Commuters in the Big D are giving high marks to their commuter rail service.
Dallas Area Rapid Transit just completed a survey - and more than 90 percent of the respondents said they were satisfied with DART's service, with 93 percent saying they would recommend it to others.
The majority of customers - 73 percent - said they felt safe and secure with the increased visibility of uniformed DART police officers and fare enforcement inspectors. The survey was conducted in October and November 2007 among both bus and train riders.
Customer satisfaction with security at transit centers and park and ride lots ranked at 84 percent, while 89 percent of bus riders said they were satisfied with bus security.
Ninety-four percent of commuters said they were satisfied with DART's trains on-time performance, while 80 percent said they were satisfied with DART's bus on-time performance.
Read more here.
Of course, DART officials said there's still room for improvement. Half the respondents said they have experienced bus pass-bys. The agency said it has improved signage so customers know exactly where to stand to get picked up.
How satisfied were customers with bus cleanliness? Seventy-two percent said they were satisfied. DART said it is washing its buses more frequently and has hired more bus servicers since the survey. Here at METRO, we wash our buses daily. As METRO Police Chief Tom Lambert has pointed out, a clean system is a safe system and acts as a deterrent to criminals.
The next time you're in Dallas you might want to ride a few trains and check out DART where 9 out of 10 bus and train operators were courteous to customers, according to survey respondents.
DART's customer satisfaction sure beats what airline passengers are saying these days about flying. Airline complaints increased 60 percent from the year before, making it the industry's worse year ever in terms of quality and operational performance.
The annual Airline Quality Rating survey released Monday indicated airlines lost more bags, bumped more passengers, heard more consumer complaints and recorded fewer on-time flights than the previous year. Take the survey here.
Despite the low airline customer satisfaction, Dallas still gets bragging rights. Dallas-based Southwest Airlines had the fewest complaints (0.26 per 100,000 passengers) and the best on-time arrival mark with 80 percent of its planes arriving on time. Read more here from the Associated Press.
After this month, METRO will no longer be providing charter bus service for special events.
That's because of a new federal rule calling for the first major change to charter bus regulations in 20 years. Effective April 30, public transportation operators can no longer provide charter service. The Federal Transit Administration has defined "charter service" as "transportation provided by a recipient at the request of a third party for the exclusive use of a bus or van for a negotiated price."
A charter service includes fares collected by a third party and service offered for a limited time which is not part of regularly scheduled service.
Click here to read more of the old and new charter rules.
At issue were the competing needs of private and public transit agencies. Public bus agencies used federal funds to provide charter service with FTA-imposed restrictions. Private bus agencies did not want to compete with federally-funded public agencies.
In 2006, the FTA conducted public hearings on the matter, and in February 2007, the federal transit agency issued new rulemaking, trying to forge a compromise.
Under the new rule, private agencies will register on the FTA Web site. Anyone - including public agencies - can look on the Web site to find out who is registered.
The FTA's new rule does allow exceptions. These include emergency preparedness; the first 45 days of emergency response; rural agencies transporting employees to training; service to the elderly and disabled; and rural populations. Also, when a transit agency is conducting transit business, such as carrying city council members to view a new site, this does not constitute a "charter" service.
With gas prices averaging $3.24 a gallon in Texas, residents of San Antonio are rethinking the value of light rail.
Eight years ago, San Antonio defeated a proposal for light rail which called for a main line to run from Highway 281 North and Loop 1604 through downtown.
Via Metropolitan Transit is developing a bus rapid transit plan expected to start in 2012. Bus rapid transit is much cheaper to develop than light rail, which can cost $30 million to $60 million a mile, said a VIA official.
Former mayor Nelson Wolff, now Bexar county judge, said some federal funds might be available for light rail in San Antonio. Read more here.
Just up the road in Austin, Capital Metro is planning to launch a 32-mile light rail system on existing freight tracks between downtown Austin and Leander. It is scheduled to be running this fall, four years after voters approved it.
If you're reading this blog, you're on our Web site and may have noticed a whole new look and feel to our home page.
We have just completed a 10-month project redesigning our Web site that will be easier for you to use.
"We added a lot more images. We streamlined the video from Windows Media and QuickTime to Flash Video which is the most widely used streaming video on Web sites," said Jesse Quintanilla, METRO's Web designer. "It keeps the video consistent."
Perhaps the biggest feature you'll appreciate is the search engine we've incorporated. Want to look up the next Board of Directors meeting date? Enter key words in the search window and let the computer find it for you.
Another feature that makes our Web site intuitive is the sub-navigation in certain sections. "It makes it a little easier and user-friendly to navigate in that section," explained Quintanilla.
For example, let's say you click on "Opportunities" at the top of the home page. A drop-down menu appears - click on "Careers." Then click on the "Working at METRO" page. Once you're on that page, a small navigation bar pops up on the right side of the screen, listing other related pages you might be interested in exploring: Careers at METRO, Small Business Program, Corporate Discounts, Procurement & Materials, Real Estate Services, Grant Programs and METRO Solutions.
METRO's Web site is huge with more than 100 pages. The mini-data bases contained on the site include our Trip Planner and Small Business Directory, a list of vendors with whom we conduct business, and their contact information.
In the next three months, we expect to add Spanish to it. Simply click the En Espanol button and text will appear in Spanish.
"I wanted it to be something that was not just functional but had form to it. So it had function and form together," said Quintanilla. "I researched other sites...did surveys internally and externally, did department meetings to get feedback on content. This is the result of all that feedback. I couldn't have done it by myself. It was a team effort."
We just finished our third Web chat we conducted at noon today with president and CEO Frank J. Wilson.
Our topic was our new METRO Airport Express service we're planning to launch in August, and HOT lanes - high occupancy toll lanes in which single occupant drivers are charged a fee to drive on an HOV lane during peak hours.
Click the link below for a transcript of the chat.
Anyone who lives here knows that Houston is not a walkable city.
There may be pockets of streets where you can walk from office to restaurant to dry cleaners. But there are few walking neighborhoods.
A report today on National Public Radio features a family who got fed up with a long commute - and moved from the suburbs to the city - a walkable "city" within a city. They did it for convenience - but ended up reducing their carbon footprint.
Malaika Taylor of Atlanta and her 11-year-old daughter moved four years ago to Atlantic Station, a commuity created to place jobs, homes and shopping close to public transit.
Now, instead of crawling through gridlock traffic, they have free evening hours. Touted as a national model of mixed-used development on 130 acres, Atlantic Station has housing for 10,000 residents, job opportunities for 30,000 - and both retail and entertainment, all within walking distance.
Taylor and her daughter now walk to the movies - and they can walk to stores like Dillard's, Target and Ikea. Listen to the full report here.
In the process of buying themselves more time every day by avoiding a long commute, the Taylors typically walk to the daughter's bus stop, and then the mom continues 10 more minutes to her job as an apartment property manager.
In contrast, the average Atlanta resident drives 32 miles every day, according to the federal government. Those in Atlantic Station drive about one-third of that.
By cutting their commute - and often not even using their car on weekends - the Taylors have reduced their carbon footprint to 28,517 pounds of emissions, compared to the average of 41,500 pounds for a two-person household in the U.S. A carbon footprint is a measurement of the impact of human activities on the environment in the amount of greenhouse gas emissions.
Click here to calculate your carbon footprint.
Today is the last day to use any magnetic striped fare cards.
If you still have a balance on one, you have a few more hours to get to one of our RideStores (1900 Main St. and 1001 Travis St.) to transfer the balance to a Q Card.
Starting tomorrow, everyone who boards our buses and trains must pay with a Q Card or cash.
When you board the bus tomorrow, you'll see a sign - "Not in use" - inserted in the ticket processing unit - the space where you would normally insert the magnetic striped fare.
"That is a little device we're putting in the ticket processing unit on the bus. It's a physical barrier that will keep people from putting any magnetic striped media of any kind into the ticket unit," said Erik Oistad, vice president and chief information officer.
Some of you have asked why METRO isn't allowing balance transfers to Q Cards after tomorrow. "At some point, you have to drive a stake in the ground," explained Oistad. "We've been talking about this program since the summer of last year. This isn't something new."
We rolled out the Q Card in January with relatively few glitches.
"The adoption of the system is unlike anything U.S.-based transit properties have seen before," said Oistad. "The system has been adopted in an unprecedented way. Our riders ‘got it' and embraced it quickly."
The system has seen just shy of 200,000 unique Q Cards - cards that have been used at least once.
We're recording 170,000 taps a day. And about 65 percent of our daily revenue is through the Q Card. "In terms of the majority of the revenue, it's through the Q Card. The remainder is cash," said Oistad.
METRO has already had two previous milestones in this Q Card roll-out - and both were met by our riders with few complaints.
"I would say tomorrow would be very similar. The sense I have is that there will be very few complaints," predicted Oistad. "Our riders know how to use the system. They know how to get around. I think they heard the change is coming that we're no longer accepting mag stripes."
It's time for Transit Talk, our lunchtime Web chat with METRO executives.
Our next chat is scheduled for Wednesday, April 2, from noon to 1 p.m. Once again, we are expecting our president and CEO, Frank J. Wilson, to host the chat.
This month's topics: METRO's soon-to-be unveiled airport express shuttle to Bush Intercontinental Airport and HOT Lanes.
The Bush Airport Express is a new bus service we will launch soon that will leave the Downtown Transit Center every 30 minutes, take 30 minutes to travel nonstop to Terminal C at Bush Intercontinental Airport, and cost $30 round-trip. We're calling it the 30-30-30 solution to travel to Bush. There will be concierge service at DTC and at Terminal C. And you'll get to ride in our new hybrid commuter coaches.
HOT lanes stand for "high occupancy toll" lanes. Other names for this are "value pricing" or "congestion pricing." Jim Cameron explains on his Talking Transportation blog that consumers are already used to off-peak pricing at the movies where they cost more on a Saturday night than a weekday afternoon. Or on airplanes where flights cost more on a holiday weekend when everyone wants to travel.
HOT lanes are HOV lanes with capacity to allow single-occupant motorists to use the HOV facility for a fee, or toll. In order to keep the HOV lanes flowing freely, toll rates would vary, based on real-time traffic conditions. The approach is to provide a guaranteed travel time for the HOV lanes. HOV's car pools, buses, and motorcycles would continue to have free access to the HOV lanes.
So, if your schedule requires that you be somewhere on time, you have a new choice of travel - the HOT lane. For the parent rushing to pick up a child at child care, which can charge $10 a minute for the first five minutes of late pick-up, that fee to use the HOT lane and its guaranteed travel time might be a fair exchange.
Here in Houston, we are gearing up to convert HOV lanes to HOT lanes. It's a trend taking place nationwide, as officials try to ease highway congestion, better manage space on HOV lanes, and provide a new travel choice at a fraction of the time and cost of new freeway construction.
We envision an electronic, barrier-free tolling system here which will be compatible with other Texas tolling entities, including HCTRA. So if you already have an EZPass toll tag, you are ready to go!
Areas that already have HOT lanes include San Diego, Orange County, CA, Minneapolis, Salt Lake City and Denver.
Washington State plans to open HOT lanes this spring on the SR 167 with single drivers paying an electronic toll using a transponder. The Washington State Department of Transportation calls it your ticket to the fast lane when you can't afford to be late. Read more here.
In the San Francisco Bay Area, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, which does transit planning and financing of the nine-county area, and the California Department of Transportation, are studying the feasibility of converting HOV lanes to HOT lanes.
So join the conversation on our third Web chat. All questions will be moderated, and only those questions that are on-topic will be considered.
If you can't stay for the whole lunch hour, please drop in anytime in that hour, ask your question on-line and then go. Here's your chance to ask your questions directly to the CEO.
See you on-line next Wednesday.
On a beautiful day like today, with the temperature at a balmy 75 degrees, it's easy to see why Houston has captured the fourth spot on the nation's Top Ten fastest growing cities.
A report released today by the U.S. Census Bureau says that eight of the 10 fastest-growing metro areas between 2006 and 2007 were located in the South. Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington captured the top spot, followed by Atlanta, Phoenix, and then Houston.
The Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown area saw 120,544 new residents.
Austin-Round Rock came in No. 7 with 65,880 new residents, and San Antonio rounded out the list at No. 10 with 53,925 new residents.
The 50 fastest-growing metro areas were from the South and West. Click here to read more from the Census Bureau.
The economy is driving the immigration to Houston. When jobs dry up in other states such as Michigan or Ohio, people move here, Barton Smith, an economist at the University of Houston, told The Houston Chronicle.
Good weather is also a factor that attracts growth, Tom Fomby, economics professor at Southern Methodist University told Marketplace Morning Report.
Dallas, Atlanta, Phoenix and Houston gained more than 100,000 people from 2006 to 2007. Sunshine and good weather means more days for outdoor construction, and inexpensive land means these cities will sprout multiple work centers rather than one downtown, said Fomby.
With growth like this, it's clear that Houston will be ready for the 30 miles of five light-rail lines we expect to complete by 2012. As Frank J. Wilson, METRO's president and CEO, said on METRO Matters, our new talk show, growth is good but it must be managed.
"And that's not a challenge just for METRO, that's a challenge for Houston. We're going to make a massive contribution, allowing this city to grow...but growing with a quality of life," said Wilson on METRO Matters. "We're going to pay attention to the finer points of life in an urban city. We're helping to make the face of Houston."
A blog reader recently wrote in and asked: “Is it possible to have bus service to the Texas Medical Center from the northwest side? There are many, many TMC workers who would really appreciate this.”
This reader is right. The world’s largest medical center has a lot of workers – 73,600 employees, according to TMC’s Web site. That’s not counting the 13,500 volunteers.
Transfers are part of the mass transportation fabric, as every destination can not be served with a one-seat ride.
Right now, if you live in the northwest part of Houston, you could park your car at the Northwest Station at 290 and West Rd or at West Little York Park & Ride – then take the bus downtown, then transfer to the Red Line and ride the rail to the Medical Center. The train comes every six minutes.
Alternately, you could transfer to the existing 298 Park & Ride at Northwest Transit Center for service directly to TMC. There’s not a one-seat ride to the Medical Center from the northwest side of Houston, but rather a choice between two easy transfer options.
Before METRO creates a bus route, it takes into consideration many factors.
“We look at where people live and where they go to work,” said David Feeley, senior vice president of operations. “We look at road conditions. Prior to implementation, we test the safety and operation of service. If we can provide a good service that will be well-used at a good cost, let’s go.”
Feeley also pointed out that we are building a rail system with five light-rail lines scheduled to be completed in 2012. The Uptown Line will extend from south of US-59 through the Uptown/Galleria area to the Northwest Transit Center at 610 and I-10 (see map).
So what do you think? Do you have a wish list of bus or rail routes you’d like?
If you haven't transferred your balance yet from any striped magnetic fare media, you have six more days to do so.
After March 31, you will no longer be able to transfer balances.
You can transfer balances at our RideStores at 1900 Main St. or 1001 Travis St. Hours are Monday to Friday, 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.. The RideStore at Main St. is open on Saturday, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. The RideStores are closed on Sunday.
For those of you who have a Q Card and want to register it to protect your balance in case of loss or theft, you can do so by calling 713/635-4000 and pressing the prompt for the Q Card help desk.
After March 31, to board our buses or trains, you must use a Q Card or cash.
And remember, the more you use the Q, the more you benefit: You get five free trips for every 50 paid trips. So don't throw your Q Card away when your balance is zero - simply load more money on it and keep using it.
Building five light-rail lines in Houston by the year 2012 is an ambitious project - but compared to what Rome is encountering trying to build its third subway line, our project must seem like a piece of cake.
The Italian capital - home to 2.8 million residents and destination of 20 million tourists every year - is trying to build a badly-needed third subway line. The $4.7 billion, 15-mile line is scheduled to be done in 2015, according to newsweek.com.
But the problem is Rome's artifacts. Every time a worker stumbles upon a relic, all work must be stopped while archeologists evaluate its significance.
"There are treasures that would stay buried forever if we didn't have to dig. But as soon as we uncover them, we have to stop working," says Enrico Testa, head of Rome's Metropolitane S.p.A. which operates the subway system.
Archeologists see this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to dig below the city's center, a city founded in the eighth century B.C. So far, they have found imperial homes complete with kitchens and pots and pans; the remains of the medieval Via Flaminia road that once connected the city; and the ruins of a sixth-century copper factory with the original ovens used to melt copper alloy.
Some of the treasures are removed to museums, others will be exhibited at subway stations, and others reburied or destroyed as the subway line progresses.
Rome's first subway line was built in 1955 and was seven miles long. It will be interesting to see if the city's rich history allows it to meet its deadline for its third subway line.
Click here to read more from newsweek.com and click here to read what the Wall Street Journal wrote.
It's called METRO Matters - and it's a new way for us to communicate with you.
A mini-talk show, METRO Matters will feature key METRO decision makers, discussing some of the major initiatives we're embarking on.
The 15-minute show will air on Houston Media Source's cable access channels. If you subscribe to Comcast, it will air on Channel 17. It will also air on the City of Houston's cable channel, HTV - Channel 16.
You can also watch it on our Web site or download a podcast video of it on your iPod. We'll also have it on iTunes.
The first guest is Frank J. Wilson, our president and CEO. It's a wide-ranging interview that covers everything from Signature Buses to METRO's recent visit to the Federal Transit Administration in Washington, D.C. to our progress on the light-rail lines we're building.
We plan to produce a new episode every month, which will air eight to 12 times in a 30-day period.
Here's the programming schedule for the first episode of METRO Matters on Comcast's Channel 17:
Mon. 3/24/08 8:30 p.m.
Wed. 3/26/08 8:30 p.m.
Fri. 3/28/08 7:30 p.m.
Sat. 3/29/08 4:30 p.m.
Mon. 3/31/08 6:30 p.m.
Sat. 4/5/08 6:30 p.m.
Mon. 4/7/08 8:30 p.m.
Fri. 4/11/08 7:30 p.m.
Wed. 4/16/08 9:30 p.m.
Sat. 4/19/08 6:30 p.m.
Tues. 4/22/08 10:00 p.m.
Thurs. 4/24/08 7:30 p.m.
Click below for a sneak preview.
The Chicago Transit Authority recently spent $6,000 on a gum-cleaning machine that uses steam to zap gum off cloth seats and carpet in five seconds.
The machine, manufactured by GumBusters of New York, replaces hand scraping with a knife that can take up to 20 minutes, reports chicagotribune.com.
Here at METRO, bus cleaners soften gum with an adhesive, such as “Dissolve It,” then scrape the sticky gum off using putty knives, said Donald Madison, general foreman of maintenance at METRO’s Falbrook bus operating facility.
“It’s always a good idea to get gum when it’s fresh because it comes right up. The problem is when gum is left there and stepped on. It hardens and makes it much more difficult to get up,” explains Madison.
METRO has about 1,200 buses in its fleet – and they are all cleaned nightly. A 10 to 15-minute daily cleaning includes removing all bulk items such as newspapers, cans and bottles; removing all material from the floors by sweeping or vacuuming; wiping the bus down, such as ledges where dust collects; and then mopping the bus with warm water.
The bus is then driven through the bus wash.
About every 60 days, METRO tries to do a detailed, four-hour, interior cleaning of each bus, said Madison.
“We have high standards, and the people doing the job don’t get the credit,” said Madison. “We have to depend on the service lane foremen to motivate his crew – to let them know they are the face of METRO. The passengers cannot see that engine turning or notice what’s happening with the transmission. But they see the appearance of the bus – inside and out – so their job is extremely important.”
On the rail side, there’s not much of a gum problem, says Romeo Calderon, director of rail maintenance. But when the seats do need to be cleaned, a disinfectant and high-pressure spray are used in a process so thorough that Calderon says he and his staff would sit on the train any time.
Trains are inspected and cleaned every night – and ever since Calderon hired a cleaning supervisor for the light-rail vehicles, Peggy DeLory, standards have been maintained.
“We have a zero tolerance for graffiti, as well,” added Calderon. “Cleanliness is an all-hands responsibility.”
METRO has about 1,400 to 1,500 train seats - 1,296 for our 18 trains (72 seats/train) – plus, spare seats that can immediately replace dirty or torn seats.
Every three months, about 100 torn or worn-out seats are sent for reupholstering to Custom Seating, a company near Chicago. The seats come back in three weeks, ready to be put in rotation again.
“When a seat needs to come out – it’s cut or torn beyond usage – we replace it with a new one,” said Calderon.
For tar that accumulates on the floor, METRO cleaners use Goo Gone, followed by mopping with warm water and soap.
A recently completed survey METRO conducted of our 222 Grand Parkway customers showed that 91 percent of the respondents were either completely or mostly satisfied with service on this route.
And that response - from 216 of 237 respondents - came on a cool, misty day draped in heavy fog with accidents occurring up and down the Katy Freeway - and every bus subsequently arriving late from 5:55 a.m. until the end of the morning peak period.
In fact, no respondent expressed dissatisfaction with this service which began on Jan. 28.
Darla Bell, METRO's manager of strategic analysis, called it uncommon to not have a single response expressing dissatisfaction.
"It's extremely unusual, especially if you look at in the context of the type of morning it was - with all the accidents on the freeway. Even though all that was going on and all the buses were late, everyone was still happy," said Bell, who wrote and conducted the survey.
The survey, conducted on Feb. 25, 2008, also indicated:
- 72 percent rode five days a week.
- 92 percent said they previously had ridden the Route 221 Kingsland bus.
- 72 percent had been riding METRO for more than a year.
- 4 percent said they had not ridden METRO bus routes previously.
- 92 percent said they were destined for the Central Business District.
Asked how we could increase satisfaction, respondents said they wanted more frequent buses, more service hours, and improvements at the Park & Ride facility.
"This information is shared with the people at METRO who have the power to do something," said Bell.
For example, one of our previous satisfaction surveys on the temporary Cypress Park & Ride lot in February 2007 indicated respondents wanted more service - and METRO added another bus.
Although our ridership is good on the 222 Grand Parkway, we would need to regularly see full loads before adding more buses.
If you work or live downtown, save Thursday morning to sip some java, enjoy some pastries and hear our president and CEO, Frank J. Wilson, give a sneak preview on how mass transit will affect your life in the future.
As part of the Starbucks Breakfast Speaker Series, Mr. Wilson will discuss how commuting downtown, along with mobility for our entire region, will be changed by infrastructure investments that transcend bus and rail.
Transition to the Future will be from 7:45 a.m. to 8:45 a.m. on Thursday, March 20, at Fulbright Tower Auditorium, 1301 McKinney on the mezzanine level. Free Starbucks coffee, pastries and networking will be offered. The event is open to the pubic. Tickets at the door are $5 per person but free for members of the Houston Downtown Alliance.
As Houston's growth continues to mushroom, how can we improve mobility without pouring more concrete, adding more lanes and contributing to more air pollution? What are the details of METRO's $2 billion expansion, when will the light-rail lines begin construction, and how will they affect businesses?
Find out the answers on Thursday as Mr. Wilson addresses these issues.
"We look for people who are helping to shape downtown, whether it is in the business world, the arts or sports. We look for people who are making a difference," said Andrew Huang, president of Houston Downtown Alliance. "So, obviously, with METRO, with all that's going on with the plans and how they affect downtown, we thought it was very appropriate to have Frank speak."
Past speakers include Jamey Rootes, president of the Houston Texans and Matthew VanBesien, CEO of the Houston Symphony.
"It's basically a chance to give people a chance to hear from the movers and shakers, be able to ask questions, get involved and be knowledgeable about a all the changes that are happening downtown because it seems that it's going 100 miles per hour," said Huang.
If you're near the Red Line, you can ride the rail, disembark at Main Street Square, then walk three blocks east on McKinney toward the George R. Brown Convention Center. Fulbright Tower Auditorium is across from the Shops at Houston Center.
The series is sponsored by METRO, Starbucks, the Houston Business Journal, Houston Downtown Alliance, Crescent and Continental Airlines.
The allure of the Texas cowboy drew Cynthia Hsieh and her TV crew from their studios on the other side of the world to Houston.
Today, producer Hsieh and her Taiwn-based crew rode METRORail, taping shots on the train from Downtown Transit Center to the Texas Medical Center. Today's shoot was for a segment on Texas for the weekly, 60-minute travel show called Global Fantasies.
"In Taipei, we also have rapid mass transit," said Hsieh. "We think light rail must be important to the people who live in Houston. So we wanted to try it out. It has very important stations. People can get to the medical center and not worry about parking. In Taipei, parking is a big problem."
This was the crew's first visit to the U.S. - and the producer chose Texas because of our cowboys. "In Taiwan, when people think about Texas, they always think about cowboys - guns and sheriffs," said Hsieh, laughing.
The crew's U.S. itinerary included visits to San Antonio, Austin, Galveston, NASA , Kemah and a ranch in Chapel Hill. The show mostly focuses on Asian travel spots, including Korea and Japan, but has also produced segments in Peru and Turkey.
Global Fantasies, hosted by Sakura Chen (pictured above surrounded by the crew) is a top-10 show in Taiwan with an audience of up to six million. It airs on Friday nights on SET-TV and is rebroadcast in Asia, Australia, New Zealand, North American and in mainland China on Star TV.
Gwen Johnson, operations special projects manager at METRO, says we frequently get requests from crews wanting to shoot video of our trains. "We evaluate each request to determine if we can do it and not interfere with service. When we do our own filming, we do it on Sunday morning," said Johnson. "Passenger loads are so high during rush hour, we don't allow it then."
You can see shots of METRORail on You Tube, on Web sites and commercials of Houston businesses.
What appeals to so many people, businesses and TV producers about our trains?
"Houston was the first agency to have the Siemens S70, which is very futuristic looking. It's silver and sleek. Two other cities now have it. Our trains are very clean. We don't allow any graffiti," said Johnson, adding that folks from as far as Japan and Germany have traveled here to get footage of the train. "It's just so cool-looking. And there are great beauty shots. The stations have unique art work, and people love that," she added.
As for the Taiwan crew, the thing that impressed them most about their visit: our friendliness. "Normally, we think Europeans and Americans are a little cold and distant," said Hsieh. "But Texans aren't like that. They have an open mind and smile and will say hello, whether they know you or not."
The coffers that feed transportation projects across our nation are drying up.
That was the warning of the top administrator of the Federal Transit Administration at a speech last Friday at the First Transportation Convention in Washington, D.C.
The Highway Trust Fund has a projected deficit of more than $3 billion by the end of 2009 with the transit portion expected to have a negative balance by 2012.
James Simpson, administrator of the FTA, said transit and transportation infrastructure has reached a tipping point.
"Bottom line: We need to find fiscally responsible solutions that work for Americans," said Simpson in his speech.
He pointed out that the Bush administration has made major commitments to funding transit, including:
- Signing 22 New Start Funding Grant Agreements worth almost $9 billion.
- A request of $10.1 billion for the FTA in the FY09 budget.
Simpson said it was important that states, recipients of federal funds and the private sector participate financially and creatively. Some of the solutions Simpson suggested:
- Reward high-performing transit systems that meet ridership and cost-saving goals.
- Encourage transit agencies to lease or sell federally financed land to private developers to trigger economic growth.
- Do more public-private partnerships.
- Explore congestion pricing - HOT lanes - where people pay to ride the HOV and other controlled lanes.
"We need market-based solutions as well as government leadership," said Simpson. Click here to read more.
More Americans are riding public transit than ever before.
In fact, last year Americans took 10.3 billion trips on public transit. That’s the highest level in 50 years and a 2.1 percent increase over the year before, says the American Public Transportation Association (APTA).
Here at METRO, we are also welcoming more riders. In January, we had a 14.6 increase in ridership over the same month a year ago. Some of the factors contributing to our increased bus and rail ridership through January 2008 include our improved service on certain bus routes; improved weather conditions in FY08 compared to FY07; more riders on holidays in FY08 relative to the previous fiscal year; and more riders on routes that have maps and schedules (InfoPanels) in the bus shelters.
APTA says high gas prices and congested roads prompted more people to ride public transit.
“Now with gas prices predicted to rise to $4 a gallon, there is a greater urgency for higher federal funding to expand U.S. public transportation systems so Americans have an affordable transportation choice,” said William W. Millar, APTA president, in a statement.
Since 1995, public transportation use has risen 32 percent. That’s more than double the growth rate of the U.S. population and higher than the growth rate for vehicle miles traveled on the nation’s highways for that same period. (24 percent).
Bus service increased nationwide by 1 percent. But in cities of less than 100,000 residents, bus services jumped 6.4 percent in 2007 compared to the year before.
Light rail saw the highest increase in riders with a 6.1 percent increase in 2007. Cities where double-digit growth occurred were: New Orleans, Denver, St. Louis, Philadelphia, Kenosha, and Memphis.
Like Houston, the ancient city of Pompeii was a busy, sophisticated port city.
Back in A.D. 79, shops and taverns dotted narrow stone streets and a new aqueduct system furnished water to the city's fountains and most homes.
The River Oaks equivalents decorated their homes with wall-sized frescoes of Roman politics and Greek mythology. Floors were covered with mosaics while gardens and courtyards showcased bronze and marble statues of gods and goddesses. Residents wore fine gold and drank wine from silver cups.
That ended when a volcano on Mount Vesuvius exploded on August 24, A.D. 79 - killing an estimated 3,000 people, or 10 percent of the population. The city was buried under 10 feet of ash and pumice.
You can explore this history by hopping on the Red Line and disembarking at the Museum District stop. METRORail is not just for commuters, it's also a convenient way for downtown workers to squeeze in a museum visit during one's lunch hour.
Nearly 500 objects have been excavated from Pompeii - and about half of those are now on exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston.
Pompeii: Tales from an Eruption includes a full-length statue of Apollo, god of music, discovered at the home of an in-law of Emperor Nero. Sculptures - including a marble head of an Amazon (pictured here), a full-length statue of the goddess Hera and a cast of 32 skeletons found in a boat shelter - are part of this exhibition.
Some of the sculptures were found in a house thought to be the home of Julius Caesar's father-in-law.
The exhibit also includes necklaces, armbands, rings, earrings and pendants from that era. Pompeii will run until June 22.