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Interactive "Smart" Map Garners Award for TranStar
 

Police Chief Tom Lambert and Scott Belcher, CEO of ITS AmericaHouston TranStar won an award today for its interactive, Web-based map.

The multi-government consortium that provides transportation and emergency management services to southeast Texas developed an interactive, real-time map to coordinate the evacuation of 5.9 million residents in the Gulf Coast during major hurricanes.

The award was presented by The Intelligent Transportation Society of America (ITS America), which represents more than 400 public agencies, private corporations and academic institutions involved in the research and development of technology to improve mobility and sustain the environment.

METRO is one of four partners of TranStar. The other three include the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDot), Harris County, and the city of Houston.

"Houston really is a model for the rest of the country in the way the agencies collaborate. What we've seen is a real model for success and a model for the future," said Scott Belcher, president and CEO of ITS America.

TranStar began developing this interactive map about two years ago - applying lessons learned from Hurricane Rita. It cost about $75,000 to $100,000 to develop - and today, has 12 features that can layer on top of each other.

For example, the map can give a snapshot of traffic on the road - a picture that gets updated every minute.  The overview map gives evacuation points, shows traffic signs, speed points, weather radar, and shows volume of cars.

The map will show how traffic is moving in contraflow lanes. Joey Barcio of Aecom, demonstrates software

"When it comes to getting a snapshot of what the current situation is - that's the key," explained Joey Barcio, senior software programmer at AECOM, who developed the software for TranStar.

"This will help get information out a lot quicker. It's a pro-active approach, instead of hearing we have a problem and reacting," continued Barcio.

METRO Chief of Police Tom Lambert, co-chair of the ITS America  conference in Houston, highlighted some of the special events that will be featured in May.

An 18-wheel truck will roll over, lose its load and then lifted upright; the Port of Houston will offer security tours; METRO will demonstrate its HOV lanes; the city of Houston's automated parking meters will be demonstrated, along with its SAFEClear program; and there will be a light-rail tour, including the maintenance facility at METRO's Rail Operations Center.

"It's not a competition. Every mode works well together in how we can serve the needs of the traveling public," said Lambert.

The photo on the left: METRO Police Chief Tom Lambert and Scott Belcher of ITS America. The photo on the right: Joey Barcio, software developer, demonstrates how it works to the media. 

New Board Members to be Sworn In

 

Wide shot of vacant METRO board roomNew METRO board members appointed by Mayor Annise Parker are scheduled to be sworn in at a special board meeting at 1 p.m. on Wednesday, April 7.

The new appointees are:

Position One - Gilbert Andrew Garcia, chairman.

Position Two - Allen Dale Watson

Position Three - Dwight E. Jefferson

Position Four - Carrin F. Patman

Position Five - Christof Spieler

Garcia is a managing partner at Davis Hamilton Jackson & Associates, L.P. a private equity firm. He holds a bachelor of arts degree from Yale University.

Watson is president of Cobb Fendley, an engineering firm. He earned a B.S. from Texas A & M University in 1983.

Jefferson runs his own law firm, practicing civil litigation, mediation and arbitration. He holds both a B.A. and J.D.  from the University of Texas.

Patman is a partner at Bracewell & Giuliani law firm. She earned her B.A. from Duke University and J.D. from the University of Texas.

Spieler is director of technology and innovation at Morris Architects and earned a B.S. from Rice University.

 

 

Accessible Buses, Trains for People with Disabilities
 

 

Person in wheelchair getting on trainA blog reader recently e-mailed a question: "Does Houston METRO offer handicapped services for persons in wheelchairs?" 

"Absolutely," says Mary Ann Dendor, ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) administrator. "Yes, METRO offers transportation to persons using wheelchairs. The buses have ramps or lifts and two designated wheelchair spaces on every METRO bus. The METRORail stations and rail cars are also easily accessed."

On the train, four benches with white embroidered seats with the universal logo of a person in a wheelchair clearly mark the section reserved for wheelchairs. The benches flip up so a person in a wheelchair can glide into that space and sit securely during a ride.

Most of our buses are "kneeling" buses, which means the bus can lower itself closer to street level, so a person can more easily step on-board.

"Any person with a disability should look for regular service first because it is so accessible," says Dendor. "We are committed to a public transportation system that everyone can use. We encourage persons with disabilities to take advantage of the freedom, independence, flexibility and reliablility that is provided by our accessible bus and rail network." Handicap decal

But if people have a disability that prevents them from riding a regular fixed-route bus, they can apply to be eligible for METROLift, METRO's curb-to-curb, paratransit, shared-ride service.

"They would need to call the METROLift department and ask for an application. That application is filled out by themselves and a health professional, sent to METRO, and then METRO asks them to come in for an in-person interview to complete the application process," explains Dendor.

METROLift runs 5,000 trips every day on weekdays. Services must be reserved at least one day in advance of when someone needs it.

 

 

 

METRO Bucks National Trend of Downsizing

 

New MCI hybrid bus in front of new hybridsPublic transit agencies nationwide are experiencing a severe financial crisis, replete with service cuts, fare hikes and layoffs.

A survey released today by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), a trade group, says that since January 2009, 84 percent of public transit systems have raised fares, reduced service or are considering those actions. Fifty-nine percent of those surveyed have already increased fares or shrunk service.

In contrast to the dismal financial picture plaguing most transit systems coast to coast, METRO stands out as fiscally sound and prepared to survive the recession.  

Service cuts agencies have already implemented or that are being considered include: reductions in off-peak service (62 percent); reductions in rush-hour service (56 percent); and reductions in geographic coverage (40 percent).

Seven out of ten transit systems (69 percent) projected budget gaps in their next fiscal year. Sixty-eight percent have eliminated positions or are considering it. Almost half (47 percent) have laid off employees or are considering it.

More than half of the agencies said they were transferring funds from capital use to operations, thus making it harder to keep systems in good repair.

The report, Impacts of the Recession on Public Transportation Agencies, was based on a survey of 151 transit agencies, which represent more than 80 percent of the nation's transit commuters.

But the picture is much brighter here at METRO. Consider the following:

 

  • It has kept its budget nearly flat for the past five years, due to financial discipline.
  • Since Jan. 1, 2009, it has added two cross-town routes (Renwick and Eldridge), a Park & Ride route (Pasadena) and two Signature service routes (Quickline and Swiftline).
  • A hiring freeze has been effective for more than a year, except for critical service areas, such as police officers, bus operators and mechanics.
  • It is adding 100 new hybrid buses to its fleet every year.
  • It is adding 100 new bus shelters on its core routes.
  • It has started construction on three light-rail lines - East End, Southeast and North lines.
Staying Safe Here When Russian Bombings Occur
 

 

Riders on train platformThis morning, the second bombing attack in a week occurred in Russia.

Suicide bombings killed at least a dozen people, including nine police officers, according to UPI.

On Monday, suicide bombers targeted the Moscow subway system during morning rush hour, killing about 40 people.

So how are those bombings affecting our security on our transit system?

One of our MPD officers is on the Joint Terrorism Task Force and on Monday was talking fulltime with the group, said METRO Assistant Police Chief Tim Kelly.

"We were getting e-mail updates. We also talked with the Transportation Security Administration," said Kelly. "We had a conference call with all the transit law enforcement groups across the country to gauge what others were doing. The consensus: Emphasize to our customers and employees to be our eyes and ears. Let us know if they see anything suspicious."

METRO is not changing its safety strategy, but continuing its usual platform patrols with officer and canine teams.

"METRO is not doing anything different. Could the bombings happen in the United States? Certainly. And that's why we're ever vigilant," said Kelley. "That's why we have bomb canine teams and an anti-terrorism team with special training and a special operations response team and the reason we coordinate with local law enforcement agencies."

During the recent rodeo when we averaged about 10,000 passengers on the rail per day, we partnered with the TSA to deploy additional resources on the platforms and trains, including federal air marshals.

METRO's anti-terrorism unit was created in October 2009 with a federal grant of $3 million. We have eight officers now - with two more openings - whose special training include behavior recognition and detecting suspicious activity.

The force conducts highly visible, random patrols on our buses and trains.  

"There's value in observing folks observing our security techniques," explained Kelly, adding that anti-terrorism officers also patrol in plainclothes.

Kelly said there is no specific intelligence now that any terrorist threat exists - we are still on Code Yellow - but if there is a threat, "We have plans in place to increase security and visibility," he said.

In the meantime, we ask that if you see something, say something.

Call 911 in an emergency. On mobile phones with Sprint, AT & T and Verizon, you can dial #MPD as a free call. Or call METRO police at 713-224-COPS (224-2677).

Click here to read more safety tips.

METRO's Extreme Makeover

 

Line-up of new MCI buses METRO recently receivedYou may have seen the Houston Chronicle's Sunday op-ed piece by METRO Chairman David Wolff, recounting the remarkable strides METRO has made in the past six years.

Six years ago, METRO faced stiff challenges. As it struggled to obtain federal funds to build its first light-rail line, the agency had to deal with a splintered Congressional delegation, who worked hard to block funding.

Today, METRO has come a long way. As Chairman David Wolff and other city-appointed board Chairman David Wolffmembers prepare to complete their hard work here, consider the elements that went into its remarkable makeover:

 

  • 100 hybrid buses a year
  • Four new Park & Ride lots
  • Five new local routes
  • Two new Signature bus routes - express routes serving the Texas Medical Center
  • Nonstop airport service from downtown
  • Simplified fare system paying with electronic fare card

On the rail side, consider the following accomplishments:

 

  • $34 million of improvements on Main Street line
  • Reduction of rail accidents by 50 percent
  • Most successful light-rail line in the nation on passengers per mile basis
  • Almost $1 billion in federal funding for light-rail lines
  • Three new lines - the North, Southeast and East End - under construction with 98 percent costs fixed.

Click here to read Wolff's complete op-ed piece.

 

 

 

Your Opinion Counts
 

Graphic of police officers on rail platformWhen you're riding the rail or standing at a bus stop, how safe do you feel?

When you encounter one of our police officers, are they courteous and helpful?

Share your opinion by taking our police survey. I just took it, and timed myself - finished in 20 seconds. There are 22 questions, six of which are open-ended questions in which you can type comments. I only answered one.

But we conduct the survey continuously to get a report card on how we're doing. It's posted on our Web site (look at the tab at the top: Safety and Security then go to METRO Police, then Safety Survey.

"We want to know from our customers' perspective how they feel about safety on an on-going basis," said Nancy Christopherson, manager of support operations at METRO's Public Safety and Police Department.

From October through December 2009, we received 25 responses, but since we've been featuring the survey on our home page, more people are responding.

Still, it's a small percentage of our total riders.

So take one minute out of your busy day, and take the survey.

"It's a good lifeline to the people who use the system and to their opinions about it. That's important," said Christopherson. "We want to know what people think so that we can make using our transit system safer."

METRO Matters Show Explains Art of Asking
 

Metro Matters logo with Dez NaulsHow do I get from Point A to Point B?

That may seem like a simple question when you're looking for the correct bus to take you where you need to go, but there are ways to make the process easier when you call our Customer Information Center.

Watch our latest edition of METRO Matters and hear Dezra Naul tell what to do - and what not to do. Nauls is supervisor of METRO's Customer Information Center and training,

Click below to view the video.

http://www.ridemetro.org/News/VideoGallery/METROMatters.aspx

If you'd like to watch the show on television, here are show times on Comcast's Channel 19 - Houston Media Source:

 

Tue   3/30/10             6:45 p

Fri     4/2/10               12:45 p

Sat    4/3/10               1:45 p

Wed  4/7/10               4:45 p

Sat    4/10/10             7:00 p

Wed  4/14/10             10:30 p

Sat    4/17/10             10:00 p

Tue   4/20/10             9:30 p

Fri     4/23/10             9:30 p

Mon   4/26/10             8:00 p

Wed  4/28/10             10:30 p

Fri     4/30/10             12:30 p

Ice Cream and Energy
 

METRO's Joe Garcia explains our services to Energy Corridor workersSnicker bars, fudge bombs and ice cream sandwiches were the lure to draw workers out of their cubicles today and into the lobby of Ashford Place 7, to learn about the 75 Energy Corridor Connector.

Today was one of three socials this week planned to let the people who work in the Energy Corridor District learn that the new Connector can get them places that include eateries, banks, drug stores and office buildings.

"All the events are at buildings and work sites that are on the 75 Connector route," said John Nunez, transportation manager at the Energy Corridor Management District. "The whole purpose of the event is to inform the tenants in the different buildings that the route is available."

Joe Garcia, METRO community outreach rep, staffed a table stacked with brochures and other information about METRO - along with giveaways such as key chains and pencils.

"The feedback has been positive," said Garcia. "This community of residents and businesses has been very receptive to the new route."

Nunez said he touts the benefits of leaving one's car in the garage -  keeping one's coveted parking space and avoiding traffic jams - and  hopping on the bus during lunch to run errands or eat out.  

It's also a convenient way to get downtown for meetings.

"It connects to the Addicks Park & Ride," explained Nunez. "Take the Connector, it drops you off at the platform of the Addicks Park & Ride - and then to downtown in 20 minutes."

The average monthly total ridership in February was 3,388. March ridership was:

 

* March 1-5        917 riders

* March 8-12      893 riders

* March 15-19     783 riders

Nunez said he doesn't expect ice cream socials to immediately hike ridership - but the socials are a way to make folks aware of the Connector - and he hopes news will spread. John Nunez of Energy Corridor Management District touts the benefits of the Connector

"Over a period of time, it's a gradual increase," said Nunez, adding that the Connector compliments the other "green" commuting options the Energy Corridor Management District is promoting.

Besides taking METRO and reducing one's carbon footprint, people who live, work and visit the district can vanpool, hike and bike in the area, he added.

The photos posted here were taken by Ernest Chou, METRO senior community rep, of an outreach event yesterday in the Energy Corridor. Joe Garcia is staffing the table in the top photo. John Nunez is in second photo on the left, talking to an office worker.

 

 

 

Bus Driver Hero Recovering from Stroke

 

Logo of Heroes on WheelsThe day he was featured as a "Hero on Wheels" on this blog, bus operator Kenneth Roberson suffered a stroke.

Today, he called me to express his thanks for all the good wishes and prayers readers and riders offered during his recuperation.

"I'm doing wonderful," said Roberson. "I'm walking with the assistance of a walker. I'm getting stronger every day. Tell everybody I appreciate their prayers and thoughts, and I love them all."

The burly, six-foot-two driver has kept a positive attitude throughout his long recovery, but he says it takes "determination and just the will to live and keep going."

He is doing physical therapy three times a week - and he admits the road to recovery has been difficult.  Kenneth Roberson, bus driver

"It's hard to even get out of the bed every day," says Roberson, who returned to his home last Thursday from a rehab facility. "My body is like a sack of potatoes. It's dead weight. It takes all my strength to even just move my legs from one step to another. It's like a weight has been put on my shoulders - a 1,000-pound weight."

Roberson said he had a stroke at 8:30 a.m. on January 6 - and his adult son in the next room quickly drove him to the emergency room.

Roberson faces six more months of physical therapy before he can even think about getting behind the wheel of a bus again. Does he miss driving customers around?

"I really do," he said. "I never thought I would, but I do."

Roberson was selected as one of our "Heroes on Wheels" for doing something out of the ordinary - three times while a METRO bus driver. Click here to read his story.

"I'll be back to continue what I started," he promises. "I have a faith in God and a determination to get back to help people."

An Award-winning, Winsome Grandma
 

Hispanic grandma character used in ad campaignAbuelita - the Hispanic grandmother character we created to promote METRO - has garnered top honors from the American Marketing Association/Houston.

We won first place in the transportation category on March 15. We were one of eight finalists among 40 entrants for the Marketer of the Year Award for our Abuelita campaign.

"What we're trying to accomplish is to increase awareness in the Hispanic community about METRO's services and increase ridership in the Hispanic community," said Raequel Roberts, associate vice president of marketing, media and corporate communications.

Last year, the Abuelita ("grandma" in Spanish) campaign focused on the Southeast area of Houston. This year, we will expand the campaign citywide.  

"From our focus group studies, we learned that abuelitas are an opinion driver in the Hispanic family - and probably in everybody's family," said Roberts. "We're building a family around Abuelita. She rides METRO, and she thinks other people should ride METRO, too."

Roberts said the campaign is reaching out to more than just the transit-dependent. It is also targeting auto owners and telling them about the advantages of taking METRO.

This latest award about our efforts is gratifying, especially since it comes from the marketing field.  

"We have to be creative with limited resources. This is truly an important market we need to reach out to," said Roberts.

Click here to see Abuelita at a Dynamos game.

Comparing METRO to Other Agencies
 

You may have seen the full-page color ad in yesterday's Houston Chronicle about how our service is growing while transit agencies from coast to coast are Full page ad in Houston Chronicle, 3/21/10shrinking services.

Consider the following:

In New York, the MTA New York City Transit is preparing to lay off 1,130 employees, cut service and hike fares to deal with an $800 million budget gap.

On the opposite coast, Los Angeles MTA has a $251 million budget deficit, and is planning service cuts and fare increases to compensate.

Chicago Transit Authority has increased fares, is expected to lay off 1,067 workers and is continuing to cut service in the face of a $300 million budget deficit.

In Boston, despite an increase in ridership of 1.08 percent, the MBTA laid off 332 workers, cut service and increased fares. It is struggling with a $160 million budget gap.

Denver Regional Transportation District reduced service, saw ridership slip 5.67 percent and is grappling with a $23 million budget gap.

And then there's METRO here in Houston.

Layoffs: None

Budget gap: None

Service cuts: None

Fare increase: No

Ridership: Down 6.69 percent

Our ridership numbers are improving, but the economy and lower gas prices are still a factor.

Click here to see the chart we distributed at last week's board meeting. It gives a financial snapshot of 17 agencies nationwide.  

In fact, as stated in the yesterday's ad, we have actually grown in the past five years. We are adding 100 hybrid buses a year to our fleet. We added five new local routes: Routes 32 Renwick (FY09), 38 Manchester Docks (FY07), 39 Parker Road (FY07), 53 Briar Forest - Sunday (FY06) and 75 Energy Corridor Connector (FY10).

We launched two Signature bus routes: Routes 402 Bellaire Quickline (FY09) and 426 TMC Swiftline (FY09).

And we installed more than 200 new bus shelters.

If you're one of our thousands of riders, thank you for using METRO. We'll do our best to get you where you want to go - safely and on time.

 

 

 

Trip Added to 217 Cypress
 

Bus riders on 217Good news for commuters from Cypress: We are adding a trip to help ease the jam-packed buses in the morning.

Starting Monday, March 15, we are adding a 6:52 inbound trip.

We are also adjusting trip times.

Click here to see the new trip and adjusted times.  

Service on Route 217 Cypress started on Jan. 22, 2007 - and we had more riders on the first day out than any other opening day for Park & Ride service - 478 boardings.

Less than a month after opening, we added another morning bus trip.

"We've increased that service by 50 percent in three years," said Jim Archer, manager of ridership analysis/service evaluation. "That's phenomenal, but it's indicative that ridership has grown."

Last month, we recorded a average daily boardings of 1,064. The added 6:52 inbound trip will bring the total number of trips to 33 peak direction trips.

So starting next Monday, hopefully, all of you will be able to find a comfortable seat on your ride to and from downtown.

 

 

 

 

Hero on Wheels: Bus Driver Rescues Cop
 

 

Jose Reyna, bus operatorJose Reyna thought it would be a routine night at the grocery store with his wife.

Instead, he became a hero and was honored last week by the Houston Police Department. Reyna helped the victim of a purse-snatching - and rescued a plainclothes, off-duty cop who was trying to subdue the suspect.

On a warm summer night - June 26, 2009 - METRO bus operator Jose Reyna was grabbing a shopping cart at a grocery store on Dairy Ashford and Briar Forest when he heard a woman scream for help.

The off-duty bus driver turned around and saw two men accosting a woman. One wielded a knife, slicing the straps of her handbag. The contents of her bag tumbled to the ground.

Reyna ran to the scene where one suspect was striking and punching  another man who had tried to thwart the robbery.

"He was getting beaten up," recalled Reyna of the other Good Samaritan, who turned out to be a Houston police officer. "I ran over there, I tackled the guy (the suspect) down.  And I did what I had to do to restrain him. I'm not scared to fight...I whooped him down."

Reyna, who is 5 feet, 7 inches, says he's solidly built and grew up in Houston "around people I wasn't supposed to be hanging around."

Reyna's quick-thinking and courageous act of jumping into the middle of a fray earned him a Public Service Award presented by the Houston Police Department on March 3.

HPD Officer Stephen Hendrie - the plainclothes cop who had tried to stop the suspects - sustained serious physical injuries to his eye, nose and teeth. Later, the officer told Reyna he was grateful Reyna got involved and helped fend off and subdue the suspect.

Reyna's award recognizes him for "extraordinary commitment and unselfish service rendered to the Houston Police Department and the citizens of Houston, Texas."

Reyna shrugs off what he did as the natural course of action.

"It was worth it. I wouldn't think twice if it happened again. It didn't scare me," said Reyna.

A METRO bus driver for only six months, Reyna says he loves his job. "I like dealing with the public. All you have to do is say, ‘How are you' or ‘How was your day?' and they open up and tell you their whole life story."

His supervisor, Rudolph Becerra at the West Bus Operating Facility, calls his new employee's act heroic.

"He put his life in danger to help somebody who was in danger. Most people probably wouldn't have done it," said Becerra. "He always has a positive attitude. He's always upbeat and gets along with his passengers. He's always willing to help his coworkers."
 

 

Suburban Warrior Loves His Bus Buddies
 

 

Ian Yanagisawa, METRO bus rider who wrote a song about his commuteFor 14 years, Ian Yanagisawa has been riding a METRO Park & Ride bus - and for about the last eight years, he's been commuting downtown on the 274 Westchase/Gessner.  

That's logging a lot of miles - enough for the environmental engineer at El Paso Energy Services to become part of a bus community.

In fact, Yanagisawa loves riding the bus so much, the poet and aspiring composer has written lyrics about his experience.

"There are always people I'm looking for on the bus - my bus buds," said Yanagisawa. "We do our bit to catch up - from weddings to stock tips...to where a good restaurant is they just found. We've gotten to be friends outside of just sitting on the bus."

Yanagisawa says there's another benefit, too, in leaving the driving to someone else.

"Less hassles on the way, you don't have to worry about parking. I can kick back and work on songs, or read a book. I appreciate that time not having the stress of driving through traffic," said Yanagisawa, who's teaching himself to play guitar.

Yanagisawa captured his bus-riding experience in a song - penned on a 5 x 7 notepad while riding METRO:

I'm a suburban warrior

I spend my days downtown

Two hours on that bus each day

Can really wear you down.

It has its compensations though

That makes it all worthwhile

You may be saving money

But the people cause the smiles.

I see them in the morning

I see ‘em going back

My bus buds know just when to talk

And when to cut some slack

My company pays my bus fare

"You'll be greener," so they say

You'll save on gas and parking

With less hassle on the way

All that's true I guess

But when the day is done

I wouldn't ride this bus so much

If the people weren't fun.

Forty feet long

And eight feet wide

The doors hiss open

And I climb inside

The driver smiles and says hello

The seats fill up

And we're good to go.

Margaret has saved a spot

And talks about her kids

Lisa tells me of her dogs

And the silly things they did

Jim worries about the test he took

Wondering if he'll pass

Me? I'm working on a brand new song

While sitting on my....

Everything gets talked about

When you're riding on the bus

You may not agree on them

But no one makes a fuss

Politics to movies

Projects or a trip

Weddings or a restaurant

We pass each other tips.

If I won the lottery

And didn't need to ride

I'd miss those conversations

I'd feel emptier inside

So I'd buy a bus and be the driver

My friends would ride for free

We'd solve the problems of the world

And have you home by three.

                           - Ian Yanagisawa

 

Commuters Take More than 10 Billion Trips
 

 

Commuters lining up to take bus at Cypress Park & RideDespite the economic recession, commuters continue to ride public transit.

Last year, Americans took more than 10 billion trips on public transportation. That marks the fourth consecutive year of more than 10 billion trips, according to the American Public Transportation Association (APTA).

The high unemployment rate, coupled with lower gas prices, did tamp down ridership a bit - but public transit remains strong.

Last year, 10.2 billion trips were taken on public transit, a 3.8 percent decrease from the 52-year record set in 2008. Cutbacks from state and local funding also fueled lower ridership.

"Given last year's economic hardship, this small decrease in ridership from a record number of ridership trips in 2008, indicates that support for public transit remains strong," said William Millar, APTA president.Riders boarding Cypress P&R bus

Since 1995, public transit has increased 31 percent, a figure that is more than double the growth rate of the population (15 percent) and exceeds the growth rate for the vehicle miles traveled on our highways (21 percent) for that same period.

And if you are one of those commuters, you can pat yourself on the back for going green. Public transit in the U.S. saves 4.2 billion gallons of gas every year and decreases our carbon emissions by 37 million metric tons every year, says APTA.

Read the full APTA ridership report here.

 

 

Sweet Tooth? Q Card Yields Sweet Desserts
 

Interior of Julia's BistroThose of you who use your METRO Q® Fare Card every day know the convenience of tapping to board the bus or train. No more digging for change, or searching for bent paper tickets.

Now, there's another fringe benefit of having a Q.

Dine at Julia's Bistro on Main Street, right on the Red Line and show your Q - you'll get a complimentary dessert. The restaurant features organic and locally-grown foods, along with an award-winning wine list.

The menu changes seasonally, but here are some recent offerings: pollo poblano - flattened chicken *** stuffed with portabella mushrooms and panela cheese wrapped in bacon, served with poblano pepper sauce. Or plaintain crusted snapper - a fresh snapper filet encrusted with plantain chips, topped with a ginger mango butter sauce, served with roasted maduros and green beans.

The midtown bistro was named after the grandmother of owner Carmen Vasquez, with whom Vasquez learned about rustic cuisine in a small kitchen in Mexico.

Ric Ancira, general manager at Julia's, said the rail line was definitely a factor in deciding where to locate the restaurant at 3722 Main St.

"This is a prime location. Fortunately, we're between downtown and the Texas Medical Center, and people like to ride the rail to lunch. We wanted to encourage people to get out, and at the same time, reduce the carbon footprint," Ancira said. "So I thought - well, show us a rail pass, and our part will be to treat you to dessert."

Read real reviews from real people on yelp.com.  One diner said Julia's Bistro offered the best cappuccino he's tasted.

 

 

Keeping Our Patrons Safe
 

Crowds of people on trainTomorrow, if you're riding the rail to the rodeo, rest assured that we will be doing our best to make sure you have a safe commute.

While thousands of rodeo-goers are expected to take the Red Line to Reliant Park to attend the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, we will have an anti-terrorist force out on the platform, looking for any suspicious activity.

A joint operation with a federal Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR) team, METRO's anti-terrorist officers and Special Operations Response Team (SORT) officers will be working with federal air marshals and police dogs trained to detect bombs.

VIPR is a part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Transportation Security Administration and enhances local transit agencies' resources when conducting a highly visible surge during special events. More than 50 mass transit deployments have occurred since the program started in December 2005, according to TSA's Web site.

Look for our own award-wining K-9 officer Shadow and his handler Officer Chris Oberland. K-9officer and handler checking the track

"This is an opportunity for us to show a presence where there is a high volume of people," said Lt. Vera Bumpers, who leads MPD's Homeland Security division. "What we're doing is making sure we stay diligent in protecting our patrons and employees along the rail line."

The team will be looking for any suspicious criminal activity, suspicious people or suspicious packages, said Bumpers, adding that METRO has not received any credible threats.

The anti-terrorist officers have received behavior recognition training that allows them to better detect not only activity associated with international terrorism but domestic criminal activity that could have terrorist overtones.

 

 

Need More Cash? Try This Idea
 

 

Bus with city skyline behindIn these tough economic times, all of us are looking for ways to save money. Here's one way you can save thousands of dollars a year.

Ride the bus to work.

Transit commuters can save on average $9,215 every year, according to research conducted by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA).

That figure is based on the March 3 national average gas price and the national unreserved monthly parking rate. The average cost per gallon of gas on March 3 was $2.703 - 77 cents more than than the price per gallon a year ago same time.

That means you can save $715 more this year than last year if your ride public transportation.

On average, transit riders can save $768 every month. Imagine what you could do with that extra money. Plus, there are other benefits to riding the bus: You can sleep, text without distraction, read a book.

"Taking public transportation provides a safe and affordable way or individuals and families to cut costs," said APTA in a statement. "In addition, taking local public transit offers a travel option that has an immediate positive impact in reducing an individual's overall carbon footprint while helping reduce America's dependence on foreign oil."

Here's how the top 10 cities with the highest transit ridership rank in order of their annual transit savings:

 

1. New York        $13,740

2. Boston           $12,333

3. San Francisco  $12,134

4. Chicago          $11,298

5. Seattle           $11,197

6. Philadelphia    $11,095

7. Honolulu        $10,689

8. Los Angeles    $10,023

9. San Diego       $ 9,859

10. Mineapolis    $ 9,856

 

 

 

 

Building Passenger Rail in America
 

Red trainHigh-speed rail has captured headlines recently with the Obama administration earmarking $8 billion in stimulus funds toward high-speed rail in California, Florida and Illinois.

In fact, nine out of 10 Americans say high-speed rail would be a long-distance option, according to a survey by HTNB Corp., an engineering and architectural firm.

But if any transit agency wants to buy passenger rail cars, it would have to look overseas. Most passenger rail equipment is manufactured overseas.

Here at METRO, we are buying new trains from CAF in Spain because there is no American manufacturer of light-rail trains.

Now two American companies are forming a joint venture to build rail cars in the United States. US Railcar LLC of Ohio and American Railcar Industries Inc. of Missouri said they will build and sell "self-propelled and unpowered passenger rail cars in both single and bi-level configurations," according to the US Railcar's press release.  

Both companies had built freight rail exclusively. The new venture will be called US Railcar Co.