For the first time in 10 years, METRO is laying track again for light-rail.
This morning, city and METRO officials gathered at Paige and Rusk Streets, just southeast of downtown, and observed a construction crew pouring concrete to form a bed for an 80-foot section of steel rail. This will be part of the guide-way for 6.6 miles of the new Southeast Line, which will connect southeast Houston to the current Red Line on Main Street.
Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) pushed the button on a cement mixer truck, releasing the slurry mixture of concrete down the chute onto the track. The last time METRO poured concrete for new light-rail track was in September 2001.
Other officials present to witness this milestone included: METRO Board Chairman Gilbert Garcia, Vice-chair Allen Watson and Board Members Christof Spieler, Gary Stobb and Trinidad ("Trini") Mendenhall Sosa; George Greanias, president & CEO; and David Couch, senior vice president of Capital Programs.
Celebrating in the photo on the right are (L to R): Spieler, Watson, Jackson Lee, Garcia and Mendenhall.
When building track slabs, lime must be mixed in the soil first to stabilize the soil; otherwise, the ground will expand and contract after the track slab is completed. About 1,200 feet of trackbed has been prepared with lime for the new concrete track slab. Today, crews poured concrete on 80 feet of that prepared trackbed.
A plastic sheet was placed on top of the newly poured concrete, which will take a few days to cure. Then the sheet will be removed, and the track slab will be completed and ready for a train.
The Southeast Line (Purple Line) will be 6.6 miles long and connect downtown to Palm Center. Its destinations will be downtown, MacGregor Park, Texas Southern University and UH Central Campus. Station locations will be: Smith, Fannin, Crawford, Bastrop, Leeland, Elgin, Scott/Cleburne, Wheeler/MLK, MacGregor Park and Palm Center.
We expect to complete the line in mid-2014 and are forecasting 9,500 riders a day.
Morning news celebrities greeted METRO riders today with doughnuts and T-shirts at the TMC Transit Center.
The KHOU-TV Morning News team - anchors Ron Trevino and Christine Haas, meteorologist David Paul and traffic reporter Katherine Whaley - mingled with riders, passed out freshly baked doughnuts and KHOU T-shirts and chatted with riders about their experience watching Channel 11.
A boom mike towered above the crowd, a reflector bounced light, still photographers clicked and a TV camera rolled tape. The KHOU-TV (Channel 11) news team was shooting a promo that is scheduled to air at the end of August.
"We wanted to get our morning team out and about in the community interacting with viewers - just showing them how much we appreciate their viewership," said Dale Lockett, director of creative services at KHOU-TV. "We just wanted to reach out to all walks of Houston and reach out to all our viewers. And those who aren't our viewers, we ask for their vote, too."
The Morning News team had previously shot promos in the Galleria, and Memorial Park. Today, they were capturing folks who worked at the Texas Medical Center.
Roland D. Castor, an executive assistant in the development office at MD Anderson Cancer Center, stepped off the train and was surprised to be greeted by Whaley and an offer of doughnuts. He seemed unperturbed at all the cameras pointed at him.
Milton Ray, who rode the train with his bike, said the scene unfolding on the platform was exciting. He was on his way to find a job.
"I love it. We get to meet the people that bring us the news - people in broadcasting," said Ray, a Houston resident for eight years and a regular METRO commuter, adding, "This is how I learned Houston - by riding METRO. I learned the city by riding the bus."
Meanwhile, the anchors, who had shed their suits for jeans and casual tops, were mingling with the crowd. At one point, the director, Ross Wells, prompted Trevino to ad-lib by asking: "What would you tell your grandkids about this event?"
"The story I'm going to tell my grandkids is that we're out here not just giving hugs, but we're giving kisses, too," quipped Trevino.
Today, METRO President & CEO George Greanias returned to work, following a one-week suspension for violating METRO's electronic communications guideline.
He released this statement today.
The North Main Street bridge is scheduled to close to motorists beginning Monday, Aug. 8
Light-rail service will continue normal operations, and pedestrian access on the UH-Downtown side of the street will stay in place.
The detour was triggered by the construction of two major bridges for the light-rail expansion of the new North Line.
"Our goal is to provide great transit infrastructure, and this work brings us a step closer to providing our downtown and northside stakeholders with enhanced service. The finished project will be a major benefit for all of Houston, "said David Couch, METRO senior vice president for Capital Programs.
Northbound traffic on Main will follow this detour: right on Franklin, left on San Jacinto, right on Rothwell, left on Hardy, right on Lyons, left on Maury, left on Lorraine to Hogan and back to North Main.
The closure between Naylor and Franklin Streets enables crews to begin rebuilding the northern section of the Main Street bridge for light-rail use. They'll also build the southern part of the bridge over the Union Pacific tracks.
Southbound traffic will be detoured as follows: left on Hogan (which becomes Lorraine), right on Maury, right on Lyons, left on McKee, right on Providence, left on North San Jacinto and connect back to Main via Commerce.
If you're walking in the area, please be aware of directional signage. We want you to be safe on the streets and follow the directions on the signs. If you're driving, please be patient and expect a longer commute. The detour is expected to last 12 to 14 months. Read more at gometrorail.org.
With a record heat wave stifling the state of Texas, the city has implemented its heat emergency plan - and that includes opening cooling centers.
The Houston Public Library at 500 McKinney is an official cooling center, and METRO is offering free transportation there. If you need to escape the heat and need a ride to the downtown library, simply call 311. An operator will get your location and phone number, and METRO will send a dedicated METROLift van or METROLift Yellow Cab minivan.
"Our goal is to pick up the person needing assistance within 45 minutes and get them safely to a cooling center," said Art Jackson, senior director of Customer Care and Customized Service. "So far this year, we haven't received any trip requests. However, we are prepared to help those in need."
The downtown library's hours are: Monday through Wednesday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Thursday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Friday, closed; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday, closed.
In the meantime, city officials are urging folks to take precautions to prevent heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Be sure to:
- Drink more water, even before getting thirsty. Avoid beverages with alcohol, caffeine, or lots of sugar because these can result in the loss of body fluid.
- Work or exercise outdoors in the early morning or evening when it's cooler.
- Check on your elderly neighbors. It takes the elderly twice as long as younger people to return to core body temperature after exposure to extreme temps.
- Do not leave kids, pets or seniors unattended in a vehicle.
- Use an electric fan only if your AC is on. A fan only accelerates air movement and will accelerate the body's overheating.
- Pay attention to heat advisories. A Heat Emergency is when the heat index is 108 degrees for two or more consecutive days.
And electric companies are asking consumers to do their part to relieve stress on the electricity grid by powering off.
- Turn the thermostat to 78 degrees, which has the biggest impact.
- Turn off all unnecessary lights, appliances and electronic equipment.
- Try not to use dishwashers, washing machines and other appliances from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., the critical period of the day.
Sometimes a little bit of kindness goes a long way.
Tracey Marquis, bus operator at METRO for about a year, was turning the corner on Congress and LaBranch recently during an afternoon rain storm.
A woman, soaking wet, suddenly appeared and started banging on the bus door.
"She came out of nowhere. I told her to get on the bus. She was sweating and soaking wet," recalls Marquis, who had already pulled out of the bus lane.
The woman was trying to get to the West Bellfort Park & Ride but didn't know how to read the bus schedules nor where to catch the bus. She had walked on Smith Street from Congress to LaBranch - a long walk, especially for an older passenger.
Marquis was on her way to pick up her last bus load to the same location the distraught rider needed to go.
"She was the only one on my bus. I just sat there and explained it to her. I put it in perspective for her. She said, ‘Honey, I had no idea how it worked.' I had a very pleasant conversation with her," said Marquis, who always caries schedules on her bus to hand out to passengers. "If I'm doing the 265, I make sure I have my 265 schedules.
The woman passenger was so impressed she left a comment with Customer Care: "She found out about my long walk and explained much about how METRO works. She was kind and considerate and, on that day, my angel. I don't know what I would have done had she not been so kind," said the rider, adding, "And she's a good driver, as well."
A former school bus driver from Florida, Marquis says helping customers comes naturally to her.
"I like to be around people. And I like to talk. It makes me feel like a do-gooder whenever I'm able to help somebody beyond what I have to do. My goal that morning was to get her out of the weather and on the bus. Everything else was added bonus," said Marquis.
The key to good customer service, says Marquis, is good listening skills.
"Be a good listener and hear what people are saying. Hear their issue or problem or concern, and then go from there. Let them say what they need to say. Then offer the help or advice or assistance they need from there."
For being a kind listener, Marquis was honored as an "All Star Bus Operator" in recognition for being helpful to our new patrons.
Congratulations, Tracey Marquis.
Airport Direct, the 30-minute shuttle service launched in 2008, will cease operations after Saturday, Aug. 20.
Eliminating Route 500 Airport Direct was one of a dozen proposed route changes discussed at a public hearing last Tuesday.
Earlier this year, METRO and representatives of downtown hotels and the George R. Brown Convention Center met to craft a plan to boost ridership. But the route has lost money from the beginning, and cutting the fare in January to $4.50 from $15 one way didn't stop the hemorrhaging.
On average, the 56-passenger bus carries four riders per trip. The service costs about $1.9 million every year and has never collected more than $450,000 in passenger fares annually.
Riders can still get to the airport via the local Route 102 bus, which offers service from downtown to Bush Intercontinental Airport, seven days a week.
Greg Ortale, president and CEO of the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau, expressed optimism that METRO and partners could work on a future airport bus service, according to the Houston Chronicle.
"I think that what needs to happen now is go back and get all the interested parties to retool, think a little bit outside the box and think how we can put together a good solid express not only to Bush but to Hobby," he told the Chronicle.
Shoppers on the east side of town who venture into the Sellers Brothers grocery store tomorrow will be greeted by a live radio remote by the Mega 101 Cruiser, along with METRO staff passing out METRO Money and scratch-off loteria tickets, giving people a chance to win a backpack with either a 32 Renwick cap or T-shirt inside.
And everyone will get special key chains with a pull-out map of the route.
It's all part of our promotion of our new Saturday service on the 32 Renwick Crosstown. This is the first new Saturday service we have added since FY2005, other than the Route 500 Airport Direct.
"We're expecting a fun event and hope this will let neighborhood residents learn about a valuable new service METRO is offering - the 32 Renwick Crosstown Saturday route," said JoAnne Lingenfelter, manager of marketing at METRO.
So join the excitement and come meet METRO staff and get a chance to win some souvenirs. In the photo above, Gabe Arevalo, METRO's audio visual coordinator/account executive, is wearing our exclusive 32 Renwick cap and T-shirt.
You may have heard or read in the news about what happened to George Greanias, our president & CEO. Click here to read more.
Assignment: Produce a one-minute video on how to pollute Houston and then solve that problem.
That was the challenge for 10-year-old Crystal Maldonado when she entered the video contest at her summer art camp, Talento Bilingue de Houston.
Maldonado ended up the first-place winner with a short clip featuring the METRO train - and public transit - as the answer to a greener Earth.
Maldonado's mom asked her brother-in-law to help shoot the video. Wayne Slaten, an award-winning independent filmmaker who founded Moonlite Filmwerks, agreed to videotape and edit for his young niece, but said the concepts and directing came from her alone.
"We were riding around thinking of ideas. We were driving through the city and saw a train. And I decided like, let's just do METRO because you can probably fit 30 people on it, and it's much better than 30 people on the freeway because their mufflers - if they push too much gas on it, will spread gas into the air, which is polluting the air," recalls Maldonado.
(One train actually holds 64 seated passengers and 183 with all seats occupied and people standing without touching. For special events such as the rodeo or a football game, the train accommodates 205 people in a "crush load.")
The clip starts with close-ups of Maldonado's 16-year-old sister stepping into a red BMW, and driving off to join Houston's daily traffic grid. A cacophony of traffic noise follows- horns, brakes, screeches - with a bird's eye view of traffic. Then there's a sudden shift to the mellow richness of Louis Armstrong singing, "What a Wonderful world" as a METRO train glides by.
"We were riding around for about an hour filming the train," said Maldonado. "Then when we went to the freeway and saw the cars, I said, ‘Let's shoot this so we can see that METRO is better than all the cars going by.'"
Uncle Wayne introduced the Louis Armstrong song to Maldonado, who agreed it fit her theme, but when the lyrics mentioned flowers, she directed her uncle to shoot a shot of the train with flowers in the foreground.
"What's nice about all this stuff is you realize that children are aware and conscious of what goes on around them. It was nice to see that she's thinking that way," said Slaten, who recently won the Houston competition for The 48 Hour Film Project, an international competition in which entrants have 48 hours to write, shoot, edit and score a film. "She's very visual. That helped."
Maldonado says she's only ridden the METRO train once when she was about 7 or 8 years old, but she believes in public transit.
"Don't hurt the world. She's all we have," said the first-time video producer, who wants to be a surgeon when she grows up.
Click here to watch the video.
It's not too late to join Houston Tomorrow for a lively lunchtime discussion of the next era of transportation in our city.
Houston Tomorrow is a nonprofit institute for research, education and discussion of urban issues.
You'll get to see the unveiling of the new issue of Tomorrow magazine as David Crossley, president of Houston Tomorrow, takes you on a guided tour of our town as a more liveable place.
Find out about Houston 3.0. "If we play our cards right and don' t lose our nerve, we can become one of America's best-connected, walkable cities," says the magazine. Discover how the light-rail system envisioned for 2016 will serve 65 neighborhoods with potential development for 30 square miles.
The brown bag luncheon is today from noon to 1:30 p.m. at Houston-Galveston Area Council, 3555 Timmons Lane, 2nd floor, Room C.
Accountability counts, and for a huge government agency like METRO, it's an honor when others recognize those efforts.
Tomorrow, METRO is expected to be recognized with the Accountability Champion award, presented by the Houston Minority Supplier Development Council, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to expand business growth and opportunity for minority-owned firms. Its members include 140 major corporations and 1,000 minority-owned businesses.
"The award is being given to METRO in recognition of holding itself to high standards of accountability by reporting what it spends with minority businesses. It's something METRO chose to do," said Richard Huebner, president of the council.
The award, launched two years ago, recognizes the reporting process and the openness of an organization in disclosing how much it spends with minority-owned firms. It does not measure the amount it spends.
Deborah Richard, vice president of the Office of Small Business, said many organizations will say they will use small or minority-owned businesses, but fail to do so in the end.
"This is a recognition by one of our peer agencies that's involved in small business development that METRO is accountable to our small businesses, and that we have produced verifiable results in terms of our small business utilization - that we engage them at a significant level, and we follow up with payment," said Richard, pictured above. "We make sure promises made at the beginning of the contract are followed through to the end of the contract."
For example, METRO requires prime contractors to pay their subcontractors - who are often minority-owned and small businesses - within five days of receiving an invoice. METRO tracks that timeline with software.
METRO has a goal of 35 percent small business participation on its overall contracting activity, although that percentage may vary by individual contract. METRO's annual goal is 12 percent participation for disadvantaged businesses in all activities funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Helen Callier, president of Bradlink, a minority-owned small business that does business with METRO, applauded the agency for its work with small businesses.
"It's huge for METRO to be recognized for accountability," said Callier. "It says that METRO gets it. And showing the numbers reflects its commitment, not only to small businesses, but to the community as a whole. To provide a service for METRO speaks volumes. METRO is the means to make Houston a better place to live, work and play. It's more than a bus ride; it's about improving the quality of life."
Reminder: A public hearing is scheduled tomorrow at noon in our board room at 1900 Main (Main @ St. Joseph Parkway).
This is when you can comment on our proposed service changes. We are proposing re-aligning some routes and extending others; adding outbound trips to relieve passenger overloads and tweaking running times for more reliable service. We are also proposing eliminating 500 Airport Direct, due to low ridership and high passenger subsidy.
Click here to see all the proposed changes, effective August 21.
In this car-centric city, it often seems that riding solo in a car is the only way to get around.
In fact, nationwide, we take 1.1 billion trips a day - and 78 percent of those are solo drivers with empty seats.
Now the Houston-Galveston Area Council wants you to know there are other options for commuting. Ride your bike to work one day a week. Or share a ride with other nearby employees, using our STAR vanpool and NuRide.
Take the bus or rail for $1.25 one way - and if you're concerned about evening errands you need to run, plan your week so you take public transit one day a week.
H-GAC is launching its campaign, "My Solution Is..." in the month of August and urges everyone to try a commute alternative at least once during that month.
President & CEO George Greanias said even though METRO has an extensive Park & Ride network and HOV lanes, there's still more work to do to improve our commute.
"We're not satisfied, though, with what's in place. We're looking to build more. We're looking at extending certain bus routes, and we're building these light-rail lines, all of which are designed to give people again, an option besides their automobile," Greanias told KUHF-FM (88.7).
Read about more commute solutions here, then make a pledge with a solution of your own. You will be eligible to win prizes and incentives.
A proposed House transport bill would no longer require states to invest 1.5 percent of federal funds to making walking and biking safer.
In 1991, Congress took a multi-modal approach to investing in transportation, setting aside a sliver of federal funding in a program called Transportation Enhancements. This mandated that states spend about 1.5 percent of their total funds on community projects designed to foster travel outside of highways or transit projects. This includes bike trails, sidewalks and streetscape improvements.
Read more here from Transportation for America.
What do you think? In planning transit of the future, how much consideration should be given to bicyclists and pedestrians?
Saturday morning shoppers who visited Sellers Brothers grocery store on the east side were greeted by the Mega 101 Cruiser and METRO staff, promoting our new Saturday service on the 32 Renwick Crosstown.
Customers were given scratch-off loteria tickets, which they scratched to find out if they had won a prize - ranging from $5 in METRO Money to a backpack with a 32 Renwick cap or T-shirt.
"There was a steady flow of people coming in and out of the grocery store," said Rob Fritsche, senior copywriter/producer, who helped create the Spanish-language campaign. "They were really enamored with the scratch-off tickets, and everybody wanted to play."
The disc jockey did live call-ins to the station, while METRO marketing staff handed out goodies. Everyone received a collectible 32 Renwick keychain that depicts the route, along with stops and routes one can transfer to from each stop.
"The whole purpose of the event was to educate the public that the service is now six days a week and continue the education of the 32 Renwick route. It was a Monday to Friday service, and now Saturday service has been added. We wanted to stress that," said Fritsche.
METRO recorded 1,487 boardings for three Saturdays in June, eight more boardings than forecasted - this despite 100-degree temperatures on June 18.
"Previous studies have shown that routes with new passenger shelters tend to experience significant ridership increases, and this route was no exception," said Jim Archer, manager of ridership analysis. Route 32 Renwick-Saturday had 561 average daily boardings on the two Saturdays when the temperature was less extreme and only 366 boardings on Saturday, June 18."
Despite extremely hot weather, Saturday ridership exceeded expectations in its first month of operation.
Excluding Route 500 Airport Direct, this is the first new Saturday route since FY2005, thanks to the efforts of staffers in our Service Design & Development - Kimberly Slaughter, senior vice president and Kurt Luhrsen, senior director.
JoAnne Lingenfelter, manager of marketing, said METRO plans to do another radio remote event on July 30. The event will be held at the same location in front of Sellers Brothers. So come on by and scratch your way to good luck and some fun goodies.
The new normal in New York City's underground subway system includes police officers with heavy body armor, high-powered rifles, radiation detectors the size of a smart phone, a police dog named Sabu and random bag checks.
A decade after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center's twin towers, subways remain the biggest terrorism threat, reports the New York Times.
Since Sept. 11, 2001, subway bomb attacks have occurred worldwide, including Madrid, London and Minsk, Belarus.
The biggest subway system in the nation, New York's underground network has more than 465 stations and 800 miles of track that would reach Chicago if stretched end to end.
Officers have received special training on how to detect suspects. Signs of a suicide bomber include people walking stiffly, sweating profusely and talking to themselves.
Here in Houston, METRO police have undergone specialized anti-terrorism training, but we need the public's help to keep our transit system as safe as possible.
MPD urges all riders: If you see something, say something. Report any suspicious activity or package to MPD at 713-224-COPS (2677).
We have two more reasons why you should love your Q Card.
Two new businesses have joined our Q Star program in which you receive discounts and freebies simply by showing them your METRO Q® Fare Card.
Houston Tamale Factory at 1205 Travis is offering a free, 16-ounce drink with the purchase of a meal.
Chick and Chica at 3710 Main St. (next to Tacos A Go-Go) is giving a 10-percent discount with a purchase. The boutique features fashions, accessories and housewares from the Southwest and Mexico.
So enjoy a meal, and pick up a bauble while you save some money and support a business along the rail.
If you don't have a Q Card, you can pick one up at our RideStore at 1900 Main, or at any of these retailers. It's free - just load at least $5 on it.
We are planning to make some changes in our service in August to improve service - and we want to hear your comments on those proposed changes.
A public hearing is scheduled on Tuesday, July 26, at noon in the board room at 1900 Main.
The proposed changes include adjusting running times to improve on-time performance, and in some cases, adding trips to relieve overloads.
We are also proposing eliminating the 500 Airport Direct, due to low ridership and a high passenger subsidy.
Click here to read how your specific bus route will be changing in August. And tell us what you think.
Three actresses decked in 1930s garb sang the blues for unsuspecting METRORail riders this afternoon, prompting smiles, nods, cell phone pictures - and an impromptu solo by a music student who pulled his trumpet out to play a riff.
It was all part of METRO's partnership with The Ensemble Theatre, located on the Red Line at the HCC/Ensemble Station. The Ensemble Theatre is performing Blues in the Night, a 1930s musical which explores the mystique of big bands and stars a neurotic band leader and a carefree clarinetist.
The Ensemble Theatre is offering a buy-on-get-one-free deal on tickets, if you have a METRO Q® Fare Card,
METRO staff, along with theatre staff, passed out brochures advertising the deal - and passengers seemed surprised and happy to hear live a capella blues being sung by the three actresses, all of whom said it was their first time performing on a train.
Actress Regina Hearne, dressed in orange, said singing the blues on METRO "has been very, very exciting. We love the reception from the people."
Candice D'Meza, who moved here a year ago from Los Angeles, called it an interesting experience to be so close to her audience - the trick was to sing and keep her balance while riding the train.
Roenia Thompson, draped in a long purple gown and yellow feather boa, plays the character, "Woman of the World."
"This is very artistic - singing in front of Macy's. This is awesome," she said, adding that she has lived in Houston 28 years and had never ridden public transportation. "It's a clean facility, the train's on time and everybody's nice."
The trio sang at the Downtown Transit Center, our lobby, Main Street Square and Dryden/TMC stations.
Near the end, they broke into an improvisation about riding METRO, then switched back to singing songs from the musical. Passengers were delighted.
Music student Chris Rodriquez, who just got accepted in the TSU band, said hearing the women sing inspired him to pull out his trumpet, which he happened to be carrying while on the train.
"You don't hear that often, especially authentic singing. They have beautiful voices," he said.
Nikko Long, a patient transporter from The Methodist Hospital, pulled out her cell phone to snap a shot.
"Wow. That was nice! I'm going to see if my friend wants to go," said Long.
Click here for ticket info.