If you have Spanish-speaking friends, pass the word: The Spanish version of RideMetro.org is up and running.
It was under construction for the past few months, while we updated the pages to this new system with a new vendor.
Simply click on En Español and it will take you to that exact page in Spanish. Techies call it "context sensitive page switching."
For users, it means the same page in Spanish pops up, rather than directing you to a Spanish-language home page, where you then have to navigate to the page you were on in English.
"Translations.com is one of the few companies that can actually provide the translations the way we have set it up. They have real people translating the site. They can customize their turnaround time to what we need," said Jesse Quintanilla, METRO's Web designer.
Check it out, and enjoy!
Most riders of the 426 TMC SwiftLine say they are very satisfied with the new route we introduced in August.
The TMC SwiftLine is an express service with five stops between the Texas Medical Center and the Southeast Transit Center.
On Sept. 23, 61 surveys were distributed and 56 were returned.
Here are some of the results:
- About 70 percent of the respondents were using the TMC SwiftLine to travel from home to work.
- 77 percent transferred from one bus to the SwiftLine and half transferred from SwiftLine to another bus.
- 96 percent of riders were satisfied; 76 percent were very satisfied.
- Most learned about SwiftLine by seeing the bus, hearing about it from family or friends, or from METRO bus drivers.
- Six percent of the respondents were new riders to METRO.
- About half of the respondents work at the TMC.
The SwiftLine buses are our new hybrid-electric Orion buses that are equipped with security cameras.
If you've ridden the SwiftLine, tell us what you think about it.
The Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority (WMATA) has just installed a new software tool that allows customers to browse its Web site and hear text read aloud.
BrowseAloud is a free download WMATA is making available to anyone who wants to download it from http://www.wmata.com/.
For those who have difficulty reading computer screens - including those with mild visual problems, low literacy and reading skills, or those with limited English language skills - this new tool will make it easier to find information on WMATA's Web site.
Once someone installs the free software on his or her computer, he or she can move the cursor over any text and BrowseAloud will read the highlighted text aloud, said WMATA.
Here at METRO, our Web site has been designed to be accessible to the visually impaired. If you are a Mac user, software that reads aloud text is preinstalled in your computer. You can select the type of voice (bubbly or not) and the gender. If you use a PC, you will need to buy software, such as JAWS, to hear text read aloud.
"We hope people with all disabilities will use both MACS and MACS-Web (our automated computer system) to review their trips, cancel any they don't want and make trips that are in their history," said Mary Ann Dendor, ADA administrator at METRO.
Here at METRO, we've had a wedding on the rail and a romance blossom into marriage when two strangers met each other at a bus stop. Click here to read that story.
Romance and love can happen anywhere - and recently, an attorney who rides the bus in Chicago read a life-changing document at a bus stop.
It was an ad at a bus shelter that said in big, bold letters: "Rachel! I love you! Let's be a team forever! Will you marry me? XOXO, Eric."
Rachel Clark arrived at the bus stop last Wednesday and didn't notice it until her soon-to-be fiancé, engineer Eric Anderson, who was standing behind the sign, urged Clark to read it.
"I started giggling and laughing going, ‘Yes, yes!'" Clark recalled.
Anderson had wanted to propose in an unusual way and when he saw the available ad space, called the company that manages Chicago's bus shelters. He couldn't afford the $3,000 monthly fee, but company officials gave him a break for love, offering a discounted rate for one week. Read more here.
Sometimes bus shelter ads can alter your life forever.
Calling all students: Now's the time to renew your METRO Q® Fare Card.
Students who are in kindergarten through 12th grade must renew their Q Cards, which expired on Sept. 30.
Students - or their parents or caregivers - must come to the RideStore with one of the following documents: a current school ID, class schedule, enrollment form or a report card on school letterhead.
Active student Q cards total 9,000 - and as of Oct. 1, we have processed an average of 560 cards per day.
This Saturday, the RideStore at 1900 Main St. will be open from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. to make it easier to process your student Q Card.
Regular RideStore hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday to Friday.
We've set up a table in the lobby in front of the RideStore to offer express service for students this week. Today, there were no lines, and students were processed within minutes.
Pictured to the left are three METRO staffers who were processing student Q Cards today: Angelia Jermany, RideStore sales associate; Nicole Adler, revenue marketing associate; and Trina Thomas, retail sales associate.
"It's important to METRO for our students to continue to use and learn more about our Q Card program and benefit from our 5 for 50 loyalty program, as well as the 50 percent discount," said Danicel Whitaker, deputy director of revenue. "We've had great success with the student program, and are looking to expand it."
It's a simple concept: Get out on your front porch and meet your neighbors. Maybe throw a few burgers on the grill and share a meal.
It's called National Night Out, a national program designed to promote crime and drug prevention activities in neighborhoods. Sponsored by
The National Association of Town Watch, the night is observed on the first Tuesday of each August, but in Texas, because of our sweltering summers, we observe it the first Tuesday in October.
Here at METRO, we'll mark tomorrow by a display of some of our more unusual crime-fighting equipment. The event is free and open to the public from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
You'll get to meet our bomb-fighting unit, including our robot outfitted with a camera and arm that can grasp and turn over objects.
"The robot is designed to go into hazardous situations where you don't want to commit a person," said MPD Officer Harold Hewlett, who is coordinating the lobby event.
The bomb truck used by our Special Operations Response Team (SORT) will be on display outside our main building at 1900 Main St., along with our Swift Water Rescue Boat.
We'll also have a four-legged, furry officer available for you to meet - one of our K-9 officers. METRO's K-9 officers specialize in either bomb detection or drug detection.
Hewlett said he hopes neighbors will get out and meet each other tomorrow night - along with the constables who patrol those neighborhoods.
"Let's hope this forms a bond so folks won't be so afraid to call the police when they have a problem. Folks just don't want to get involved with the police. It's always a negative situation - you're receiving a ticket or you're the victim of a crime," said Hewlett. "The important part is letting people know how they can be a part of the system that not only prevents crime but helps to apprehend."
Hewlett's tip to keeping your street safe: "If you see something that doesn't look right, don't be afraid to call the local law enforcement agency and let them know."
And if you are on one of our trains or buses and you see suspicious activity, say something. Dial #MPD on your cell phone.
The Distracted Driving Summit called by Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood ended yesterday with a call for action.
The two-day summit addressed the dangers of text messaging and other distractions behind the wheel and included senior transportation officials, safety advocates, law enforcement experts and academics. It also featured young people and families whose loved ones were victims of distracted driving.
Today, LaHood said the conference managed to create a critical mass of people who believe distracted driving must be stopped, but it was time to take action. On Wednesday, President Obama signed an executive order, banning all federal employees form texting while driving on government business, driving a government vehicle, or driving in their personal cars while using a government-issued cell phone.
On his blog, LaHood outlined more action steps his department will be doing:
- Permanently restrict cell phones and other electronic devices on rail operations.
- Ban text messaging and restrict the use of cell phones by truck drivers and interstate bus operators.
- Strip bus drivers from their commercial driver's license if they are convicted of texting while driving.
- Encourage state and local governments to make distracted driving a part of state highway plans
"We won't fix this problem overnight, but we are going to raise awareness and sharpen the consequences," wrote LaHood on his blog. "In the end, however, we cannot simply legislate this problem away...Driving while distracted should feel wrong - just as driving while intoxicated now feels wrong to most American drivers."
Read more here.
A section of the old Savoy Hotel is scheduled to be demolished between 6 p.m. Friday and 11 p.m. Sunday, Oct 4.
The historic, seven-story hotel, now an eyesore with visible cracks on one façade, is located at 1616 Main St. between Pease and Leeland.
During the demolition, rail service will be stopped between the UH Downtown Station and the Downtown Transit Center northbound platform.
Trains traveling in and out of downtown will run from the DTTC southbound platform. If you are traveling northbound into downtown, take the train at the DTTC southbound platform.
We'll also operate Rail Shuttles - buses which will run every 15 minutes if you are traveling between DTTC and UH-Downtown stations.
Regular rail service will operate between the Fannin South Station and the DTTC southbound platform.
Normal rail service is scheduled to resume on Monday at 4 a.m.
A reminder: If you're coming here to take care of METRO Q®Fare Card business and need to go to our Treasury department - now called Revenue Operations - it is moving.
Tomorrow - Wednesday, Sept. 30 - the department will close early at 2 p.m.
It will reopen on Thursday, Oct. 1 in its new location on the first floor inside the RideStore. Hours will be 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
"To better serve our customers, we have relocated our Revenue Operations (Treasury) to the RideStore," said Nicole Adler, revenue marketing associate. "Revenue Operations is there to replace lost and stolen Q Cards. If patrons have any issues with Web reloading or the correct balance on their Q Card, they can come to Revenue Operations inside the RideStore."
We hope you'll enjoy the new design of our RideStore, where one-stop shopping should make it more convenient for you.
A 1930-era building with a distinctive clock tower was purchased by METRO about two years ago with plans to demolish the building, making way for the East End light-rail line.
Community representatives wanted to save the clock tower - and recently METRO found a way to do so.
The agency, along with the city of Houston and the East End community, found a new home for the façade of the old Sterling Laundry and Cleaning Co. at 4819 Harrisburg.
The laundry facility is located a few feet away from the construction now going on for the light-rail line.
After meetings with Council Members Sue Lovell, Melissa Noriega and Ed Gonzalez - along with county officials, METRO staff and East End community leaders - the perfect answer was reached.
‘We respected that the community felt this building was important, and we wanted to do our best to supports its efforts," said Kim Williams, associate vice president of corporate programs at METRO.
METRO offered conceptual designs, engineering and pricing for various options - and the community accepted a solution that would remove the clock tower and later resurrect it at Eastwood Park.
Last week, METRO staff removed the clock tower. Then with the aid of the Greater East End Management District, the façade was transported and stored to a facility offered by the Buffalo Bayou Partnership. It will be stored there until it is later moved to the park.
METRO has made a financial commitment to help move the clock tower to the park, where it will be used to create a permanent monument or gateway to the park.
The next time you're tempted to sneak a Starbucks on board a bus or furtively snack on a food bar while leaving work on a Park & Ride bus, consider this: Food crumbs and spilled drinks attract roaches.
Let's help keep METRO's buses and trains clean by following our rule of no food or drink on-board.
Pity the New Yorkers who commute on NYC Transit buses. Roaches have invaded city buses, and it's the high season for the repulsive creatures.
Although the buses are swept nightly and floor, windows, seats and exteriors periodically washed, the shortage of bus cleaners at the Big Apple's MetropolitanTransit Authority has strained the cleaning staff. The agency said it has hired an entomologist to improve its extermination process and will hire 40 new bus cleaners. Read more here.
Here at METRO, our buses are cleaned nightly. Click here to watch a documentary on what happens to our buses at night when most of you are asleep. "We have budgeted 159 cleaners for our buses and eight for our 18 trains," says Gwen Johnson, a marketing spokesperson for operations. "Our buses may have 10 people at a time working on it. Cleaners will get on it to clean it while it's in the fuel line."
Every night, the buses are swept and wiped down. On a rotational basis, they are soaped down and washed by our automatic bus wash. Less than every 30 days, they go through maintenance, including detailing.
"METRO is very environmentally friendly, and we're are on a rotation to clean exteriors. If mud or oil are on the buses, we will clean it immediately," says Johnson.
And as far as cockroaches go?
"We have a proactive program for roach problems. That's not to say you're not going to get a fly or bug. This is Houston. But we're not getting complaints about roaches," says Johnson.
Johnson, who stayed up all night to watch what happens to buses during the taping of our documentary, says the routine is amazing.
"By 3 a.m., all the buses have been fueled and cleaned and checked and ready to go out. By 4 a.m.,operators are coming in for their pre-trip inspection," says Johnson. "They're very serious about what they do - they've very focused because the cleaners have only so much time to do a lot of work."
Carmakers are thinking small - prompted by the environment and today's austere economy where every penny counts.
Today, Ford Motor Co. unveiled the Figo - its first small car to be manufactured in India. The four-door hatchback is named after an Italian word for "cool" and will be sold first in India, and later exported to international markets.
Small cars make up 73 percent of the 1.22 million cars sold in India. Read more from the Wall Street Journal.
And while Ford has set up shop in India to help corner the emerging Southeast Asian auto market, India is coming to New York. The Reva Electric Car Co. of India said it is planning to build a multi-million dollar automobile plant in upstate New York, where it will build battery-operated cars.
Reva now produces the two-seat EV, marketed under G-Wiz in Britain and the Reva in India). Click here to read more.
In the meantime, Fisker Automotive has received $529 million in low-interest loans from the U.S. Department of Energy to produce the Karma, a high-end, plug-in hybrid. Fisher will launch the car next summer, and it should retail for about $88,000.
Fisker says more than 1,500 customers have already placed orders. The car's plug-in hybrid technology operates exclusively on electric power for the first 50 miles. Then the gas engine turns a generator, which charges the car's lithium-ion battery during driving.
The Karma will be able to surge from 0 to 60 mph in 5.8 seconds and reach a maximum speed of 125 mph. Read more here.
The METRO Board of Directors approved a $1.26 billion budget for fiscal year 2010 at yesterday's board meeting, while keeping the operating budget flat.
Our fiscal year begins Oct. 1.
The bulk of the budget covers the METRO Solutions program of building light-rail lines.
The operating budget remains at FY09's level of $330 million.
The components of the FY10 budget include:
- Operating budget - $330 mm
- General Mobility Fund - $152 mm
- Capital budget - $683 mm
- Debt service - $99 mm
The business plan for FY2010 features 16 initiatives that improve service, efficiencies, and cash flow or decrease costs.
The FY2010 budget includes new bus service, including the 288 Brazoria Park & Ride in Pearland; Missouri City where the 262 Westwood will extend along Highway 59 and attract commuters along Texas Highway 6; and a new local route, the Eldridge Crosstown, which will run north and south on Eldridge Parkway between Westheimer and the Energy Corridor District.
METRO will also strengthen new routes added in FY09: the Pasadena Park & Ride, the 402 Bellaire Quickline, the 32 Renwick Crosstown and 426 Swiftline.
We will be adding 100 new hybrid-electric buses to our fleet, along with 100 new bus shelters.
METRO Solutions will cost $498 million in FY10, and debt service payments will be $99 million.
Factors that helped METRO keep its operational budget flat include locking in its diesel fuel at a price lower than last fiscal year and eliminating 118 staff positions that had been budgeted but many of which had gone unfilled.
METRO receives 1 percent of the sales tax and allocates 25 percent of that to the General Mobility Fund, which finances transit-related projects for surrounding cities and Harris County.
To be on the conservative side, Metro budgeted sales tax revenues the same as the prior year, $481 million.
We will post the summary of the budget on our Web site soon.
More and more cities and states are passing laws to curb distracted driving.
Here in Texas, it has been against the law since Sept. 1 to use your cell phone while driving in a school zone unless it's a hands-free device or an emergency.
Utah has the toughest law on the books regarding cell phones and texting. If caught, drivers who text can face up to 15 years behind bars.
Distracted driving is the topic of a summit called by the U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. It has attracted so much attention that the summit - on Sept. 30 and Oct. 1 - will be broadcast live by webcast.
You'll also be able to submit questions online for each panel discussion. Click here for more details.
National leaders will examine the problem of distracted driving and discuss regulations and best practices.
"We must act now to stop distracted driving from becoming a deadly epidemic on our nation's roadways," said LaHood in a statement. "This summit will give safety leaders from across the nation a forum to identify, target and tackle the fundamental elements of this problem."
The panel topics include the definition of distracted driving and inattention, the risks, the technology, a review of laws and enforcement to address distracted driving and public awareness and education.
Starting Oct. 1, if you lose an item and it's found, you will need to go to a new location to retrieve it.
METRO's Lost and Found department is moving from its current location at 1001 Travis to 1220 McCarty off I-10 East.
That's where our Central Distribution Center is located, and that's where all lost items - except for bicycles - will be stored. Bikes are stored at the bus operating facilities.
You can continue to call our call center to see if your lost item has been turned in. The number is: (713) 658-0854. The call center is open Monday to Friday, 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
If we have your item, you may pick it at the Central Distribution Center during these hours: Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
So why are we moving Lost & Found?
"We have very few people who lose items and even fewer who reclaim them," says Art Jackson, director of transportation programs. "Less than 10 people a day come in to pick up items. We have to staff the office. We also incur costs to have couriers pick up the items at the different bus operating facilities. We thought it would be a more prudent way to manage taxpayer dollars."
Once Lost & Found is moved, a METRO parts truck that normally visits each of our facilities once or twice a day will be able to pick up lost items on its regular run - and then deliver them to the Central Distribution Center, where the staff is already accustomed to taking inventory.
"People can still call the main number and still be able to speak with the same customer service representative to see if your lost item were found on the bus route or rail," says Jackson.
If you're driving east on I-10, exit at McCarty, then turn right on McCarty. You'll see a big METRO facility with a sign. If you take the bus from downtown, take the 48 Navigation to get there. If you're not departing from downtown, use our Trip Planner to find the right bus or call Customer Information Center at (713) 635-4000.
"Although we recognize that the new location may not be as centrally located, we have a responsibility to take a look at how we can handle business in the smartest, most cost-efficient manner possible," explains Jackson. "Considering the few number of customers impacted by this, it's just not fiscally responsible to continue operating in the manner we are presently."
The most commonly lost items? Small items such as badges, books, umbrellas and cell phones are left on buses and rail.
More and more of our riders are getting from here to there by using both bus and bike.
Our bike boardings have soared 147 percent from October 2008 through August 2009, compared to the same period a year ago.
Total bike boardings for the first 11 months of FY 2009 (October 2008 through August 2009) were 55,743, compared to 22,529 for the same period a year ago.
Even in our almost unbearable dog days of summer, we saw growth in commuters biking around town. We had 7,203 boardings in August, a 2 percent spurt from the month before. In July 2009, we saw 7,047 bike boardings - an 11 percent increase from the month before.
But some commuters are forgetting to take their bikes with them when they arrive at their destination.
Our Lost & Found department reports we currently have 32 bikes in our inventory, unclaimed. From August 2008 to August 2009, 66 bikes were taken to Lost & Found and only 22 bikes were claimed.
Bikes that are not claimed after 30 days are donated to charity.
Have you ever boarded your bike on our buses? Why do you bus and bike? For pleasure? To commute to work? For exercise or to help the environment? Tell us about your experience. We'd like to hear from you.
Click here for a detailed guide on how to mount your bike on our bus rack.
If you're new to commuting by bikes, check out Commute by Bike, where you'll find articles on how to deal with aggressive drivers or a guide to bike commuting for slackers.
The thousands of commuters who pass through one of the busiest subway stations in New York will now be greeted with a dizzying array of bold colors splashed against a wall - one of the last commissioned pieces by the late Sol LeWitt, an American conceptual artist.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority introduced the wall art to the public last week. It is a huge permanent installation of porcelain tile whose deeply intense colors of blue, green, yellow, orange, purple and red could only be created by artisans in Madrid, reports the New York Times.
Entitled "Whirls and Twirls," the piece faces a double-wide stairway and landing at 60th Street. The 250 porcelain tiles cover a space that is 53 feet wide and 11 feet high. The photo posted here appeared in the NYT and was taken by Angel Franco.
The project started five years ago as part of the station's $108 million makeover. LeWitt was able to choose any location in the station for his artwork.
The artist, who died two years ago, will have two more of his works installed later this year. They will be circular floor pieces with compass-rose designs.
Here at METRO, we are working on station art on the light-rail lines we're building. Nineteen of 22 winning artists have been assigned stations where their art will appear. The artists were selected from more than 250 applicants, including international ones. We wanted our station art to be created mostly by local artists - and 86 percent of the artists are local.
Funding and budgets still need to be finalized before the remaining three artists are assigned stations. Our goal is to have art grace every station we're building.
Click here to read more about our Arts in Transit program.
A year ago today, most of us were anxiously watching weather reports, tracking the path of Ike.
We've got two more months of hurricane season, and if you've grown lax about preparations, this is a good time to check your supplies and update your emergency plans.
Our METRO Responds site offers updates on our services. You'll also find emergency phone numbers and checklists of what to stock.
For example, your list of supplies should include pliers to turn off utilities, a dust mask, a flashlight and a battery-powered or hand-crank radio.
If you have kids, consider adding to your emergency supply kit books, games or puzzles. Replace them to make sure they're still age-appropriate. Don't forget matches in a waterproof container, pet food for your pet, and a complete change of clothing for every member of your family.
Do a favor for friends or loved ones with special needs, and pre-register them for emergency evacuation. If they moved since last year, update their address and phone number.
Click here to pre-register on-line.
Getting prepared now when there's nothing heading our way is the best time to get started. Hopefully, we'll get through this season without a hurricane.
In Honolulu, if you stink and climb on The Bus, the city's trademark yellow and white bus, you won't get kicked off.
A bill introduced last week to ban odors brought onto the transit system "if they unreasonably disturb others" was squashed last Friday by Honolulu's city council.
The city council members who introduced the bill said they believed it was important to address this issue as the city builds its first light-rail line.
Bill 59-09 would not have allowed riders to bring "onto the transit property odors that unreasonably disturb others or interfere with their use of the transit system, whether such odors arise from one's person, clothes, articles, accompanying animal or any other source."
The bill also would have prohibited spitting, urinating and being intoxicated.
Read more here. The graphic above is from the Web site of The Bus in Honolulu.
The local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union weighed in on the matter, arguing the bill is burdensome and too broad.
The Honolulu Police Department expressed concerns that activities subject to citations would be considered criminal activities under the bill - such as eating, listening to music sans headphones and drinking alcoholic beverages.
The police said it would be difficult to enforce the bill, especially the odors issue, which they called somewhat subjective.
Councilman Rod Tam, who co-introduced the bill, said he modeled it after a passenger code of conduct in King County, Washington (Seattle area).
In Houston, it would be hard to enforce an odor ordinance when more than half the year is steamy and sticky.
"We do not have a code of conduct for passengers, as was proposed in the Honolulu scenario," said Tim Kelly, METRO's assistant chief of police.
In the meantime, city ordinances prohibit eating, drinking, and playing audible music on a bus or train. A state law bans smoking on board transit vehicles, said Kelly.
Use common courtesy when on public transit. Click here to read a past blog entry on this.
Calling all commuters: If you ride METRO, turn on your video camera and tell why you commute.
The American Public Transportation Association is sponsoring a "Dump the Pump" video contest in which the grand prize winner will receive a year of free rides and an iPod Touch.
So create a video and tape yourself telling why you dumped the pump. Is it to save the planet, save money? Reduce stress? Use your commute time to read or sleep? Be creative with you video, then upload it to YouTube.
The video with the most impact will win the grand prize. The second place winner will get six months of free transit and third place, three months of free transit. APTA will provide the free transit.
Whether you are a new transit user or a long-time rider, get out your video camera and tell why you ride. Deadline is Sept. 18.
Click here to see other "Dump the Pump" videos on YouTube. For complete contest rules, click here.