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Win a Pair of Texans Tickets
 

 

Houston Texans cheerleaders

Ride the rail today, and get a chance to win two tickets to Battle Red Game Day this Sunday.

Members of the Houston Texans staff - along with two cheerleaders - will be riding our Reliant Energy wrapped train, with the giant picture of Andre Johnson, building team spirit for the big game against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Join the fun and games on the train. If you answer a team-related trivia question, you have a chance to win some goodies. And one lucky rider will get a pair of tickets around noon.

Here's the schedule of this party train:

Fannin Northbound: Departs 10:59; TMTC, 11:14; DTTC, 11:20; Main St. 11:24; UH, 11:29
UH Southbound: 11:37; Main St., 11:40, DTTC, 11:42; Wheeler, 11:47, TMTC, 11:59, Fannin, 12:06 p.m.

See you there.

All Aboard: Houston Texans and Cheerleaders
 

 

Reliant-wrapped train with Andre Johnson's picture

Get ready for Battle Red Day fever on METRORail.

Houston Texans staff - along with two cheerleaders - will ride a METRORail car, branded by Reliant Energy with an image of Andre Johnson.  Be prepared to see red all around you in a specially decorated train, as the Texans promote Sunday's game against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

If you can answer some team-related trivia questions, you'll have a chance to win prizes. Around noon, a lucky rider will win two tickets to Sunday's game.

It's all happening tomorrow from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. So ride the rail - and support the home team. The Texans will board at Fannin South.

And remember, you can ride free on METRORail each Texans home game, all day, thanks to Reliant Energy, an NRG company.

 

Bus Driver Goes the Extra Mile
 


When the elderly Asian man with a hospital mask boarded her bus, he caught the attention of Harriet Orville.

At the end of her morning run on the 14 Hiram Clark route, Orville noticed a yellow and green bag sitting on a seat. She peeked inside and saw it was filled with still unopened medicines from MD Anderson. She remembered the elderly rider had been carrying that bag.

Orville, who's worked at METRO for 23 years, could have simply turned in the bag to her supervisor, who in turn would have submitted it to Lost & Found. Instead, Orville went above and beyond what was expected of her.

"I saw medicine and noticed it was for cancer. I remembered the elderly guy with a mask on his face," said Orville. "There was a pharmacy and a doctor's office I called, which in turn, called the passenger."

Orville said she decided to get in her personal car and drive to Old Spanish Trail and Kirby, where she had picked up the elderly passenger, thinking he might be waiting for her to return there.

Meanwhile, the elderly man's son, Ding Yuan, said his dad realized when he got home that he had left all his medicines on the bus.

"In the bag were all the important medications he had just obtained from the hospital for his treatment," wrote Yuan. "Needless to say, he was extremely worried. Not only were the medications expensive, the thought of the hassles one has to go through to obtain insurance approval for replacement of the medications just simply increased my dad's anxiety a great deal."

Yuan went to the substation at MD Anderson, but there was no customer service desk. Just when he was feeling helpless, MD Anderson Hospital Pharmacy called to inform him Orville had called to report the bag she found and had given her personal cell number.

Orville's act of kindness accelerated the return of the medicines. Within about an hour of losing his meds, the elderly passenger had them back.

"She took the initiative to contact MD Anderson Pharmacy to shorten the delay and helped relieve the customer's anxiety," wrote the son. "My family is extremely thankful to Ms. Harriet Orville for her kind act."

Orville says it was all in a day's work. And, this was not the first time she's taken extra steps on her time to return goods.

 "If I can go that extra yard and help someone retrieve any items, I'd like to do it," says the 51-year-old Orville. "In my heart, it's just something I want to do. I enjoy seeing a person happy."

For her act of kindness, Orville was recognized with a certificate, commending her as an "All Star Operator" who saved a METRO patron's day. 

 

Service Interruption This Weekend
 

Rider Alert graphicMETRORail will temporarily shut down this weekend due to bridge construction for the Texas Children's Hospital.

All rail stations will be closed from today at 9 p.m. to Sunday, 10/23, at 11:59 p.m.

We'll have bus shuttles running along the rail as follows:

Friday, Oct. 21

  • 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. at 12-minute frequency.
  • 7:45 p.m. - last northbound train departs Fannin South, arriving at University of Houston at 8:15 p.m.
  • 8:30 p.m. - last southbound train departs University of Houston, arriving at Fannin South at 9 p.m.

Saturday, Oct. 22

  • 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. at 6-minute frequency.
  • 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. at 10-minute frequency.

Sunday, Oct. 23

  • 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. at 6-minute frequency
  • 9 p.m. to midnight at 10-minute frequency

Buses will use the 700 Rail Shuttle Route except in the Medical Center area (Dryden and Memorial Hermann Stations).  Buses will serve the Medical Center on Main Street between Pressler and Cambridge (formerly Macgregor).

We'll have staff on hand to help you. Normal service resumes Monday, Oct. 24.

 

Aerial Structure Being Built on North Line
 

Laying steel beams for aerial bridge in North Line

This morning, we reached a turning point in the construction of a light-rail bridge on the North Line.

Construction crews placed five steel girders on concrete supporting structures, the first step in spanning the Union Pacific Railroad tracks. Once all these girders are laid out on the supporting structures - called bents - we'll be able to place a flat-deck surface on top of the beams, said Fred Childs, program manager of the North Line.

After that, crews will pour concrete with the rail embedded in the concrete - forming a 2,400-foot aerial structure for our light-rail trains.

Childs called today's construction a milestone.  "We're excited.  We're looking forward to it now," said Childs, adding that the bridge is scheduled to be completed about a year from now.

The North Line extends the existing Red Line by about  5.3 miles. It will run through the historic North Side, starting at the University of Houston-Downtown station and ending at Northline Mall Center.  It's expected to be completed in 2014.

 

 

More Bus Shelters Coming...100 of Them
 

Construction of a bus shelter

If you're a regular rider on our system, you've probably noticed that your bus riding experience recently improved.

We are installing 100 new bus shelters around town - and the first five were just installed throughout the city - from the Heights to Montrose.  This is part of our Bus Shelter Program for our new fiscal year (Oct. 1, 2011 to Sept. 30, 2012). Right now, about 20 percent of our approximately 10,000 bus stops are graced with shelters.

This program, 80 percent financed by federal funds, will help bump that figure up and make your commuting more comfortable.

"This is a great program," said Pablo F. Valle, senior project manager of Major Capital Projects. "Everywhere we put in a shelter, there's an increase of about 20 additional boardings a day."

Work on the five shelters began Oct. 3. Here are the locations:

  • West Parker Road (eastbound) @ Stuebner Airline
  • Jensen Drive (southbound) @ Crosstimbers Street
  • Imperial Valley Drive (southbound) @ Seminar Drive
  • Shepherd Drive (northbound) @ Bissonnet Street
  • West Gray Street (eastbound) @ Woodhead Street

Building these shelters is also giving us an opportunity to partner with management districts, as well as the city of Houston. "We can piggyback on their improvement projects, so we can also put in shelters where it qualifies," said Valle.

For example, we may work with the city on roadway reconstruction projects. Or if the city is fixing a sidewalk, it could also build a shelter foundation at the same time, so that in the future, we could just go in and install a shelter at that location.  

Each shelter costs $15,000 to $20,000 to build and install, depending on field conditions. By next March, we expect to have 50 shelters installed, with the remaining built by the end of next September.

So how does your area qualify for a bus shelter? First, make a request through our public comment system or by calling our Customer Care Center at 713-635-4000. Or visit our Customer Information Center at 1900 Main.

A formal request form is attached to each inquiry.  Factors the staff evaluates include, but are not limited to:  daily boardings, transfer points, proximity to major activity centers presence of elderly or physically challenged patrons, safety issues and site feasibility.

From Draft Horse to NASA
 

 

Scene from exhibitCelebrating Houston's big birthday, the Houston Public Library has a fascinating exhibit on display now, chronicling 175 years of transportation in the Bayou City.

While we're best known as an oil town, our city's history as transportation hub for trade and commerce has played an important role in shaping the city.

Did you know that we were once a landing spot for cargo shipped inland from the Gulf of Mexico?  The exhibit  includes the Houston Ship Channel, which  evolved into the Port of Houston, the nation's busiest port in terms of foreign tonnage.  

And, of course, as home to NASA, Houston was thrust into the world spotlight with our missions to the moon.

Check out the images on display and see how Houston has developed from the days of horse-drawn carriages to a city where 17 railroads met the sea.

From Draft Horse to NASA: 175 Years of Transportation in Houston runs through Nov. 15 at the Central Library Art Gallery at 500 McKinney.

Monkey Disrupts High-speed Rail
 

 

Formosan Rock Macaque, a native Taiwan monkeyOne wild monkey learned a lesson about what happens when he monkeys around high-speed rail.

A Formosan Rock Macaque, a protected species in Taiwan, sustained burns from an electric shock as it tried to escape a high-speed rail station in southern Taiwan on Sunday morning, according to Mass Transit.

The monkey, whom officials guess may have come from nearby Banping Mountain, scurried between the platform, train track and rain shelter on the platform, escaping firefighters and staff who were trying to rescue it.

An anesthetic dart failed to stop the monkey. It finally touched a high-voltage cable and received an electric shock, then fell onto a train not in service. The monkey lived and was treated for burns.

Read the story here.  The picture posted is a Fromosan Rock Macaque, known as a mischief-maker.

Honoring a METRO Employee & Friend
 

Chung Luu, light-rail technicianMETRO lost another member of its family in a tragic accident at our Rail Operating Facility (ROC).

Chung Luu, a light-rail technician, died on Oct. 11 after striking his head and falling from a train being moved into service.  He was 45.

Luu started his career at METRO in April 2000 on the maintenance team at Kashmere's bus operating facility. When we launched rail and opened the ROC in 2003, Luu moved there to work.

The fatality occurred shortly before 6 p.m. Preliminary information indicates Luu was on board as the train was being moved into the shop's service lane. While the train was in motion, Luu reportedly stuck his head out of the train's door, hitting a support beam in the shop. Luu died at the scene.

Luu leaves behind his wife and three children.

George Greanias, president & CEO, said when he visited the ROC the night of the accident, colleagues had nothing but good things to say about Luu as a friend and a co-worker.

"Please keep Chung's family in your hearts and prayers during this very difficult time," said Greanias.

METRO police, the Houston Police Department and the Harris County Medical Examiner's Office initially investigated the accident. On Oct. 12, METRO's Safety Department, coordinating with Service Delivery, launched a detailed, post-incident investigation.

Scott Grogan, senior director of Rail Maintenance, said Luu will be sorely missed.

""He was an outstanding worker. He was a great friend and a great coworker to everyone at the ROC.  It's a huge loss for METRO. He is irreplaceable," said Grogan. "Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends."

 

Another Q Star Discount
 

Chinese food

The latest business to offer a discount if you show your METRO Q® Fare Card is Hong Kong Diner  at 909 Franklin between Travis and Main.

Simply show your Q Card and receive 10 percent off any menu item. The exception is dim sum. The menu includes appetizers such as spring rolls, pork dumplings and chicken lettuce wrap.  Flat-rice noodles with beef and Chinese broccoli is $9.95; sizzling scallops and beef is $12.95.

Our Q Star program is a free discount program. Participants include attractions such as Ensemble Theatre (buy one, get one free); Houston Zoo ($2 off adult, $1 off kid); 24 restaurants; and shops, such as the Ambassador Shoe Repair (10 percent off) and Art Supply on Main (20 percent off on art supplies).

If you don't have a Q Card yet, pick one up at our RideStore or any participating retailer. It's free, but you have to load at least $5 on it.

New Smart App Gives Bus Stops, Schedules
 

Graphic illustrating a new smart phone app to plan trips

Imagine this: You are walking around the Galleria and want to go to Discovery Green for a concert. But you're not sure what bus to take.

In a few months, you'll be able use your smart phone to find METRO bus stops, schedules, and eventually real-time, next-bus arrivals.

The free app is expected to be available in November or December. It will work on iPhones/iPads; Androids and later, Windows phones.

"There are a lot of other transit properties that have similar apps like this. We want to try to increase the utility of our system, just like everyone else," said Randy Frazier, vice president of IT and chief information officer.

The app will be called Houston T.R.I.P. "TRIP" stands for- transit route information and planner. The name was suggested by Marie Turner, METRO Customer Care business analyst.

We expect to update the app with next-bus arrivals once we complete our Safe Bus program in late 2012. Safe Bus is a new way for buses to communicate wirelessly so we know the buses' locations. Right now, we're using a 17-year-old system from Harris County to communicate with the buses. With Safe Bus, we'll be upgrading to advanced cellular communications similar to 4G.

There are transit apps developed by the public, such as Ride Houston , an iPhone app that tells you the nearest METRO bus and rail stops to your current location.

We contracted with a third party three or four months ago to develop this in-phone trip planner designed for your fingers. By contracting for the design, METRO will end up owning the app, which will be provided free to the public.

 When it comes online, this will be the first app that will have METRO's next-bus information.

"I hope it can help people navigate easier when they're using our system," said Frazier.

Test Driving Nova Buses
 

Collage of Nova bus METRO is test driving two new buses made by NovaBus, part of the Volvo Bus Corp. These 40-foot buses feature a window in the back and a two-seater directly behind the driver's seat that one customer has dubbed "the girlfriend seat."

The buses are #4691 and #4692 - both operating out of our Polk facility. From Monday through Friday, one is operating on the 81 Westheimer route, while the other is running the 30 Clinton/Cullen route.

On weekends, one is assigned to 20 Canal and the other to route 77 MLK.  

"So far, the bus is good," said James Peters, Maintenance Superintendent at Polk. The low-down on the specs: The buses  feature a 2010 Cummins engine with a ZF automatic transmission, electric cooling fans above the rear window, four wheel disc brakes, a one-piece front windshield, roof mounted air conditioning and one step entry low-floor design that is ADA compliant including a bus kneeling feature and wheelchair ramp. The engine has very low emissions, making it environmentally-friendly, clean diesel engine, said Peters.

The two buses are on a complimentary loan from NovaBus for six months. After we installed a fare box and METRO Q® Fare Card reader, the buses were put into service on Sept. 28, said Peters.

The buses can seat 35 passengers and come with a bike rack mounted on the front bumper.Close-up of back-of-bus window

"I'm keeping a log - comments from the operators and mechanics - good things and bad things," said Peters.

If we end up with the Nova, this will be the fifth manufacturer in our fleet. Right now, we have about 1,250 buses. Current bus suppliers to METRO include New Flyer, Orion, Neoplan and Motor Coach Industries.

"One of the reasons they sent the NovaBuses to Polk Street is so I could put them through the test," said Peters. "My routes are pretty challenging - the potholes, railroad tracks. It's a rough route around this area with water mains busting left and right."

At the end of the test, performance data along with comments from our customers, drivers and mechanics will be reviewed to determine how well the NovaBus performs in METRO service, said Peters.

It's a Wrap! A Behind-the-Scenes Look
 


On Saturday, one of our trains got "gift" wrapped.  

Huge sheets of vinyl were applied on a train. The wrap, designed and paid for by Reliant Energy, is an example of the new METRO's partnership with the community and celebrates the Houston Texans.

On home game days, Reliant Energy is paying for everyone's ride on METRORail - all day.

Click below to see a time lapse of the how the train was wrapped.

 

<a href="http://blogs.ridemetro.org/images/write_on/ReliantWrap_498x280.wmv"><img src="http://blogs.ridemetro.org/images/write_on/trainwrap_pvw.jpg" border = "0" width="498" height="280"></a><br /><a href = "http://blogs.ridemetro.org/images/write_on/ReliantWrap_498x280.wmv">View Video</a><br />Format: wmv<br />Duration: 2:06

Fun, Food & Fellowship at Night Out
 

Collage of event at Monite Beach Civic Club
Neighbors at the Montie Beach Civic Club on the North side celebrated National Night Out last night with an appearance by Mayor Annise Parker, along with officers from the Houston Police Department.

Inflatable slides, a clown, balloons and goodies gave it a festive atmosphere. METRO was there, too, and issued 58 METRO Q® Fare Cards in two hours, said Nicole Adler,  METRO sales rep in Service Delivery.  

The Browning Elementary Choir performed, helping to entertain the crowd. The Houston Fire Department had a fire truck on display, available for the kids to explore.

"There was food, games and fun for the whole family," said Adler.

Be a Part of National Night Out
 

Logo of National Night Out 2011Tonight, grab your lawn chairs and fire up the barbeque grill. It's time to meet your neighbors and be part of Houston's National Night Out.

This 28th annual event is a fun and low-cost way to promote neighborhood spirit and police-community partnerships for a safer community. Sponsored by the National Association of Town Watch (NATW), this event is designed to raise awareness of crime and drug prevention, generate support for local anti-crime programs and let the bad guys know that neighborhoods are fighting back.

While the rest of the nation celebrated this special night on Aug. 2, Texas delays its observance until the fall when the weather cools off.

Here at METRO, we will be hosting neighborhood events where MPD officers will meet residents and offer giveaways and pamphlets. 

"This is important because it provides an opportunity to get to know neighbors, and watch out for neighbors," said MPD Chief Victor Rodriguez. "It also provides an excellent opportunity for the police department to get to know the community it serves and vice versa. Policing in today's environment is a cooperative effort and requires a partnership between the police and the community. I can't think of a better way to do that than through the National Night Out experience."

Here is where you can find METRO booths:

Downtown: Discovery Green, 1500 McKinney, 6  to 9 p.m.

East End - De Zavala Park, 709 76th St., 6 to 8:30 p.m.

North End - John H. Castillo Park, 1100 Quitman, 6 to 8:30 p.m.

Southeast End - 3731 Florinda St., 7 to 9 p.m.

Click here to see more local events sponsored by the city of Houston for National Night Out. If you're too busy to meet and mingle with your neighbors, support the cause by turning on your porch light. As the campaign says, "Lights on mean lights out for crime."

 

Board Passes FY2012 Budget
   

 

Close-up of pencil on calculatorThe Board of Directors passed a $1.24 billion budget on Sept. 29, a budget that positions the New METRO for the future.

Highlights of the new budget:

  • A continued focus on our strategic priorities and operating principles
  • A financial plan based on a conservative, 5 percent sales tax growth rate
  • No increase in base fares
  • Accelerating work toward the completion of the North (Red), Southeast (Purple), and Harrisburg East End (Green) light-rail lines.
  • Significant completion of the conversion of three high-occupancy lances (HOV) to provide a tolling option (HOT lanes)
  • Initiating METRO's first State of Good Repair program

"In FY2012, the New METRO will undertake a comprehensive review and potential revision of its route strategy," wrote George Greanias, president & CEO, in the executive summary of the FY2012 Budget Plan & Budget. "In the coming year, we will accelerate this process and ask ourselves fundamental questions about how best to configure our route system."

Smart service may also include such things as cab vouchers where bus service cannot be justified; working with municipal governments to ensure good sidewalks leading to our bus and rail stops; and leveraging our local dollars from sales tax revenues and fares with federal grants.

Starting with FY2012, we will have a five-year cash flow plan.

METRO Forms Partnership with Reliant
 

FootballTo all football fans:  You can now ride METRORail free to all Houston Texans home games.

The Board of Directors voted today to ratify a contract calling for Reliant Energy to wrap a METRORail car to promote Reliant-sponsored free rides for all METRORail riders on Texans home game days during the 2011 season.

The New METRO promotes partnership, and this is the latest example.

 The next home game is against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Oct.2. Attend the game, ride the rail - and don't pay a penny.

 

Bicyclists Want Employers to Support Bikes at Work
 

Man boarding train with bikeMost of us travel to work every day by car or bus.

But more Houstonians are bicycling to work. The League of American Bicyclists reports that the number of people who use a bike as their primary means of transportation to work has grown nearly 40 percent since 2000, but still only represents a little more than half of one percent of American workers.

In Houston, there are 961,240 workers. Out of those, 4,398 are bike commuters - representing  0.5 percent of all commuters. More men bike to work than women - 81 percent of bike commuters are men compared to 19 percent women.

The city boasts about 460 miles of bikeways, including trails that curve along bayous or run parallel to rail beds in historic neighborhoods, reports Gail Delaughter of KUHF-FM (91.7).  Dan Raine, city of Houston bicyclist-pedestrian coordinator, says some cyclists get to work by biking part of the way, then using  METRO's bike racks at the front of the bus, or the luggage compartment of a Park & Ride bus. Men in suits riding bikes

But bike activists says it takes more than a network of trails to make biking to work an option for many. Businesses need to be more supportive by providing facilities for employees who bike, such as offering rsecure parking for bikes, or allowing bikes to be stored in the office.

Listen to or read the full report here.

Public Transit Saves Hours of Delays
   

Cars in trafficWhether you commute to work in a bus, train or car, you know the gridlock that grips our morning rush hour here.

A report released today says that, without public transit, our wait time on the road would be even longer. The Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) 2011 Urban Mobility Report examines road conditions in 439 urban areas across the nation and points out that relieving congestion is important to keep up with job growth as the economy recovers.

If you think the roads are clogged now, here's what it would be like without public transit: Commuters would endure 797 million more hours of delay and consume 303 million more gallons of fuel. Without public transit in the 439 urban areas studied, congestion expenses would have increased by nearly $17 billion, to $118 billion from $101 billion.

"Even if you don't ride public transportation, there are clear benefits in supporting expansion of public transit options. Better public transportation in your community means less congestion on the roads," said William Millar, president of the American Public Transportation Association, in a statement.

So which urban area saved the most in hours of delay due to public transportation?

New York /Newark area came in first, followed by Chicago, then Washington, D.C./Virginia/Maryland. Aerial view of traffic on highway
Los Angeles/Long Beach/Santa Ana was No. 4, then Boston/New Hampshire/Rhode Island region.

Houston ranked No. 12 with 7,082 hours of delay saved and $147.9 million dollars saved in congestion costs. Although our neighbor to the north has more light-rail lines than Houston, the Dallas/Ft.Worth/Arlington area came in No. 15.

More factoids about congestion in 2010:

  • The average commuter endured 34 hours of delay, up from 14 hours in 1982.
  • The cost of congestion totaled more than $100 billion, almost $750 for every commuter in the nation.
  • "Rush hour" is six hours of not rushing anywhere.
  • Congestion is creeping outside of "rush hour," with 40 percent of the delay happening midday and overnight.

 

The report connects traffic and the economy, showing that wasted time has a bottom-line impact.

"Congestion does more than choke our highways. It chokes our economy, making it harder to buy what we need and harder to keep or find a job," says Tim Lomax, one of the authors of the study. "That's a bad thing - especially when our economic recovery is so fragile."


Read the full report here
Budget Hearing This Thursday
 

Calculator, pencil,spreadsheets Your chance to comment on our draft FY2012 operating and capital budgets is this Thursday, Sept. 29, at 9 a.m. in our board room at 1900 Main.

The annual budgets being presented for approval  to the board on Thursday are:

Operating budget  $430,400,000

General mobility budget   $169,332,000

Capital budget   $556,600,000

Debt service       $81,088,901

"For FY2012, the job will be to reshape the New METRO so it's well positioned to meet the future and provide safe, affordable, reliable and convenient transit to its current and potential customers," says George Greanias, president & CEO, in the executive summary of the budget book.  "Moving forward into FY2012, the New METRO will focus on four tasks:  delivering smart service, building rail, rightsizing the organization and preparing for the future."

Read more in the Draft FY2012 Business Plan & Budget.  It's about 200 pages - but it's clearly written for non-transit geeks. If you only have time to read the executive summary, you'll learn among other things, all about our culture of thrift, the METRO MBA program, and a five-year cash-flow plan.

If you can't comment in person this Thursday, you can email your comments to:  Budget.Book@ridemetro.org