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Wearing a Transit Ticket as a Ring

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 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

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.

Adjusting Our Service in August

Logo of train and busWe are tweaking our routes and times to bring better bus service to you.

On Sunday, Aug. 24, 19 routes will be affected. Seven bus routes area being re-routed due to the closure of Main Street between Naylor and Brooks.

On five routes, we're adding a trip.  For example, on weekdays on the 217 Cypress,  we are adding a 5:44 a.m. inbound trip and adjusting trip times between 5:30 - 6:10 a.m. to alleviate crowding.

On the 236 Baytown/Maxey Road, we are adjusting running times on weekdays for more reliable service.
Click here to see all our service adjustments coming up in August. #RideHoustonMETRO

If you have any questions or comments about this, please call us at 713-635-4000. Or email us.

On-Time Arrivals of Airlines Worsen

If you’ve been flying recently and notice you’re not arriving on time, you’re part of an industry trend of getting there late. The nation’s largest airlines reported an on-time arrival rate of 76.9 percent in May, down from 79.4 percent in May a year ago.

That’s according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, which tracks airline delays and causes.

United Airlines ranked No. 10 in percentage of on-time arrivals, arriving on time 76.39 percent of the time. Hawaiian took the top spot with 93.15 percent, followed by Alaska at 89.67, then Delta at 84.41 percent.

The reporting carriers also canceled more of their domestic flights in May, up 1.1 percent from a year ago, canceling 1.9 percent of their flights. ExpressJet Airlines canceled the most flights at 5.8 percent, while Delta Air Lines and Alaska Airlines canceled the fewest flights at 0.1 percent.

You know how frustrating it is to sit on the runway, waiting and waiting for take-off. Imagine sitting there for the length of your flight. United had four of the longest domestic tarmac delays exceeding three hours. Its longest delay was from Los Angeles to Houston on May 19 when Flight 1426 sat on the tarmac for 222 minutes.

What caused the flight delays?

The airlines said 6.04 percent of their flights were delayed by aviation system delays; 8.18 percent by late-arriving aircraft; 6.04 percent by factors within the airline’s control, such as maintenance or crew problems; 0.57 by extreme weather; and 0.03 percent by security reasons.

So if you’re planning to fly somewhere, stock up on snacks and tuck a book in your carry-on. And remember, you can save gas and parking fees by riding METRO.

To go to IAH,  take  Bus 102, which stops at Terminal  C. Going to Hobby? Take Bus 88, 50 or 73.

You can also download our T.R.I.P. app for your smart phone and get real-time bus arrivals. #RideHoustonMETRO






Networking Night

Young people networking

Save the date.

Young Professional s in Transportation (YPT Houston) is hosting "Networking Night" at Local Pour in River Oaks on Thursday, July 17.

YPT Houston will be joined by Transportation Advocacy Group Houston (TAG) for an evening of fellowship and fun.  

The event is from 6 to 8 p.m. and is open to everyone. Thursday at Local Pour is "Retro Thursday" with live music and drink specials. The restaurant is located at 1952 W. Gray St.

So beat the heat and enjoy a cool drink as you get acquainted with transit professionals.

If you're riding METRO to get there, take  #3 West Gray, which stops at West Gray and Driscoll.  #RideHoustonMETRO
METRO Keeps Fouth of July Celebrants Cool

METRO "cooling" bus at Freedom Over Texas event

Toi Lancaster, METROLift customer service rep, contributed to this post.

On a steamy, hot, drizzly Fourth of July, METRO kept festivities cool at the "Freedom  Over Texas" event - the city of Houston's official Independence Day party at Eleanor Tinsley Park.

METRO parked two buses there as "cooling buses," giving the public a great place to find refuge from the sun and hear the latest news about METRO. Rain showers didn't keep METRO's Ambassadors - staff volunteers - from spreading the word about System Reimagining, the huge redesign of our local bus network.

System Reimagining, if passed by the board, would offer buses every 15 minutes or better for frequently traveled routes, seven days a week.

Claire Valdez, a METRO rider who visited a cooling bus, said she likes the proposed plan. "The grid allows connections to flow more fluently, and it makes it much easier just to get around. You will know exactly where your bus will go without transferring too many times. Everything is going green, anyway, so riding the rail or METRO helps Houston's environment."

Dozens of festival attendees climbed aboard the METRO buses to seek shelter from the rain, or simply cool off. "Each year that we have been collaborating with the city of Houston organizers our presence becomes essential," said Margarita Dunlap, Public Affairs representative who spearheaded the event. "Individuals came into the bus with their children to take a break from the heat and weather. This year, our buses were stationed next to the emergency team. We had one person who came into the bus to cool off but found that it was more serious and required medical attention."METRO "cooling" bus at Freedom Over Texas event

When the event was called off due to inclement weather, more festival-goers  came on the METRO buses.

"The cooling buses were a hit," said Dunlap.

Kudos to all the METRO volunteers who helped:  Vanessa Ausley, John Branch and family, Kennett Burrell, Doris DeLeon, Toi Lancaster, intern Barrett Ochoa, LaTonya McCoy, Jeanette Mitchell, Francis Robinson-Hunt and Clarita Valdez.

Take METRO to Fun, Fourth of July Events

Firewoks with U.S. flag in background

This is a guest post by intern Jessica Gonzalez.

Come out this weekend and ride in style this Fourth of July for enchanting patriotic experiences and events that will occur throughout Houston tomorrow.  Take advantage of all our transit transportation options this weekend to avoid traffic, save gas and eliminate the hassle of parking payments.  Here's a few family-friendly activities:  

  • 1.) July 4th Celebration at Bayou Bend - Bayou Bend Collection and Garden
  • Address: 6003 Memorial Drive, Houston, TX 77007
  • When: July 4 from 1 p.m. - 5 p.m.
  • Cost: Free
  • Event Description: Join the Museum of Fine Arts this Friday with performers, activities, crafts, refreshments, and much more to celebrate Independence Day at Houston's home for American decorative paintings and arts. The event will kick off with a reading of the Declaration of Independence, followed by birthday cake and a signing of a giant replica of the Declaration of Independence document.

2.) Fourth of July Music & Fireworks - CityCentre

  • Address: 800 W Sam Houston Parkway North, Houston, TX 77024
  • When: July 3-6
  • Cost: Free
  • Event Description: Festivities kick off on July 3 with classic rock band Legendary Rhythm Bandits from 7 until 10 p.m. and continue on July 4 with 90s country tunes from Mustache The Band starting at 7 p.m., followed by fireworks at 9:30 p.m.

3.) ExxonMobil Summer Symphony Nights: A Star-Spangled Salute - Miller Outdoor Theatre

  • Address: 6000 Hermann Park Drive, Houston, TX 77030
  • When: July 4 at 8:30 p.m.
  • Cost: Free
  • Event Description: Enjoy an evening with the Houston Symphony and conductor, Michael Krajewski as they play patriotic classics. Joining them on stage will be Jonathan Beedle and AJ Swearingen performing music of Simon & Garfunkel. Be sure to stay for the finale of 1812 Overture, complete with booming cannons and spectacular fireworks. Get up to four free tickets the day of the event from 10:30 a.m. - 1 p.m. at the box office. Open seating is also available on the hill.

4.) Southwest Airlines Freedom Over Texas- Eleanor Tinsley Park

  • Address: 500 Allen Parkway Houston TX 77002
  • When: July 4, 2014 at 4 - 10 p.m.
  • Cost: $8 per person; Under five years old, free
  • Event Description: Grab your lawn chairs and blankets for this spectacular patriotic event. The Houston skyline will set the backdrop for an extraordinary patriotic celebration at Mayor Annise Parker's official Fourth of July event, Freedom Over Texas. Chip Esten ("Deacon Claybourne") and Clare Bowen ("Scarlett O'Connor") from the hit TV show "Nashville" are set to join headlining artist Jennifer Nettles.

Download our METRO T.R.I.P. app to find the right bus to get to all these events.



Independence Day Holiday Schedule

 U.S. flag

This is a guest post by intern Sanjana Palla.

Happy Fourth of July!

In honor of our nation's day of independence, METRO will be running a holiday schedule on Friday, July 4, as follows:


As a result of the Reservations and Customer Service office being closed Friday, all subscription trips will be cancelled. In order to schedule a trip for Friday, July 4, through Monday, July 7, please call the reservation  line at 713-225-6716 by Thursday, July 3, between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.

METRO's Customer Care Center will be open Friday, July 4, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.



Live in the East End? Tell Us What You Think

 East End train being tested

If you live in the East End, please come to our open house meeting tonight from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m., where you'll see layouts for the proposed Harrisburg Overpass.

We want your input on the designs for the new overpass,  which would be part of the Green/East End Line, currently under construction and slated to be running by the end of the year. This overpass would be located on Harrisburg Boulevard at the railroad crossing, just west of Hughes Street.

Join us tonight, and tell us what you think of our conceptual design layouts. We'll be at METRO's Service & Inspection Facility at 5880 Texas Avenue, in the Community Room.

Keeping Cool While Learning About Our Cool Redesign

METRO staff at TMC giving out info on System Reimagining


This guest post was written by intern Sajana Palla.

METRO kept its riders cool on a hot day last week by handing out bottles of water and colorful paper fans.

But these were no ordinary fans. The fans promoted the massive overhaul METRO is doing, redesigning its local bus routes from scratch. It's called System Reimagining. On June 23, METRO staff - including staff volunteer Ambassadors - greeted riders at the Texas Medical Center Transit Center, getting the word out about our proposed plan.

On the most frequently traveled network, the proposed plan would bring buses every 15 minutes or better, seven days a week.

"We are receiving good responses from the public," said Shuron Williams, a METRO employee coordinating the event (pictured at right). "People are excited and thrilled to be given the opportunity to provide feedback to METRO about its current transit system."

METRO will be offering water, fans and information about System Reimagining at more transit centers, so look out for us.

If you have ideas and comments to share, we'd love to hear from you.  Submit your feedback here.


Rail Interruption Tonight - June 27


Rail Interruption logoWe're building more rail - and that means some temporary interruptions.

Tonight at 8 p.m., we'll be interrupting METRORail service between the Downtown Transit Center and the Northline Transit Center.

We will operate dedicated "700 Rail Shuttle" buses every 10 minutes during regular rail service hours.

We expect to resume normal rail service on Monday, June 30, at 4:30 a.m. However, if we have not completed the work by 9 p.m. on Sunday, June 29, the bus bridge will be extended through Monday, June 30.

Bus travel requires more travel time than rail, so please adjust your schedule and allow more time for your trip. We will have staff on the platform to help you get on the bus shuttle.

METRO is building two light-rail lines - the Purple/Southeast Line and the Green/East End Line. Both are expected to be open to the public by the end of the year.  The Purple Line begins downtown and travels to Palm Center Transit Center. The Green Line travels along Harrisburg from the Magnolia Park Transit Center through the historic East End to downtown destinations.

Thanks for your patience as we continue to build Houston's light-rail lines. #RideHoustonMETRO



Christof Spieler on a Reimagined Bus Network

Today is a guest post by METRO Board Member Christof Spieler, chair of the Strategic Planning Committee. He is also the director of planning at Morris Architects and a senior lecturer at the Rice School of Architecture. He takes METRO for most of his daily trips. This article originially appeared on June 9, 2014, in the blog, Off the Kuff.

Today is a guest post by METRO Board Member Christof Spieler, chair of the Strategic Planning Committee. He is also the director of planning at Morris Architects and a senior lecturer at the Rice School of Architecture. He takes METRO for most of his daily trips. This article originially appeared on June 9, 2014, in the blog, Off the Kuff.

Today is a guest post by METRO Board Member Christof Spieler, chair of the Strategic Planning Committee. He is also the director of planning at Morris Architects and a senior lecturer at the Rice School of Architecture. He takes METRO for most of his daily trips. This article originially appeared on June 9, 2014, in the blog, Off the Kuff.

Proposed network of new routes

 At METRO, we're proposing to redesign every bus route in Houston. We call it Reimagining, and I think that it will be one of the most important improvements in the modern history of Houston transit - alongside the Park & Ride system, the light-rail lines, and the creation of METRO itself.

We started this process because our riders told us that the current bus system isn't working well. We saw this in comments we got at public meetings, and we saw it in a 20 percent drop in ridership from 1999 to 2012 - a drop that occurred even as the amount of service METRO operates increased. I can say from personal experience that our riders are right. I ride the bus often; for several years, before I got a new job on the rail line, it was my daily commute. Too many of our routes are infrequent and circuitous. Too many connections are unreliable and out of the way. The system as a whole is too hard to understand. Weekend and evening service is minimal.

We knew we could do better. But until we engaged a team of local and international consultants, assembled a task force of stakeholders representing the people who use the system, and worked through the process of designing a new system from scratch based on all the data we have of where people live, where people work, and where people are riding transit today, we had no idea of how much better.

It turns out that we can do a lot better.

We can make frequent service available to more people. Frequency is the most important component of high-quality transit. If a bus comes every 15 minutes, you can just show up at the stop without consulting a schedule. You don't have to plan your life around the bus; it is there for you when you need it. Today, 534,000 people live within a half mile of seven-day-a-week frequent bus service; under the reimagined system 1,126,000 do. Of our 207,000 current riders, 99,000 will see their trips upgraded from infrequent service to frequent service. Within that zone of frequent service, they have access to 998,000 jobs, to colleges and universities, to retail centers, to parks, to places of worship, and to medical care.

We can dramatically increase weekend service. If someone depends on transit, they need to get to the store on Sunday, not just to work on Monday, and the people who work at that store need to get to work on Sunday. Today, METRO operates only 40 percent as much local bus service on Sunday as on a weekday. Twenty of METRO's local routes don't run at all on Sunday. In the reimagined system, every route will run seven days a week, and the bus will come as often on Sunday morning as it does at midday on a weekday. Current riders - 10,000 - who have no Sunday service today will get it.

We can make it easier to get around a multicentric city. Today, nearly every bus route goes downtown, but most of our riders are trying to go elsewhere. We're forcing them to go downtown first to transfer to wherever they want to go. That takes them out of their way and slows them down. The reimagined system will create a grid of east-west and north-south routes, creating connections all over the city and serving major employment centers from Greenspoint to Westchase. Today, someone going from the Heights to Memorial City has to first go east to downtown to catch a bus west. In the new system, he or she ride west to the Northwest Transit Center and connect there. That will reduce an 89-minute trip to 50 minutes, saving that rider six hours over a five day workweek.

We can make the system easier to understand and to use. METRO's current routes are accidents of history. Some date back to old streetcar routes, tweaked over time but never rethought. The results are confusing. Shepherd, for example, is served by the 26/27 south of 20th, the 50 from 20th to Crosstimbers, the 44 from Crosstimbers to Tidwell, nothing from Tidwell to Parker, and the 66 north of Parker, (plus a few other overlapping routes.) The new system is designed to make routes as logical as possible. On Shepherd, for example, there will be one route that runs the entire length of the street. That also makes it easier to name routes in a way that describes where they actually go.

We can make trips faster. By making routes more frequent to reduce wait times and by making trips more direct with the grid, we can make trips a lot faster. The team looked at 30 locations all over the network and analyzed all possible trips between them. Fifty-eight percent will be at least 10 minutes faster with the new network; 28 percent will be at least 20 minutes faster. We can also make trips more reliable, reducing by 30 percent how often our buses cross freight rail lines at grade.

We can provide service tailored to neighborhoods. A grid of fixed route buses works well in areas like Southwest Houston, with high population density, well-spaced and connected arterial streets, and destinations that line up along those streets. In the Northeast, though, we have lower densities, a fractured street network, and scattered destinations. Today, we serve those areas with meandering low-frequency routes. We have the budget to keep doing that, but we think we can serve these areas better with flex zones: buses that circle a neighborhood and deviate on request to wherever someone wants to get picked up or go. These connect to fixed routes at transit centers, connecting those residents into the entire network.

This plan is about making people's everyday lives better. It will give our current riders faster, more reliable, more frequent service. It will also make transit a useful option for more people; we project it will grow ridership by 20 percent. It will do all this with minimal negative impacts - 93 percent of current riders will be able catch a bus at the same stop they do today, and 99.5 percent within one-quarter mile of their current stop - and within current resources. We think the reimagined network plan will also build a foundation for the future: The system structure makes it easy to extend routes, increase frequency, add more lines to the grid, and overlay express service as the region continues to grow.

Now that we've unveiled this draft plan, it's time for our riders and everyone else who lives in the METRO service area to have their say. Nobody knows a neighborhood as well as the people who live or work there, so we know we'll get some good ideas for improvements.

See the plan and send us your comments by going to

Why, people have asked me, didn't METRO do this long ago? Because change is hard. Few cities ever undertake a blank sheet reexamination of their bus systems; they tend to focus on route expansions and big capital projects. Few transit agency staffs are willing to let go of the systems they know well, few boards are willing to undertake something so complicated, and few elected officials want to take the inevitable pushback that comes with any change to a system that people depend on every day. METRO has always spent a lot of money on operating the local bus network, but in the past, agency leadership never paid much attention to it. This board knows that the bus system is at the core of what we do, and once we got the agency back on a sound financial footing, we committed to making sure we run the best system we can. If you think this plan does that, we need your support to make it happen.

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