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Submit Your Picture Perfect Ride

Manwith sunglasses in front of METRO posterYou don't have to be the CEO of a company to appear in an annual report.  

Submit pictures of your ride on METRORail or a METRO bus, and your picture could be included in our next annual report.

You, our riders, see the city every day - the people and places that make our region great. Share your photos of where you go on METRO and what you see while riding.

Check our Web site on Monday for an image release form. Then e-mail the form and pictures to No photo credits will be given. Woman on rail with another woman watching scene

Whether you're sitting at the train station enroute to the zoo, or riding the bus to work, snap a few photos and share your unique perspective on public transit.

So aim, focus and press the shutter release. We'd love to see your work....and your ride.




Electric Cars Becoming Another Green Option



Zenn electric carSoon Houstonians may be running neighborhood errands in a small car that powers up rather than gases up.

The city's first electric car dealership near Minute Maid Park is opened for business, selling the Zenn car - which stands for "zero emission, no noise."

The Houston Chronicle reports today that the dealer doesn't harbor false hopes of selling a lot of these Zenns. After all, they can‘t go faster than 25 mph or be driven on roads that post speeds limits higher than 35 mph. But Rick Ehrlich, the dealer, says it's a real car "that can carry two people nearly anyplace in the city for less than two cents per mile, while creating no air pollution."

Meanwhile, Tesla Motors in the Silicon Valley set out to build an electric car five year ago. It's shipped 70 electric roadsters, but it's late, has bugs and cost $109,000 more than originally planned, reports Newsweek.

Slammed by the economic meltdown, Tesla has laid off 20 percent of its staff and borrowed money to stay in business. Still, the ousted cofounder Martin Eberhard raves about his electric car. Resembling a Lotus Elise, the two-seater can go 200 miles on a charge and accelerate from zero to 60 mph in about four seconds, outgunning a Porsche 911.

"It's a phenomenal car. I take people for rides, and they have just big smiles on their face," Eberhard told Newsweek.

Telsa says it has 1,200 orders and is making about 10 roadsters a week. By next year, it expects to produce 30 cars a week and making a profit.

Even the government is looking into the green effects of electric vehicles. The Military Times reports the U.S. Army, Navy and Air Force plan to buy thousands of battery-powered, 35-mile-an-hour electric cars and light trucks for on-base transport - all in an effort to save fuel and promote alternative-energy options.

By next month, the first of the cars - Neighborhood Electric Vehicles (NEV) will be at Fort Belvoir, Vir. Army officials say each electric car would use an average of about $400 in electricity every year, compared with approximately $2,400 in fuel costs to run a gas-powered car. Plus, the 4,000 electric cars the Army is ordering over the next three years will save 11.5 million gallons of fuel a year.

Would you buy an electric car? Would you sacrifice speed for a greener environment and smaller carbon footprint?



Making Street Traffic Safer with Trains

Traffic light Main @ St. Joseph with new yellow "right turn" arrowFor the past few months, left-hand turn accidents between cars and METRO trains have been increasing in the downtown area.

Now, METRO and the City of Houston Department of Public Works and Engineering, Traffic and Transportation Division has launched a pilot program to curb those accidents. It calls for a three-pronged approach that includes:

  • Signal priority adjustments for METRORail
  • New traffic-light fixtures
  • Increased METRO police enforcement along the Red Line

The changes - implemented by METRO, the City of Houston Department of Public Works and Engineering, Traffic and Transportation Division - will also improve safety and help traffic move along Main Street and major intersections.

MPD will concentrate on six intersections that have been the site of increased collisions, following the resignaling of downtown intersections last year. Twenty-six of 43 accidents this year were caused by illegal left turns. In 2007, half of the 74 light-rail accidents were caused by illegal left turns.

The six test locations along Main Street are: St. Joseph, Franklin, Texas, Prairie, Preston and Congress.

MPD has been working closely with the city to adjust the timing of the traffic signals at those locations. With the resignaling, this means METRORail will get a green light first, before motorists get a green light to proceed. This allows the train to proceed ahead of regular traffic at intersections. Westbound and eastbound traffic will not be affected.  

Public Transit Users Save Thousands of Dollars Every Year


Exterior of hybrid busIf you ride the bus or train to work every day, you can save an average of $8,754, every year, based on today's gas prices.

Despite the drop in gas prices - which is 70 cents lower per gallon than last year - public transit users still obtain a dramatic savings over those who drive their automobiles to work.

That's according to research by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA). Its monthly "Transit Savings Report," analyzes transit costs versus current gas prices and unreserved parking rates.

On average, the national monthly, unreserved parking rate in a city's downtown business district is $143. Parking can soar to an average of $1,720 over the course of a year, according to the 2008 International Parking Rate Study.

"Even as the price of gas goes up and down, the one constant is that riding public transportation is the most economical and efficient way for Americans to save money, reduce their consumption of oil, and lessen their impact on the environment," said William W. Millar, president of APTA, in a statement.

The report also calculates the monthly savings for public transportation commuters at $729 a month, based on the Nov. 6 gas price of $2.35, as reported by AAA.

Here are some examples of how much you'd save annually if you lived in these cities - all among the top 20 cities with the highest ridership nationwide. Calculations were based on the cost of a monthly public transit pass, factoring in Nov. 6 gas prices and the local, monthly, unreserved parking rate.

New York - $12,756

Boston - $12,728

San Francisco - $11,900

Chicago - $10,887

Philadelphia - $10,650

Honolulu - $10,538

Seattle - $10,482

Las Vegas - $8,320

Dallas - $8,233

Serious Crime Declines on METRO System


Motorcycle cop in front of MPD carFor the second consecutive year, it has become safer for you to ride the rail or commute on our buses.

The number of serious crimes has declined this year over last, repeating a pattern now for the second year.

METRO recorded 438 serious crime incidents in FY 2008, compared to 492 in FY 2007, which was also down from 565 in FY 2006. That's an 11 percent reduction in FY 08 from the year before in such crimes as homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny/theft, auto theft and arson.

METRO saw the biggest decrease at bus shelters, on buses and at Park & Ride lots.

At bus shelters, 24 crimes were reported, a 47 percent decline from the year before. On board buses, 39 serious crimes were reported, a 33 percent decrease from the year before. At Park & Ride lots, 85 serious crimes were reported, a 20 percent decrease from the year before.

METRO Police Chief Tom Lambert attributes the decline to a strategy that combines both high-tech and low-tech initiatives.

"We have taken a very proactive and systematic approach as to how we address crime," said Lambert in a statement. "Our approach focuses on crime trends and in how we direct METRO police officers to target these trends."

An example of high-tech, state-of-the art equipment is the camera systems at our Park & Ride facilities linked to Houston TranStar.

On the buses, we've used a low-tech, but very effective tool:  bus marshals. Plainclothes MPD officers ride potentially high-crime bus routes, as well as METRORail. Last year, bus marshals issued 584 citations and made 157 arrests for misdemeanors.  

"It's just astounding. They have no idea," said Lambert. "When individuals are observed by our plain clothes officers disregarding established laws, they are often surprised to learn that the person they are sitting next to is a police officer ready to take appropriate enforcement action."

And finally, Lambert says a program that depends on you - the community - has also contributed to this drop in crime.

METRO's Adopt-a-Stop/Adopt-a-Shelter program encourages the public - either individuals or organizations - to "adopt" a METRO bus stop or shelter, cleaning up trash and keeping a watchful eye, reporting any suspicious activity. So far, 261 shelters/stops have been adopted.

Wherever you are on our system, if you see something, say something. Call #MPD on your cell phone to contact METRO police directly (a free call on most cell phones). Or call the METRO police dispatch line at: 713-244-COPS (2677).


Need a Ride to the Airport? Take Airport Direct


METRO Matters logoOur eighth edition of METRO Matters tells you of a new way to get to the airport. It's fast, convenient, competitively priced - and even comes with a concierge service.

It's METRO's Airport Direct. Dubbed 30-30-30, the service runs from downtown at Pierce & Travis every 30 minutes, delivers you to IAH/Terminal C in 30 minutes and costs $30 round trip.

Click the link below to see a preview of Tony D'Amico, associate vice president at METRO, explain more.


Here's a schedule of when the show airs on Comcast's Channel 17:


Fri.    11/07/08    1:20 p.m.

Sat.   11/08/08    8:30 p.m.  

Mon. 11/10/08    12:30 p.m.

Wed. 11/12/08    9:30 p.m.

Fri.    11/14/08    9:00 p.m.

Sat.   11/15/08    3:50 p.m.

Tue. 11/18/08    6:30 p.m.

Thu.  11/20/08    2:50 p.m.

Sat.   11/22/08    6:30 p.m.

Mon.  11/24/08    12:30 p.m.

Wed. 11/26/08    9:30 p.m.

Fri.    11/28/08    8:30 p.m.


Voters Approve Measures to Spend Money on Transit


Voters casting ballotsIn Tuesday's election, voters across the nation said a resounding yes to  spending more money on public transportation.

Across the country, more than 70 percent of transportation initiatives were approved. Voters in 16 states approved 23 measures related to state and local public transit-related ballot initiatives. Those initiatives authorize spending about $75 million on public transit, according to the American Public Transportation Association.

For example, in California, an initiative that passed included $9.95 billion in bonds to finance high-speed rail that connects San Francisco to San Diego. Click here to read a previous post on this.

In Los Angeles, a $40 billion measure passed that will pay for new and existing bus and rail lines. In Seattle, residents approved a measure to expand commuter rail and express bus service and to create a 55-mile, light-rail system at a price tag of $17.8 billion.

In Honolulu, voters approved $3.7 billion to build a commuter rail system. In Youngstown, Ohio, residents voted to save the Western Reserve Transit Authority.

"It is significant to note that in a time of economic uncertainty, more than 70 percent of transit-related ballot measures passed as people voted to raise revenue in order to improve public transportation," said William W. Millar, APTA's president, in a statement.Voters casting ballots

 "Americans understand that public transportation has many benefits," continued Millar. "Taking public transportation is the quickest way to beat high gas prices and save money. It is also one of the most effective actions a person can take to reduce carbon emissions and fight climate change."

Click here to read a complete list of 2008 transportation state and local ballot initiatives.

Earlier this year, a dozen measures were passed nationwide, raising $40 million a year for local public transit systems, according to the Center for Transportation Excellence. Adding that amount to Tuesday's election results means that voters approved at least $75.4 billion for public transit in 2008.

It's clear that Americans have spoken - and their message is simple: Build more public transportation.


METRO Encourages Healthy Kids


Healthy Kids flyer of kids playing in park with butterflies above  Tired of seeing your kid veg out in front of mindless TV?

This Saturday, take your kids to Hermann Park to participate in Healthy Kids-Houston.

A program of the Houston Parks & Recreation Department, Healthy Kids-Houston encourages kids to move, play, choose healthy foods and have fun in Houston parks.

The kick-off at Miller Outdoor Theatre is from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. You'll learn more about the project and meet program collaborators, as the kids enjoy fun activities.

METRO is one of eight partners of the Healthy-Kids Houston project.  

"We are partnering with them in order to help kids in the community get healthier," said Nicole Adler, account executive at METRO. "This is an opportunity for us to be involved in a project that's geared toward that."

The program is free for boys and girls ages 9 to 13. Participation in three six-week sessions is required if you sign up.

"Kids will learn healthy lifelong habits that will benefit them. And they'll have fun doing it," said Adler.

The sessions will be at Sunnyside Community Center at 3502 Bellfort; Mason Community Center at 541 South 75th; and Selena/Denver Harbor Community Center at 6402 Market.

Registration is from Dec. 8 to Jan. 9, 2009. Parent orientation is from Jan. 5 to 9.

Other sponsors include: Texas Children's Hospital, Baylor College of Medicine, Texas Children's Pediatric Associates, Children's Nutrition Research Center, Houston Parks & Recreation Department and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

For more information, call 713-865-4512 (West Houston) or 713-865-4516 (East Houston).

More People Turning to Passenger Trains


Amtrak trainBoth commuters and travelers between cities of up to 500 miles apart are turning to passenger trains as their option of choice in some parts of the country.

Despite the recent dip in fuel prices, the generally high cost of fuel, plus airport congestion, is drawing people back to trains. Amtrak reported a record 28.7 million riders in the year ending Sept. 30. That is 11 percent more than the year before - and the sixth consecutive year of increased ridership.

Amtrak's ticket sales soared to a record $1.7 billion, a $200 million increase from the year before.

Californians are going to the polls today and vote on whether to launch the nation's most ambitious rail project, authorizing almost $10 billion in bonds for planning and construction of an 800-mile network of bullet trains that would connect San Francisco and San Diego, with cities in between.

Midwest transit officials are promoting a plan to link cities in nine states in a hub-and-spoke system located in Chicago. It's called the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative.

Closer to home, the Trans-Texas Corridor would connect the triangle of Houston-San Antonio-Dallas. This transportation network would be a multi-use, statewide system that would include new and existing highways, railways, utility rights-of-way - and high-speed commuter railways. Bullet train in Japan - California voters deciding on similar whether to build similar train

Right now, two projects are being developed: I-69/TTC, extending from Texarkana/Shreveport to Mexico (possibly the Rio Grande Valley or Laredo) and TTC-35, which runs parallel to I-35 from north of Dallas/Forth Worth to Mexico and possibly the Gulf Coast, according to the Texas Department of Transportation.

Forecasters predict people who live, work and drive in Texas will increase more than 64 percent over the next 25 years. Most will move to urban areas where we simply cannot continue expanding existing highway system to meet the increased transit needs, say officials. The network would be funded by private investors.

Congress last month passed a law whose goal is to provide $13 billion over five years to Amtrak. The measure also promotes high-speed rail corridors, with $2 billion of grants for states to improve or start service between cities. The money, however, has not yet been appropriated. And with our economy in crisis, rail supporters say they're not certain they'll be able to get this funding.



New Federal Rules to Make School Buses Safer


Wide shot of school busMany of us send our children on the familiar yellow school buses every morning - knowing those buses don't have seat belts.

Now the federal government has new rules that will make school buses safer.

These new rules will require higher seat backs, lap and shoulder belts on smaller school buses, and standards for safety belts on larger school buses.

"Even though riding in school buses is the safest form of travel in the America today, any accident is still a tragedy," said Mary Peters, U.S. Secretary of Transportation, in a statement.

All new school buses will be required to install 24-inch-high seat backs, instead of the current 20-inch-high seat backs. These higher seat backs will help prevent heavier children from being tossed over the seat in a crash, thus lessening the chance of injury to themselves and the children in front of them.

All new school buses weighing less than five tons must now have three-point seat belts. Smaller school buses are more vulnerable in crashes because they do not absorb shock as well as bigger buses.

And finally, new standards on large school buses will improve seat belt safety and help reduce the cost of installing the belts, Peters said. View of back of school bus

However, seat belts on larger school buses mean fewer seats on that bus, and Peters said she did not want students to be forced to walk to school because of reduced seating capacity on the large buses. It is statistically more dangerous for kids to walk or ride cars to school than it is to take a school bus.

The new rules were announced last month and were prompted by the tragic bus crash in Huntsville, Ala., that occurred this month two years ago.

Click here to read more on the new school bus rules.



Fare Increase Effective Sunday


Old cell poneFourteen years ago, there were boom boxes instead of scrollable play lists.

Fourteen years ago, cell phones were bulky and heavy.

Fourteen years ago was the last time METRO increased fares.

A lot has changed in 14 years. Now, after keeping fares unchanged for 14 years, METRO is raising fares, starting Sunday.

The new local fare will be $1.25, up from $1. Park & Ride fares will vary, depending on the zone.

The fare increase comes at a time when our diesel fuel costs are expected to nearly double to $51 million in FY 2009 from $28 million in FY 2008. That's an increase of $23 million for diesel fuel.

Park & Ride fares will go up from $1 to $1.25, depending on the zone. Here are the new rates:

      *    Park & Ride Zone 1 increases to $2.00

  • Park & Ride Zone 2 increases to $3.25
  • Park & Ride Zone 3 increases to $3.75
  • Park & Ride Zone 4 increases to $4.50

We expect the fare increases to generate $14 million in additional revenue for FY09, which will help offset the expected $23 million increased fuel costs.

Congress Urged to Fund Transit to Create Jobs


As our economic crisis unfolds, the list of companies slashing their workforce sounds like a death knell.

This month alone, layoffs have been announced at these industry giants: Merck, Yahoo, General Electric, Xerox, Pratt & Whitney, Goldman Sachs, Whirlpool, Bank of America, Alco, Coca-Cola, American Express, Time Inc., Doubleday Publishing.

In the midst of this painful belt-tightening, the transportation industry is urging Congress to pass an economic stimulus legislation package that includes funding public transit to create new jobs.

Construction workers building railYesterday, the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) asked Congress to fund 170 public transit "ready-to-go" projects worth $8 billion. These projects could start within 90 days of receiving federal funding.

APTA Chair Dr. Beverly Scott, general manager and CEO of the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA), testified before the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, pointing out that every $1 communities invest in public transit generates about $6 in economic returns.

"I urge Congress to move forward with an economic stimulus package that recognizes the value of investing in our nation's public transportation infrastructure," said Scott. "These projects will create new economic activity and put thousands of people to work."

Here at METRO, three of the light-rail lines we are building  - North, Southeast and University - are dependent on federal funding before we can move forward.

Nationwide, public transit use has mushroomed by 32 percent since 1995 - more than double the nation's population growth rate, according to APTA.

Last year, 10.3 billion trips were taken on U.S. public transit - the highest number of trips taken in half a century.

"Beyond creating jobs, investing in public transit serves other important national goals," said William Millar, APTA president, in a statement. "Public transportation proves more affordable travel options and helps us meet our national goals of energy independence and reduction of carbon dioxide emissions to combat climate change."

Click here to read Scott's testimony to Congress. Click here to read more on how public transportation can help the U.S. achieve energy independence.  

Americans Driving Fewer Miles

Aerial view of cars in freeway trafficAmericans drove 15 billion fewer miles than a year ago - and that means we're buying less gas. Consuming less gas, in turn, means less federal gas tax, which is triggering renewed pressure on the way the government pays for road, bridge and transit projects.

That's the word from U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters, who says relying on federal gas taxes to fund road and bridge projects is no longer a good thing when transit ridership nationwide is experiencing record growth.

"We pay for transit the same way we pay for road and bridge projects - with federal gas taxes," said Peters. "Relying on the gas tax is like relying on cardboard to keep the rain out - the longer you use it, the less it works."

Peters made her remarks last Friday during a visit at a light-rail station in Dallas.

In August 2008, Americans drove 5.6 percent less than they did in August 2007 - or 15 billion fewer miles. That's the biggest year-to-year drop recorded in one month,  says the Department of Transportation (DOT).

Even Texans are giving up road trips, driving 1.3 million fewer miles in the past 10 months than the same period a year ago. Click here to see regional traffic patterns.NYC subway

While driving decreased, transit ridership increased. This summer, transit ridership jumped 6.2 percent over the same period a year ago.

Peters pointed out that since 2001, the DOT has invested more than $8 billion to pay for more than 280 miles worth of new transit lines. Strung all together, that would be 25 percent longer than the New York City subway system, said officials.

If we continue to depend on gas taxes to pay for future transit construction, those future projects will be at risk, warned Peters. What's needed is a major reform of the federal transportation policy, which was unveiled earlier this year. Under this policy, states would be encouraged to capture new sources of funding for transit construction.


The Veggie Bus: Turning Used Cooking Oil into Fuel

Artwork of wrapped shuttle bus powered by veggie oilMost of us grew up with the words of Mom ringing in our ears, "Don't waste your food" and "Eat all those veggies!"

Now students at the University of New Mexico in Alburquerque will have a chance to make sure nothing is wasted when it comes to their vegetables - even the cooking oil used to sauté them.

Students will soon be able to ride a campus courtesy shuttle powered by waste vegetable oil recycled from campus kitchens. Dubbed the Veggie Bus, the shuttle bus will be part of the university's regular shuttle fleet, which currently provides more than one million rides a year.

This Veggie Bus will be converted from a conventional diesel vehicle by the university's students who are in Sustainability Studies. The bus will run exclusively on waste vegetable oil (WVO) from campus kitchens. Depending on how successful this project is, the Veggie Bus will be the first of many WVO vehicles, says the university.

Officials say the Veggie Bus will not experience any loss of engine performance, will eliminate the cost of disposing waste vegetable oil and will promote an environmentally-friendly vehicle.

Art students can also get in on the act. Campus officials have an open call to all UNM students to design a wrap for the bus. The Veggie Bus will showcase the winning wrap, reinforcing its message as it winds through the campus.

The potential national waste vegetable oil is equivalent to 1 percent of all conventional oil use in the United States.   

Click here to read more.

Katy Freeway Managed Lanes to Open Wednesday

Cars driving on mananed lane with "Katy Managed Lanes" logo 

The nation's biggest freeway reconstruction program will celebrate tomorrow its official completion ahead of schedule.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony Tuesday will officially mark the end of the mammoth project, the first Interstate highway combined with locally operated toll lanes.

The new Katy Tollway/Managed Lanes will be open to the public to use starting at 5 a.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 29, as a 2-plus HOV lane.

Two multi-purpose lanes going in either direction have replaced the single, reversible HOV lane used by METRO buses and HOV riders with 2-plus.

Next spring, the lanes will be fully operational and open to single-occupancy vehicles whose drivers are willing to pay a toll to drive on the managed lanes, according to the Harris County Toll Road Authority (HCTRA) Web site.

 "We're really excited that we promised completion of construction in six years, and we still beat the clock," said Raequelle Lewis, spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDot). "We marked the start of construction with a groundbreaking ceremony in June 2003, and we're now able to deliver those improvements to the public in just over five years, which is just phenomenal."

Tomorrow's celebration will include Gov. Rick Perry, U.S. Rep. John Culberson (R - Houston), and Thomas J. Madison, administrator with the Federal Highway Administration.

The Katy Freeway Managed Lanes project is a collaboration of four agencies: TxDot, HCTRA, METRO and the Houston-Galveston Area Council (H-GAC).

HCTRA will be operating, maintaining and enforcing the managed lanes; TXDot will operate and maintain the general purpose and frontage lanes; and METRO will operate its buses along the Katy Freeway Managed Lanes. H-GAC will oversee long-term transportation planning. Toll both at Katy Freeway

Managed lanes are a tool to ease traffic congestion during peak travel hours. The lanes are open to all vehicles for a toll, which changes based on the number of passengers in the vehicle and the volume of traffic on the freeway. Managed lanes are designed to accommodate traffic at a minimum of 45 miles per hour.

HOV lanes, in contrast, are open only to vehicles that have the required number of passengers in a vehicle (2-plus or 3-plus).

On Wednesday, when the managed lanes are open to the public, drivers will see two continuous managed lanes in each direction; four general purpose lanes and eight lanes on the freeway, depending on where you are along I-10.

The total cost of the project was $2.8 billion, which covers everything from planning to striping on the ground. Construction costs totaled $1.8 million, said Lewis.





Boy Scouts Build Benches for METRO Riders

Benches built by Boy Scouts Troop 599Less than 3 percent of all Boy Scouts make it to the top level of Eagle Scouts  - and those who do are required to manage and direct a community service project.

Casey Homer, 18-year-old senior at Stratford High School, recently completed an Eagle Scout project that benefits METRO's customers in Spring Branch.

Homer planned, solicited donations and directed the building of two benches positioned under shady trees in front of Sherwood  Elementary School at 1700 Sherwood Dr. - across the street from a METRO bus stop, where Bus #19 picks up 11 to 25 passengers daily.

Although METRO has a bench at its bus stop at Sherwood Forest St. and Chatterton, many of the riders preferred to cross the street to the elementary school to wait under the trees where it's shady - and some would even sit on the ground.

Sherwood's principal, Anita Jacobs, suggested the project to Homer, who eagerly tackled the work. After all, doing METRO work was part of the family tradition. His mom, Beverly Elam Homer, works in METRO's corporate sales and business development department. Front of Sherwood Elementary where two new benches sit under tree for METRO customers

"The goal of the project is to promote school spirit and provide a courtesy to anyone waiting for the public bus service," wrote Homer in his detailed proposal. "The benches will benefit parents, students and neighbors waiting for the bus and provide them with a place to sit in the shade while waiting for the bus."

It took a dozen Boy Scouts from Troop 599 five hours to build the benches with donated materials - including wood, paint, tools and work space.

Casey Homer, Eagle Scout"I learned it's a lot more hard work than I thought to coordinate all these people and keep them busy," admits Homer, who will achieve Eagle Scout rank this Sunday.  

But now, when Homer sees residents in the community relaxing on the benches, he realizes it was worth it. Above is a photo of the shady trees in front of Sherwood Elementary where the new benches are located.

"It makes me feel good that I got to help them," says Homer.

Finding Love at a Bus Stop


Wedding cakeDoris Etienne Jackson is planning to marry the love of her life in four weeks and two days.

She met him at a downtown METRO bus stop.

That autumn morning four years ago, she was sitting at the METRO stop on Franklin Street, waiting to transfer to the 137. It was 5:30 in the morning and Doris customarily had left her hair in rollers, covered by a scarf. She wore no makeup.

Across the street, George Jackson, a truck driver, noticed Doris sitting there in the early-morning darkness. "I used to ride the train across the street. I would cross the street. She would be sitting at that bus stop by herself with strange people around her," recalls George, who said his initial interest was to make sure Doris was unharmed.

"We met at that bus stop for a year," says Doris,  a Wal-Mart cashier. "He started talking first because I would have my (devotional) book and saying my prayers in the morning. He just came and started talking to me, being a protector. He would always bring me sandwiches. He was trying to impress me."

Finally, after two months of bus stop conversation, George mustered the courage to ask her out for coffee.

"I didn't think I'd find love," says Doris, two weeks shy of her 63rd birthday. "I have a girlfriend who teases me. She would pick me up and say, ‘How did you get your man?' I say, ‘You got the Cadillac, and I meet people on METRO.' She always wants to find a boyfriend. I told her you have to start riding METRO."

George, who has been taking public transit since 1965, says when he and Doris bought their house, he made sure it was within walking distance of a METRO bus stop, in case something happens to their vehicles they now own.  

"I let my buddies know I met the woman I'm going to marry at a bus stop. That's kind of amazing," says George, 56.  This is the first marriage for both.

What does he think of METRO?

"I think it's the best thing that ever happened to this city - especially since you put that train in there. It's a good hook-up," says George, happy his train-to-bus transfers unfolded into a life-changing event.

Transit State of Good Repair


Crew working on railroad bedA  new report issued this month by the FederalTransit Administration takes a serious look at the state of repair of our nation's transit systems.

The 55-page report was the result of an August workshop attended by 14 transit providers from around the country who examined everything from recapitalization and maintenance issues to innovative financing strategies.

The challenges are immense. Maintaining the nation's rail and bus systems is vital to provide safe and reliable service to millions of commuters. But the industry is not investing enough money to keep our trains and buses in a state of good repair - a term this roundtable said needed to be clearly defined. Despite the $165 billion from federal, state and local funding sources since 1991, the nation's infrastructure and trains are deteriorating, and the current spending is not stopping this decline.

 "For transit riders,this deterioration manifests itself in the form of declining service reliability. For transit operators, aging capital assets drive increasing maintenance costs and limits the ability to expand system capacity at a time of high demand prompted by high fuel costs," states the report. "All share the mutual concern over the potential impacts on safety."

 Later this year, the FTA expects to report to Congress how much money is needed to refurbish the nation'soldest rail transit agencies into a state of good repair.

 The two-day session produced seven position papers that outline the problem and define the questions that need to be addressed. The seven areas are:


  • Current conditions of the nation's transit infrastructure
  • Defining and measuring a state of good repair
  • Transit asset management
  • Standards for preventive maintenance
  • Core capacity of a transit system
  • Alternative approaches to financing
  • Research needs

 I'll summarize some of the findings in future blog posts, examining one or two each time. Today, let's look at the current conditions of our infrastructure.

About one-fourth of the nation's bus and rail assets are in marginal or poor condition. For heavy rail and buses, about one-third fall in that category. Only 7 percent of light-rail assets are ranked poor or marginal, largely due to a big investment in light rail in the past two decades and a younger fleet of cars.

How much do we need to boost the nation's rail and bus assets to a state of good repair? The FTA says about $25 billion. While the nation's largest and oldest rail transit agencies account for almost 60 percent of all riders and 40 percent of all federal transit funding, the slices of the pie are shrinking. Rail bed w/ worker

Other parts of the country - such as Houston  - are getting light rail - and that means funds are being spread around more.

The result? Federal money for rail capital replacement for the nation's oldest and biggest rail transit agencies slipped to less than 70 percent by 2006 from more than 90 percent in 1993. That's not a good thing, when you keep in mind that these established rail transit agencies also have the highest percentage of poor and marginal cars.

 Some of the conclusions seem obvious: Older assets (cars, rail beds) require more maintenance, which raises costs. Older assets are also less reliable. As tracks and structures age, trains will be forced to slow down. 

The report also pointed out that few local agencies maintain detailed inventories of the condition of their assets and replacement needs - and at the federal level, there's no requirement of such. A standardized condition reporting system would go a long way to accurately evaluate the state of the nation's transit systems.





Houston's Top Three Walkable Neighborhoods


Pedestrians on sidewalkIf you live in Montrose, River Oaks or downtown, you live in the three most walkable neighborhoods in Houston - ranked as the nation's 26th most walkable city., created by a civic software company called Front Seat, uses an algorithm to measure the distance of nearby schools, parks, restaurants and stores to your home address. It gives you an idea of how easy it is to live in a car-free city.

Walkable neighborhoods are great for the environment, the pocketbook and the waistline. Walk Score says these factors help make a neighborhood walkable: a center or main street or public space; dense neighborhoods compact enough for businesses to grow and public transportation to run often; mixed income and mixed use; parks; pedestrian-focused design; and nearby schools and workplaces.

But what the algorithm doesn't measure is public transit. "Good public transit is important for walkable neighborhoods," says Walk Score.

Other factors that make a city walkable, but are not taken into account by Walk Score's computations, include: street width and block length; street design; safety from crime and clashes; pedestrian-friendly community design (Are buildings close to the sidewalk with parking in back?); topography (It's hard to carry groceries up a hill); freeways and bodies of water; and weather.

Houston's extreme humidity would nix walking much for at least half a year.

Click here to see a list of America's most walkable cities. Topping the list is San Francisco, followed by New York, then Boston.

Next Year to Bring New Service, Expanded Park & Ride Lots

Hybrid bus with Houston skyline behindGood news for commuters, especially those who use our Park & Ride lots. METRO is proposing new service for the coming year that includes more service and new and expanded Park & Ride lots.

Last Thursday, our board authorized an agreement with the Harris County Community Services Department to provide commuter service to Pasadena , similar to what we provide now to Baytown, which is out of our service area.

As part of the agreement, we will operate buses from Pasadena Town Square mall, stopping at the Monroe Park & Ride. The incremental service is expected to cost Harris County $79,000 a year, since Pasadena is located outside our service area. Implementation will occur in 2009. 

"METRO's strategic initiatives include expanding regional service, increasing service and optimizing cost," said John Haley, vice president of infrastructure and service development. "The Pasadena Park & Ride provides an opportunity to provide service to a new market at minimal cost, working jointly with Harris County. We look forward to implementing the Pasadena Park & Ride as soon as possible."

Our FY 2009 Business Plan recommends new service that includes:


  • Renwick Crosstown
  • TMC/Palm Quickline - Signature Bus
  • Grand Parkway Expansion
  • South Freeway Park & Ride
  • Fort Bend/Uptown - Greenway
  • Clear Lake/El Dorado

This FY09 service plan also recommends restructuring schedules and service plans on certain routes to match service with demand, in addition to reviewing duplicate and unproductive routes for possible elimination in order to enhance the system overall.

Also recommended in the FY 2009 Business Plan:


  • Immediate expansion of South Point P&R lot - 400 spaces
  • Immediate expansion of leased spaces at Grand Parkway - 100 spaces
  • Begin the design of future expansion of Fuqua, Spring, and Townsen P&R lots, including the acquisition of real estate, facility design and build-out - 2,250 spaces
  • New P&R facilities in Clear Lake/El Dorado - 500 spaces
  • Identification of location in Northwest Freeway corridor - 500 spaces.

METRO also identified eight P & R lots that were at capacity and need expansion through either lease or procurement: Spring, Kingsland, Grand Parkway, Townsen, Bay Area, Fuqua, South Point and Northwest Station.

We recently added a little less than 80 spaces at Grand Parkway and are negotiating to add more. The FY09 Transit Service calls for more service to the expanded South Point P&R lot next August.

The cost for the new and expanded service is $10 million, with an additional $49 million for FY2010 through FY2013, according to the FY009 Business Plan and Budgets.