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America's Fastest Growing Transit: Intercity Buses
 

 Bolt Bus, a city-to-city bus that does curbside pick-ups/drop-offs

 

 

 

 

 

While high-speed rail is on the agenda of many politicians these days, it's the coach bus that is grabbing attention as the fastest growing mode of transit in America.

Intercity bus service was the fastest growing mode of intercity transportation, outpacing air and rail transit, according to a recently released report by DePaul University.

In a report entitled, "The Intercity Bus: America's Fastest Growing Transportation Mode," authors  Joseph P. Schwieterman and Lauren Fischer point out that this is the third consecutive year that city-to-city bus service was more popular than air or rail travel.

The newer services often model themselves after the Chinatown operators, who began offering cheap, curbside service from New York's Chinatown to Boston's Chinatown in the late 1990s. It started with a group of Chinese immigrants who approached Pei Lin Liang, asking him to shuttle them to visit their children at Boston colleges in his jitney van, reports the New York Times. By the fall of 1998, Fung Wah had a DOT permit and offered fares of about $20.

The next year, another Chinese-immigrant bus company, New Century Travel, began offering service between Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.

Curbside operators, such as Bolt Bus, Megabus and RedCoach, do not use terminals but instead offer curbside pick-up/drop-off. Bolt also provides free, wireless Internet,  expanded leg room, electrical plugs on board, reserved seats, boarding groups to avoid stampedes and $1 bus fares on occasion.

Cheap fares continue to drive the growth. For example, a person can travel from Boston to New York on Bolt Bus today at a walk-up purchase price of $20 - or buy a ticket online or over the phone for later today  for $15.

Compare that to Amtrak's Boston-New York fares, from $67 to $99 for its express train. Or JetBlue Airways, where you can buy a one-way ticket from Boston to Kennedy Airport for $150. 

Major findings of the DePaul study:

  • Intercity bus operations grew by 6 percent in 2010 over the year before, continuing growth from the previous two years.
  • "Curbside operators" expanded the number of departures by almost 24 percent, now numbering more than 400 daily bus operations.
  • Curbside sector's overall rate of growth appears to be at least 33 percent over the previous year.
  • Curbside buses transporting passengers are reducing fuel consumption by about 11 million gallons every year, the equivalent of removing 23,818 vehicles from the road.

These curbside services either originate in or depart from large cities with dense urban centers supported by rapid transit systems.  Most of these routes are located in the Midwest or Northeast, although RedCoach started in Florida.

Good news for us: The authors predict city-to-city bus service will expand in Texas, Florida and California.

 

 

 

 

 

Service Changes Sunday, Some Reassigned Drivers
 

Bus passing shelterStarting this Sunday, Jan. 23, regular riders may notice lots of changes on their routes.

This is the time of year when we implement service changes, and 35 routes will be affected. 

In some areas, we're adding routes to ease the crowding on a bus or to make service more reliable.  We're adjusting running times to provide more on-time service. If you ride the 36, 46 and 58 routes, you will notice that we've restructured those routes.

We are also discontinuing a number of trips that have carried very few passengers.  But for most of those trips, we are offering alternate service.  On the 38 Manchester and 39 Parker, we are substituting a smaller bus instead of a 40-foot bus to match lower demand from riders.

For those of you who ride the 217 Cypress, you'll be happy to know we're adding an in-bound trip at 7:40 a.m. to reduce overcrowding. We're also adjusting trip times to give you more reliable service.

Click here to read about all our service changes coming up.  

Something else happens during service changes: Bus drivers bid for the route they want, and seniority wins. So you may be losing your favorite driver. That's what is happening to passengers on the first run of the 246 Bay Area Park & Ride. One regular patron passed out a two-page printed handout to her fellow riders, urging them to write METRO to keep James Wyche as their driver.

"James greets each and every one of us as we enter and exit the bus and by doing this, he helps set our mood for the day!" reads the flyer, complete with Wyche's picture on the front. "We are not sure if we can change what is already in motion, but we want to give it a try."

And the comments came in, urging METRO to keep Wyche on his early morning route. Bus driver James Wyche, whose riders petitioned to keep him

"I would like to express my appreciation for an awesome bus driver that drives in-bound 246 Park & Ride bus 5109 at 7 a.m. every day," wrote one rider. "He exemplifies a positive attitude day after day."

Wrote another: "From the moment I entered this bus, the driver was ear-to-ear smiles. He took time to ensure that all were seated before turning off the overhead lighting and moving the bus."

Said another: "We don't want to lose James Wyche and would like METRO to keep him on our route. He is a breath of fresh air every single morning."

Superintendent Robert Augustine of our Hiram Clarke bus operating facility created a bulletin board featuring Wyche's passenger petition and accompanying comments, but said he couldn't change Wyche's route assignments.

"By union contract, operators sign up in seniority order. Mr. Wyche has only been here for six or seven months, so he didn't have enough seniority to keep that particular route. He got bumped," said Augustine, adding that he tells all his drivers to "just treat your customers as you would like to be treated." 

Hopefully, those of you with new drivers will be treated with the same sterling service the riders on 246 have enjoyed.

In the Interest of Rail Safety
 

Car crushed by a trainDid you know that about every three hours a person or vehicle is hit by a train?

That's according to Operation Lifesaver, a nonprofit group whose mission is to teach people about rail safety.  And the group says it is determined to change that grim statistic.

Yesterday, the Texas chapter of Operation Lifesaver presented two workshops on rail safety at our headquarters downtown.  It was a chance to get an important message out to the community: Injuries or fatalities that occur at highway-rail crossings or on railroad property are a real, but often preventable, problem.

"METRO's new partnership with the international public education program, Operation Lifesaver, demonstrates our continuing efforts to increase safety awareness and ultimately reduce accidents, both rail and bus," said Robert McElyea, acting vice president of safety. "Yesterday's kick-off seminars got the ball rolling and coincided very well with the unveiling of METRO's new Stop/Think safety campaign on one of our light-rail vehicles."Soda can crushed by a car

About 60 METRO employees from various departments attended each seminar, learning such tips as: Look, listen and live. Stay off, stay away, stay alive. Anytime is train time.

The photos posted here illustrate the force and impact of a train to a car. The weight ratio is equivalent to a soda can and an automobile. 

Sally Tingle, executive director of Texas Operation Lifesaver and one of the presenters yesterday, said trains traveling at a distance create an optical illusion.

"It's like watching a big jumbo jet land at the airport. Because of the angle and the size of the object, it looks much slower than it is. A train doesn't look like it's doing 55 mph because of the angle at which it approaches. There's no way to guess the speed. It will get there before you know it," warned Tingle.

Other safety tips and facts:

  • Freight trains don't travel at fixed times, and schedules for passenger trains change. Always expect a train at each highway-rail intersection.
  • All train tracks are private property. Never walk on tracks. It's illegal and dangerous.
  • The average locomotive weighs about 200 tons. The weight ratio of a car to a train is proportional to that of a soda can to a car.
  • Trains have the right-of-way 100 percent of the time over emergency vehicles, cars, the police and pedestrians.
  • Trains can move in either direction at any time.
  • Today's trains are quieter than ever with no telltale "clackety-clack" sound. Approaching trains are closer and moving faster than you think.
  • Stay alert around railroad tracks. No texting or headphones that would keep you from hearing an approaching train.

Tingle said she was pleased at the turnout at the two seminars, raising safety awareness among METRO employees and the public.

"We're doing the very best that we can in educating the public, and partnering with Houston METRO is a wonderful thing. It's a step in the right direction," said Tingle.

 

 

 

 

Scheduled Rail Interruption This Weekend
 

 

Train with flowers in foregroundIf you're planning to take METRORail this weekend, be aware of a scheduled rail interruption, due to construction by Texas Children's Hospital

Starting at 8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 21, rail will shut down through midnight Sunday. We'll operate bus shuttles instead of trains and have friendly staff on hand to help guide you to the right bus.

Here are the details: 

Friday, Jan. 21:

From 8 p.m. to 2 a.m.:  Bus service runs every 12 minutes.

The last northbound train will depart Fannin South at 7:45 p.m., arriving at UH at 8:15 p.m.

The last southbound train will depart UH at 8:30 p.m., arriving at Fannin South at 9 p.m.

Saturday, Jan. 22:

From 5 a.m. to 9 p.m.: Buses run every six minutes.

From 9 p.m. to 2 a.m.: Buses run every 10 minutes.

Sunday, Jan. 23:

From 5 a.m. to 9 p.m.:  Buses run every six minutes.

From 9 p.m. to midnight:  Buses run every 10 minutes.

Buses will use the 700 Rail Shuttle route, except in the Medical Center at the Dryden and Memorial Hermann stations.  Click here to see a rail map of all the stations.

 

Watching Your Weight While You Wait
 

Woman sitting at bus shelter that displays her weight as she sitsThere are three numbers most Americans are reluctant to bare in public:  age, weight and salary.

But in the Netherlands, a fitness chain has taken guerrilla marketing to a new level to convince consumers to start the new year by getting in shape. Unsuspecting commuters sit down on a bench at a bus shelter - and their weight pops up in bright red on a big screen for all the world to see.

While this may be an imaginative way to get a commuter's attention and create a buzz, will it really draw in more members to Fitness First, the health club chain that hired the Netherlands agency, N=5, to produce this?

I don't think that would work in this country.  I'd rather stand than have private stats flash in public. Guerilla marketing by definition involves unique approaches to getting one's message out, along with interaction with the public.

But will this backfire?

Read what bloggers are saying about it on The Cool Hunter and Netspaze.

Train Wrapped in Red Says Safety
 

    Collage of "Stop. Think" train unveilling

 

For the first time in METRORail's history, an entire rail car was completely wrapped  to promote a safety message: Stop. Think.

A vertical traffic signal on the red wrap added a visual cue.

Despite a morning drizzle amid grey skies, excitement built inside the Rail Operation Center (the ROC) as  officials, employees and media  waited for the newly wrapped fire-engine-red train to be launched.

METRO Chairman Gilbert Garcia explained that we wrapped the train to remind motorists and pedestrians to stop and think before proceeding through an intersection.

"The NEW METRO considers the safety of our passengers and the public to be so critical, we've made it one of our guiding principles," said Garcia. "Safety at rail crossings isn't just a METRO issue, it's a concern for all law enforcement agencies."

George Greanias, METRO president & CEO, said he recently saw a wrapped train promoting safety in Phoenix, Ariz., and thought that method could be an eye-popping message here in Houston.

He outlined some of the things METRO has already accomplished to increase safety awareness, including: in-pavement lights, LED back plates on 24 traffic signals and an educational campaign at 22 HISD schools.

"In the past six years, we have seen a steady drop in the number of light-rail accidents on METRORail, but even one accident is too many," said Greanias. "That's why the NEW METRO will continue to look for new avenues to promote safety, not just on METRORail but on the system as a whole. We hope our newly wrapped train will help foster this message."

The train will be wrapped for six months. If you haven't seen red on the rail yet, look for it and tell us what you think.

 

 

 

World's Population Is Aging: More Seniors than Babies
 

Three babies in a row lying on their stomachsFor the first time in history, there will be more older folks than toddlers alive.

The Population Reference Bureau (PRB) says the population ages 65 and over will be 2.5 times that of the population ages 0 to 4 in the next 39 years. Read more here.

What's driving this shift in demographics?

Extremely low birthrates in developed countries combined with falling birth rates in developing countries. "Aging is no longer the sole province of more developed countries. Longer life expectancy at birth and lower fertility have sharply increased the proportion of elderly in less developed countries," writes the PRB.  "This demographic watershed -  for the first time in human history there will be more people in the world over age 65 than under age 5 - illustrates the ongoing and profound population transformation that is affecting society in fundamental ways. ..What is new is how fast the transformation is occurring in less developed countries."

How will a dominance of older citizens change our society - from housing to transportation?

In Germany, a retailer is offering   grocery carts created to accommodate an older population, writes Carl Haub, a senior demographer at the PRB.  These carts - designed with seats so a person can ride up and down aisles - include a built-in magnifying glass to help read labels, as well as a hook  to hang a cane.

With more elders over age 65 in our cities and towns, I would imagine there would be a greater demand for mass transit and walkable cities.

What are your thoughts on this?

Public Transit Users Save More Money With Rising Gas Prices
 

With gas prices rising to the highest level since October 2008, commuters who use public transit will be saving even more money in 2011.

METRO bus against Houston skylineIn a recently released report, the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) calculated that transit riders save an average of $9,656 every year, and up to $805 per month. Those savings are based on the national average gas price of $3.08 per gallon, reported by AAA on Jan. 5.

Gas prices are 32 cents higher than this time last year, giving riders additional annual savings of more than $400, says APTA. Click here to read the report.

One former oil executive is predicting even higher gas prices in 2012. John Hofmeister, former CEO of Shell Oil, predicted that the moratorium on drilling the Gulf of Mexico and global demand will drive gas prices higher in the next two years, reaching $5 a gallon by 2012. Read more here.

Hofmeister  is now founder and CEO of Citizens for Affordable Energy and author of Why We Hate Oil Companies.

 In the meantime, if you've overspent for the holidays, you can trim back by riding METRO one or two days a week.  Ride and relax on a bus or train and text, surf the Web on your iPad, knit, solve a Sudoku puzzle, read, or my favorite - catch a catnap. And watch your gas tank stay fuller longer.

 

No Rail Shutdown this Weekend
 

Train with flowers in foregroundGood news for rail riders this weekend: The rail will operate its normal hours, and the scheduled shutdown this weekend has been canceled.

The contractor doing construction work at Texas Children's Hospital is ahead of schedule - and that means rail can operate normally this weekend.

We had originally planned three consecutive weekends of interrupted rail service. Now this weekend will be normal service, and next weekend, the rail will operate under its scheduled shutdown with bus shuttles carrying  rail passengers.

Experiencing Europe on a New York Subway
 

Two women"in Prague" on NYC subway

RIding a subway has never been more fun.  

Step inside a NYC subway train, and you may find yourself on a train American Airlines has wrapped in ceiling-to-floor images of popular European tourist destinations.

Nick Carr, a film scout who scours locations for big-budget films in New York and who writes the blog, scoutingny.com, has great photos of realistic scenes plastered on the walls, windows and benches of a subway. The train itself was marked with American Airlines logo and colors.

Commuters were leaning against photos of historic Prague buildings, some were sitting on benches that had turned into marbled seats, thanks to digital photography, and stainless steel doors were converted to scenes of rolling green hills.

This was definitely not a routine subway ride. Carr discovered his "trip" to Europe on a shuttle train to Times SquareClick here to see more of his beautiful photographs of European vacation spots...on the interior of a New York subway train.  It was a clever and fun way to capture the imagination of commuters and make them long for destinations across the ocean.

 

Rail Interruptions for Three Weekends
 

Train with grass in foreground If you're taking the rail this weekend, be aware of some interruptions today and the next two weekends.

Beginning at 8 p.m. tonight through midnight Sunday, all rail station will be closed due to bridge construction for Texas Children's Hospital.

We'll have bus service operating in its place. Here's the schedule:

Friday, Jan. 7, 14 and 21:

From 8 p.m. to 2 a.m.:  Bus service runs every 12 minutes.

The last northbound train will depart Fannin South at 7:45 p.m., arriving at UH at 8:15 p.m.

The last southbound train will depart UH at 8:30 p.m., arriving at Fannin South at 9 p.m.

Saturday, Jan. 8, 15, and 22:

From 5 a.m. to 9 p.m.: Buses run every six minutes.

From 9 p.m. to 2 a.m.: Buses run every 10 minutes.

Sunday, Jan. 9, 16 and 23:

From 5 a.m. to 9 p.m.:  Buses run every six minutes.

From 9 p.m. to midnight:  Buses run every 10 minutes.

We'll have staff along the platform to help you get on the right bus. Buses will use the 700 Rail Shuttle route, except in the Medical Center at the Dryden and Memorial Hermann stations.

 

Transit Apps Help Snowbound Commuters
 

Communters boarding bus in snowPhone apps that cost about $1 helped some Boston commuters in the recent East Coast snow storm .

Last spring, The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority - commonly called the T - began releasing real-time data on the whereabouts of its buses and trains. That's allowed entrepreneurs to develop software for smart phones, letting commuters obtain reliable info on when the next bus or train arrives.

For commuters trying to negotiate post-blizzard trips, the apps were a godsend, reports The Boston Globe.   Owners of iPhones and Androids can buy apps - such as Catch the Bus - and know when it's time to trudge across a snow-laden street to stand at a bus stop.

Here in Houston, iPhone commuters can download an app called Ride Houston. It uses the GPS in one's phone to locate the user - and then instantly tells you where the nearest METRO bus stops or train stops are located.

 

 

 

FTA Approves Rail Expansion Work
 

Sign reading "Happy New Year" over black background with stars and confettiHappy New Year to all our readers.

METRO is starting the new  year with some great news from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA). Just days before the end of the year, the agency received formal notification from the FTA that critical new construction work can begin on the North and Southeast light-rail lines.

The notification, in the form of "Letters of No Prejudice,"  means that METRO can start more construction with an estimated value of $12.5 million and expect to receive federal reimbursement for about half of the cost, once the Full Funding Grant is issued.

"We see this as one more indication that the FTA is increasingly confident in how the NEW METRO does business.  Getting the FTA's approval to keep the rail projects moving is a great way to begin the new year," said Gilbert Garcia, METRO's chairman.

Construction for the North Line includes the start of communications duct banks, concrete pavement, sidewalks and asphalt paving on Fulton Street from Cavalcade to IH-610, and from Boundary to Collingsworth.

Construction can now begin on a new bridge over the Union Pacific Railroad, and retrofitting for the existing Main Street Bridge at the University of Houston-Downtown can go forward. Construction crew along the North Line

New construction will also occur at our Rail Operations Center (ROC) at Fannin South, including the installation of tracks for rail vehicles in the maintenance yard, and expansion of the building and the parking lot for maintenance vehicles.

Work on the Southeast Line includes the start of communications duct banks, concrete pavement, sidewalks and asphalt paving on Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. from Winnetka to just north of Griggs Road and on Scott Street from Polk to Coyle.

"This latest federal approval is advantageous for several reasons," said George Greanias, METRO President & CEO. "Not only does the new construction activity push the rail projects ahead, but the work also reduces the time neighborhoods are disrupted by incomplete roadwork and sidewalks."

Click here to listen to a report on this by KUHF-Houston Public Radio (88.7-FM).  

 

Blizzard Cripples Planes, Trains in East
 

Long Island Rail Road on 12/27 in snow on railNow is the time of year we love living in Houston .

Temperatures dipped to the 40s just in time to feel like winter, try on our new holiday jackets and encourage roasting marshmallows in the fireplace....while our roads remained clear.

Pity the residents of the northeast, where the season's first huge storm walloped cities from Providence to Portland. Some people are still trying to get home for Christmas.

New York was socked with almost 2 feet of snow by midday today. MTA Long Island Rail Road trains sat frozen at the platform.  Airlines canceled dozens of flights as jets sat on the tarmac or never left the gate. New Englanders appeared to be heeding the call to stay off the roads with much of Boston's roads  almost abandoned early this morning.

A blizzard warning, issued when snow is accompanied by winds 35 mph for at least three hours, was in effect early today from Maine to Delaware. Read more here...and count your blessings.

 

Completing the Streets
 

Cathedral in Helena, Mont.The city of Helena - population about 30,000 - has just voted to draft a plan that would make their streets more accessible for pedestrians and bicyclists.

The Victorian town, nestled in the foothill of the Montana Rockies, will write guidelines that form a Complete Streets policy, a mandate that makes communities more liveable and ensures that streets are designed to operate for all users - not just cars. That includes bicyclists, public transportation vehicles and riders and pedestrians of all ages and abilities.

The term "complete streets" was coined in 2003 and public policies that make streets safe and convenient for all users are now in place from coast to coast. Towns and cities that have adopted Complete Streets policies include Everett, Wash.; Brookhaven, N.Y.; Miami, Fla.; and Scottsdale, Ariz.

No Texas city has adopted a Complete Streets policy, according to the website, http://www.completestreets.org/.

So what does a complete street look like? Every complete street is unique, but some elements that can be found on complete streets are bike lanes, sidewalks, special bus lanes, comfortable and accessible transit stops, median islands or curb extensions.

And while some communities are ready to revamp public policies to make their streets friendlier to walkers and bikers, San Francisco reports it has some of the most dangerous streets in America. More than 800 people are hit by cars in that city every year. That's more than two pedestrians being hit each day on average, accounting for nearly half of the city's fatalities.

San Francisco ranked worse than New York, London, Tokyo and Hong Kong, according to the New York City Department of Transportation's 2008 data. House covered in snow

Closer to home, if you are out driving on Houston's streets, or walking in your neighborhood, stay safe and be extra cautious. During the holiday season, expect lots of out-of-town drivers unfamiliar with the roads here.

Happy holidays - and may peace and joy be yours this season and throughout the new year.

 

 

 

Battery-operated Bus Takes 10 Minutes to Charge
 

 

Electric, battery-operated Proterra bus

The world's first battery-powered electric bus is rolling on the streets of Los Angeles County, operated by  Foothill Transit, the main public transit operator in the San Gabriel and Pomona valleys.

The Foothill Transit Ecoliner can drive 30 miles without charging. When it does need to be recharged, it's done in 10 minutes, charged at a station along its regular route.  

"Recent rapid advancement in battery and vehicle technology has made this leading-edge project possible," said Roger Chandler, chairman of the Foothill Transit's executive board, in a press release.

This electric bus was built by Colorado-based Proterra in a plant in Greenville, S.C., using a $6.6 million Recovery Act grant.  The bus seats 37 passengers and can accommodate 68 with some standing. The bus can operate on an inner-city route in stop-and-go traffic, but can go as fast as 75 miles per hour.

Proterra, which builds hybrid and battery-powered buses for mass transit, said it also has a contract to make electric buses for San Antonio.

Ray LaHood, the nation's top transportation official, wrote about this innovative bus on his blog, saying that the demand for more battery-powered buses is creating jobs in South Carolina.

Q Star Program Adds Caribbean Flavor

 

Q Star logo

The Q Star program just got better.

J'ouvert Caribbean Cafe at 3030 Travis St. is now offering a 10 percent discount if you buy an entrée. Simply show your METRO Q® Fare Card  to get the discount.

The Q Star program is a free program in which businesses, shops and restaurants along METRORail offer freebies and discounts to Q Card holders.

J'ouvert Caribbean Café, established in 2010, is a fast-food concept featuring Jamaican-style cuisine in pork, chicken, seafood, beef, vegetarian meals and pasta dishes. Lunch options include sandwiches, salads and wings. Take the Red Line and get off at the Ensemble/HCC station. Chicken served at J'ouvert Caribbean Cafe

If you don't have a Q Card yet, pick one up. It's free - just load $5 on it. Not only can you get discounts from retailers with the card, you can get free transfers, along with one free trip for every 50 paid trips.

 

METRO Settles CAF Contracts for Trains
 

Aerial view of railroad trackYou have may heard by now that METRO settled with CAF USA Inc. over two disputed contracts for the construction of light-rail cars for its North and Southeast lines.

The contracts have been canceled, and CAF will forego any more payments for unpaid work and lost profits. In addition, CAF will refund $14 million to METRO. The METRO board ratified the agreement at last Friday's board meeting.

Click here to read the press release and the agreement.

Board Extends Transfer Time
 

 

You spoke, we listened. Logo of Muppets & 3 hour-transfer timeThe Board of Directors passed a resolution at this morning's meeting that should bring smiles to all of our riders: The window of time for free transfers has been extended to three hours from two hours.

The change will become effective on Jan. 1, 2011.

Happy New Year, everyone.

 

Airport Direct to Cut Fare, Change Route
 

Airport Direct busIf you're flying out of town for the holidays, you may be planning to take our Airport Direct shuttle to get to the airport. It's fast, convenient and frequent.

Next month, we're making some changes that we hope will serve more customers and make it even more convenient.

We're adjusting the downtown route to serve multiple hotels on Dallas Street, including the George R. Brown Convention Center.  We'll continue to operate the service every 30 minutes, seven days a week.

And we're dropping the fare from $15 to $4.50 one-way.

We'll have more details coming later.

Changes are scheduled to go into effect on Sunday, Jan. 23.