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METRO Celebrates Festival de Mayo

Shot of METRO booth and festival-goersOur remote-controlled miniature bus roamed the halls of Reliant Center at yesterday's Festival de Mayo, attracting attention and bringing in festival-goers to our METRO booth - a giant tent with a hybrid bus on display behind it.

The festival featured arts and crafts, authentic foods, fun, games and music to celebrate the culture of the Hispanic community. METRO was one of 76 exhibitors.  

 "Events like Festival de Mayo give us an opportunity to get information out to the community about METRO's services and to have participants interact with staff," said Raequel Roberts, vice president of marketing and corporate communications. 

Mr. Hybrid, our remote-controlled bus, got a little extra bling yesterday with a dozen red strobe lights attached to his belly, making for a flashy drive down the halls. "He was a hit. Everybody loved us," said Tom Pham, advertising account executive, who built the tiny bus.

We had a game where participants could toss tiny balls through cut-out holes in a cardboard display. Those who tossed two balls successfully received their choice of a METRO T-shirt or an eco-friendly water bottle. Kids only needed one successful toss. We gave away about 350 water bottles and 200 T-shirts.

For the first time, we used our 10 by 10-foot tent as our booth, along with huge banners that said in four languages: "New METRO, Going Places."

"People enjoyed it," said Gabriel Arevalo, audio visual coordinator/account executive, who staffed METRO's booth from noon to 6 p.m. "We had information going out - system maps, How to Ride brochures. "

View Mr. Hybrid in action below.  We put a fish-eye lens on the bus, so you'll see the crowd from Mr. Hybrid's viewpoint. Runs about a minute.


<a href=""><img src="/Themes/default/images/video.gif" border = "0" width="410" height="300"></a><br /><a href = "">View Video</a><br />Format: wmv<br />Duration: 1:03

Introducing Transit as a Career

 Montage of Career Day

Like many industries, the transit industry is graying. We need fresh, young talent - and what better way than a career day in the schools to tout the benefits of working in the transit industry.

Yesterday, six METRO staffers talked to students at the charter school, Raul Yzaguirre School for Success, as part of the American Public Transportation Association National Transportation Career Day.

Students learned about the diversity of careers in transit - from engineering to planning to procurement to marketing.  We told them about the history of METRO and then urged them to consider making METRO and transit part of their future.

In the montage above are (left to right) :  Mike Martinez, manager of stakeholder affairs; Helen Cavazos, chief diversity officer; Richard Farias, school superintendent; Roland Manzano, director of human resources; Kimberly Williams, chief administrative officer; Vincent Sanders, lead transportation systems planner;   and Hilda Montemayor, people services officer.


We Want Your Ideas

How should transit look in the Houston region by 2040?

We want your ideas, thoughts and opinions.  Tonight, we're hosting a public workshop where we'll be listening to what you want in public transit.

We'll even have an interactive map, where you can drag a mouse over a map from, say, your favorite grocery store to your home - and a route will instantly appear. Check it out here.  Move your cursor over the map below, and start playing.

Interactive map

Whether it's light rail, commuter rail, electric buses, and street cars ....we're open to what you have to say. What about a solar power-assist system for buses? Or a bus-train that has four rubber tires for roads and four steel wheels for riding on rails? This bus-train has been in service in Tokyo for 18 months. Read more here about transportation of the future.

Your input will help shape METRO Vision, our plan for transit for the next 25 years.

The workshop is open to the public. Senior vice president Kimberly Slaughter will present a brief overview of transit issues facing us ahead, and our staff will be on hand to answer your questions in smaller break-out groups.

Got kids? Bring them with you. We'll have a coloring corner where they can draw while you keep an eye on them.

Tonight's meeting:

Place:  Upper Kirby Building

                3015 Richmond Ave.

                Houston, TX 77098

Time: 6 p.m. - 8 p.m.

Can't make tonight's meeting? We'll have 22 more meetings over May and June. Click here for the meeting list.  Hope to see you tonight!

Naming the Future


Rail station with name left off sign

Here's your chance to help shape our future rail stations.

We are accepting suggestions for names for three  of our new light-rail stations. The first round of submissions is due June 30.

We hope the station naming process will catch the spirit of the light-rail neighborhoods with a chance to integrate key cultural icons, public spaces and historical landmarks into the project. Our main focus is to make sure you'll be able to easily identify where you are within the system.

The names you submit must conform to METRO board-approved criteria , which require simple names that are easily understood and remembered by both locals and visitors using our system for the first time.

Names must be single, short names no longer than 26 characters. Stations may not be named after people - living or dead - unless the name is already being used for a street intersection, a historically significant landmark, or a widely recognized landmark, neighborhood or commercial trademark.

Click here for a submission form.  For now, we're accepting station name suggestions for the North, East End and Southeast lines. We'll have a separate station naming process for the Uptown and University lines in the future

You'll have a chance to review the successfully submitted names before our board approves the names later this summer.

Paying People to Move Near Work


Close-up of commuters hanging onto straps in trainA pilot program called Live Near Your Work is trying to convince people to move close to their jobs.

The Office of Planning in Washington, D.C. is launching a program that will match up to $6,000 in incentives that companies offer to employees who move near work or public transit.

The new home must be located within two miles of work, or within a half-mile of a Metro station or within a quarter mile of a bus corridor.  The program has $200,000 for matching homeownership grants.

Read more here.

Would you move if someone were paying you $12,000 in incentives?

METRO Makes a Delightful Entrance at the OTC


METRO's booth at the OTC 

With its biggest attendance  since 1982, this year's  Offshore Technology Conference, which ended yesterday, attracted  thousands of attendees from around the world  - and METRO was there in an unexpected way.

We had a booth, similar to the hundreds of other exhibitors. But what turned heads  was the miniature, remote-controlled bus that zipped in and around those strolling to various exhibits and workshops.

Dubbed Mr. Hybrid, the custom-built mini-METRO bus brought smiles to the faces of conference-goers , many of whom stopped at our booth, where we sold six-day passes for $10. It was a way to make getting around the downtown area convenient and ease some of the gridlock around Reliant Stadium.

Check out our short video below. (Runs 1:01)

While the conference's attendance soared to a 29-year high of 78,150 attendees, up 8 percent from the year before, our ridership also increased. For the four days of the conference - May 2 to May 5 - we recorded 17,806 customer boardings that could be directly attributed to the OTC.

That represents an 18.9 percent increase over the 2010 OTC four-day conference.

Our analysts say that many factors probably contributed to our record-breaking OTC ridership:  the OTC's 29-year high attendance; the special six-day pass; and the most beautiful, sunny, low-humidity weather Houston has experienced all spring.

While we are pleased at this year's high ridership, cowboys and sports fans in this town still outnumber oil and gas guys. Wrestlemania XXV in 2009 contributed 13,219 additional boardings in two days; and the Rice-UT game on Sept. 4, 2010, added 13,394 METRORail boardings in one day.

But for each special event we've had this year - including the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo and the NCAA Final Four tournament, we broke ridership records. We expect to receive the first of 20 new Siemens trains by October 2012 - and you'll be able to enjoy the first new one around January 2013. With our recent ridership records, the new trains can't come soon enough. 


<a href=""><img src="/Themes/default/images/video.gif" border = "0" width="410" height="300"></a><br /><a href = "">View Video</a><br />Format: wmv<br />Duration: 1:01

New Rules to Create Safer Tour Buses


New York's ChinatownNew bus safety measures designed to make tour buses safer were announced yesterday by the nation's top transportation official.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced a series of bus proposals that would stiffen penalties for operating buses without federal permission, hiking fines to as much as $25,000 from $2,000 a day.

The proposals come in the wake of a horrific bus accident on March 12 that left 15 people dead. The bus was returning to New York's Chinatown after an overnight excursion to a Connecticut casino. The bus - traveling at about 78 mph - fell off an elevated highway and rammed a utility pole, which sheared off the roof of the bus.

One of the proposals would mandate that companies pass a safety audit before receiving federal authority to operate. The audit would include an interview with the company's owners and a safety exam of the company's drivers and vehicles.

The proposals would also make it easier for the government to take away commercial licenses if drivers violate drug and alcohol laws while operating a vehicle other than a bus, or if they do not pay fines.

The rules would also give more muscle to the Department of Transportation's ability to regulate unsafe rogue bus operators - so called "chameleon" or "reincarnated" companies. These are operations which go out of business after safety violations, then reopen with a new name and location. 

LaHood's proposed safety measures did not require seat belts or reinforced roofs and windows. Last year, the DOT proposed a requirement for seat belts on new buses, but not on buses already on the road. That proposal is not final.

The process from proposed rule to final rule can be lengthy. There must be a public comment period, then a review, then a response to the comment period before a final rule. Congress has 60 in-session days to review and pass or reject new federal regulations issued by regulatory agencies.


METRO Launches Workshops on Future Transit

METRO President & CEO George Greanias greeted a packed board room yesterday  afternoon, launching the agency's series of community workshops on METRO Vision - the plan for our regional transit needs that will take us up to the year 2040. George Greanias, president & CEO

Greanias called yesterday's meeting a try-out performance for the 24 workshops across the city which will start May 10. Click here to view the archived meeting (runs 55 minutes).

Greanias said we would tweak the materials - poster boards, maps, PowerPoint presentation - but not our basic approach, which is to listen to the community and use that input to shape future transit plans.

"This is no easy task. We're way behind the curve," he said. "But I happen to know that...when this community finally decides to do something, it generally does a very good job of it. And I believe that METRO is more than up to the task of meeting the needs of the community."

Greanias then introduced "the star of the try-out performance," Kimberly Slaughter, senior vice president of service design & development.

Slaughter explained the challenges of population growth, job growth and designing a transit system  to connect people and jobs. At the community workshops - to be conducted in neighborhoods from Third Ward to Missouri City to Katy - there will be mini RideStores offering the full services of the RideStore , including Q® Fare Card distribution.  There will also be a laptop connected to an interactive map where people can draw the routes they want and submit their instant map with a click.

Kimberly Slaughter, senior vp, Service Design & DevelopmentIn addition, there will also be a children's coloring corner, so families can bring their kids and keep an eye on them while they draw. We'll supply paper and crayons.

All the meetings will be from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

"I'd like you to join us and help us build a successful, long-range plan for the future, " said Slaughter. "It's a collective vision of everyone in the community."

So what multi-modal forms of transit do you want? Improved bus service, bus rapid transit, streetcars, light rail, commuter rail? Please come to one of our meetings and share your thoughts.

Click here for a list of the public workshops.

Increasing Security After Osama bin Laden's Death


Osama bin LadenAfter President Obama's midnight announcement that Osama bin Laden was killed in a U.S. operation, transit agencies nationwide are beefing up security.

METRO is no exception.

You'll notice more police officers on our platforms, along with more K-9 officers.

"We're putting a little extra visibility out there," said Tim Kelly, MPD's acting chief of police. "We're reminding people that if you see something, say something. We want the public to be vigilant, and be our eyes and ears. "

Kelly emphasized that there has been no specific threat.

Government intelligence officials warned that the death of America's most wanted terrorist could result in retaliatory attacks on the homeland and on U.S. or western interests abroad,  although the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the FBI said there are no indications of any plots now.

The Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) announced on its website that it is taking extra security steps, including adding counterterrorism officers to a training exercise it had scheduled for today. Amtrak, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, Virginia Railway Express and the Maryland Transit Administration are all increasing security on their systems.

Click here to find tips on how to stay safer on the rail and on buses.



METRO's Chairman Speaks on KUHF-FM

Chairman Gilbert Garcia in the KUHF studioA year ago, Chairman Gilbert A. Garcia gave an interview to KUHF-FM about his vision for METRO. Now, one year later, he highlights METRO's achievements and its current relationship with the Federal Transit Administration, which distributes the federal money needed to build our light-rail system.

Click here to listen to the interview.

Weigh in on Walkable Neighborhoods

Lady walking with shopping bagsWhat kind of neighborhood do you want to live in?

David Crossley, president of Houston Tomorrow, will be leading a discussion tomorrow on the types of amenities people want in their neighborhoods.  The case for walkable neighborhoods is growing, but can the market meet the demand?

A walkable neighborhood usually has these elements:  a center - whether it's a main street or a public space; enough people for businesses to thrive and transit to run often; parks and plazas ; buildings close to the street with parking lots in the back; and schools and offices within walking distance of people's homes.

Join the discussion and offer your opinion and ideas.

Date:  Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Time:  Noon - 1:30 p.m.

Place:  Houston-Galveston Area Council (H-GAC)

3555 Timmons Lane, Second Floor, Room C

The event is free and open to the public - and it's ok to bring your lunch.

Smart Parking in San Francisco


Street scene of San Francisco

If you're planning a vacation to San Francisco this summer, finding a parking space will have gotten easier.

Starting this summer, the city will change the price of parking spaces based on demand. Rates will changes as often as once a month - dipping down to 25-cents per hour if there's little demand, or ballooning up to $6 an hour on congested streets, reports the blog, The Daily Good.

The SFPark system has just rolled out in eight test neighborhoods, using sensors to see if spaces are occupied. You'll be able to see where there are vacant spaces - and how much they cost - all in real time.  Hopefully, this will lead to less circling around hunting for parking spaces, less air pollution and safer streets.

Owners of iPhones can download this free app.  An app for Android phones is coming.

Click here to read the story.

We're a Part of Something Green

Planet Earth suspended between two handsHappy Earth Day! Today is the day when we take a minute to think how we can treat our planet better. I thought you might be interested in what METRO is doing to contribute to our planet's sustainability.  So here are some ways we're going green:

Emissions reduction - We're improving air quality by reducing nitric oxide emissions from our fleet by as much as 50 percent. We're doing it by replacing our fleet with hybrid diesel-electric propulsion, a clean technology. We now have 341 hybrid buses.

About 124,000 vehicles are taken off the road every week day, thanks to our customers who have chosen METRO buses, vanpools, carpools and METRORail.

Recycling - We regularly recycle scrap metal, tires, lead/acid batteries, wood pallets and motor oil. Almost 248,000 pounds per month of metals and batteries were recycled in the past 12 months.

And we recently cleaned out our cubicles, recycling 57 tons of paper.

Our 1,225 buses are washed with recycled water, saving more than 7,300 gallons of water every time we wash our fleet.

We use eco-friendly lamps in fluorescent fixtures at all our facilities, reducing mercury contaminants and the special handling required.

And we'll save about $1 million a year by reduced printing costs. We have removed 496 personal printers, scanners and color copiers and transitioned to multifunctional business hubs.

Are there steps you've taken to become greener around your house? Share them with us.

Click here to find ideas to find ideas and make a pledge.




An Update on Building Our Rail Lines


Stacks of rail tracksTake a look at what's arrived  to build our rail lines. These photos show about 8,300 tons of rail track and about 390 tons of copper wire.

METRO Rail Expansion is moving forward. In a little more than a year, METRO has spent more than $142 million with more than 95 local firms. Our commitment is that 35 percent - or at least $335 million of the building budget  - will be spent with Small Business Enterprises (SBE/DBEs). Rolls of copper wire

The East End Line is progressing, with public utilities work taking place in most construction segments.  The North Line will undergo road improvements that will affect travel. On the Southeast Line, you can see utility work in almost all the segments. We're preparing rail storage sites and getting ready to begin roadway and guide-way work north of McKinney along the Union Pacific Railroad.

Click here to read more.

Houstonians Prefer Walkable Urban Centers


Houston skylineMost Houstonians enjoy living here but are concerned about the economy. That's according to the annual Kinder Houston Area Survey  just released.

Dr. Stephen Klineberg, professor of sociology at Rice University, has been leading the survey and analyzing its data for three decades now. He says fewer respondents said traffic is getting worse - but Klineberg says that's probably because they simply have grown accustomed to gridlock.

But younger Houstonians said they were interested in transit-oriented urban centers where they can walk to work or shop.

George Greanias, our president & CEO, told KTRH-740 AM radio that light rail and buses are vital to making these walkable urban centers a reality.

Click here to read the KTRH story. Listen to a conversation (or read the transcript) between Klineberg and  KUHF-FM (88.7).

Creating a Better Block in the City

People seated at outdoor cafe, bicylists on street in "Hot Block on Holman" event.Imagine a city block with outdoor cafés graced with flowers and potted plants, wide sidewalks, bike lanes and quiet hybrid buses gliding down the street.

That's what happened on a recent Saturday when  Holman, La Branch and Elgin streets were transformed into a "Better Block" as a way to capture the public's imagination and illustrate what a complete street looks and feels like.

"The idea is to take to take one block of the city to show how it can be more bike-friendly, pedestrian-friendly and more business-friendly by taking a day and changing the structure of the lot," said Christof Spieler, METRO board member and director of technology and innovation at Morris Architects.

Hosted by three organizations - Ecotone, The Community Artists' Collective and Planners' Revolution - the April 9 event included a METRO booth staffed by Karen Marshall, director of community outreach. Hybrid buses on the 42 Holman route sported head signs that read: "42 Holman via Hot Block on Holman."

A video demonstrated next-bus arrival signage. Two of the six bus stops within the event area had full shelters with amenities, including bench seating, trash receptacles, lighting and enhanced paving.  The full shelter on Holman at Austin Street displayed signs saying the shelter represented a complete  METRO bus shelter installation.

"It was basic urbanism - walkable streets that have transit, closer density, less sprawl," said D'Shaun Guillory, marketing coordinator for the Houston chapter of Congress for the New Urbanism, who ran the marketing team for "Hot Block on Holman."

"On Holman Street...we painted a bike lane a few feet away from the sidewalk. And inside the bike lane were public areas - a café area where people could sit, a sidewalk, a place where people could park, bike lanes. METRO buses ran right beside it. It was down to two lanes. And the traffic flowed quite well," said Guillory. METRO booth set up under bus shelter

Spieler said Houstonians will get out and walk - if we create places where it is friendly to walk.

"Look at downtown and take a lunch time on a nice day around Main Street Square or go to Rice Village, even in the summer no matter how hot it is," he said. "I would much rather be walking in Houston than in New York in February."

John Sedlak, executive vice president and director of partnering strategy, said he hopes to see more "Better Blocks" in the future - permanent ones that complete the streets.

"They are tied very closely to the transit investments we're making," said Sedlak. "We're trying to change the nature of the street by improving them and putting rail or bus there."

Want More Buses? Here's Your Chance to Tell Us

Young man with backpack and ear buds riding busYou'll have a chance to voice your opinion on METRO service  - from new Saturday service  to extending a route - at a public meeting this Thursday, April 21.

The meeting will be held at 12 noon in our board room at 1900 Main.

Click here to see detailed proposed changes for the June 5, 2011, service change. Read a summary on Take Note.

A snapshot of some proposed changes:

  • 4 Beechnut - Extend route from Beechnut/Dairy Ashford to State Highway 6, via Beechnut, Sugarland Howell, Pavilion and Empanada.
  • 53 Briar Forest - Weekday, add a westbound trip at 7:30 p.m.
  • 255 Kingwood - Weekday, remove an outbound trip at 8:34 a.m.

You can phone in a comment to 713-658-0180, or submit your comment online by clicking here.

Tips & Tricks for Newbie Transit Riders

Woman reading while standing in trainSome of you have been riding METRO for years - and we appreciate your patronage.

Others are novices at public transit, prompted by escalating gas prices to try out the bus or train.

Today, a colleague sent me a link to a blog that tweets a question daily to its readers, and I'd like to piggyback and ask that same question to you:  What advice would you give to new transit riders?

See what Good Transportation's readers offered.  Answers range from practical to humorous. Some excerpts: "Hand sanitizer."  Another suggested, "Sit near the front."

And another urged: "Give public transportation a try! With a little planning, you'll get where you need to go smoothly and cheaply."

Your advice?

Rising Gas Prices Result in Largest Savings in Three Years

METRO bus against skylineBoard a bus and save money, especially with the price of gas hovering near $4 a gallon.

Riding public transit saves an average of $10,116 a year or$843 a month, according to the American Public Transportation Association's (APTA) Transit Savings Report.

This is the largest savings APTA has computed in almost three years.  Calculations are based on the average national gas price of $3.81 on April 13, 2011, as reported by AAA, and the national unreserved monthly parking rate.

Gas prices have climbed almost 80 cents since the beginning of the year - and have risen 30 cents a month in the past two months.

Of the top 20 cities with the highest ridership, New York commuters see the biggest savings of $14,561 a year, with Boston following with an annual savings of $13,368. San Francisco enjoys the third biggest savings at $13,268.

Want to compare the cost of your daily drive to work vs. your cost of riding METRO? Check out our Commute Calculator.  I just calculated my cost to ride to work - $235.44 a month, and that includes $20 a month to park in a glass-littered lot. Taking METRO would save me $185.44 a month (except that employees ride free, so I'd actually save $235.44 a month).

If you're not accustomed to riding METRO and worry about the lack of freedom in case you need your car mid-day, try riding only one or two days a week. You'll still pocket a good chunk of change.

Read more here.

TripAdvisor Offers Reality Feature

Screen shot of new TripAdvisor appFor all of you iPad2, iPhone and iPod users, there's another new app perfect for when you are traveling.

TripAdvisor, the Newton, Mass. company, said it has launched an "augmented reality feature" for those mobile smart devices.

While you are out and about your travel destination, you can access reviews of hotels, restaurants and attractions superimposed over what you see through the camera lens of your phone.

Click here to read more.  This picture is from the TripAdvisor blog.

If you're staying local for a while, it still would be fun to try it out here. The next time you're riding the rail, try the app and read reviews of the dozens of restaurants along the Red Line.  Remember to show your METRO Q® Fare Card and get a discount or freebie if the business is part of our Q Star program.