town.

To get your student discount, you must show student verification of enrollment. You'll then be issued a student METRO Q® Fare Card.

 With a Q Card, you also receive five free trips for every 50 paid trips, plus free transfers for three hours in one direction.

Add the Q to your lists of school supplies - you'll be glad you did.

Wearing a Transit Ticket as a Ring

Commuter wearing Sesame Ring demonstrates how it's used

Imagine never having to fumble in a pocket or purse for your transit ticket to board a train or bus.

Now, Boston commuters can wear their tickets – as 3D-printed wearable technology that acts as an MBTA pass or Charlie Card, a smart card with fare preloaded on it. The cool, square-shaped ring, called the Sesame Ring, uses an RFID chip embedded in it, reports Boston Magazine.

Created by a group of MIT undergrads, who partnered with the Singapore University of Technology and Design, the Sesame Ring costs $24.95 and is available at the MBTA online store, as well as its brick-and-mortar shop in Boston. Once purchased, riders must load fare value on the ring – and then they can simply “fist bump” their way through an MBTA kiosk.

Developers raised about $19,000 in a successful Kickstarter campaign, which offered the ring as a way to pay public transport fares with a dash of style.

If we could convert our  Q Card into a three-dimensional wearable ring, would you wear and use one?

A Conversation with CEO Tom Lambert

  

This article originally appeared in Passenger Transport on July 25. Tom Lambert has been METRO's President & CEO since March and has spent his entire transit career at this agency.

Tom LambertPlease describe your agency.
About 3,600 people are employed at METRO. We're multimodal - bus, rail, paratransit, vanpools - but we're really a true mobility management agency in the sense that we're part of the city's Motorist Assistance Program (MAP) and Houston TranStar, a regional transportation and emergency management center. We're also aligned with a network of partners in all modes of transportation - bicyclists, pedestrians, and so on.

Our service area is 1,285 square miles. The city of Houston is our principal ­service area, but there are 14 other cities in our area too - all within or surrounding ­Harris County. There are 3.5 million people in our service area, and the population is ­growing by leaps and bounds.

Our annual ridership is about 80 million boardings. Just as APTA reported overall growth in ridership nationwide, we're seeing similar increases. We're also beginning to see behavioral changes too as people use public transit. We estimate a 20 percent increase in ridership over the next couple of years.

How long have you worked in the public ­transportation industry?
I'm in my 35th year. I've been involved with APTA in a number of ways and through committee work. Through APTA, I've also been fortunate to be involved in other organizations - like DOT, the Department of Homeland Security, and ITS America, where I served as chairman.

What drew you to a career in public transportation?
I was born and raised in Houston, but I left for college in Austin. I was on my way back for a job interview in risk management when I stopped for a cup of coffee in a small shop. I sat down next to a bus operator - the only seat available - and we started to talk. He told me I should interview with METRO, which was just starting the first transit police force in Texas. Because of my background in law enforcement, I was really intrigued, so I applied for a job.

I accepted my first position in transit as a security investigator for METRO in October 1979. It just went from there. I was named interim CEO for 14 months and permanent in March of this year. I've spent my entire transit career at METRO.

What have you found to be the most valuable APTA benefit or resource?
It's networking  - people sharing information and experiences. One thing I know about this industry is that people are willing to share what they know, what they've experienced, what insights they've gained, how to think about the consequences of a decision.

When you're trying to do the right thing, it's a tremendous benefit to have people tell you about their similar experiences. They can help you avoid making a mistake you don't have to make or give you insight to not make the same mistake twice.

What do you like most about your job?
The people. Transit is an area of tremendous opportunity to meet fascinating people-people you work with and people you serve. We add to the quality of life for our riders. That's a tremendous benefit - reward - of this work.

What would you like APTA members to know about Houston before they attend October's Annual Meeting & EXPO?
Houston is a warm, friendly, hospitable, diverse community-there's lots of opportunity here. Jobs, entertainment, restaurants . . . you can find every culture here. We have the best food anywhere, a thriving downtown, museums, cultural attractions, and a busy theater district. Houston's second only to New York City in its number of theaters.

We want to showcase all of that to our friends. Houston-and transit-have changed significantly since APTA was here for the last Annual Meeting & EXPO in 1990. I credit the METRO staff, of course, but also the board of directors over the years.

What is unique about your agency? What would readers be surprised to learn?
We view ourselves as mobility managers. For example, we share 25 percent of the sales tax we receive with our member jurisdictions, and they can use those funds any way they want to make some aspect of transportation better-building or improving streets, sidewalks, and so on. Our partnership in MAP - to clear roadways and get traffic moving - all of it helps keep our buses running.

TranStar is also unique. All four partners-Texas DOT, the city of Houston, ­Harris County, and METRO-work together with the federal government to fund and operate the emergency management center because we know that transportation and evacuation go hand in hand.

And last is our special event management. During the March 2014 Livestock Show and Rodeo, we carried 1.2 million people on our rail system for the three week-long event. We're excited about that.

METRO Facts & Figures
    METRO and METROLift buses

 

How much do you know about METRO? Here are some interesting facts and figures.  

 

  • METRO serves an area of 1,303 square miles - with 2,663 route miles; 20 transit centers; 9,816 bus stops; 28 Park & Ride lots that offer 32,802 parking spaces.

 

  • In FY 2014, METRO's fleet included 1,416 buses and 118 paratransit vans. By the end of 2014, METRO is expected to have 70 light-rail trains. At weekday peak, 1,034 buses operate on 126 routes.

 

  • FY 2013 total system ridership, including fixed route buses and METRORail, METROLift, METROVan and HOV/HOT vanpools/carpools was 110 million, up 3.5 percent from FY 2012.

 

  • Passenger boardings in FY 2013 averaged 9.1 million per month.

 

  • Bus accidents per 100,000 miles averaged 0.81 from Oct. 1, 2013 to May 30, 2014.

 

  • Daily fixed-route weekday ridership in FY 2013 averaged 269,144 boardings.

 

  • METRORail, METRO's 7.5 mile, $324-million light-rail transit project linking the CBD and Reliant Park, opened Jan. 1, 2004. The Red Line was extended by 5.3 miles and opened on Dec. 21, 2013. Two new lines under construction - the Green/East End Line and the Purple/Southeast Line - are expected to open by the end of 2014.

 

  • All 126 bus routes and METRORail are fully accessible to disabled patrons. METROLift offers prescheduled curb-to-curb service for disabled patrons who are unable to use our fixed-route service.

 

  • METRO offers free computerized matching to those who wish to carpool or vanpool.

 

 

 

 

 

Rail Interruption July 25-28

This weekend, be aware: We will be interrupting rail service from Friday, July 25, at 8 p.m. until Monday, July 28, at 4:30 a.m.

The service will be interrupted between the Northline Transit Center and Fannin South Station. We are shutting down the rail between those two stations because of construction activity related to METRORail expansion and construction at the Methodist Hospital.

 

We’ll have dedicated “700 Rail Shuttle” buses every 10 minutes during regular rail service hours. Click here to find shuttle locations.

Bus travel requires more time, so please plan your trip accordingly. We’ll have staff on the streets to help guide you to the right bus. If construction work cannot be completed by Sunday, July 27, we’ll continue the bus bridges through Monday, July 28.

Thanks for your patience as we continue to build your public transit system. 

Bikes On-the-go Using Your Phone
This is a guest post by intern Sanjana Palla.

Running late to your meeting after a lunch break? Make it on time by grabbing a bike to go! If you want to get around the city quickly without the hassle of parking your car, then bike rental is the option for you.

An innovative approach to urban bike rental plans, Skyride, created by Velo Labs, is a bike-sharing program that enables users to rent a bike on-demand. With its state-of-the-art, solar-powered bike lock, Skylock allows users to control it with their phone, according to techcrunch.com.

Here is how the system works:

Skyride's central hub will be located in the center of the city it services, and once a rider rents a bike/lock from the mobile app, Skylock will unlock after it detects the rider's phone. The fee will be a flat rate for every 30 minutes of a trip.

An important differentiating factor about Skyride is that a rider does not have to drop the bike off at one specific hub. Due to the locks containing GPS chips, users can find a locked bike almost anywhere in the city, and the next rider will be able to locate it via his or her phone.

Here in Houston, cyclists can rent a bike at a B-Cycle station - but must pick up and return at one of the company's 25 active stations, located primarily inside the Loop.

Skyride is still in the initial phases of its implementation.  Jack Al-Kahwati, the CEO of Velo Labs, states that the company is developing a pilot program in two countries in Asia, where they are working with universities, municipalities and companies interested in the bike-share program. Later, the company plans to launch the service in San Francisco.

 

 

Watch METRO Business Live
 

If you want to know how METRO conducts its business, watch a live stream of our committee meetings. Tomorrow, you will be able to view three committees in action at these scheduled times:

  • 1:30 p.m. Government & Public Affairs
  • 2:00 p.m. Procurement
  • 3:00 p.m. People

If you miss the streaming video, we will have these videos posted and archived on our website here within 24 hours after the meeting is held, barring any emergencies.

Interactive Map

 

If you've ever wanted to look at our system map to figure out where our local and commuter buses go, check out our interactive system map.

This map is divided into six categories that all expand to exactly what you want to see: HOV/Express Lanes, Rail, Bus, Transit Centers, Park & Ride, and METRO Q. The METRO Q shows the attractions, shops and restaurants that offer a discount to METRO Q® Fare Card holders.

If you click on "HOV/Express Lanes," you'll be able to see an individual HOV/HOT lane or all of them at once. The beauty of this is its simplicity. Instead of lines crisscrossing all over the map and muddying up the image, you see only the HOV/HOT lane you are interested in seeing - one at a time. Or all at once. Your choice.

Wondering where the nearest Park & Ride lot is to your house? Click on "Park & Ride," then see the list of all our locations. Click the lot you want and watch the icon pop up on a city map.

This map is fun to use and easy to navigate. Play with it, and tell us what you think about it.

 

More Riders are Taking Bikes Along

More METRO bus riders are bringing along their bicycles to complete their trips and get from point A to point B.

In June, the number of bikes on buses hit a record 21,941, a 32 percent increase over June a year ago. For the first nine months  of this fiscal year (Oct. 2013 to June 2014), bike boardings rose 50 percent over the same period a year ago to 178,401.

Biking in the city is a trend that’s being promoted by city and county officials.  METRO’s Kingsland Park & Ride bike partnership included $84,000 donated by METRO to build a bridge, path and parking that leads to a trail expanded by Harris County. The city donated bike racks for parking.

City planners are considering taking one lane on a four-lane street and making that a dedicated bike lane.

Houston B-cycle has its trademark red bikes with big wire baskets on the handlebars at 23 stations inside the Loop, including downtown, Midtown and the Museum District.

METRO bus rider Charlie Darling says he travels an hour by bus – each way – then hops on his bike for 30 minutes to get to his job as head chef at Luby’s Cafeteria in Pearland.

“It’s a straight shot. I’m the first one on and the first one off the bus,” says Darling. “I’ve been using the bus the past four months. It’s great exercise.”

Do you ever board your bike on a METRO bus to get to get to your destination? If so, we’d love to hear from you. Share your comments below. 

Learning to Ride METRO When Visually Impaired
 

Montage of training for visually impaired

This morning, three of our METROLift employees with perfectly good vision walked around a bus at the Downtown Transit Center and later at the rail station, blindfolded or wearing goggles that simulated partial vision.

They were guided by Mollie Flores, an adaptive technology specialist from the Lighthouse of Houston, and certified in orientation and mobility. Flores had come to METRO to teach our staff some basic techniques they, in turn, can use to help our visually impaired patrons ride our system.

"Know the bus schedule, know where the nearest bus stop is, listen for the bus, listen for the opening of the bus door," advised Flores. "Before you get on, ask the driver if this is the one you need. Ask the bus driver to inform you when you get to a certain stop."

The raised white bumps at crosswalks - called truncated domes - are there to let visually impaired people know they are coming to an intersection with vehicles traveling up and down that street. The truncated domes on the rail platform are to let visually impaired patrons know that they are reaching the edge of the platform. It's a tactile landmark.

Learning about tacatile landmark on the rail platformHilda Montemayor, manager of ADA Compliance & Paratransit, said being blindfolded and guided was unsettling.  "I was standing next to a tactile landmark, and the train passed behind me. I know what the train looks like. I could feel it. It was scary," she said.

Brandy Christopher, a part-time mobility coordinator at METRO said she learned to be more aware of her surroundings. "The little things people take for granted are huge for people who are not sighted," said Christopher.  For example, when riding an escalator blindfolded, she discovered you can hold onto the rail but not really know if you are traveling up or down.

Tonya Lawson, METRO's full-time mobility coordinator, admitted she had trouble feeling comfortable with her guide, but the training will help her do her job better.

"It gives me more insight into how a visually impaired person feels. It helps me become more patient with their needs, more considerate of their needs," said Lawson. Goggles simulating a visual impairment

Flores said that 10 percent of visually impaired people are completely blind, while 90 percent have obscured vision. Depending on their eye condition, their vision can result in reduced details, loss of visual field in eyes, patchy vision, loss of central vision or loss of peripheral vision.

She said visually impaired people may be able to navigate the buses more easily than the trains because the trains do not stop at the precise same spot at each station, and the doors glide open silently. If there's no ambient noise of a crowd boarding or de-boarding, it may be difficult to know where to get on.

The best way for a sighted person to help? Simply ask: "Can I help you?"

Then say where the door is. "The door is on your left."

Do not grab or shove or push the person. If the person agrees, guide the visually-impaired person by letting him hold your arm lightly above the elbow and walk one-half step ahead.

Montemayor says she hopes this training will help METRO introduce our system to more visually impaired people, expanding their independence as well as increasing METRO's ridership.



 

 

                                                                                                                            

Retrofitted Bus Offers Showers on Wheels
 

Lava Mae shower bus for the homeless

A former marketing executive is offering the homeless of San Francisco dignity - one shower at a time.

A 1992 bus donated by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (MUNI) has been retrofitted to provide two private bathrooms, complete with shower, toilet, sink and a changing room.  Hoses hooked up to fire hydrants provide water, and a 50-gallon water heater keeps the Interior of shower buswater hot.

This mobile shower service is the brainchild of 51-year-old Doniece Sandoval, who was moved to action after encountering a homeless woman crying about how she could never get clean. San Francisco has about 6,500 homeless people with 4,300 living on the streets. Sandoval, who has done marketing, PR and development for private companies and nonprofits, dreamed up Lava Mae, a twist on the word,  lavame, which means "wash me" in Spanish.

Lava Mae says it wants to provide what the United Nations and World Health Organization call a basic human right: access to water and sanitation.

MUNI donated an old bus, Lava Mae raised $75,000 to retrofit the bus and a few weeks ago launched its mobile showers. This is a pilot program with plans for three more donated vehicles to be retrofitted into shower buses.

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