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Workshops on Three Routes
 

Hands raised for questions in a meeting

Last Dec, we conducted a public hearing on service changes. Our proposals drew a crowd of customers, eager to comment on the changes.

Three routes we had proposed discontinuing were: 48 Navigation, 49 Chimney Rock and 30 Clinton.

Now we are holding public workshops to get more input on your ideas concerning these routes. Would a modified route meet your needs? What about smaller vans instead of a 40-foot bus?

If you ride these routes and would be affected by any changes, please do your best to show up and tell us what you think. Here are the meetings:

48 Navigation: Wed., Jan. 11, 6:30 p.m.

William S. Holland Middle School - Cafeteria, 1600 Gelhorn Dr., Houston, TX 77029.

49 Chimney Rock/Crosstown: Wed., Jan. 18, 7 p.m.

Westbury High School - Lecture Hall, 11911 Chimney Rock, Houston, TX 77035

30 Clinton: Wed., Jan. 25, 6:30 p.m.

Ellis Memorial Church of God in Christ - Fellowship Hall, 412 Massachusetts St., Houston, TX 77029

If you ride these routes, we hope you'll attend a workshop and give us your ideas.

Remember: Free Train Rides Tomorrow
 

                   

Texans' cheerleaders flanking specially wrapped Andre Johnson trainRide the train tomorrow, and don't pay a cent.

Thanks to Reliant, all riders who hop on METRORail will have a free ride. Reliant has been paying for customers' rides on Houston Texans game days - and tomorrow, when the Texans will play its first playoff game in its franchise history - all rides are free on METRORail.

Free fares start at 5:30 a.m.  and run until midnight.

Be sure to look for our wrapped Reliant train, featuring Texans All-Pro wide receiver Andre Johnson. Since Oct. 2, we've had 130,048 boardings on that train.

So leave your parking woes behind and hop on a train to tomorrow's game.

Fight over Traffic Signs
 

Trafffic signs

 

How bright should our traffic signs be?

A proposed federal transportation mandate says traffic signs need to be brighter and easier to see at night.

Critics say the feds are meddling into local matters, and some towns and cities are complaining they don't have the money to pay for this unfunded measure. Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania introduced the SIGN Act, for Stopping Intrusive Government Now, calling the proposal regulatory excess.

The AAA is pushing a competing bill, the Safe Roads for America Act.

Cities and states were supposed to meet minimum standards for reflectivity of signs that set traffic rules, such as stop signs, by 2015 and  by 2018 for street name signs. Ray LaHood, the nation's top transportation official, last summer proposed dropping those deadlines.

Meanwhile, as we all get older, officials say it's in the public interest to make traffic signs brighter for aging eyes. Read more in the Los Angeles Times.

Free Fares on Texans Playoff Game Day
 

                                                                              

This Saturday, the Houston Texans will - for the first time  in its history - battle it out in a playoff game in its quest to reach the Super Bowl.

This showdown against the Cincinnati Bengals has benefits for all METRORail riders: On Jan. 7, all rides are free all day, thanks to Reliant.  

Reliant has partnered with METRO, wrapping a train with a giant image of wide receiver Andre Johnson and offering free METRORail rides to everyone on Texans' home game days.

The Texans play at 3:30 pm. at Reliant Stadium - so ride the rail for a convenient way to get to the game. And if you're visiting a museum instead, or going to the zoo, you get free rides, too.

 

Children's Day March
 

Detour signBe prepared for some detours downtown on Saturday, Jan. 14.

The Children's Day March and Celebration is scheduled from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. on Jan. 14. To avoid potential delays in the downtown area, we'll be detouring bus service.

The parade begins at 1 p.m. on Texas at Jackson, proceeds west on Texas, north on San Jacinto, east  on Preston and ends on Preston at Crawford.

The following routes will be detoured: 1 Hospital NB, 5 Kashmere NB, 6 Jensen NB, 9 North Main NB, 11 Nance NB, 15 Fulton NB, 20 Canal EB, 24 Northline NB, 30 Clinton NB, 50 Harrisburg EB, 52 Hirsch NB, 66 Yale NB and 80 Lyons NB.

If you find yourself traveling around the downtown area, please expect minor delays during the event. Thanks for your patience.

 

Watch METRO Matters: CEO Promotes Partnering
 

 

George Greanias on the TV setIf you've been riding METRORail recently, you've probably hopped aboard one of our wrapped trains: the Reliant Energy one featuring Andre Johnson; the green Museum District train; and, over the holidays, the Santa wrap promoting the Houston Downtown Management District.

All these wrapped trains are part of our initiative to partner with the community. In exchange for the wraps, these organizations (which pay for the wraps, by the way), offer discounts and/or pay for your rides on certain days.

In this latest edition of METRO Matters, George Greanias, METRO president & CEO, talks about why partnering with the community is vital. He also offers an update on our FY 2012 budget and the building of our two light-rail lines.

Click here to watch the video. (Runs 15 minutes). You can also watch it on television on Comcast's HMS TV, Channel 17 at these air times:

Thu.       1/5/12                   6:15 p.m.

Sat.        1/7/12                  11:45 a.m.

Mon.     1/9/12                    7:45 p.m.

Wed.     1/11/12                 8:00 p.m.

Fri.          1/13/12               12:30 p.m.

Mon.     1/16/12                 10:00 p.m.

Wed.     1/18/12                 6:15 p.m.

Fri.          1/20/12                10:30 p.m.

Sun.       1/22/12                12:00 p.m.

Tue.       1/24/12                7:45 p.m.

Thu.       1/26/12                7:30 p.m.

Sat.        1/28/12                10:30 p.m.

METRO Matters also airs on Comcast's HCC-TV, Channel 19 on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 5:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., and you'll find it on You Tube.

 

Doing Good with Spare Change
 

Man standing at platform in NY subway

In this season of giving, a trio of New York University students is seeking a way to turn waste into public good.

The Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) of New York gives subway commuters a 7 percent bonus when they buy a multi-ride pass. But the plastic MetroCards are often tossed when the balance runs below the fare of $2.25. That amounts to more than $52 million in unused fares every year, reports the blog, Daily Good.

But a concept called MetroChange seeks to change that by creating a simple way for riders to donate that spare change to charity. Subway riders could scan their cards to check their balance at MetroChange kiosks in subway stations. Then by pushing a button, they could donate the balance. At the end of each month, MetroChange would donate that to charity.

The three students who conceived this idea still need to get the MTA's buy-in.

 

Free Fares on New Year's Eve
 

 

Happy New Year graphic

If you're out celebrating New Year's Eve, we have a gift for you: Free fares from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.

It's our way of making sure you have a safe celebration. So go out and party, then take METRO home. We are running our regular Saturday service on Dec. 31.

All buses and trains will be offering free rides. And on New Year's Day, riders enjoy an extra bonus: Free rides on METRORail, thanks to our partnership with Reliant, which has been picking up the rail tab on Houston Texans home games since October.

Remember, that on New Year's day and the next, we'll be operating on a holiday schedule:

Sunday, Jan. 1, 2012:

  • Local buses and rail operate on a Sunday schedule.
  • No Park & Ride service
  • Customer Care Center closed
  • RideStore & Lost & Found closed

Monday, Jan. 2, 2012:

  • Local buses and rail operate on a Sunday schedule
  • No Park & Ride service
  • RideStore and Lost & Found closed
  • Customer Care Center open 8 a.m. - 8 p.m.
Happy New Year!
Detours Coming Due to Implosion
 

 

GraphicA building scheduled to be imploded will result in rail and bus detours on Sunday, Jan. 8.

The Houston Main Building in the Texas Medical Center is slated for implosion a week after New Year's Day. The area will be closed to all vehicle and pedestrian traffic. Here's how it will affect bus and rail traffic.

  • All bus service from the TMC Transit Center will operate from Smith Lands.
  • The TMC rail station will be closed. All other rail stations will be open.
  • All customers who usually board, deboard or transfer at the TMC rail platform or the TMC Transit Center will do so at Smith Lands.

Click here to see other routes that will be detoured.

Of course, our staff will be on hand at the Smith Lands rail platform and bus stop to help you transfer between buses, and rail and bus.

We'll resume normal service to the TMC rail platform and the TMC Transit Center about one to two hours after vehicle and pedestrian traffic flow resumes, approximately at noon.  The TMC rail station will re-open when bus service has been established at the TMC Transit Center.

Thanks for your patience during this implosion.

 

Service Changes Delayed
 

Bus in front of shelter On Dec. 5, we held a public hearing about proposed service changes.

So many of you showed up to speak that the sign-up line curled down the hall toward our bank of elevators on the second-floor lobby at 1900 Main. Some of you sat in the overflow rooms and listened in on closed-circuit television.

We received 163 comments in advance of the public hearing; 49 in writing at the hearing; and listened to 80 speakers at the hearing.

Most of you were concerned about proposed route discontinuation on the 30 Clinton, 48 Navigation and 49 Chimney Rock Crosstown. These are three routes that have low ridership and high subsidies.

But based on your comments, we are delaying any service changes until February 26, 2012. In the meantime, we are working with the community on options for these three routes.  

"As we get closer to Feb. 26, we'll distribute more information," wrote George Greanias, METRO's president & CEO, in a letter on our website that was also distributed on our buses. "You are our customer. We know our service impacts your life. But you are also a taxpayer. We owe you our best efforts to make the most of your sales-tax dollars by putting the right service in the right place."

 

 

Holiday Schedule Changes
 

Poinsettia plant with ribbonWe'll be changing our schedule for the holiday season, starting on Christmas Day and continuing through Tuesday, Jan. 3.

Local buses will run on a Sunday schedule on Dec. 25 and 26. There will be no Park & Ride service those days. METRORail will run on a Sunday schedule.

Starting Tuesday, Dec. 27, local buses, Park & Ride and METRORail will run on a normal weekday schedule.

The schedule for New Year's Day and Monday, Jan. 2, will be the same as Christmas Day.

All service resumes on the regular schedule starting Tuesday, Jan. 3.

Click here for more details.

Shaping Up Customer Service
 

 

Launch of Customer Advisory CommitteeWe are serious about improving customer service. Offering outstanding customer service is one of our seven operating principles.

So last night, we launched a volunteer advisory committee called the Customer Advisory Committee. The purpose of the committee is to advise METRO on how it can deliver better customer service to its clients.

A few weeks back, we invited the public to apply for one of these positions. Later, an internal committee made the final selection - choosing a broad cross-section that includes a university student, seniors, persons with disabilities, transit experts, people without transit background, regular riders, downtown employees - and all demographics.

"They will have an opportunity to hear about METRO's plans, operations and services - and to provide us with feedback," said Monique Ward, METRO's inter-agency and advocacy officer for Service Design & Delivery. "It might be a new marketing campaign, or how we're going to deliver a new service. Or reach a new audience. They will also be able to provide us with ideas they would like us to explore, in terms of better customer service."

The group serves in an advisory capacity only. The next meeting is Feb. 22. Members serve either one or two years.

Ward said she's looking forward to working with these community volunteers.

"It's a very enthusiastic group that's very committed to working with METRO to really make a difference in how we serve our customers," said Ward. "We're very hopeful this group will help us serve our customers the way they want to be served. They're very innovative."

Ho, Ho, Ho...METRO Blue Santa Cheers Young Patients
 

METRO Blue Santa montage

METRO Blue Santa arrived by a custom-decorated Polar Express METRORail to Children's Memorial Hermann Hospital on Dec. 10, bringing bears, coloring books and cookies to young patients - along with X-boxes and Play Stations.

Siblings also received bears and coloring books.

This was the second annual Blue Santa visit to Children's Memorial Hermann Hospital - an event made possible by the hundreds of METRO employees who donated time, money, and bought barbeque, hot dogs and raffle tickets to raise funds.

"I'm proud of how METRO employees have come behind it," said Mike Riggs, an MPD officer and president of METRO Blue Santa. "The immense outpouring we got from them is fantastic."

This year, Blue Santa and his elves not only visited young patients in the 10th floor lobby of Children's Memorial  - and in their rooms -  but some of Santa's elves visited the emergency rooms at Memorial Hermann/TMC, Memorial City, Southwest and Southeast. At each location, bundles of 25 teddy bears, coloring books, crayons and refreshments were distributed.

"Doing something for children and ensuring that they know somebody cares besides their parents - that possibly there is a Santa Claus - the meaning of Christmas is still there," said Riggs. "Christmas is giving. And maybe we did brighten a few of their days."Young patient on Santa's lap

Blue Santa's fundraisers were so successful that organizers came in under budget and asked Children's Memorial Hermann if it would like a toy to hand out on Christmas Day to each young patient. The hospital did. For MPD Officers Curtis and Rita Holloway, going on a shopping spree for those toys was as much fun as it was for the kids receiving the gifts.

So the Holloways - along with METRO employees Regina Armelin, Lana Flory, Beverly Hollis and Kim Purcell - got to shop for age and gender-appropriate toys.

In all, Blue Santa spent about $6,408 on toys and cookies, creating memories these young patients will probably never forget.

"It's very satisfying," said Curtis Holloway, treasurer of METRO Blue Santa. "We're put on this Earth to do as much good as we can. That's what we're here for."

Taylor Wayman, child life specialist at Children's Memorial Hermann, said the experience was fabulous. "The patients felt very special, the families were very touched. They enjoyed meeting Santa. It made their time at the hospital very enjoyable. "

Earlier, METRO's bus operating facilities (BOFs) staged a bus-decorating contest with the winning bus escorting Santa back to the North Pole. Hiram Clarke BOF won the honors. Interior of winning bus that transported Santa back to the North Pole

"I believe the reason so many of our staff get involved is simple:  At the end of the day, regardless of everything else going on in our lives, bringing a little happiness to children who are very sick - this can't help but make us happy, too," said Gwen Johnson, special projects manager, who coordinated the METRO effort.

METRO Dedicates Train to Rail Technician
 

 

ChungLuu train dedication 

Almost seven weeks after Chung Luu tragically died in a train accident, a car was dedicated to his memory.

It was only the third train to be dedicated to someone in METRO's history.

"Train dedications are very unusual," said Scott Grogan, senior director of rail service delivery. "LRV 101 was dedicated to Mayor Lee Brown for championing the cause of bringing rail to Houston. LRV 102 was dedicated to Shirley DeLibero, METRO's former CEO and the individual who was actually responsible for building the existing system."

At a ceremony at the Rail Operating Center (ROC) on Dec. 3, about 100 people attended the unveiling of the two plaques that would be fastened to the inside of Train 103. The audience included about 25 of Luu's family and friends.

 Grogan emceed the ceremony.

"This train dedication was his co-workers' idea, and we championed it to the board, and they passed a resolution," said Grogan. "It was very fitting that a train was dedicated to somebody of Luu's dedication and excellence."

In addition to Grogan, President & CEO George Greanias spoke, along with Andy Skabowski, senior vice president of Service Delivery.

The plaques were placed on two panels, with each panel sitting on an easel and draped by a blue cloth. Close-up of plaque for Chung Luu

After the three speeches, the cloth was removed to reveal the plaque that had these words inscribed: "This vehicle No. 103 is hereby dedicated in memory of light-rail vehicle technician 1260, Chung T. Luu. April 19, 1965 - Oct. 11, 2011."

Luu's three colleagues, Kim Do, Frank Owino and Tuong Tran, who worked with him on the same shift, then took the panels and fastened them to an interior wall of the train.

"It was a very touching moment," recalled Grogan, adding that there were teary eyes in the audience as colleagues and friends remembered Luu in silence. "He was a can-do guy, always there and always willing to get the job done."

Then the train pulled out of the shop, and the audience broke out in cheers. Afterwards, attendees signed a giant poster with Luu's picture, which was later given to the family. A reception followed with a slideshow of Luu at work.  

Before the ceremony, Luu's family placed a wreath and prayed at the spot where the accident occurred.

Chung LuTwo ROC employees - Eddie Espinosa and Roland Williams -  who had arrived at the scene of the accident immediately and had offered aid,  also received good citizenship certificates, awarded by Skabowski.  A third coworker, Hubert Pratcher, who also helped, was unable to attend.

Grogan said this third dedication showed Luu's colleagues and family how much the METRO community cares. "And I think it definitely helped his co-workers with the process of healing - and it helped me, too - to do something that exemplifies what he was to the organization."

 

 

 

More People Are Riding Public Transit
 

 

217 Cypress bus at Park & Ride

Nationwide, more people are riding public transit than they were a year ago.

That's according to a report released yesterday by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA). In the third quarter of 2011, 2.6 billion trips were taken on public transportation, up 2 percent from the same quarter a year ago.

This represents an increase of almost 52 million trips. More people rode light rail than any other mode of public transit. Ridership on light rail increased by 5.8 percent.

"The increase in ridership shows that Americans want more transportation choices and will use public transportation if it is available in their community," said Michael P. Melaniphy, APTA president and CEO.  "Also, transit agency investments are paying off, resulting in riders experiencing a higher level of quality service."

At the same time that ridership increased on public transit, Americans have been driving fewer miles every month since March, according to USA Today. The decline has been triggered by the weak economy, high gas prices and aging boomers and teens driving less.

Are you driving less, and using public transit more? We'd love to hear from you.

 

 

 

METRO Now Operates Fannin South Park & Ride

 

Aerial view of Fannin South Park & RideFannin South Park & Ride is now being operated by METRO.

Up until last Thursday, the lot - owned by METRO -  was managed by Ampco System Parking. Now we're taking over the operations. The change will be seamless to customers except for one big difference:  We'll have the parking booth staffed by an employee on Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

"A lot of customers wanted someone there on Saturday - they are Medical Center students or employees," said Stephanie Stephens, client services manager at METRO.

The parking lot has about 1,400 spaces.  Parking rates will remain the same for now. Daily parking is $3 with no in/out privileges. A monthly contract is available for $40. Applications for contracts can be picked up at the parking attendant booth Monday through Friday, 6 a.m. to 5 p.m.,  and on Saturday, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.Customesr at parking attendant booth

"To have somebody there on Saturdays is an added benefit. We wanted to offer that," said Stephens. "We want to offer optimal customer service to all customers who park at Fannin South."

Steve Flippo, METRO director of joint development and property management, said Ampco had managed the lot for the past six years. We've made the change "so that METRO can manage our own assets and try to maximize its benefits and resources," said Flippo. "It's a very nice asset both for everyday commuters and special events at Reliant Park."

 

METRO Honors Ride Sponsors and Retailers
 

 

Montage of luncheon

METRO recognized its top-performing Ride Sponsors, and retailers who sell the METRO Q®Fare Cards, at a catered luncheon today, presenting crystal-clear, pyramid-shaped awards to its partners.

George Greanias, METRO president & CEO, said one of our three priorities is to be a trusted community partner.

"We cannot move people around town without partners," he told the group. "There's no way we could do it. We certainly can't give our customers what they need without the support of our sponsors and retailers."

METRO's Ride Sponsors are companies that often subsidize fares for their employees, encouraging them to commute to the office on Park & Ride busesMETRO retailers are shops, grocery stores and gas stations that sell Q Cards to the public and reload money on them.

At today's luncheon, METRO honored the top 10 Ride Sponsors and the top 10 retailers.

Angela Pinina, a marketing employee at El Paso Corp., said about 85 percent of its approximately 1,300 employees  take METRO's Park & Ride buses to the office. "The Q Card is really convenient. It's going great," she said.

Gloria Bray, an auditor at Gerlands, called the Q Card program wonderful. "It's so much easier with the Q Card terminal. It does it so fast. The customers love it. It's fast for us, too. We don't have any issues with it."

Greanias said that part of the fun of the holiday season is to take a deep breath at the end of the year and count your blessings. Revenue team

"Thank you," he told METRO's partners. "We can't say it enough."

In the photo on the right is the revenue team who helped make this event happen (L to R) :  Dwantrina Thomas , sales representative;  Tracy Johnson, client services supervisor;  Stephanie Stephens, client services manager; and Nicole Adler, sales representative.

 

Technology Helps Hard of Hearing in Subways
 

NYC subwayTransit officials in New York City are using decades-old technology in a new way to help the hard of hearing find their way around the subway system.

A device called "the hearing loop" has been placed at 400 MTA New York City subway booths, where it sends out electromagnetic signals that jump to a receiver in most hearing aids or cochlear implants. When that receiver is turned on, it filters out background noise and picks up only what comes through a microphone or loudspeaker, according to NY1.com.

The $13.5 million subway hearing loop project is the biggest one in the nation, and paid for by federal stimulus funds. Click here to read more.

Public Hearing on Service Changes Draws Crowd
 

Audience at public hearing in board roomIn a public hearing on proposed service changes, more than 250 people showed up at 1900 Main to listen to the presentation and to comment.

Before the meeting started at noon, long lines snaked down the hallways as people waited to sign up to speak. About 130 people signed up.

By 3:30 p.m., the meeting was still going on with comments from the public. Riders suggested METRO combine routes rather than cut routes completely. Some suggested smaller vehicles, such as a jitney or shuttle, to transport passengers in neighborhoods.

Many of the speakers called METRO their lifeline - the only transportation they had to get to work, to doctors' appointments, to church and to the grocery store.

METRO is proposing service changes scheduled to take effect on Jan. 29. Click here to read about all the changes.

If you have a comment and missed the meeting, you may call 713-658-0180, or comment online here.

Audience at public hearing in board roomYou can also watch the meeting in our archived video starting tomorrow. We hope to have it posted by end of business on Wednesday. 

Ride the Holiday Spectacular Train
   

If you've ridden on METRORail since yesterday, you may have noticed our newest wrapped Santa train.

The Downtown Holiday Spectacular train is spreading cheer up and down the tracks, courtesy of the Downtown Management District.

"It's part of our partnership within the community to promote ridership and events going on in Houston," said Raequel Roberts, vice president of marketing and corporate communications at METRO.

The holiday train was unveiled yesterday at Main Street Square in front of Macy's, which is offering free parking downtown and free trolleys to other businesses. Carolers dressed in turn-of-the-century costumes serenaded passengers.

The Santa train will be running only during the holiday season, so hop on board and enjoy the festivities. You can also use your METRO Q® Fare Card to obtain holiday discounts, good through New Year's Eve.