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METRO Job Fair Scouting for Good Drivers

Woman bus driverWith unemployment soaring to its highest level in 25 years, you or someone you know may be interested in a part-time job.

We're hosting a job fair here at METRO at our headquarters on Saturday, May 2, from 8 a.m. to noon.

Come find out why being a part-time bus operator may be just the ticket for you. Your starting pay: $15 an hour.

Part-time bus operators can work up to 33 hours a week. Applicants must be at least 21 years old, have a valid driver's license and be able speak, read and write in English.

If you're bilingual, that's a plus.

We'll give you free training for your commercial driver's license. A high school diploma or GED is preferred but not required.Male bus driver

Apply in person or online at Or check us out at the job fair in three weeks.

It's not unusual to find drivers who have been working here 15, 25 or even 30 years. If you like meeting the public and enjoy a job outside the office, driving a METRO bus may be just the job for you or someone you know.





Wrapped Trains Advertise Airport Direct


Train wrap of Airport Direct adThis morning, if you commute by train, you noticed that some of our trains are partially wrapped with a vinyl ad, showcasing our Airport Direct service.

Three of our 18 trains made its wrapped debut on Saturday. These mobile billboards are meant to spread the word that our nonstop shuttle service from downtown to IAH's Terminal C is a convenient way to get to and from the airport.

This is the third time METRO has wrapped its trains. The first time was advertising the Lucy exhibit at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. The second was the I Ride campaign with celebrities George Foreman, Astros' outfielder Carlos Lee and fashion designer Chloe Dao.

Other transit agencies are wrapping trains to put a message in motion. Detroit's airport People Mover, an automated light-rail system that operates over the city's central business district, carries a wrap.

Here at METRO, we have advertised only our own services or a non-profit organization with whom we are partnering. Industry analysts have said that mobile media billboards have a 97 percent recall rate - but those stats are not train-specific.

But check out the wrap - and try out Airport Direct. The wrap will be up for 90 days.

Instead of contending with unpredictable traffic, paying for parking your car at a nearby airport lot, or persuading a friend to drop you off at the airport, METRO's quiet coach buses can whisk you to and from the airport. Train wrap of Airport Direct ad

It leaves every 30 minutes and costs $15, one way. A concierge service at Passenger Plaza (located at the corner of Pierce and Travis) will help you with your luggage, call ahead if you need a taxi, or help you load money on a Q Card. Free coffee, flat-screen televisions, clean restrooms and comfortable seating areas are inside.

Since METRO launched this service in August 2008, growth in ridership has been steady. In March, average daily boardings were 98, exceeding original projections.

The next time you need to go to the airport, give Airport Direct a try.

Pasadena Residents to Get Park & Ride Service


Explorer bus & METRO bus at press conferenceStarting next Monday, Pasadena residents who need to go to downtown Houston or the Texas Medical Center can take a METRO Park & Ride bus for a carefree, cost-efficient trip.

METRO, Harris County Precinct 2 and the city of Pasadena have partnered to give new Park & Ride service from the Pasadena Town Square Mall to downtown Houston.

This is the second Park & Ride service that METRO and Harris County Precinct 2 Commissioner Sylvia R. Garcia have opened in East Harris County. The first one was Baytown Park & Ride, which started in October 2007.

Today, this new service was announced at a press conference at the parking lot of the Pasadena Town Square Mall, where Garcia and METRO officials praised the partnership.

 "We've proven this model of interagency cooperation works," Garcia said in a statement. "By joining in an inter-local agreement with METRO, we are giving Pasadena-area residents the ability to plug into an established transportation system that can take them to downtown, the Texas Medical Center and other important destinations."

METRO's Explorer bus, a mini-RideStore on wheels, was also on hand to offer METRO Q® Fare Cards to customers. The one-way fare will be $3.75. Customers who use a METRO Q® Fare Card will get five free trips for every 50 paid trips.

The 244 Monroe/Pasadena Park & Ride will offer four trips every weekday morning and five trips every weekday afternoon. Service runs from 5:48 a.m. to 7:23 a.m. and 4:05 p.m. to 5:58 p.m.

The bus will stop at the Monroe Park & Ride lot before heading into downtown on the regular 244 Monroe route. Click here to see a detailed schedule. From the Monroe Park & Ride, you can transfer to the 297 South Point to go directly to the Medical Center.

This new Pasadena Park & Ride service, along with the Baytown Park & Ride service, is an important step to creating an integrated transit system for this region, said Frank J. Wilson, METRO's president & CEO.

"Creating a seamless system is more efficient and cost effective than a scattershot approach to mass transit," said Wilson in a statement. "It's important to remember that the people who ride transit also pay for it - not just with fares, but with tax dollars."

China Aims to Be No. One Maker of Electric Cars


Electric car made in ChinaChina has announced it intends to become the leading manufacturer of hybrids and all-electric cars.

Already behind Japan and the United States in making gas-powered vehicles, China is turning its liability into what it hopes will be an opportunity by jumping over the current technology and diving into the next, reports today's New York Times.

Japan is the current leader in hybrids with the Toyota Prius and Honda Insight, while the United States has limped behind. General Motors' Chevy Volt, a plug-in hybrid, is expected to be in showrooms next year.

China says it wants to not only create jobs and produce exports, but also cut pollution and lower its dependence on foreign oil.  

Taxi fleets and local governments in 13 Chinese cities are being offered subsidies of up to $8,800 for every hybrid or all-electric vehicle they buy. Beijing, Shanghai and Tianjin are setting up car charging stations with its state electricity grid.

The latest models of electric cars in China sport a top speed of 60 miles an hour and a range of 120 miles between charges. That's not much of a problem since most commutes in China are short and low-speed, due to traffic gridlock. Plus, first-time buyers, who comprise 80 percent of the market, aren't used to powerful, gas-powered vehicles. All-electric car made in China

But most Chinese live in apartments without driveways, so the Chinese would need to create more public charging centers.

Pictured on this post are two Chinese electric cars.

China says it wants to produce 500,000 hybrid or all-electric cars and buses by the end of 2011. Japan and South Korea combined are expected to produce 1.1 million hybrid or all-electric vehicles by then; and North America 267,000, according to a forecast by CSM Worldwide, an auto consulting firm.


Midday and Late Night Service Brings New Riders

Flyer promoting midday serviceIf you build it, they will come.

That's the voice an Iowa corn farmer heard in the movie, "Field of Dreams." He believed that if he built a baseball diamond in the corn fields, fans would come.

At METRO, we have had mid-day and late-night service on our Park & Ride routes - on some routes since the early 1990s. We were offering 7,400 seats on 131 daily trips in six freeway corridors. So we had created the routes - but no one came. Most of those seats were empty because few riders knew about this service.

Last October, we launched a marketing campaign to change that.Flier promoting midday service

A customer awareness survey indicated that a sizeable portion of existing riders who were using Park & Ride lots weren't aware of our midday/late night options - and many of the respondents said they needed service during this time period.

We sent an e-mail blast to all our RideSponsors - the companies that have corporate accounts with METRO and whose employees ride METRO.

We also wrapped narrow banners on Park & Ride kiosks, promoting the midday/late night routes. Those banners topped downtown kiosks, as well. We filled buses with fliers. Our Web site soon sported a feature on the home page, informing readers of this, too. Plus, our community reps talked face-to-face to Park & Ride customers.

It worked.

Before the marketing blitz, 20 percent of the respondents surveyed said they were unaware of our midday service. After the blitz, 6 percent were unaware.

Jim Archer, manager/ridership analysis"METRO's informational and promotional efforts contributed to an increase in awareness," said Jim Archer, METRO's manager of ridership analysis/service evaluation.

Despite a fare increase last fall, we recorded higher boardings than what we had expected between November 2008 and February 2009. 

"We're being more efficient and more effective," said Archer.

Click here to see all our midday and late night routes.


Fun Photos to Make You Smile

Dog wearing seat belt in back seat of carIn the midst of gloomy economic news day after day, it's nice when you run into something online that makes you smile. Check out these fun and odd Big TV strapped to train commuter's backphotos from the collection of Marco Folio.

Here are three that are transit-related.

Click the link below to see more of Folio's funny photos.

If you have any humorous, transit photos taken on METRO, e-mail them to me. (click "contact us" on the navigation bar on the left).  We'll post the best.

Wavy road through sand dunes



Trading Clunkers for Cash


Old carTrade in your old gas-guzzling car, buy a new fuel-efficient one - and get your own personal bailout from the government.

A measure being considered by the House - and another version by the Senate - would give vouchers ranging from $2,500 to $5,000 to car owners who shed their clunkers for cars that get 27 miles per gallon, reports the New York Times today.

President Obama has endorsed the concept of a big cash incentive for trade-ins, but wants to use money already allocated in the $787 billion economic stimulus package. That means other programs would have to be cut to pay for this one.

The House measure would offer a $4,000 voucher for a new car rated at 27 miles per gallon and assembled in the United States, while vehicles assembled outside the U.S. would qualify only if the vehicles were rated at 30 miles per gallon.

The Senate measure, designed more to protect the environment than to spur car sales, would offer $2,500 for trade-ins older than 10 years; $3,000 for cars eight to 10 years old; and up to $4,500 for vehicles up to seven years old.Close-up of chipped paint on old car

Almost a dozen European countries have a similar program without restrictions on where the vehicles are manufactured.

Here in Texas, a "cash for clunkers" program exists - but only for low-income drivers, who can receive up to $3,500 to trade in cars that fail emissions tests or are more than 10 years old.

Click here to read more about the Texas program.

Keeping Our Streets Safe


"Bus" written on roadBus operators and maintenance employees who play it safe have been recognized for their outstanding safety records at METRO.

About three percent of our maintenance employees and bus drivers earned METRO's 2009 Safety Award.

"We want to give our employees an incentive to work safely. It's very important because the safer the employees we have, the safer the buses, the safer the drivers, the more people will ride the service," said Reggie Mason, associate vice president and chief safety officer at METRO.

The awards are given annually, recognizing safe drivers and hourly maintenance employees who achieve 15-year safety records. Seventy-three employees who had posted at least 15 years of safe service were honored this past Saturday at METRO's internal rodeo competition.

Hourly maintenance workers and drivers are offered a cash incentive and awards, such as a windbreaker, belt buckle - or a leather jacket for 25 years of safe service. The windbreaker jacket says: "METRO Safety: Five Years of Safe Driving" on it. Hourly maintenance workers include mechanics, cleaners and storeroom attendants.

Maintenance employes must have at least 15 consecutive years of injury-free service and no safety infractions to be eligible for an award.  Bus operators must accumulate at least three years of injury-free service, no preventable bus accidents and no safety infractions. Bus drivers do not have to have consecutive years of safe driving to be eligible, but can "bank" safe years until they achieve three years of safety, for which they receive a bronze belt buckle.   

"These awards work tremendously. We've seen great results by giving them safety awards. They're recognized by their peers and the public," said Mason, adding that it was difficult to earn a safety award in Houston's hazardous traffic.

METRO conducts safety training every two years for drivers and every year for mechanics. Wrenches in a row

"It's a very good program. It gives them something to work towards - just staying safe on the road," said Willie Mae Richardson-Kirks, who administers the program. "If they can see they're going to be recognized for being safe, that may give them something to think about when they pull out of the bus facility every morning. From the operators' standpoint, they feel they are appreciated and agree that it takes determination and staying focused on safety to achieve this award."

Congratulations to all those who earned a 2009 Safety Award. Thanks for staying safe on the job - and keeping our streets safer, too.

To find out if your driver has been honored for his safe record, click the link below.

Download pdf file: METRO 2009 Safety Awards


Tripping with Mr. Solomon

Meet Mr. Solomon. He likes to travel - and he does it with style. "Elvis" goes tripping

One day, he's jetting to Miami, another day to Georgia. Find out why - and discover METRO's new Airport Direct service.

To spread the word about our direct service from downtown to Terminal C at IAH, we created a commercial, producing it in-house, using METRO employees as actors.

We went for the YouTube effect - sort of funky with a homemade quality. YouTube is one of the most popular Web portals in the world where people can post and view thousands of videos.   Watch it and tell us what you think. And the next time you fly out of Bush International Airport, consider using Airport Direct. It leaves every 30 minutes, gets you to Terminal C in 30 minutes - and costs $15. YouTube logo

Imagine a Train Ride Sans Cell Phones


Cell phone usersYou're on a rush-hour train, exhausted from a busy day at the office. The last thing you want to hear is someone chatting on his cell phone about info you don't care to know.

Now, for Philadelphia-area commuters, there's a respite from cell phone talkers and noisy kids. Starting April 6, Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority rush-hour trains will have a designated "Quiet Ride" car.

No cell phones can be used, except for texting. No crying babies or groups of school kids. Woman on cell phone while riding train

A "Quiet Ride" car will be the first car of every peak-period train. Most rush-hour trains have three cars.

The transit agency tested the concept in January and was surprised at the interest and enthusiasm by passengers. The quiet car was an immediate success, reports The Philadelphia Inquirer.

In a survey of passengers who ride lines with existing quiet cars, 84 percent said most of their fellow passengers abide by the quiet rules. When they don't, conductors pass out cards that say, "SHHHHH - You're on a Quiet Ride car."




Watch METRO Matters on HCCTV


METRO Matters logoMETRO Matters, our mini-talk show, is now airing regularly on Houston Community College's TV station, HCCTV, Channel 19 on Comcast Cable.

You can catch the show at these times:

Sunday, 11 a.m.

Tuesday, 6:30 p.m.

Thursday, 2 p.m.

In addition, you can watch the program on Houston Media Source, Channel 17.

And of course, you can always view it on your computer by logging to our Web site. Right now, the latest show features Art Jackson discussing METROLift, our service for people with disabilities.

Look for our new show next month that explains how we design routes, where buses go and how frequently they go there.


Lunchtime Fun Learning About Clean Air

Logo of Fresh Air Friday event

Free food, live jazz and springtime on the plaza – what better way to learn about clean air and what you can do to make our air cleaner? 

The Houston-Galveston Area Council (H-GAC) is hosting Fresh Air Friday: A Picnic on the Plaza this Friday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The sixth annual outdoor picnic and concert promotes clean air programs and shows Houstonians how to keep our city beautiful. The event will take place at Jones Plaza on Louisiana between Jones Hall and Bayou Place.

 METRO will participate with a new Orion VII hybrid-electric bus on display.

 Some of the benefits of hybrids include:


·      NOx emissions reduced by as much as 50 percent

·      Expected fuel savings of 15 to 20 percent from standard buses

We expect to acquire 100 hybrid buses in 2009 – 50 Orion hybrid transit buses and 50 MCI commuter hybrid buses. This is part of our fleet replacement plan based on acquiring 100 buses a year, or replacing one-twelfth of our fleet every year. The expected life span of a bus is 12 years.

In addition, we’ll be promoting our bikes-on-buses program with many of METRO’s bike team attending.

“As the transit provider in the city, it’s important for us to be out in the public. We’re changing our fleet – getting 100 new hybrid buses this year. We have a good story to tell. That’s what this program does –to promote all clean-air initiatives,” said Karen Marshall, METRO’s director of community outreach.

METRO will also be showcasing its Star van for vanpooling and will have a Star van on exhibit. METRO has 760 vanpools and 8,200 riders as of September 2008.

“We’re exposing the public to our services,” said Ernest Chou, senior community rep. “METROVan plays a huge role every year. We are trying to get clients who cannot use bus routes and live in outlying areas.”

Airport Direct will also be featured – METRO’s nonstop service from downtown to Terminal C at IAH. It runs every 30 minutes and cost $15, one way.

We’ll be giving away bikes-on-buses brochures in four languages (English, Spanish, Chinese and Vietnamese),  decals, and packets of peanuts to promote Airport Direct.

H-GAC hopes each participant will sign a pledge to reduce our ozone footprint by committing to one action. It can be as simple as turning out unused lights to using public transit. Even if you ride the bus or train one day a week, you can make a difference.

Click here to make a pledge toward clean air.

If you attend, you’ll have a chance to win a photography package, a week of yoga and four tickets to Dominic Walsh Contemporary Dance Theater. If you make a pledge, you will be automatically entered to win a bicycle, helmet or skateboard.

Hope to see you at Fresh Air Friday.





Heroes on Wheels: Quick Thinking Prevents HOV Tragedy



Heroes on Wheels logoTwo minutes after bus operator Jacqueline Cooper pulled out of the Townsen Park & Ride lot, her 17 years of bus driving skills were about to be tested in a life-or-death incident.

She had just loaded about 40 passengers on the 257 Townsen P & R when she noticed a motorcyclist trying to enter the HOV lane from the Park & Ride lot.

The entrance ramp has a gate with a mechanical arm that goes up for drivers. When it failed to work, the motorcyclist detoured through the Park & Ride lot, planning to use another ramp to enter the HOV lane - the same ramp cars and buses use.

Cooper saw him behind the bus on her left and knew he would try to pass her. As he passed, he hit a cement median from the top of the ramp. Bus operator Jacqueline Cooper

 "He lost control of his motorcycle. He and his motorcycle fell right in front me in my lane. They were rolling and tumbling down the HOV lane - about 12 feet in front of me," recalls Cooper of the incident last September.

"Passengers were screaming. I had tunnel vision. All I could see was him and his motorcycle. All I could hear within my spirit was, ‘Don't hit him, don't kill him, don't run over him.' I didn't even hear the people screaming on the bus. I was deaf. I was focusing on the guy, making sure I was stopping the bus," says Cooper.

The motorcycle hit the retainer wall to the right, bounced off and hit the motorcyclist - and both continued to tumble down the HOV lane southbound.

About 10 to 15 seconds later, Cooper successfully brought the bus to a stop in a straight line, before reaching the breakdown lane. "The bus was sitting over the skid mark where the motorcycle had skidded," says Cooper.

Cooper says the motorcyclist was an experienced driver. She noticed that when he tumbled, he tumbled from shoulder to shoulder, never touching his face on the asphalt. He got up and tried to get out of harm's way, one pant leg ripped off, exposing a bloody leg. Two sheriff deputies who were passengers on Cooper's bus ran to help him.

Cooper's supervisor picked her up, and passengers transferred to another passing bus.  She and the motorcyclist never spoke to each other.

"I was shaken up. I was nervous. I couldn't drive for a while because it was in my head. I could see instant reply over and over," says Cooper.

The single mother says she became a bus driver because she grew tired of scrubbing down and changing gowns from her previous job as a certified phlebotomist - someone who draws blood - before she could hug her three young children.

During this near-miss last fall, everything she learned about safe driving came into play: aim high in steering, look ahead, be aware of surroundings.

"Things we were taught over the years from the safety department...all those principles fell right into place," says Cooper, a hero to her riders and the unnamed motorcylist.

By the next day, Cooper was back driving her shift. "I was still feeling somewhat nervous, but I had it under control," she says.

When she's not driving a bus and keeping her passengers safe, Cooper enjoys shopping and going to the movies.



Do Your Part to Reduce Houston's Ozone



Houston skylineStep outside, and take a deep breath.

You have just inhaled the nation's second most polluted air when it comes to ozone.  And if Houston doesn't clean up its ozone level, it stands to let millions of dollars in federal funding slip away, according to a report today on KUHF-FM.

But improving our city's ozone level isn't something that is solely the mandate of manufacturing firms or government officials. Every one of us needs to do our part. That's the message from the Houston-Galveston Area Council (HGAC), which has launched a clean air awareness program, during ozone season from March 1 to Nov. 1.

H-GAC is asking individuals to commit to one clean-air action to reduce Houston's ozone footprint.

Suggested actions include:


  • Drive the speed limit.
  • Turn off lights when not needed.
  • Upgrade home heating and cooling system.
  • Take your lunch to work or school.
  • Avoid drive-through lanes.
  • Don't use gas engines such as lawnmowers until after 6 p.m.
  • Combine errands on one trip.

H-GAC has an on-line pledge to fill out - and when you do, you're eligible to win prizes - from a bicycle to a free week of yoga.

Of course, here at METRO, we encourage you to ride the bus, train or vanpool to help cut back on ozone output. We offer a $35 a month incentive to eligible vanpoolers.  Our "Guaranteed Ride Home" will pay for a taxi when emergencies require you to leave work before your vanpool's normal departure time.

METROMatch will also use its extensive database to match commuters in an eight-county region who live and work near each other.

KUHF's report features a Katy resident who turned to vanpooling when gas hit $4 a gallon last year. Veronica Baxter-Lamb not only helped the region's air quality, she felt the difference in her pocketbook.

"I went from spending maybe $400 a month on gas to only spending about $100 a month on the monthly bill for the vanpool," she told KUHF. Click here to listen to the report.

H-GAC is sponsoring its sixth annual Fresh Air Friday  - an outdoor picnic and concert at Jones Plaza in the center of the theater district - to promote more ways to keep Houston clean. METRO will be there, too.

Building Transit in "Final Frontier"



Frank J. Wilson in front of busFrank J. Wilson, METRO's president & CEO, has worked on both coasts - but it's the Gulf Coast he calls the final frontier for transit - the land that transit forgot.

In the nation's fourth largest city with three downtowns and where more than 2,000 people are moving every year, building transit is a challenge - but one METRO is ready to tackle.

"Can we build fast enough to influence where they go, or are we going to have to catch up to the location decisions they make? One's easy to serve. The other is really difficult to serve," Wilson told Mass Transit, a monthly industry publication.

In a wide-ranging cover story of the March issue, Wilson discussed with Mass Transit the success of our one rail line, what we're doing to prevent rail accidents, our fleet replacement plan, hybrid buses, Signature bus and an innovative way to buy trains.

On Main Street rail line's success:

"Before there was a rail line on Main Street, Houston didn't understand what rail was. And the first year after it was here, it was a curse that was sent here by the transit gods," said Wilson.

"And now it's irreplaceable in five short years. There's no here who's going to say we should roll it up and give Main Street back to the automobile," he continued.

It succeeded because of the locations the 7.5 mile line connects - the financial district, downtown and the Texas Medical Center.

"There is no other place that connects all that...Now people use this as a horizontal elevator. It's like a cable car but flat - on and off, on and off, on and off," said Wilson.

On off-the-rack procurement:

Traditionally, transit agencies give train manufacturers a long list of specifications. But when METRO set out to buy its new light-rail vehicles, it told the METRO's new train coming in 2012prospective vendors there was a short list: no specs.

Wilson asked the vendors to select the car they felt the most comfortable with and pitch that. There had to be at least 10 vehicles running and METRO would send its staff to evaluate them.

"It was their car on their terms at their price. I'm just selecting the one that looked best price-wise," said Wilson. "We're not dictating the terms. We're accepting the terms from the marketplace...Just give me your best offer on your best car. I'll either accept it or reject it," said Wilson.

It was an unconventional way to buy trains - but one that shaved time and money from the standard process. On the left is a photo of the CAF USA train we expect to have in 2012.

Click here to read the complete article.

Transcript of Today's Web Chat with Andy Skabowski


Andy Skabowski answering questions in Web chatToday, we conducted our monthly Web chat, Transit Talk, with Andy Skabowski, associate vice president of operations.

The hour flew by with lots of good questions from you. Skabowski typed his own answers - he was the fastest two-finger typist I've seen. He's pictured on the left.

Here's the transcript.


 (12:01:56 PM) Andy Skabowski:

Q : Any word on the double deckers?
A : We are still evaluating the use of double decker buses on specific Park and Ride routes. This evaluation will continue as we explore the possible use of double deckers.


(12:02:10 PM) Andy Skabowski:

Q : I got dibs on first ride on front seats on the upper deck! (Cedric gets the second?)
A : Cedric asked for the seat months ago




(12:03:05 PM) Andy Skabowski:

Q : The bicycle community wants to use mass transit for part of its travel. If the entire fleet of buses does not have racks, we cannot depend on them for a timely commute.
A : As we continue our fleet replacement plan, we will move to having our entire bus fleet bicycle-ready.



(12:03:34 PM) Andy Skabowski:

Q : Also, will the new rail cars allow bicycles at all times of service.?
A : At present, bikes are allowed on trains during off-peak hours due to high passenger loads during peak hours.



(12:05:50 PM) Andy Skabowski:

Q : Andy, with the changes in maintenance, will there be accountability on a technician level ?
A : We address mechanic accountability and completeness of repair every day and will continue that. We are also working with the first level supervision staff to review work


(12:07:13 PM) Andy Skabowski:

Q : Why is it that when a bus is broken down or is in an accident downtown, that word is NOT relayed to people standing at the bus stops in downtown?
A : The timing involved with getting the word out to bus stops in most cases is longer than the actual event. That being said, we always attempt to improve our communications with both the operators and patrons.



(12:07:37 PM) Andy Skabowski:

Q : Why does the rail not go to UH Central campus but goes  to the rinky dink downtown campus?

A: Hold on to your hat, and read up on METRO Solutions.


 (12:10:50 PM) Andy Skabowski:

Q : My next question has to do with fleet longevity. Recently, METRO  has been retiring buses before they hit the age of 12, or very shortly thereafter. Some of the GM New Look Rehabs (the original 33xx, 34xx, and 36xx buses) of the 80s lasted 20+ years with the last being retired by the influx of the Hungarian Ikarus models of the early 90s. The RTS lasted until 2001 after 20 years of unmatched quality of service and even the infamous Grumman rebuilds limped into their 18th year in 1997. Meanwhile, the New Flyer minis, a number of the Neoplan Transit Artics, and the older (1400 series) Neoplan Suburban Artics suffered or are suffering oddly early deaths. A number of Stewart and Stevenson buses from the early 90s were retired along with the RTS in 2001. A number of 10-11 year old Ikarus buses were also stored at this time. Is fleet longevity no longer a priority at Metro? Can we expect a replacement cycle of 12-13 years from now on?
A : Buses can be retired based on two criteria. One is age (12 years) and the other is miles. As buses get past that age, they become more costly to maintain. If I could buy a GMC bus I would, but the bus is no longer manufactured.



 (12:11:10 PM) Andy Skabowski:

Q : Are the Neoplan 3700s finally retired?
A : All but five and the last five are due out the door by month's end.

 (12:12:25 PM) Andy Skabowski:

Q : Do buses have GPS tracking?
A : All METRO buses are equipped with GPS tracking devices that allow for a buses location to be broadcast at TranStar.




(12:13:51 PM) Andy Skabowski:

Q : If I see people get on the rail without paying, do I have to pay to get on the rail?
A : Patrons are expected to tap or pay before getting on the train. MPD officers randomly check the platform for fare evasion and you can get ticketed.


(12:14:40 PM) Andy Skabowski:

Q : Perhaps they were before your time at Metro, but the GMC RTS-04 series (1901-2188) was without a doubt the most durable, efficient, and dare I say beautiful bus to ever be rostered by the agency. Given your background in the industry, do any of the current fleet measure up to the raw strength and reliability of these venerable beasts? Personally, I think the 4000s could do it (though 4124 broke down on me yesterday) as they seem to be the most "solid" of the NFI D40LF fleet.
A : I ran GMC buses while at New York City Transi, as well Philadelphia Transit. The GMC RTS bus was the best bus ever built



(12:15:07 PM) Andy Skabowski:

Q : When and where do the buses fill up for gas?
A : Buses are fueled with diesel daily at the bus operating facility.




 (12:15:56 PM) Andy Skabowski:

Q : Are customer services reps able to track buses?
A : Customer Service reps can if needed call TranStar to track a bus for emergency situations only.


 (12:18:45 PM) Andy Skabowski:

Q : What is the big issue with the artic concept? Does it cost more per mile than a regular bus? Odd we are getting rid of the concept after 25 years of service in the area. And the S-70's have TWO articulations per rail car!
A : Artic buses cost two to three times more per mile for maintenance than a standard 45-foot commuter style bus. As of 15 yrs ago, 45 foot- buses were not available, and the only options for a transit property were either 40- foot or 60- foot artics.




(12:19:57 PM) Andy Skabowski:

Q : Is that a yes or a no, Andy? And what about the homeless getting on the rail?
A : Yes, you have to pay ,and MPD actively works to address fare evasion on our trains.




(12:20:35 PM) Andy Skabowski:

Q : Are the METRO police real police?
A : Yes, they are a  certified transit police agency and one of  the few accredited ones in the country.  (See comment below for more explanation by Chief Tom Lambert).







(12:22:22 PM) Andy Skabowski:

Q : Unlike many on the blog, I hope that you all do away with the failed Articulated bus concept. Three times these buses have been ordered and twice they have suffered early retirements. Many of the old 1400 series Crown Articulated buses never saw their 12th year of service and the 44/45xx series Neoplan artics are nearing the end. Bus 4559 had such a worn bellows you it could double as a sun roof. The only artics that held up well were the 1400 series Neoplan buses retired in 2006/07 (a little too soon in my opinion). Is Metro looking to replace the current fleet of Articulated buses with more articulated, 40ft. buses, or perhaps Double Decker coaches?
A : Presently for Park and Ride service, we are looking at 45-foot commuter style buses. For local service, we are purchasing 40-foot transit buses, and we are presently considering the possible use of double decker buses in the future.



(12:25:04 PM) Andy Skabowski:

Q : Will the new rail be elevated? How fast can a light rail travel?
A : Plans and final designs for the new light rail alignments are still under development.







(12:26:42 PM) Andy Skabowski:

Q : Why is METRO Houston's service so bad compared to other cities' mass transport systems?
A : Houston METRO's service performance levels are measured by industry standards, and our service levels and perfomance are equal to, if not better, than other major cities.





(12:27:25 PM) Andy Skabowski:

Q : Who determines that needed repairs are properly performed on buses?
A : Needed repairs are promptly performed on buses and managed by local maintenance management


(12:27:55 PM) Andy Skabowski:

Q : METRO will not purchase articulated buses in the future?
A : As of now,  METRO will not purchase articulated buses in the future.



 (12:28:22 PM) Andy Skabowski:

Q : Is there a website available that discusses future rail expansions? What sort of master plan is in effect for rail? Suburb service availability, etc?
A : Please go to our Web site and look for the METRO Solutions tab. http://www.ridemetro.og/




 (12:29:57 PM) Andy Skabowski:

Q : Why do METRO buses do not have restrooms like normal coach buses?
A : Restrooms can be found on over the road charter buses that typically travel more than an hour or so while in use. Since the trip length on our Park and Rides is below an hour, the interior is maximized for seats, and no restroom in included.



 (12:30:58 PM) Andy Skabowski:

Q : Who makes the buses for METRO?  
A : The new buses being procured are either manufactured by Motor Coach Industries or Orion Bus.



 (12:31:48 PM) Andy Skabowski:

Q : Will bus routes terminate at the intermodal transit centers?
A : The Intermodal Transit Center is still under design but to answer your question,  yes, bus routes will terminate there.


 (12:33:24 PM) Andy Skabowski:

Q : During the preview of the double decker bus here, I noticed that its height was almost prohibitive on many if not almost all local streets. .Usage on a P & R would seem impossible due to height restrictions available on HOV lanes that have overpasses.. Is this the major restriction to their purchase?
A : Height restrictions due to low overpasses, trees and structures is a restriction to the use of double deckers, and is part of the evaluation presently occurring to consider their use in Houston.




(12:34:17 PM) Andy Skabowski:

Q : Why does METRO keep raising its prices, how are people expected to continue to ride the bus?
A : METRO has not raised fares in 14 years, despite increasing and improving service levels.


 (12:35:17 PM) Andy Skabowski:

Q : How many bus hubs are located around Houston?
A : If you mean Bus Operating Facilities (BOF's), METRO has six BOF's in the Houston area.


 (12:36:21 PM) Andy Skabowski:

Q : Why do Park and Ride drivers only drive a route for a certain time frame, and then a new driver takes over the route?
A : Operator job picks occur a number of times a year (service changes) based on seniority, causing you to see different operators.



(12:36:25 PM) Andy Skabowski:

Q : What size are the tires on a metro bus?
A : 22 inches


 (12:37:43 PM) Andy Skabowski:

Q : I noticed a lot of METRO buses (especially local routes) with broken or defective destination signs. Are there any plans in the future to try to repair or fix these signs?
A : Changes have been made recently to improve the state of repair of our destination signs. You should already start to see a marked improvement.


 (12:39:47 PM) Andy Skabowski:

Q : Articulated buses are much easier to operate. However, maintenance is costly. Using this thought, is it better to have newer buses and is it more cost effective to replace at a shorter lifespan?
A : Our fleet plan replaces 1/12 of our fleet annually. This allows for a level purchase plan. Federal dollars used to purchase buses require their use for 12 yrs. Buses are designed for that life span.




(12:40:27 PM) Andy Skabowski:

Q : Does METRO plan to expand service into the 1960 area?
A : We are reviewing a number of service areas that include 1960.


(12:41:28 PM) Andy Skabowski:

Q : When will construction commence on the proposed north, southeast, and uptown lines
A : We are close to getting FTA approvals. After that point we will be better able to define exact start dates on the various lines.



 (12:42:57 PM) Andy Skabowski:

Q : The talk lately about the new rail cars is they will hav esix doors and all-level seating. Will this affect the seating capacity of each train?
A : Six doors allow for better entry and egress into the train,especially in large crowds with a minimal effect on seating.



(12:44:23 PM) Andy Skabowski:

Q : As I recall, the operator's compartment was designed with comfort and ease of reach of all equipment. Can a configuration be produced that allows this same ease of operation on the Orions and future coaches?
A : The Orions have been designed with improved ergonomics over previous bus designs. The movement of the Press it screen was done to improve line of sight for the operator.


(12:45:12 PM) Andy Skabowski:

Q : What is the reasoning behind having more #25 Sharpstown buses than #25 Mission Bend buses?
A : Passenger loads and demands are consistently reviewed and routes modified based on those demands.



(12:45:46 PM) Andy Skabowski:

Q : Do longer Park and Ride routes have the "hybrid buses" due to the distance they drive on a daily basis? i.e. the kingwood route
A : Newer commuter-style, MCI hybrids are used in Park and Ride service.


(12:46:18 PM) Andy Skabowski:

Q : What are the possible headways for the proposed rail lines?
A : Check the blog later and we will answer that. I am the rubber tire guy.



(12:46:47 PM) Andy Skabowski:

Q : Does METRO plan to convert the HOV lanes into bi-directional toll lanes?
A : This, along with other ideas, are presently under consideration.




(12:48:50 PM) Andy Skabowski:

Q : What are the chances that we can see a marked increase in the number of buses on major routes instead of less buses doing more trips per day? Does this not increase the wear on units and contribute to their early demise?
A : Better bus fleet utilization allows for a transit property to better use its assets which are capital expenses. All Maintanance management plans are based on both a 12 yr bus life and the miles run by that bus.




(12:49:22 PM) Andy Skabowski:

Q : A recent blog post talked about the expansion of existing Park and Rides, Such as Townsen Park and Ride. Does anyone know when we can expect the new parking spaces (It's crowded!)
A :We will find the answer to that question and post it on the blog later.



(12:50:08 PM) Andy Skabowski:

Q : I ride the 33 bus quite often. The "Stop Requested" sign is almost always lit on the new buses running this route. Is Metro aware of this flaw with these new buses?
A : I am not aware of it but will look into it and provide the blog an answer. Thank you for pointing this out




(12:51:26 PM) Andy Skabowski:

Q : Will you also look into or forward a message to the person/people in charge that the 2 - Bellaire Sunday schedule is nearly impossible to run. I and others have called in on this issue numerous times to no avail. How often do you all check into these issues?
A : Service Supervision evaluates this and other routes daily. That being said the 2 Bellaire is a very busy route on a very busy street. I will pass this concern on and see what we can do.




(12:53:36 PM) Andy Skabowski:

Q : Is METRO still conforming to guidelines regarding emissions standards? I noticed that the emissions stickers are missing from buses per the "Shirley days."
A : All METRO buses meet the required EPA emission regulations. New equipment purchases exceed these requirements since they are utilize hybrid technologies as part of METRO's green initiatives.


 (12:55:17 PM) Andy Skabowski:

Q : Can you tell me more about the Orion VII buses? How much fuel are they saving, and how much less pollutants do they emit compared to the regular, non-hybrid buses?
A : Experience is showing us a 15 to 20 % fuel economy savings. Emissions reductions are 75% lower NOx, 90% lower Particulates (black smoke)




 (12:56:06 PM) Andy Skabowski:

Q : About how much water is used to wash the buses each day? Do you reuse the water to help the environment?
A : Not sure on how much is used daily but a large majority of it recycled and reused.


 (12:56:50 PM) Andy Skabowski:

Q : I really think it is time to review the 53 - Briar Forest Sunday schedule to modify the running time.
A : I will pass this on and welcome any suggestions.


(12:57:30 PM) Andy Skabowski:

Q : I noticed on the newer buses that you have an electronic sign that reads "Stop" and lights up every time the bus applies its brakes. Will this be added to all of the buses?
A : These signs will be added to buses over the next couple of years as part of a planned maintenance functions.







(12:59:38 PM) Andy Skabowski:

Q : . I've seen bus drivers talk on their cell phones while on duty. What is Metro's policy on that?
A : We do not allow them to have their cell phone on them while driving nor use it. If you see a Operator do this please take the bus number and time down and report it to customer service.



(1:00:08 PM) Andy Skabowski:

Q : I have been gone for a time.. When would it be possible to see and check out the Orion buses? Give it the ol' hands on experience?
A : Willie, you know how to reach me.


(1:02:29 PM) Andy Skabowski:

Goodbye, and thanks for chatting with us. As always, I love to talk about buses.





Web Chat Today at Noon


Web chat logoA reminder: Join us from noon to 1 p.m. to chat live with Andy Skabowski, associate vice president of operations.

Here's your chance to ask one of our top experts about operations and maintenance issues at METRO.

If you can't stay for the whole hour, drop in, ask a question and leave. You still have time to pre-submit questions on this blog before noon.  

Hope to see you soon.

Ray LaHood Visits Shovel-Ready Transit Projects


White, Wolff, LaHood & Jackson LeeUS Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood called today for all political parties to work together to build America's infrastructure, including light-rail projects in Houston.

"If we really want to get something done, work together," he urged at a news conference at the UH-Downtown business building, where METRO's future North Line rail corridor will run. "Set aside party differences and work together."

LaHood was in Houston on a whirlwind, all-day tour of various Houston shovel-ready construction projects. The tour included a visit to Texas Southern University, a high school of engineering students - and a ride on a METRO train down Main Street.

He was here at the invitation of Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Houston), who is chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Transportation Security and Infrastructure Protection.

LaHood said that of the $750 billion economic stimulus package that was recently passed by Congress, about $40 billion to $50 billion will go to transportation.

"That helps us jumpstart the economy and signal to America that light rail is very important to the transportation system" of the nation, said LaHood. "We're trying to get this money out the door and get it spent in a way that reflects the values of our department."LaHood at news conference

Before the news conference started, Mayor Bill White, METRO Chairman David Wolff and LaHood chatted in the lobby of the UH-Downtown building, a warm retreat from the light rain and chilly temperatures outside where the conference was held.

White told LaHood that METRO's light-rail projects were ready to go, urging that some of the federal dollars from the stimulus package be directed here.

Jackson Lee"Yes, sir. Got it," replied LaHood.

Jackson Lee called today's tour a "visual" for LaHood so he could better understand how transit is a "vibrant energizer of this community."

"New transportation and infrastructure projects in Houston will create new jobs and revitalize our distressed communities. The federal stimulus money is not only important, but essential for the people of Houston in order to rebuild and recover from these difficult economic times that we face," she said.










Don't Even Think About Jaywalking the Track



Pedestrian fencing at Downtown Transit stationIf you ride the train regularly, you probably have noticed that METRO has added more pedestrian fencing alongside the rail at most of our stations along Main Street.

The project was completed last month. METRO has installed wire cable that threads through pedestrian poles at the following stations: Fannin South, TMC Transit Center, Dryden, Memorial Hermann, HCC/Ensemble, McGowan, Downtown Transit and Main St. Square.

That's about 85 percent of the Red Line, said Melvyn Henry, METRO's rail safety manager. "The stations that were problem areas - we attacked those first," said Henry. "The remainder is soon to come. We plan to do the entire line as soon as we get some funding for it."

The pedestrian fencing is designed to deter people from jaywalking across the tracks.

"You wouldn't think people would do it but they do. In fact, before we put the ones here in front of 1900 Main, you could stand in the lobby and see it all day long. It was just amazing," said Henry.

Pedestrians in a hurry want to shave a few seconds off their walk to  their destination. But when a 50-ton train is churning down the tracks - no matter how slowly - it's not smart to step in front of it.

Hopefully, this new fencing will encourage people to cross the tracks at the crosswalks.

Next Web Chat Features Operations Expert

Web chat logoJoin us for our next Web chat on Tuesday, March 17, from noon to 1 p.m.

It will be hosted by Andy Skabowski, METRO's associate vice president of operations. Skabowski has worked in transit since 1989 and has experience in all facets of bus maintenance and engineering in both the public and private sectors. A nationally recognized engineer, he has developed maintenance protocols and practices which have been adopted nationwide. He's also a skilled business executive who has developed and managed budgets, negotiated contracts and managed large-scale purchases of vehicles. 

A former regional director of maintenance at Coach USA, Skabowski later ran multiple garage maintenance functions at New Jersey Transit. At the age of 28, he became a superintendent at the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority. He worked in fleet support engineering at New York City Transit Authority.  Skabowski holds a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering from the New York Institute of Technology.  


Here's your chance to ask our operations guru about anything from buses to brakes.  Wonder why certain buses are scheduled certain times? Or maybe you'd like to know how green METRO is with its fleet - and what our green future looks like. Want to know where our latest Orion hybrids are running these days?  Andy Skabowski, METRO associate vp of operations

Log in and go straight to our operations expert for answers. If you can't make the lunch time chat, we invite you to submit your questions here on this blog. We'll answer live questions first - and do our best to get to your pre-submitted ones during our chat.