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Joining the Mayor on Bike-to-Work Day

Bikers riding in group from Memorial park to downtownOn National Bike Day, 10 members of Team METRO, along with other Houstonians, joined Mayor Bill White, biking from Memorial park to city hall downtown.

About 300 cyclists pedaled the 15-mile route, making it a leisurely and conversational event. The ride began at 7:30 a.m. when the day was still refreshingly cool.

"It was fun. The weather was great," said Nicole Adler, a METRO bike team member. "This was an opportunity to see how easy it is to bike to work. It encourages you to do it."

Tom Pham, a ride leader of Team METRO, said this annual event helped trigger the creation of METRO's bike team.

"We're supporting the mayor's efforts to extend bike trails all over the city, and we're also promoting our bikes-on-bus program. It's a fun thing to do - it's a national event. It's awesome. I wish more employees would attend," said Pham. Team METRO with Mayor White 

Team METRO poses with Mayor White in the photo on the right. From left to right, first row: Hao Le,  Armando Trevino,  Mayor White.,  Lovie Miles, Tom Pham. L to R, back row:  Reginald Giles,  Marjorie Carter, Brian Rogers,  Charlene Lewis, Nicole Adler, Randy Frazier   

Hao Le, Team METRO's vice president, said he hopes today's event will convince people that traveling to work is feasible.

"I think one event over a period of time will spread the message and convince people," said Le, who bikes to work four out of five days.

For one day at least, the bikers who joined the mayor chose a healthy, environmentally-friendly way to get to work. Bike advocates are hoping this will become a habit for workers, who will trade four wheels for two on a more regular basis.

Champion Cyclist Tells How to Tour de Office


Hao Le and his bike in the officeFor the past two years, Hao Le has traded four wheels for two to get to work four days out of five. It's a 90-minute, 20-mile ride, but for this passionate biker, the commute is pure bliss.

Le, a METRO senior attorney, is a competitive racer who says he bikes from his home in the Memorial City area in west Houston to downtown as "training for races, stress relief, getting to work quickly and overall enjoyment of getting to work."

May is National Bike Month and this week is Bike-to-Work-Week, promoted by the League of American Bicyclists.

For commuters like Le, biking to work is extremely doable, despite Houston's year-round humidity. "When I get to work, I use baby wipes and the bathroom to wash my hair. I towel dry it," says Le. "I have a change of clothes in my office."

Le says he used city of Houston maps to find dedicated bike lanes - and 60 to70 percent of his ride occurs on those lanes.

He said drivers tend to immediately change lanes, giving cyclists the entire lane, or they brush up against the cyclist. Instead, Le advises: "Don't freak out when you see a cyclist riding in your lane. Take your time, slow down a little bit, and go through. You don't need to change lanes," he says.

This low-cost, environmentally friendly way to commute isn't as daunting as it may seem, says Le. "It's just not as hard as you think it is logistically. You're just giving yourself excuses. If you really want to ride to work - when there's a will, there's a way."

If you can't bike all the way to work, try a bi-modal solution. Ride your bike and ride METRO. Many of our riders are already doing that.

Take a look at the numbers.

Since we launched our bikes-on-buses program in April 2007, we have had 56,092 bike boardings.

The numbers of bikers using our buses has mushroomed.  

From October 2008 to April 2009, we had 29,014 bikes on buses compared to 6,420 buses the same period a year ago. That's a 352 percent increase in bikes.  

If you have commuted to work using a combination of bike and bus - or bike and train - let us know what your experience has been like.

We'd love to hear from you.


Investing in Public Transit Creates "Green Jobs"


Workers building train tracksWhen money is spent investing in public transit, the result creates jobs that put the people who have been hit hardest back to work.

A new study by the Economic Development Research Group, commissioned by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), shows that two-thirds of the jobs created by capital investment in public transportation replaces lost blue-collar jobs with "green jobs" in public transit.

Sixty-seven percent of new construction and manufacturing "green jobs" from public transit capital investment usually fall in the category of "blue-collar semi-skilled (59 percent) and blue-collar skilled (8 percent). These jobs include manufacturing, service, repair workers, drivers, crew, ticket agents and construction.

White-collars skilled and semi-skilled make up 33 percent of the new jobs, and include positions such as clerical, managerial and technical engineers.

The study indicates that an investment of $1 billion in public transit supports and creates 30,000 jobs in a variety of sectors. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) offers $8.4 billion for public transportation projects, which will create 252,000 jobs.

"The ultimate goal in any economic recovery plan should be to not create just any type of job, but rather to invest in and focus on areas particularly hit hard by the economic downturn," said Wiliam M. Millar, APTA's president, in a statement. "The investment in public transit not only produces green jobs but also provides for a more sustainable transportation system that will help reduce our dependence on foreign oil and lessen the transportation sector's impact on the environment."

Click here to read the entire report.

Here at METRO, the $1.46 billion construction contract we signed with Parsons Transportation Group last month is projected to generate some 60,000 direct and indirect jobs before the four light-rail lines - about 20 miles of rail - are completed.

In-Pavement Red Lights Increase Safety


Pavement lights on Preston@MainIf you've driven downtown lately around the Red Line on Main Street, you've noticed strips of blinking red lights set in the pavement.

The flashing markers light up when the traffic signal turns red - alerting drivers that intersections along Main Street are not typical.

We've had these flashing makers at 16 intersections, and they've been so successful at cutting down accidents, that we have installed them at four more intersections:


  • Preston @ Main
  • Rusk @ Main
  • Polk @ Main
  • Lamar @ Main


The photo above shows the pavement strip at Main and Preston.

This experimental lighted pavement marking system (LPMS) was pioneered by METRO and established to increase visibility at train crossings, cut down on drivers running red lights and reduce crashes.

It's worked.

A study performed in 2004-2005 comparing data to a study done in 2006 - 2007  indicates the illuminated pavement markers have reduced the number of accidents caused by running red lights by as much as 50 percent at some intersections.

The pavement markers have also helped stem right-turn-on-red violations. No right turns on red are allowed on Main Street.

METRO received permission from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to expand the lighted strips along the 7.5 mile rail on Main Street. The FHWA sets standards for traffic signs, signals, designs and safety features. 

We maintain and operate 70 traffic signals along the rail line with 20 of those intersections now paved with these strips of blinking red lights. Our goal is to get the technology approved by the FHWA as a standard traffic signal device.

Phoenix, New York and Los Angeles are among the cities that have expressed interest in installing red pavement lights.

Bunnies in the Bushes

Topiary bunnies at TMCA family of bunnies has been making its home in the grasslands at the Texas Medical Center Transit Center.

These are no ordinary bunnies.

They are topiary bunnies designed to catch your eye and remind you of our new Quickline Signature bus service - the 402 Quickline Bellaire - we are launching June 1.

Four seven-foot bunnies dot the landscape at TMC Transit Center, along with three baby bunnies which stand four-and-half feet tall.

"We've had some positive feedback from customers out there," says Pat Porzillo, associate vice president of commuter rail. "People are taking photographs of themselves with the bunnies."

Each bunny has its own sprinkler head built in it - and that sprinkler taps into our existing sprinkling system at the TMC Transit Center. The large ones weigh at least 200 pounds and are anchored into the ground.

JoAnne Lingenfelter, manager of marketing at METRO, came up with the idea of planting topiary bunnies to market our new Quickline service.

"It was something different, something kind of fun - and something most people wouldn't object to," said Lingenfelter.

Porzillo played landscape designer, positioning the bunnies in areas that would have the most impact on our riders. "One bunny looks like he is trying to bring people in - waving to people at the TMC. And there's a baby bunny next to him. They're saying, ‘Ride us.'"

Another small bunny is positioned so that when a bus swings around a curve at the TMC, riders will easily spot it.

The leaping bunny faces the direction of exiting buses, so passengers will glimpse it on the way out of the TMC. Leaping topiary bunny

And except for the leaping bunny, all the bunnies face toward the Quickline bus station - a distinctive station with a blue Quickline bus sign, columns wrapped in blue and a blue curb.

"We think the bunnies are cool, and this is going to be a great route," said Porzillo.

The route will have eight stations: TMC, Kirby, Bellaire TC, Hill croft, Sharpstown Center, Fondren, Gessner and Ranchester. We're planning to add a future stop at Stella Link.

The 402 QL Bellaire will feature bus shelters with up-to-the-minute next bus arrival info, improved lighting and better benches. The buses will be hybrid diesel-electric and will sport high-end interiors.

The cost to ride? Just $1.25 - the same price as local buses.  

Enjoy the bunnies....and get ready for our fast-as-bunnies Quickline service coming next month.










FastFleet Helps Public Sector Manage Fleets
Row of parked cars 

Government agencies are always looking for ways to cut costs and to do more with less. Now there's a new way to save money on fleet vehicles.  

FastFleet by Zipcar was introduced last month for public sector agencies and universities,  and the company says it will save taxpayers money, reduce risk and promote sustainability.

This new service leverages the same technology that Zipcar uses for individual consumers who rent cars by the hour or day.

Employees use a reservation system over the Web, phone or mobile device to reserve a vehicle. They swipe a wallet-size access card to unlock the doors of the vehicle, courtesy of an integrated card reader mounted under the windshield.

FastFleet mirrors Zipcar's car-sharing model, but  the government agency or institution owns the cars. Using technology, FastFleet enables managers to help employees share the vehicles - and at the same time, reduce the fleet and still have enough cars available on demand. 

"It's a much more convenient way - an easier way to manage and dispatch the fleet," explained Luke Schneider, general manager at FastFleet and chief technology officer at Zipcar, in a phone interview. Cars

"The primary reason people do this is they can save enormous amounts of money. Most fleets are built to meet peak demand. This reduces the overall utilization of the fleet - a handful of cars are used only during peak periods. What FastFleet does  - and this is the beauty and elegance of car sharing - is it opens up and makes visible the vehicles so that people who drive can plan their trip accordingly and reserve their vehicle for the time they need and no more. It flattens the demand curve."

For example, with online reservations and this "visibility" into the fleet, agencies could reduce a 100-vehicle fleet to 60, said Schneider.

Washington D.C. has used this now for four months and says it has saved more than $300,000 during a four-month pilot. It estimates it will save more than $1 million in the first 12 months of use. About 1,400 employees in 28 departments are using 60 cars in FastFleet now.

Pricing ranges from $65-90 a month for basic service, plus the cost of the hardware. Washington, D.C. spends $115/vehicle/month. The subscription service is priced per car.

Parking lot with three cars"I believe that technology can be used to create efficiency and save taxpayer money," said Adrian M. Fenty, mayor of Washington, D.C., in a statement. "FastFleet has allowed us to better optimize our fleet, and we will continue to evaluate our existing fleet and look for additional cost saving opportunities."

About 4 million vehicles are leased nationwide within local, state and federal governments, estimates FastFleet. Since fleets are typically sized to meet peak demand, most of the cars sit idle most of the time. FastFleet, with its wireless connectivity, prevents that.

"This is carving out cost structure," said Schneider. "If you get rid of 30 cars, that car costs between $6,000 and $10,000 a year to keep up with finance, insurance, gas, maintenance and gas - that turns into real money."





METRO's Position on Swine Flu

Medical researchers in Shanghai research swine fluThe World Health Organization said today that the number of confirmed cases of swine flu worldwide is 331. The total here in the United States is 141, including 28 cases in Texas.

As you're riding the rail and buses, confined in close spaces, you may be wondering what METRO's response is to this outbreak.

Rest assured we are monitoring the situation constantly. We have had meetings to discuss a possible swine flu outbreak, and we are in touch with state and public health officials. We will take the necessary steps to protect our riders.

While our daily headlines news tells of more local school closings and cases here in the Houston area, please bear in mind that most of the cases have been mild and most people recover without treatment.

Protecting your health while on METRO buses or trains is the same as when you are in any public space. How many times do you hang on to a pole or brush up against a seat? Practice good hygiene.

Here are some steps you can follow, recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:


  • Wash hands frequently with soap and water. Use an alcohol-based hand cleaner when hand washing is impractical.
  • Cover your mouth/nose when you cough or sneeze with tissue or your sleeve. Discard the tissue, then wash your hands.
  • If you are having flu symptoms, avoid contact with others as much as possible. Don't go to work or school.
  • Seek medical attention if symptoms persist or become severe.

For more information, check out the Harris County Public Health & Environmental Services or the City of Houston's Health and Human Services Department.

You can also call a free hotline, 24/7, staffed by Harris County nurses. 713/633.2255.

In the photo above, Shanghai doctors who have experience with SARS study a case of possible swine flu.




Transcript of Web Chat with Frank Wilson

Frank Wilson dictating answers to Mary Sit. Joanne Wright, chief of staff in background. Thanks to all of you who joined our Web chat today at noon. METRO's President & CEO Frank J. Wilson hosted today's chat, where questions ranged from light-rail service to both airports to our new Quick Line Signature Bus service to debut in June.

We ran out of time and couldn't answer all of your questions - but keep reading this blog. We will try to get answers to your questions and write about those topics in future posts.

Pictured here is Wilson, me typing his answers and chief of staff Joanne Wright in the background.


 (12:03:36 PM) Frank J Wilson:

Welcome, everyone. Thanks for joining our Web chat today. Looking forward to a lively conversation.


 (12:10:27 PM) Frank J Wilson:

Q. : Bugs Bunny ridding a bus. The METRO Quick Line Logo is a Rabbit. June 1 for the 402, right! Now, we need to see Bugs' relatives on WESTHEIMER?

A : Good question. The first signature bus line goes into operation in June on Bellaire. The second one is scheduled to operate between the Palm Center and the Medical Center, along Old Spanish Trail. That's scheduled at least probably more than six months from now. Westheimer is on the drawing board and not likely to begin until mid 2011.


 (12:12:06 PM) Frank J Wilson:

Q : What's up with the University Line? I thought it was to be the first new line built. Now it looks like it will be the last. When will construction start and when will it be completed?

A : The University Line from the very beginning was scheduled to be the last of five light-rail lines to be completed. The original schedule and the current schedule have the University Line construction start-up approximately one year after the current construction plans (first four light-rail lines). And at this time, we're right on schedule.


(12:12:39 PM) Frank J Wilson:

Q : I'd like to ask about Metro's service during inclement weather.

A : Yes, we operate during inclement weather. Go ahead, ask a more specific question.


(12:14:56 PM) Frank J Wilson:

Q : Is the Uptown Line still scheduled to have groundbreaking this year? Or is it contingent on the University Line?

A : In many respects, we are scheduled to begin work as a function of when the street and utility work is completed. The current plan is to have the Uptown Association manage that work. When that work is completed, METRO will come in and build the light-rail related facilities.


As you might imagine, construction along Post Oak is highly dependent on the retail sales cycle. So, little or no construction will happen between November and January each year. So this is a tricky task to specify the exact timetable for the METRO construction work because we are dependent on the schedule for the roadway work.



 (12:18:22 PM) Frank J Wilson:

Q : There were no morning 82 when it rained on Tuesday, so I had to walk to get the 42. I did see the #53, so I don't understand it

A : The storm front that hit us Monday night and Tuesday morning created havoc with our ability to run a normal schedule. Just to state the obvious, flooding on local streets, as well as the major thoroughfares, prevented our operators from getting to the garage and to take the buses out in service on time. In at least one case, our buses were flooded in and couldn't get out of the garage. So we had to deal with the same miserable weather, roadway, and traffic conditions that plagued everyone else. We're sorry for the inconvenience, but we worked real hard during the day on Tuesday to ensure a normal afternoon rush hour.



(12:21:43 PM) Frank J Wilson:

Q : Thank you for scheduling this Web chat. The community appreciates your accessibility. My questions are, what are the plans for future alignments for light rail? Specifically how will the line connecting downtown to the Northwest Transit Center be determined? How will the affected neighborhoods' input be taken into account?

A : The alignment to the Northwest Transit Center has essentially been decided. It will run from the Hillcroft Transit Center in the south, north along Post Oak Blvd. to the 610 Loop where it would operate in some configuration along 610 exit onto local roads, and into the Northwest Transit Center.


The effect on neighborhoods and property is essentially limited to the commercial properties along Post Oak and of course, in the interstate freeway. We've been working for the last two years with those commercial property owners and expext to reach mutually agreeable alignment decisions with them before construction starts.

 (12:24:38 PM) Frank J Wilson:

Q : Looking forward to the Quick Line service. Why are 2 Bellaire customers segregated from 402 Quick Line customers? We have been without shelters for 8 months and the stops were moved up to a block away from the old stops. This has been very confusing and many riders who wait at the shelters are left confused when the buses pass them without stopping.

A : The Quick Line is designed as an express service with limited stops for those who are traveling longer distances. In effect, it is a new service overlaid on top of the existing service. There's no intention to degrade the quality of the existing service, and if we need additional shelters along the current Route 2 service, we'd be happy to entertain any requests that our customers might have. Granted, that any time you introduce change where there has not been any for many, many years, one can always expect some confusion. But we'll do our best to minimize that confusion until the service patterns are completely understood by our customers.

(12:24:58 PM) Frank J Wilson:

Q : Also, is the Uptown alignment still in the middle of the West Loop between Memorial and Post Oak?
A : At this time, it is.




(12:27:51 PM) Frank J Wilson:

Q : I ride the P & R 244/247/249 off and on, may I ask why local/express busses such as the 88 do not go to P & R locations, they would be a great connection and back up to get to the south side of town...other cities do this why Houston does not? Makes no sense....

A : Thanks for the suggestion. You're quite right that many cities used their Park & Ride lots and transit centers as a place for convenient transferring from one type service to another.


 I am forwarding your question to our operations planning department primarily to send along your good idea, and then secondarily, to have them give you a more detailed, analytical reason for why we don't do this today or why we will do it in the near future. Let me know how our guys do. Give us your e-mail on the blog, and we'll be able to give you some answers.





(12:28:50 PM) Frank J Wilson:

Q : The current bus schedules as published on your web site in PDF format do not work well on mobile devices as many do not have PDF readers. How about putting the schedules up in more mobile-friendly form like just plain HTML tables?

A : Our information technology services is looking this now, and is looking to implement this in the coming year.

 (12:34:55 PM) Frank J Wilson:

Q : Mr. Wilson, which local routes do you ride most often? How reliable do you find them to be?

A : The service I use frequently is the light-rail line on Main Street - extraordinarily reliable and rarely have to wait more than two or three minutes. There seems to be a train always in sight. More importantly, you ask which routes do I find reliable.


 I can offer to send you a new report that we've created that shows the top 13 routes in our system. They're top routes because they carry almost 70 percent of our riders. As a sneak preview, I will tell you that you might be startled to see the reliability level in the 65 to 69 percent on-time category.


 But why I say this is a surprise is that most transit systems report that all their buses are running between 88 and 98 percent on time. I've worked in five transit systems in my career across the nation, and most of them were among the largest in the country. And I can personally say this: The 80 to 90 percent level of performance in those systems is fiction. What we report, like it or not, is accurate. We'd rather know the truth and do something about it (obviously improve it), than attempt to fool our customers and ourselves by publishing bogus data.


 In the future, if you like, I'd be happy to return to cyberspace and have a deeper discussion about this topic because at METRO, we don't duck tough issues. We deal with them. And while we're not proud of our record to date, we are proud of the improvement plans that we're implementing now that should have a dramatic effect on our on-time performance. Thank you for asking. This is an area that we are providing serious attention to.


(12:36:44 PM) Frank J Wilson:

Q : You have the #102 to BUSH I A H LIMITED/WAYFOREST/VIA HOV and the #102 to BUSH I A H LIMITED/WRIGHT ROAD/VIA TERMINAL C/VIA HOV. But the one to Wayforest does not to IAH, so why is BUSH IAH in the description of the route? Why not call that bus the 103 or some other number? This naming caused me to have to take the 500 and pay $15 as I was late!

A : Sorry that our route designations have caused you so much difficulty. We'll examine a better way to label the routes and try to get them redesignated by our next service change.



(12:39:19 PM) Frank J Wilson:

Q : Thanks for the answer on the #82 situation, but I am confused as Westheimer was fine in certain parts and you were able to run the #53 which runs almost the same route as the #82. Also, if you had an alert system I could sign up for it and you could have told me the bus was not running. Please do better next time the weather is bad as we depend on the Metro bus to get to work, rain or shine. Thanks.

A : Good suggestion, and we are using a new prototype information system on our Signature bus lines. This technology will tell you exactly how much time until the next bus arrives, and if there's no service for whatever reason, it will tell you that, too. Eventually, by using your cell phone and knowing the number for a particular bus shelter, or intersection, you'll be able to retrieve the same information. Try riding the Route 2 Bellaire if you get a chance because we will preview it there, starting in June.




(12:42:45 PM) Frank J Wilson:

Q : A Light Rail question: Will we ever have service to the airports (IAH and Hobby)?

A : I live in hope that we will see some form of rail service to both airports some day, but I must be honest and tell you that it's not likely that we will see the type of rail service (light-rail service) that we have on Main Street taking you to the airport. The reason is it would not be very customer-friendly for an airport customer. No place for luggage, too many stops, hopefully crowded conditions. This is not the kind of service that would be successful. We would need a rail line that would have limited stops, maybe two or three would run at high speed, maybe 80 mph and would provide more accommodating seating and space for luggage. Then it's possible for light-rail service.


 (12:44:34 PM) Frank J Wilson:

Q : May I also suggest that METRO publish rail schedules, especially for early mornings, late nights, and weekends? 20 minutes is a long time to wait for a train in the dark. I also have almost missed flights at Hobby because the first southbound train to arrive at Fannin South is almost an hour after the published start of service.

A : When you run the service every six minutes, a schedule is not necessary. However, you make a good point. When the service gap gets to 20 minutes or longer, we should provide scheduled times instead of frequencies. Look for a change in our publications, hopefully with the next service change, which comes in June.



(12:45:34 PM) Frank J Wilson:

Q : As a follow up to my previous question, I was referring to light rail service directly from downtown to the Northwest Transit Center, not the currently planned route through the Hillcroft Transit Center, and how it would affect the neighborhoods along Washington and through the Heights?

A : I assume with this clarification you're talking about commuter rail service from downtown to Northwest Transit Center, not light-rail. Yes or no?




(12:47:31 PM) Frank J Wilson:

Q : Are the new, hybrid buses in service now the 2008 purchases? When will the order for 2009 start coming in? And are seats with slightly more padding under consideration?

A : We have about 120 hybrid buses in service today. We expect by the end of this year, early 2010, we should have in excess of 200 in service. The 2009 purchase of 100 more hybrid buses are not likely to be in service for at least a year.


 (12:54:35 PM) Frank J Wilson:

Q : You seem to appreciate the high frequency of service on the Red Line, so I think you'll understand that we local bus riders would appreciate more frequent service, too. Some routes, like the 34 Montrose and 18 Kirby, aren't given a chance to succeed because a bus every 45 minutes isn't convenient for anyone.

A : You are touching on the chicken-and-egg phenomenon that has plagued the transit industry since the wheel was invented. Which comes first? Frequent service or massive numbers of riders?


 The Main Street rail line carries 45,000 people a day. We don't have any other route in the system that does that. But we understand that sometimes you need to put the service out, advertise it, of course run it properly, educate the latent customers (potential customers) that the service exists and try to build ridership at all times during the day, so that making service more frequent makes more sense.


We try to do this. Sometimes the ridership responds, sometimes it doesn't. When the frequency of service gets to the level of 30 to 45 minutes, it often feels like we're fighting a losing battle with preciously scarce resources. And while service is our Number Two goal, only behind safety, it becomes a delicate balancing act to decide whether we are using our financial resources wisely.


 If we don't run METRO as a successful business, we may not be in business to provide any service. Witness the unfortunate plight of so many of our businesses today. Because of bad business decisions, they're facing extinction. So what we do run, we have to run economically. Therein  lies the long-standing challenge of what comes first. Service or riders?

(12:55:22 PM) Frank J Wilson:

Q : Thanks for looking into the #102 situation. How do I get a credit for the error?

A : Are you open to negotiation?


 (12:56:58 PM) Frank J Wilson:

Q : What is going on with the Fuqua park & ride? Yesterday when myself and my carpool arrived there we were informed that we could no longer park there. This is very unfair, and the alternative lot where we can park will cost us about 15 minutes in our commute, and almost makes using the HOV lane worthless.

A : Parking at this Park & Ride lot is extremely oversubscribed. Our first priority is obviously to our bus customers. As much as we appreciate you doing the environmentally preferred way to travel in a car, we'd love to have you on our bus.


(1:02:22 PM) Frank J Wilson:

My time is up now. Thanks for joining us today. Wish we could do it every day, but let's promise to do it again soon. For those we weren't able to get to, we'll try to find answers from our other more knowledgeable staff and answer you on the blog.


Web Chat with CEO Today at Noon

A reminder to join us today from noon to 1 p.m. for a Web chat with Frank J. Wilson, our president & CEO.

If you can't stay for the whole hour, drop in and ask a question, then grab lunch. Wondering about the construction on our light-rail lines....or maybe you've seen some green bunnies around the Texas Medical Center Transit Center. What do bunnies have to do with buses?

Or perhaps you have question about the historic contract we recently signed with Parsons. All questions will be moderated.

Here's your chance to ask the man at the top all things METRO. See you at noon!

METRO Matters Schedule on Houston Media Source


METRO Matters TV show logoMETRO Matters is currently airing on two cable TV stations: Houston Media Source (Ch. 17 on Comcast) and HCCTV (Houston Community College's Ch. 19 on Comcast).

Our latest show with Kim Slaughter, associate vice president for planning, has been airing on Ch. 19. Now here's the schedule for the show on Channel 17.

If you've ever wondered how METRO plans its routes - and whether your suggestions make a difference, be sure to catch this show.

Click here to watch the show. Or tune in and watch it on TV at these times:

Fri.      5/1/09             8:30 p.m.

Mon     5/4/09             8:00 p.m.

Fri.      5/8/09             7:40 p.m.

Tue.     5/12/09           6:30 p.m.

Thu.     5/14/09           7:30 p.m.

Sat.     5/16/09           10:00 p.m.

Mon.    5/18/09           12:30 p.m.

Wed.   5/20/09           8:30 p.m.

Fri.      5/22/09           8:30 p.m.

Mon.    5/25/09           10:30 p.m.

Wed.   5/27/09           9:30 p.m.

Fri.      5/29/09           7:30 p.m.


Heroes on Wheels: Melvin Riley


Heroes on Wheels logoMelvin Riley was driving the Park & Ride 204 Spring bus on the HOV lane when a scream pieced the air.

A gentleman had suddenly suffered a seizure.

"My first thought was to get the bus off the HOV lane," recalls Riley, 54, of the March incident. "The reason being there was no way we could help him on the HOV. We had to get him off there. Then I notified dispatch to have someone meet us at the Park & Ride."Melvin Riley in uniform in front of bus

Riley asked dispatch to call an ambulance and meet the bus at the P&R lot.

Was he tempted to speed down the HOV lane?

"While driving a bus, you should never get in a hurry because speed is what causes accidents. And always think before you react. When you're on the HOV lane, you're going pretty swiftly, anyway. The main thing is safety."

When Riley arrived at the P&R lot 10 minutes later, the ambulance had not yet arrived.

"At that time, I got all my passengers off the bus. Two other ladies stayed with me and attended to the guy. I talked to him and kept him awake and tried to keep him conscious till the ambulance arrived," says Riley.

Riley said his passengers stayed calm in the midst of a life-threatening moment - and he did, too.

"I've been driving for so long. I'm just a laid-back person. I don't get excited that quick," says Riley, who has driven a bus for 19 years and works out of Fallbrook Bus Operating Facility.

When Riley isn't driving a bus and handling the day's crises, he enjoys sports - from basketball to baseball. "I watch them more than I play them," says the married father of three.


No Police Uniform? This Retired Officer Recalls Early Days


Sgt. Sauseda directing trafficWhen Sgt. Richard Sauseda first started at METRO as a police officer, he dressed in a coat and tie.

METRO didn't have police uniforms - and in fact, there was no official police department. That was back in 1982 when the Metropolitan Transit Authority had just been formed.

Last weekend, Sauseda officially retired after 27 years at MPD - and the department he leaves behind contrasts sharply with the one where he launched his METRO career.

"When I first started, I was wondering within six months if I had made the right choice. We had only one facility - and that facility was so full of holes and potholes, you couldn't even drive a bus in and out, much less a patrol car. It was pitiful," recalls Sauseda, 59.

Chief of Police Tom Lambert recalls that Sauseda was one of the original officers when MPD was formed. "He's been a true leader from Day One," says Lambert. "We're thankful for his service to the organization and the community, and wish him nothing but success in his retirement."

Back in the early years, Sauseda responded to calls on buses - and riders didn't realize they were dealing with police officers. "We were just running around with a coat and tie," says Sauseda. "Luckily, that was only about two months, and then we went into full uniform."

Sauseda says it was difficult to start everything from the ground up at MPD - but the challenges were also rewarding.

"It was hard at first, trying to get legislation. In other states, transit police officers are regular police officers," explains Sauseda. "Here in Texas, the public didn't know any of that. They thought, ‘Are they police officers, or are they security guards?' It took time for the public and other agencies to realize what we were."

Sauseda said MPD felt like a stepchild to other law enforcement agencies back in the early years. "Until we started doing accidents on the freeway, and did it better than HPD did - they didn't respect us," says Sauseda, adding that he has a lot of friends at HPD.

"It changed. We had only our patrol units taking care of citizens - and also working with the sheriff's department and HPD with accidents. Now the rail has come along. And we have so many departments officers can go into now," Sauseda says.

MPD has grown to five divisions: homeland security/support operations; field operations; Houston TranStar; system safety; and management services. That means in addition to patrol officers, MPD's specialists include the K-9 unit, the Special Operations Response Team (SORT) unit trained to handle bomb threats and terrorist threats, and a boat rescue team for hurricanes and floods.

MPD is also among the 3.4 percent of agencies accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies in North America, one of 30 in Texas and one of five accredited transit agencies in the United States.

MPD has also garnered prestigious awards. Last year, the department was recognized by the Transportation Security Administration for our transit security system and for the leadership of Chief of Police Tom Lambert.

As a "Carrier of Distinction," METRO was in the top 5 percent of all transit systems nationwide for emergency preparedness. Head shot of Sauseda in front of map on wall

More recently, one of our finest rescued a woman who fell on a Washington D.C. train track during the Presidential inauguration - making national headlines.

MPD was one of about 18 transit agencies invited to help with security and crowd control during the inauguration events.

While Sauseda is retiring from MPD, he won't be sleeping in late or spend his days playing golf. He's got a new job as security guard to a wealthy River Oaks family.

 His advice to younger police officers starting out at METRO?

"This is a great organization to work with. Start now to think about advancement. Be patient when it comes to the department, as far as the rules we have. We're still young. A lot of things will be starting and opening up for our department, especially with rail," says Sauseda.



METRO Signs Historic Contract


New train METRO will order from CAFMETRO officially signed the agency's biggest contract in history, a deal that was announced at yesterday's board meeting by Frank J. Wilson, METRO President and CEO.

Early last month, METRO's board of directors approved the $1.46 billion construction contract with Parsons Transportation Group. This project is expected to generate some 60,000 direct and indirect jobs before four light-rail lines - about 20 miles - are completed.

This week, the contract was inked.

"We're now poised to show this region what it expected since 2003," said Wilson at the board meeting. "We're going to be proud of the terms we finally negotiated." 


The budget for the agreement is divided as follows:

Development agreement     $16 million

Design & build                     $ 1.28 billion

Vehicle supply                    $148 million

Operations & maintenance

  (preliminary work only)     $16 million

TOTAL                                $1.46 billion


As the facility provider, Parsons Transportation Group will be responsible for designing, building, operating and maintaining the four, new light-rail lines: North Line, East End Line, Southeast Line and the Uptown Line. PIctured above is the type of train METRO is ordering from CAF USA.

METRO will spend $632 million for the initial phase of the contract. We expect this phase to generate 25,000 jobs and will include:


  • Utility work for the North and Southeast Lines
  • Building and completing the East End Corridor, including an overpass at Harrisburg for light-rail and construction of a service and inspection facility.
  • 29 rail cars from CAF USA, Inc.
  • Final alignment and station configuration for the Uptown Line.

Local small and minority business owners will get 35 percent - or $335 million of work - under the contract.

Frank Wilson to Host Web Chat


Chat logoWhat do bunnies and buses have in common?

Find out the answer to that and all things METRO at our next Web chat scheduled on Thursday, April 30, from noon to 1 p.m.

Here's your chance to ask Frank J. Wilson, METRO's president & CEO, anything about METRO - from the progress of our light-rail lines to the effect of the federal stimulus package on METRO to the innovative way we are purchasing our new trains.

All questions will be moderated. If you can't stay for the whole hour, drop in and ask a question, then leave. Or you may pre-submit your question here on this blog in the comment section. Live questions will have priority over pre-submitted ones.

Please join the conversation on Transit Talk.  We'd love to hear from you.



Scenes from Go Green Astros

Montage of Astros players in field, METRO reps talking to fans at boothLast night's METRO partnering with the Astros at its Go Green night was a fun event. say METRO's community reps who worked the event. Astro fans were introduced to our Airport Direct shutttle service, along with STAR Van, our vanpooling service.

Photography by Ernest Chou, senior community relations rep.


Going Green on Earth Day


Want an easy way to go green on Earth Day and all year long?

Image of tree coming out of globe


Commuting on public transit can reduce your carbon footprint by 4,800 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions a year.

That's according to the American Public Transportation Association (APTA),which has calculated that switching to buses and trains from your car will cut daily carbon emissions by 20 pounds.

So how much carbon dioxide emissions are 20 pounds/day or 4,800 pounds/year? It's more than the combined carbon emissions reduction that results from using energy-efficient lightbulbs, adjusting thermostats, weatherizing your home, and replacing an older refrigerator with an energy-efficient one.

Here at METRO, we have also been celebrating Earth Day by participating in various companies' employee events. Today, METRO community reps were at the AIG Green Day EnergyTransportation Fair.

At these corporate green fairs, METRO promotes its bikes-on-buses program and explains how our 100 new hybrid-electric buses a year use less diesel, save on fuel costs, lower maintenance and operating costs and result in cleaner NOx emissions by 50 percent.

We also recycle the water we use to wash our fleet of buses, reducing the number of gallons used per bus by 14 percent.

Palm tree in front of dessert mountain

Inside our administrative building at 1900 Main St., we use green-tipped florescent lamps, which containlower levels of mercury.

"From the buses on the city streets to the buildings we operate, METRO makes a consistent effort to efficiently use materials and minimize our impact on the environment," says Karen Marshall, director of community outreach.

And today, we have an incentive for you to ride METRO. We have teamed up with the Houston Astros to offer fans a discount if they ride green.

You can get half-price tickets to the 7 p.m. game tonight against the Los Angeles Dodgers if you show your fare item at the Minute Maid Park Box Office on Texas Avenue. The box office is open until 7:30 p.m.




Artists Selected for Train Station Art


Newsum's art workPublic art enhances public space, and here at METRO, we want to make sure the artwork installed at our new light-rail stations embraces our city's diverse cultures and gives the neighborhood residents something they will enjoy.

We're one step closer now with a final list of artists who have been chosen - after an almost-year long process that involved numerous meetings and input from local residents and art critics.

Station art is vital, says Paul Mok, METRO's project director/architect, because it reflects on the community and lends a human touch to transit.

"It's an important link that transforms just a regular METRO station to a community METRO station," says Mok. "We want the residents to say, ‘This is our station,' instead of just saying, ‘This is a METRO station.'"

More than 260 artists applied for consideration - including from around the world - and it took almost a year to match artist to station. Forty artists were selected to be the finalists, and 36 submitted specific design proposals. Ultimately, 22 artists were chosen by the communities to produce specific artwork for the stations. Artists reshaped their proposals after listening to feedback from residents. Some of it was very specific.

For example, Mok says one community told an artist their streets used to be lined with magnolia trees - but today, only a few dot the landscape. The artist went back and incorporated a sea of magnolia trees, sandwiching the art in the windscreen at the station, a glass panel that blocks the wind.

The residents were pleased.

"The artists all seemed very receptive and responsive to the community's input," recalls Mok. "Even when the community expressed something negative, all the artists were very responsive and very respectful of the community's input."

Lucking's art workTransit art keeps a train station from being generic, giving it character that reflects the neighborhood. It also gives an opportunity for local artists to showcase their talent and be compensated, says Mok. METRO's goal was to have 75 to 80 percent of the artists selected be local ones - and we achieved that goal with 86 percent local participation.  

But perhaps the most important aspect of transit art?

"The process helps bring the community together," says Mok. "It gives them a common cause and facilitates further dialogue between the community and METRO. That is a very constructive medium to conduct a conversation."

Here are 19 of the 22 winning artists who have been assigned stations:

For the East End Corridor: Ryan Geiger, Jesse Sifuentes, Dan Havel, Mary Lucking.

For the North Corridor: Dixie Friend Gay, Rolando Briseno, Arielle Masson, Leticia Huerta. Masson's art work

For the Southeast Corridor: Carroll Parrott Blue, Leamon Green, Jesse Lott, Paul Kittelson, Floyd Newsum, John Runnels, Sharon Engelstein,

For Uptown Corridor: Alan Krathaus, Roberto Cervantes, Dixie Friend Gay and Bill Davenport.

The pictures on this post are works by Floyd Newsum, Arielle Masson and Mary Lucking. These are not what will be at the stations but rather, pieces representative of their style. 




Katy Tollway Opens, Helps Ease Congestion


Katy Freeway manaegd lanes at nightMonday morning rush-hour traffic just got a whole lot easier for west Houston residents who take the Katy Freeway.

For those with EZ tags on their windows, you were able to slip into one of the  Katy Freeway Managed Lanes today - and speed by the clogged traffic for a price.

The managed lanes are two lanes in each direction between Texas 6 and Loop 610. The 12 miles of roadway were opened on Saturday by The Harris County Toll Road Authority.

These lanes replace the single, reversible high-occupancy vehicle lane.

The Katy Tollway is free for carpoolers and vanpoolers who use the lanes during peak times. Single-occupancy drivers can use the lanes if they have an EZ Tag or TxTag and will be charged electronically.

Pricing will vary, depending on traffic conditions and time of day. This dynamic pricing is based on supply and demand. Toll fees are adjusted to keep traffic flowing optimally at all times.

Click here for the rate schedule. Katy Tollrway

Wondering where to enter and exit these managed lanes? Click here for an interactive map that tells you precisely what streets work with various entrances and exits.

Click here to apply for an EZ Tag online.




Students Take "Walking Bus" to School

Town of Lecco nestled on Lake Como, ItalyIn Italy, students take a "walking bus" to school.

The bus doesn't actually have an engine or tires - it's a bus made of students who walk to school in a piedibus, which literally translates as "foot-bus" in Italian, reports the NYT.

Here's how it works. Lines of students walk along the streets of Lecco, Italy, while paid staffers and parent volunteers in florescent yellow vests guide them in a modern-day Pied Piper scene. It's a bus route with a driver but no vehicle.

About 450 children travel along 17 bus routes to elementary schools - using their feet. Routes are usually less than a mile long in this city located at the southern tip of Lake Como.

The walking bus idea cropped up in 2003 to combat three major issues: the growing problem of childhood obesity; local traffic jams; and an increase in global greenhouse gases.

Only 13 percent of kids here in the States walk to school, compared to 40 percent in 1969, according to the federal government's National Household Travel Survey.

Other towns in Britain and France have also created "walking buses" for kids, although those are not as extensive as Lecco's. Closer to home, Columbia, Mo., Marin County, Calif., and Boulder, Colo. launched smaller walking-bus programs. They were part of the Safe Routes to School, a national program which gives states money to encourage students to walk or ride bikes.

What do you think? Would a program like this work in Houston?

Transforming Old Tires into Shoes


Heap of discarded tiresThis fall, you can wear footwear that's green - and be an environmental steward.

Timberland Co. of New Hampshire is becoming the first shoe manufacturer to use recycled rubber from discarded tires to create two shoe collections that will debut this fall.

Timberland is working with Green Rubber Inc., a subsidiary of the Kuala-Lumpur based Petra Group, to make "a new source of rubber compound made from waste tires through a non-toxic, environmentally conscious devulcanization process called DeLink," according to Timberland's Web site.

Vulcanized rubber is created by adding chemicals -  including sulphur -  to virgin rubber, makes rubber stronger and more durable. But the process also makes the rubber almost impossible to recycle.

Now Green Rubber has an eight-minute process that devulcanizes the rubber, allowing the rubber to be recycled into new products. With more than seven billion tires sitting in landfills worldwide, discarded tires is a huge environmental issue.

Timberland says it hopes to make rubber a more sustainable resource working with Green Rubber.

The New Hampshire boot maker will be the first shoe manufacturer to commercialize Green Rubber technology, using the recycled rubber in the outsoles of more than 200,000 pairs of shoes. The shoes will be a combination of the Green Rubber compound and virgin rubber compound for an outsole that is 42 percent recycled tire crumb.

 "Green Rubber is positioned to have a major impact on the global rubber industry; managing tire waste can now become both a commercially viable and eco-conscious process,"  said Jeffrey Swartz, Timberland's chief executive in a statement. The photo on the right is from Timberland's Web site. Timberland boat shoes

What does METRO do with its old, non-usable bus tires?

We lease the tires, so when they go bad, they go back to the leasing company. Leasing saves money over buying tires.

For all other vehicles that are non-revenue - for example, police cars or fleet vehicles - we pay a contractor to pick up old or threadbare tires that can no longer be used. METRO is required to punch a hole in these tires before having them picked up by a contractor, so those tires can't be sold as new.

Just as consumers pay a fee to dispose of car batteries, METRO pays a fee to dispose of these tires.

Up to now, there's never been a market for discarded tires, say our operations folks.