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Grateful Hearts on Valentine's Day

 

METRO's Valentine Card distributed to patronsHappy Valentine's Day, riders!

That was our early-morning greeting as dozens of employees - including METRO's President & CEO George Greanias and Board Chairman Gilbert Garcia - handed out Valentine's Day cards and thanked our patrons for riding METRO.

From 5 a.m. to 11 a.m., staffers volunteered at bus stops and transit centers, surprising many patrons with a card - and for some 2,000 lucky ones, METRO Money, which gave them two free rides. 

Board Member Chirstof Spieler, who works at an architectural firm, joined in the festivity, too. "That was fun  - there was a really good crew of METRO people at Wheeler. I also got greeted myself at Preston, and when I got to work, some of the METRO riders in the office told me how they appreciated being greeted," said Spieler in an email.

METRO printed 12,000 cards -and along with the greeting were interesting factoids about METRO (for example, one-third of our bus fleet is hybrid).

Employees said they enjoyed meeting and greeting our customers, and one even brought hot chocolate for customers to sip with their Valentine.

"I thought it was great, "said Mike Martinez, manager of Stakeholder Affairs. "The ones that were most excited were the ones that got the METRO Money inside. We put a lot of smiles on people's faces."

Rick Brown, senior director/chief engineer, greeted customers at a bus stop on Main Street near Wheeler Transit Center. "It was fun working with the bus riders. We don't thank them enough," said Brown. "It was really good for METRO employees to go out and learn the system. I learned where the pick-up and drop-off points were."

Click here to watch a short video of this morning's Operation Thank You.  Runs 57 seconds.

<a href="http://blogs.ridemetro.org/images/write_on/021412_CustomerAppreciation.wmv"><img src="/Themes/default/images/video.gif" border = "0" width="510" height="280"></a><br /><a href = "http://blogs.ridemetro.org/images/write_on/021412_CustomerAppreciation.wmv">View Video</a><br />Format: wmv<br />Duration: :57

METRO Goes to the Rodeo
 

 

Close-up of cowboy boots in stirrupsIt's that time of year for some boot-kicking, fun times at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo (HLS&R), and METRO can help get you there.

We'll be running a shuttle service, along with extended METRORail service.

On Feb. 24 and 25, the HLS&R World's Championship Bar-B-Que Contest will be in full swing as chefs polish their culinary skills. METRO will run shuttle service both of those days to make sure you enjoy that finger-lickin' barbeque without the hassle of traffic and gridlock.

Then when the rodeo kicks off on Tuesday, Feb. 28, we'll be running the shuttle again through Sat., March 18. METRORail will also run extended service throughout the rodeo.

For a small fee, you can climb aboard a shuttle at one of our three shuttle bus locations:

To ride the rail, you can buy tickets at these places:  METRO's kiosk inside Reliant Gate, the Fannin South Park & Ride, or online at HLSR.com. Tickets are $2.50 roundtrip, or $1.25 one-way.

Click here to read more details.

Ready, Set, Go HOT Lanes
 

 

 

HOT lanes logoNext Monday, Feb. 13, you'll be able to drive on our first HOT Lane.

This is our soft launch of the lane along I45-South (Gulf Freeway).

HOT Lanes will allow solo drivers to drive in an HOV Lane -but for a toll. You'll need an authorized toll tag. This can be a METRO HOT Lanes Toll Tag, a Harris County EZ TAG, a TxDOT TxTAG or the Dallas NITTA Toll Tag.

Single-occupancy vehicles will not have access to those lanes during peak drive times. For the I-45 South (Gulf Freeway) corridor, that's from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m inbound, and outbound from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Let us know how you like this HOT Lane, and how much time it shaves off your commute.

Click here to read more about HOT Lanes.

Car Sharing for City Employees
 

 

Skyline of Boston

City of Boston employees will soon be using a new car-sharing program that partners with Zipcar, the Cambridge, MA-based car-sharing network. 

City-owned cars will be configured with Zipcar's car-sharing technology, helping the city reduce costs and streamline fleet operations, reports BostonHearld.com.

"Boston is always looking for ways to be more green - both in saving money and saving energy," said Mayor Thomas Menino in a statement. "This partnership with Zipcar helps us do both."

The program will combine vehicles assigned to separate departments to create one interdepartmental fleet. Employees will be able to make online reservations and securely access the cars, says Zipcar. Using Zipcar technology, the city of Boston will be able to manage its fleet in real time, including maintenance, fueling, billing and usage data.

This six-month pilot will include more city-owned vehicles if it's successful. Boston follows Chicago and Washington, D.C., which have already launched similar programs.

Click here to read Zipcar's press release for more details.

Sprucing Up East End with Art
 

Sidewalk & construction in the East EndMETRO's new light-rail line in the East End is transforming the neighborhood.

With METRO building the East End Line (Green Line) and the new Dynamo Stadium cropping up in the East End, The Greater East End Management District decided this was a great opportunity to really beautify the area.

The district is using part of a $5 million stimulus grant to plant trees, install bus stops, public lighting, benches and other pedestrian-friendly amenities, reports KUHF-FM (88.7).

And the district is asking artists to incorporate their art into the structures, so that utilitarian pieces also showcase art. Benches, bike racks, signs, trash cans and shelters will have art built into them.

Click here to hear or read the report.

House Cuts Funding to Mass Transit
 

 

US Capitol building at night

Bad news is brewing in Congress for public transportation.

The House of Representatives last Friday approved a plan that would slash mass transit funds. The House Ways and Means Committee passed a plan that would stop a provision in the Highway Trust Fund that dedicates 2.86 cents per gallon of the gas tax to mass transit.

Instead, the Mass Transit Account would be fueled with "undetermined funds."

Michael Melaniphy, president and CEO of the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), called the action a risk to mass transit.

"On behalf of the 1,500 members of...APTA and Americans who take more than 10 billion public transit trips annually, we are strongly opposed to the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee proposal to divert $25 billion in dedicated fuel tax revenues from the Mass Transit Account," said Melaniphy in a statement.

"This response represents nearly 50 percent of the federal investment in public transit authorized by the House surface transportation bill. This drastic change will clearly put public transportation projects at risk," continued Melaniphy.

Read more on surface transportation authorization bills here.

 

METRORail Service to Be Interrupted
 

Icon stating, "Rider Alert"This Saturday, if you're downtown enjoying one of the museums or restaurants, be aware that our rail service will be interrupted.

All rail stations will be closed on Saturday, Feb. 4, from 5 a.m. to 6 pm.  Reason? Construction at Texas Children's Hospital.

But we'll be operating bus shuttles every six minutes. They will use the 700 Rail Shuttle route, except in the Medical Center area (Dryden and Memorial Hermann stations).  Buses will not be able to access the UH Downtown station due to construction.  See map of the bus shuttles here.

If you're starting your trip on the rail system, you can buy your fare using the ticket vending machines (TVMs) on the platforms or tapping your METRO Q® Fare Card there. If you're transferring from the bus system, you can buy your fare the way you normally do.

Normal rail service resumes at 6 p.m.

We'll  have staff on hand to answer questions.  Please allow extra time to get where you need to be, as bus service takes longer than rail. Thanks for your patience.

More Light Rail Coming to Town
 

The Southeast and East End lines are under construction. Want to see what's happening on the Southeast Line? Click here to see pictures on our Facebook page.

The Southeast Line, or Purple Line, begins in downtown Houston and runs along Capitol and Rusk, southeast to the vicinity of Palm Center at MLK and Griggs, traveling through the center of one of the city's oldest African-American communities. The approximately six-mile line connects downtown with TSU and UH. Click here to view a map of the line.

 

Make a Difference in Your Community
 

 

Cut-out figures in a meeting

Here's a chance to make a real difference in the future of your community.

The Houston-Galveston Area Council  (H-GAC) is launching an ambitious, two-year project to develop a blueprint on making your community a better place to live.

The 13-county region in the Houston-Galveston area expects to welcome 4 million new residents in the next 30 years. Where will those residents live? And,  how will this affect quality of life? How will people move around in the region?

The plan's focus will include these issues:

  • Clean air and water
  • Good jobs
  • Safe and attractive neighborhoods
  • Affordable housing
  • Transportation choices
  • Open space and parks

H-GAC wants your ideas of how you want your neighborhood to look - now and for future generations.

Sign up for updates at ourregion.org, or send an email to ourregion@h-gac.com.

You can submit ideas through March 31, 2012, and those ideas will help shape goals and priorities for the regional plan.  You can also attend community meetings - there are 15 from Galveston to Huntsville - to meet H-GAC staffers in person and brainstorm. Click here for the meeting list.

College Students Sign Up for the Q

 

METRO staff selling Q Cards to college studentsStudents on three campuses this week got ready to ride METRO by signing up for a METRO Q® Fare Card right on their campus. METRO's revenue team visited Texas Woman's University, HCC Coleman, HCC Central and HCC Southeast, issuing almost 100 Q Cards. Students can ride METRO for half price with a Q Card. They also get five free rides for every 50 paid trips.

 "Students were happy to see us," said Nicole Adler, sales rep for Service Delivery. "We made it really convenient for them."

Click here for more details on how to get a student Q Card. If you're a student and you missed our visit on your campus, you can mail documents to get you student Q Card or come in person to METRO's  RideStore at 1900 Main, Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The Q Card team will be out in the next few weeks at more campuses, including the University of Houston Central campus and HCC Northeast.

Board Approves February Service Changes
 

 

Local bus in front of Houston skylineThe METRO Board of Directors today approved service changes that will continue three routes that had originally been slated for discontinuation: 30 Clinton, 48 Navigation (Pleasantville branch) and 49 Chimney Rock.

These three routes generated intense community discussion at the Dec.5 public hearing and later, at the three community workshops.  

 Kim Slaughter, senior vice president of Service Design & Development, said METRO welcomed the often passionate engagement by the community and said she appreciated that the community - including residents, pastors, elected officials - all took time to comment about the routes that were important to them.

She proposed to the board that the three routes, which solicited the most comments, continue to run while the staff further evaluates and crafts solutions that will satisfy the riders and work for METRO.

Click here to see Slaughter's Power Point, "Finalizing February 2012 Service Changes."

The seven routes that will be discontinued on Feb. 26 are:  35 Fairview; 39 Parker Road; 59 Aldine Mail Crosstown; 60 Hardy; 286 W. Little York/Uptown Greenway; 313 Allen Parkway; and 500 Airport Direct (ended August 2011).

She called all these routes poor-performing, which means the subsidy per boarding was 100 percent above the average subsidy of $5.03 for local routes.  Route #35, for example, has been poor-performing for 18 years.

Other changes include adding or deleting stops and adjusting routes.

"The new METRO is very serious about listening to the community in order to provide first-class transit," said METRO Chairman Gilbert Garcia, in a statement. "This process is a perfect example of that."

Rail Station Design Competition
 

 

Montage of five designs for new Main Central Station 

Last night, in the beautiful Gerald D. Hines building at 811 Main, where the lobby sports tan leather sofas and dramatic white orchids, the Houston Downtown Management District hosted a competition featuring designs from five award-winning architectural firms.

The challenge: to design an iconic new Central Station - Main on Main Street between Capitol and Rusk. The station would also be the transfer point for three light-rail lines.

The five invited firms from around the country - including one Houston firm - were asked to consider into their design such factors as: openness, views of adjacent buildings, clarity of circulation, feasibility of construction and maintenance, even how the roof would look from a bird's eye view.

But the most important requirement was to design a station that would become a landmark for downtown Houston.

Crowd looking at five design entries for new stationAbout 350 community leaders, architects, design students and residents showed up to hear a 15-minute presentation by each architectural firm. The firms were: SHoP Architects; Lewis, Tsurumaki, Lewis Architects; Neil M. Denari Architects; Interloop-Architecture (Houston); and Snohetta, based in Norway and New York.

Each design was assigned a number at random, which did not represent a ranking. Before the formal presentations started, the crowd walked around displays and picked their favorites. Held on the 11th floor, the event overlooked the intersection where the new rail station would be built.

"We wanted this to be an iconic station...where three lines cross each other - East End, Southeast and the North extension of the Red Line, " said Bob Eury, executive director of the Downtown District, adding that the competition was a joint project with METRO and Houston Rapid Transit (HRT), a joint venture building our light-rail lines.

Lonnie Hoogeboom, an architect who is the director of planning and design at the Downtown Management District, said he was delighted at last night's turn-out. He called the five firms innovative problem solvers, which figured out how to create within highly restrictive design constraints a landmark that was aesthetically pleasing.

SHoP Architects (entry #1) compared its soaring design to the archway of St. Louis and said it wanted to build a station that was in scale to the historic buildings around it, which included front entrances that were three stories high.

Paul Lewis (entry #2) said his team was intrigued by the platform restrictions and the yellow median strip. Its strategy was to take the restrictions and float volume over the side and provide a protective umbrella.

Neil M. Denari Architects (entry #3) pointed to existing Houston icons - the Astrodome, the Pennzoil Place designed by Phillip Johnson as inspiration for its steel-constructed station that popped with fire-engine red. An icon is an image, and Denari Architects said it wanted to bring that level of graphic quality into 3-D form - and then create forms that were scaled to the body, not to the city. Aerial view from 11th floor of new station site

This was my favorite design, and afterwards, a young man next to me leaned over and echoed my sentiments, saying, "That was beautiful, wasn't it? I love it!"

I had to leave before hearing presentations #4 and #5 - but click here to see close-up artist renderings of all the designs, including drawings and explanations.  

Then comment and vote online for your favorite design. Do you like the shape or color? Will it make your METRORail experience better? Does it represent downtown?

A jury will consider your comments when it selects the winning design.

 

Construction Proceeds on Red Line Extension
 

Montage of construction of North Line 

Check out the latest construction on the North Line, which will consist of eight stations from UH Downtown to the Northline Transit Center.

The photos posted above show the progress we've made so far on the North Line extension, which extends our existing Red Line by about 5.3 miles.

The inset photo shows the light-rail train (LRT) bridge being built above and along N. Main Street." It goes over the Union Pacific Railroad tracks," said Fred Childs, program manager of the North Line. "In the inset photo, the rust-colored steel girders of the bridge are located directly above the railroad tracks. The rest of the bridge has grey concrete girders."

The bridge starts at Shea and Providence and ends at Hogan. It runs about 2,440 feet in length.

On Jan. 11, we completed one concrete pour of the bridge deck. The North Line is about 45 percent complete.  The line will be open to passengers some time in 2014.

The extension will run through the heart of the historic North Side, a neighborhood that came to life in the 1880s with the Hardy Rail Line. Click here to view a map of the North Line.

The line will run north on North Main to Boundary Street, cross east to Fulton, and proceed north on Fulton to the Northline Transit Center, Houston Community College and Northline Mall. Read more here.

If you live in the North part of town and would like to talk to someone about the North Line, you can call our North Community Outreach Office, Monday through Friday, 8:30 am. to 5:30 p.m. Call 713-343-4354. You can also drop by 2613 Fulton St.

Christina Moreno-Conner, a resident of the neighborhood and METRO employee, will be ready to answer your questions.

Transit Agencies Try to Accommodate Wider Girth
 

Interior of METRORail carIt's a dilemma transit agencies nationwide are facing: how to accommodate wider waistlines while keeping the same number of seats to maintain capacity.

In some cases, agencies have redesigned the middle seat to only appear larger.

Americans growing larger is not a new problem. The New York Times reports that every time an agency buys new trains or buses, it must also decide if it should order wider seats to accommodate wider profiles. Of course, doing so reduces passenger capacity.

New Jersey Transit plans to add 100 double-decker train cars with seats that  are 2.2 inches wider than the current 17.55-inch seats on its single-deck trains. Amtrak plans to launch 25 new dining cars next year that will accommodate larger passengers.

In the past 50 years, New York City subways introduced narrower seats but quickly removed them after a rash of complaints.

Here at METRO, our rail car seats are 19 inches wide. The new seats in the cars we are ordering will be  18 inches wide, the standard design. 

The airline industry has been struggling with balancing bigger, more comfortable seats with squeezing in as many seats as possible to increase profits.

Heavier passengers also have officials considering changing the crash-test standards for trains and buses. "It's clear that the U.S. population is getting heavier," Martin Schroeder, chief engineer for the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), told the NYT. "We are trying to get our hands on that and figure out what is the best average weight to use."

Click here to read the NYT article.

 

Houston Needs Good Infrastructure
 

Tony Chase, new president of Greater Houston Partnership

The new president of the Greater Houston Partnership (GHP) says Houston's a great place to be now - but points out that Houston will double in size by 2050. That means we need to improve our infrastructure.

"I'd like GHP to advocate strongly on the federal level for funding for mass transit, as well as roads and highway improvement and expansion of light-rail funding," Tony Chase told the Chronicle's L.M. Sixel in an interview.

Chase is an entrepreneur and Harvard-educated lawyer, who grew up the Third Ward.  He's a professor at the University of Houston Law Center and CEO of ChaseSource, a recruiting and staffing firm.

Read what he says about our city's economy, and the role GHP needs to play going forward.

Record Ridership on Texans Playoff Game Day
 

 

Fans at Texans playoff game at Reliant Stadium

Even though last weekend's Houston Texans game was disappointing, the team's first playoff game on Jan. 7 was good news for METRO and our riders.

On that home game day, all patrons rode free, courtesy of Reliant. Reliant has partnered with METRO, wrapping one of our rail cars with a giant picture of wide receiver Andre Johnson.  Reliant paid for the wrap and agreed to pay for all patrons riding the rail on home game days.

On Jan. 7 when the Texans beat the Cincinnati Bengals, we recorded 26,451 boardings. Of those, 10,230 could be attributed to the Texans first home playoff game. The boardings were the highest for a Houston Texans game during the 2011 season, and the fifth highest overall for a Texans home game since the inception of METRORail.

Based upon Reliant's commitment to pay $1.25 (full fare) for every boarding on this date, the fare revenue was $33,063.75.

Our analyses show that the ridership for Texans' games is impacted by the team's record, opponent and day of the week the game is played. It's a reasonable assumption that the combination of the first playoff game, first playoff win and free fares contributed to the high ridership. Wide shot of Reliant Staidum filled with fans watching Texans playoff game

How does ridership on the Texans playoff game day compare to our highest ridership day? On the day Beyonce sang at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo on March 15, 2007, we had 64,448 boardings. On Super Bowl XXXVIII in February 2004, METRORail had 61,005 boardings.

The photos posted here were taken during the playoff game by Gabe Arevalo, METRO's audio visual coordinator/account executive.

I Hate Houston Traffic
 

 

 

HOT Lanes logoIf you are one of the thousands of commuters navigating Houston's highways during drive times, you probably hate Houston traffic as much as I do.

Now, METRO is making it easier to zip through congested freeway lanes. For a fee, you can drive in the region's HOT Lane. HOT stands for high occupancy toll. We're enhancing our HOV (high-occupancy vehicle) lanes and giving people who drive alone the option to pay a small toll to use the fast lanes.

The first METRO HOT Lanes will open soon along IH-45 South (Gulf Freeway). Click here to see other planned HOT Lanes corridors and their opening dates.  METRO's 83-mile HOV network is one of the largest HOV systems in the nation.

If you already use the HOV lanes, you'll only see one significant change. Now there will be a lane to verify the number of occupants in your vehicle.

Tolls will be paid by using an authorized toll tag.  By partnering with the Harris County Toll Road Authority (HCTRA), drivers with EZ Tags, or those who purchase a METRO Toll Tag, will be able to use the HOT Lanes, HCTRA-operated toll roads and those of its regional tolling partners (North Texas Tollway Authority and TxDOT) and vice versa. You won't need a second tag.

Tolls will be based on the time of day and the congestion level of each of the HOT Lanes corridors. Click here to see a chart of tolls, which range from $1 to $4.50. If you carpool, vanpool or ride a motorcycle, you can still drive on the HOT Lanes for free.

You'll be able to purchase a METRO Toll Tag on this website or at our RideStore at 1001 Travis.

More questions? See our FAQ here.

The Red Line and a Rhomboid
 

Montage of concrete pour on the North (Red) Line Post-It sketch of rhomboid

(Today's guest post was written by Margaret O'Brien-Molina, senior media specialist).

It was an average morning. I was about to climb the scaffolding to the top of the new elevated light-rail track just north of UH Downtown when I asked METRO's North (Red) Line project manager Fred Childs an obvious question. How big was the cement slab his crews were preparing to pour? His eyes lit up ... and then he laughed. He said it was complicated. I thought he was being patronizing because I am mathematically challenged. That was not the case. Fred then dropped a bomb on me ....

"It's a rhomboid," said Fred - causing my eyes to roll back and my grip on the scaffold to tighten. "One side is 50', another 45', another 80' and the last one 60'.  We're using 140 cubic yards of concrete."

So, what's the length and the width?  And how did our engineering whizzes calculate the 140 cubic yards of concrete?  "It's complicated." That's what Fred said.  I'd have to visit PlanetMath.com for help translating what I found out is - sure enough - Greek to everyone.    

"A rhomboid is a parallelogram that is neither a rhombus nor a rectangle. The word rhomboid comes from the Greek word o o   , which is transliterated as `rhomboeidis'. In The Elements, Euclid has this definition: ``Of quadrilateral figures....a rhomboid (is) that which has its opposite sides and angles equal to each other but is neither equilateral nor right-angled.''  Here's a blue print of the span of bridge being built.  My blue Post-It drawing wasn't quite as good but I don't have autocad to play with like our engineers do.

Regardless, the formula was about to present itself ... right there in html ... spelled out on PlanetMath. "The formula for the area of a rhomboid is the same as that for all parallelograms: If b is the length of its base and h is the length of its height, then A=bh . I knew that.

Aerial view of bridge along Red Line

MLK Day Holiday Schedule
 


Martin Luther King Jr. On Monday, Jan. 16, we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a day to commemorate civil rights leader King, who fought against segregation on public transit and lobbied for equality.

METRO will run regular weekday service on our buses and trains.

Our Customer Care Center (713-635-4000) will be open during regular business hours, but the RideStore and Lost & Found will be closed. METROLIft Customer Service offices will be closed but your subscription trips will not be affected on Jan. 16.

Click here for more details.

 

Marathon Brings Service Interruptions & Detours
 

Woman running in Chevron Houston Marathon

 

This weekend, two big events involving thousands of runners occur: the Olympic Trials Marathon on Saturday, Jan. 14, and the Chevron Houston Marathon on Sunday, Jan. 15.

RAIL SERVICE:

There will be no rail service between the northbound and southbound Main Street Square stations on Saturday from 7 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., and on Sunday, from 7 am. to 2 p.m.

Passengers will need to walk between the southbound station and the northbound station of Main Street Square Station to continue their travel. There will be no bus shuttle between the two platforms because buses in the area will be subject to road closures for the marathons. HPD and MPD will be in the aera to assist with pedestrian traffic in the area. See map here.

Otherwise, we'll have trains running every 18 minutes during the service interruption.

BUS DETOURS:

On Saturday, from 6:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. and Sunday, from 5:30 a.m. to 2 pm., most of the downtown streets north of Lamar Avenue will be closed. Also, parts of midtown and uptown streets will be closed.

Click here to read more details.