Starting tomorrow through Friday, March 18, METRORail is extending its weekday, late-night service as follows:
Last northbound train departs Fannin South at 1:40 a.m.
Last southbound train departs UH-DT at 2:20 a.m.
So if you are planning on taking the train to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, you still have plenty of time to enjoy the festivities before heading home.
To all of you urban cowboys who are ready to kick up your boots in some rodeo fun, we have an easy and convenient way to get to the round-up of award-winning livestock and entertainers.
For only $4, you can buy a round-trip ticket that puts you on a METRO bus from our West Loop Park & Ride lot to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo at Reliant Center. Parking is free at the West Loop Park and Ride at 4675 S. Braeswood.
Young cowboy and girls - ages 5 and younger - ride free. Click here for our extended service times.
If you're planning to park downtown and ride the rail, pick up a wristband as your ticket to ride. Pay $1.25 for a one-way band or $2.50 for a round-trip band - and avoid the crowds around the ticket vending machine. We have METRO employees selling these wrist bands tonight, tomorrow and next Tuesday through March 20.
You can buy a wristband at the West Loop Park & Ride, Fannin South Park & Ride and Reliant Stadium from 4:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays and 1:45 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. weekends. This is the first time METRO has an on-site booth at Reliant.
"This is a milestone for METRO. Having a booth right at the rodeo will make it convenient for rodeo-goers to take the train. The Reliant rodeo booth promotes rail safety, as customers can now buy return rail wristbands off the rail platform and as they enter the grounds for events," said Danicel Whitaker, deputy director of revenue. "They can now flash their wristband as proof of ticket purchase, which speeds up rail boardings. It's one more way we hope to provide a great experience for our riding public."
Record crowds have ridden METRORail to past rodeos. In the 23 days of last year's rodeo, METRORail carried about 1 million boardings. Of those, roughly 40 percent were additional boardings due to the rodeo. The highest single-day ridership during last year's rodeo was March 18, 2010, when we recorded 60,088 boardings. The Black Eyed Peas performed.
The all-time, single-day high eclipsing even Super Bowl XXXVIII was when Beyonce performed on March 15, 2007. We had 64,448 boardings.
If all goes smoothly, 19 new rail cars are expected to be running up and down Main Street by December 2012, relieving the current rush-hour congestion on our trains.
The METRO board voted today to authorize George Greanias, president & CEO, to negotiate and execute an inter-agency agreement with the Utah Transit Authority to procure 19 light-rail cars by exercising Utah's contract option with Siemens.
This approach to getting new rail cars by piggybacking on Utah's contract represents an extraordinary opportunity for METRO, explained Greanias. He said we learned last fall that Utah's transit agency was not exercising its option for all its light-rail cars - cars that are totally interoperable with METRORail's system. By piggybacking on Utah's contract, we will be able to have the cars shipped to us 10 months earlier in October 2012 and in use two months later.
Chairman Gilbert Garcia said that we are currently at capacity with our trains during rush hour. We reached 75 million boardings to date, four years ahead of projections. We are the only transit agency in the nation with no spare trains.
"Houston needs and deserves a robust system. At the moment, we have nothing to pick up the slack when cars are out of service," said Garcia.
Purchasing these railcars would allow us to operate two-car trains all day long on the existing Main Street line.
Last September, METRO terminated a railcar procurement contract with Construcciones y Auxiliar de Ferrocarriles (CAF) , a Spanish rail equipment manufacturer, because METRO's contract conflicted with Buy America rules. Since then, METRO has worked closely with the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to make sure we are in line with procurement requirements.
Greanias said the FTA approved this piggyback plan in January, including the cost per car with modifications, which are not to exceed $4.36 million. The total purchase price is $83 million.
How would we pay for the 19 cars? Federal stimulus funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act will provide $64 million; the CAF negotiated refund, $14 million; local funds from the FY2012 budget, $5 million.
"You hear about the perfect storm. This is the perfect summer day of circumstances: the CAF settlement, the FTA approving this process, and Utah allowing us to move forward on purchasing cars, which will provide extra units for our rail system," said Garcia.
Greanias pointed out that METRO needs these 19 railcars with or without METRORail expansion. A request for proposal (RFP) went out on Feb. 13, asking for contractors to bid on trains for our new rail lines. With these 19 from Utah, we will only need 39 trains for the new lines.
Click here to view the railcar PowerPoint presented to the board.
"METRO needs more light-rail cars," said Greanias. "It improves service for our customers. It helps put our METRO system plans back on track and helps us sooner than what we had anticipated. I believe this is an absolutely necessary step to meet our goal of customer service."
Two events will affect METRO service this Saturday, Feb. 26: The ConocoPhillips Rodeo Run from 9 .m. to 12 noon and the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo parade from 10 a.m. to noon.
Both events start at the corner of Texas and Smith and travel east on Texas.
The rodeo parade continues south on Travis, west on Bell, north on Louisiana, west on Walker and ends at Bagby.
The ConocoPhillips Rodeo Run ends at Minute Maid Park, parking lot "C," on Texas Avenue between St. Emanuel and Bastrop.
If you're traveling downtown, please expect minor delays during these events. Buses will be rerouted in the downtown area. We'll have supervisors on the streets to help you. Click here for a list of routes that will be affected.
Houston Tomorrow and the Houston-Galveston Area Council (H-GAC) are co-hosting a brown bag lunch tomorrow, featuring Andy Hines, lecturer and executive-in-residence at the University of Houston's Graduate Program in Futures Studies.
Hines will present two potential scenarios of Houston's future in a lecture entitled, "The Future of Houston: Long Boom or Soft Path?"
Where: H-GAC building, 3555 Timmons Lane. Second floor.
When: Wednesday, 2/23/11
Time: 12 noon to 1:30 p.m.
Bring your own lunch and join the discussion. The event is free and open to the public.
What makes a livable city?
And is it possible to create one in a city like Houston that has no zoning regulations?
A consortium of government agencies, nonprofits, and corporations was formed to compete for a government grant that would allow for long-range planning. METRO is a part of this consortium, and the group was recently awarded a federal grant to study sustainability issues.
Here's Kimberly Slaughter, senior vice president of service design and development, to explain more on this latest edition of METRO Matters.
Click here to watch it.
You can also catch it at home. It airs on HCCTV on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. You can find HCCTV on Comcast Channel 19, TV Max Channel 97, Phonoscope Channel 77 and Cebridge Channel 20. The shows are also available 24/7 via Internet streaming on HCC's website.
Or view it on Houston Media Source (HMS TV). HMS TV is found on Comcast's Channel 17, TV Max 95, Sudden Link 99, Phonoscope 75 and AT&T U-verse 99. Here are show times for Comcast/Channel 17:
Sat. 2/19/11 5:45 p.m.
Mon. 2/21/11 12:30 p.m.
Thurs. 2/24/11 7:15 p.m.
Sat. 2/26/11 11:45 a.m.
Wed. 3/2/11 9:30 p.m.
Fri. 3/4/11 7:30 p.m.
Sun. 3/6/11 8:00 p.m.
Tues. 3/8/11 7:30 p.m.
Thurs. 3/10/11 10:00 p.m.
Sat. 3/12/11 11:45 a.m.
We will partially suspend METRORail service this weekend, due to street repairs in the Downtown District.
When: Saturday, Feb. 19 at 5:30 a.m. to Sunday, Feb. 20 at midnight
Where: No rail service between the Downtown Transit Center and UH Downtown stations
During this shutdown, we'll have "rail shuttle" buses running every 10 minutes. Regular rail service will run between the Fannin South and Downtown Transit Center stations.
Click here to view a map of the shuttle stops.
Normal service will resume Monday, Feb. 21.
A refund of $14 million from Spanish rail car manufacturer CAF was wired to METRO's bank yesterday, part of the negotiated agreement over two disputed contracts to build light-rail cars for our North and Southeast lines.
"I want to thank CAF for the professional way they handled this process," said Gilbert Garcia, METRO chairman. "These funds will help carry out the NEW METRO's goals of delivering first-class transit services for our deserving customers. This is $14 million we can put toward rail cars."
The two contracts were canceled under an agreement in which CAF relinquished claim to any additional payments for unpaid work and lost profits. This was in addition to the $14 million refund.
Last September, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) ruled that CAF and previous METRO management had violated federal procurement law and Buy American requirements for the purchase of rail cars. To move forward to secure the $900 million Full Funding Grant Agreement, the FTA said METRO must rebid the contract and follow its procurement process, including full compliance with Buy America requirements.
Buy America rules apply when rail cars are purchased with federal transit funds. The rules require that the cost of components produced in the U.S. must total more than 60 percent of the cost of all components of the rail cars and that the final assembly occur in the United States.
METRO plans this week to issue a request for proposal (RFP) from train manufacturers to bid on building our future rail cars. The agency's procurement process is currently under FTA review.
"This underscores the progress made by the NEW METRO," said George Greanias, president & CEO. "From the beginning, our focus has been, and will be, to create a stronger foundation for the agency based on clear goals, measurable objectives and transparency. We're raising the bar."
The photo posted shows construction on the East End Corridor, where our new trains will run.
President Obama's FY2012 proposed budget includes $200 million in New Starts funds for construction of our North and Southeast light-rail lines.
The budget includes a $50 million boost compared to the past two fiscal budgets - $150 million proposed in FY2011 and another $150 million in FY2010.
"We see this as a vote of confidence," said George Greanias, METRO president & CEO. "We think the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and others are seeing the progress we are making at METRO and that Houston's work merits priority treatment. "
Ongoing efforts by Houston-area Congressional leaders have been key in advancing these rail projects and helping us stay on track to receive $900 million in federal funds for the North and Southeast lines.
"We are pleased that other people are seeing the progress that the NEW METRO is making," said Gilbert Garcia, METRO chairman. "We are excited about this proposed budget. It goes a long way toward putting Houston's mobility on the right track."
This morning, our riders were greeted by smiling METRO employees, handing out Valentine's Day cards and thanking them for riding METRO.
About 100 employees volunteered in "Operation Thank You" to spread a little Valentine cheer from 5 a.m. to 9 a.m. at 33 locations, including transit centers and Park & Ride lots.
"We had perfect weather for a perfect day. The METRO employees who were out in the field were pretty phenomenal. The people's responses were very positive - lots of smiles, lots of ‘thank yous,'" said Karen Marshall, director of community outreach, who spearheaded the event.
President & CEO George Greanias started his work day at 4 a.m. at a bus facility as the operators were beginning their rounds. "It was good to see their enthusiasm for the project and the opportunity to say thanks," said Greanias.
Afterwards, he surprised early-morning customers at the Texas Medical Center Transit Center, and was later joined by Chairman Gilbert Garcia.
"I met a lot of people this morning who really appreciated us being there to say, ‘Happy Valentine's Day' and ‘thank you,'" added Greanias.
Click the link below to see a 59-second video of Greanias, Garcia and Frank Gonzales, the No. 1 Bus Operator in North America, greeting customers with cards.
Margaret Menger, senior advisor and director of board relations, was at the Southeast Transit Center with Judge Dwight Jefferson, a METRO board member.
"Riders were very pleased to be greeted and thanked and seemed to particularly appreciate the Valentine card," said Menger.
Menger asked for feedback about our service and comments ranged from a request to bring back the Day Pass to thanks for providing warming vans during our recent freezes.
Employees seem to have as much fun as patrons receiving the Valentine's Day cards. "We had a great time, and patrons seemed to genuinely appreciate our presence," said Carmen Gordon, an executive assistant who posed for pictures with riders.
Stephanie Anderson, a system optimization specialist, said she would definitely do it again. "One person asked if I had free candy. One man was from out of town and said he was pleasantly surprised with METRO. One man said he wished he had known we were giving out valentines because he would have brought us valentines," said Anderson. "Nine-five percent of the patrons took the card and were very appreciative. No one had a complaint."
The photo posted on the right shows Sam Ng, a METRO auditor, giving a card to a customer.
When Monique Ward, senior community outreach rep, handed out her cards at the Southeast Transit Center, she received something unexpected from a patron.
"I actually got a hug from a customer," said Ward. "He just said, ‘this is what you guys should be doing - giving out hugs.'"
If you didn't get a METRO Valentine's Day card, enjoy this virtual one - and know that we appreciate you.
Happy Valentine's Day, everyone.
To view video click link below or player.
This weekend, METRORail service will be interrupted to allow for Downtown District street repair.
From Saturday at 5:30 a.m. to Sunday midnight, there will be no rail service between the Downtown Transit Center and UH-Downtown stations.
We'll have dedicated "rail shuttle" buses every 10 minutes. Click here to see a map of shuttle stop locations.
Regular rail service will operate between Fannin South and DTC stations at normal weekend frequencies.
We'll have normal service up and running on Valentine's Day, Monday, Feb. 14.
A network of hike-and-bike paths will soon be connected to our Kingsland Park & Ride lot, thanks to a joint project between METRO and Harris County.
At our Jan. 31 board meeting, the board approved an agreement to designate General Mobility and local funds for transit-oriented improvements to Mason Creek. METRO is committing $250,000 to this joint project that will connect the Kingsland Park & Ride to Mason Creek.
"Of that money, $166,000 will go toward the construction of a hike-and-bike pedestrian bridge, connecting the hike-and-bike trail to the Kingsland Park & Ride; and $84,000 will be used towards upgrading the Kingsland Park & Ride, including improved bike rack facilities, lighting, security and access control to provide safe access to the Park & Ride lot," said Vince Obregon, associate vice president of capital projects.
Harris County, which receives General Mobility Funds from METRO, is using that money to help in this project. METRO sets aside 25 percent of its one-cent sales tax revenue for mobility projects in Harris County, the City of Houston and METRO's Multi-City members.
Former Board Member Jackie Freeman was instrumental in highlighting this project, helping us to forge the partnership between Harris County and METRO.
"The money the county is committing to the project comes from its share of METRO's General Mobility Funds," said Obregon. "So this becomes a good example of leveraging General Mobility Funds to a project that offers not only mobility improvements to the region, but also transit benefits."
The design of the hike-and-bike trails and 120-foot pedestrian bridge, that spans a Harris County Flood Control channel, is currently in progress. Officials expect the Park & Ride improvements and bridge to be completed by late summer/early fall.
Already in place for the unbuilt bridge: its name.
The bridge will be named in honor of Freeman. He is pictured here at the Jan. 31 board meeting with a plaque honoring him for his many years of public service. Chairman Gilbert Garcia is on the right.
In 2003, voters said in a referendum that they wanted rail along US 90A.
Now we are at the beginning stage of building rail, and that means we are preparing an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the US 90A/Southwest Rail corridor.
The corridor will extend about eight miles from the Fannin South Station at the southern end of the existing METRORail Red Line to the vicinity of the West Sam Houston Tollway (Beltway 8) in Missouri City, Texas.
Starting next week, we will be conducting four meetings in the community to hear your concerns, suggestions and ideas. These scoping meetings are designed to identify potential issues - from land acquisition to loss of trees to safety - and to identify alternative routes and technologies. Click here for a schedule of the meetings.
"The scoping process helps structure the document so we can compare one project to the other across the nation and ensure we are all using the exact same process," said Kimberly Slaughter, senior vice president of service design and development, at a press briefing this morning in the METRO board room. "This is the beginning process where we go out to all our stakeholders...to identify all reasonable alternatives."
In addition to variations on a route that follows the current Union Pacific track, two potential alternatives include a "no build" alternative in which we analyze what happens to mobility if nothing is done; and an enhanced bus service , in which we analyze what we could do, short of putting major construction money in the project.
Vehicle technologies will also be examined at these scoping meetings - from light-rail trains with overhead wires to diesel/electric self-powered vehicles.
Money to fund this project will come from the federal government, either in a "New Starts" funding program at the Federal Transit Administration, or a "Small Starts" program, which is a fast-track funding mode for projects less than $250 million. Slaughter said we are estimating it will cost $200 million to $250 million to build - but cautioned that was a working figure we were using during this conceptual stage.
There would be no new taxes or fare increases to pay for this, said Slaughter, in response to a reporter's question. If METRO were to get a federal grant that funds 50 percent, METRO would pay for the remaining 50 percent from local funds, using our current sales tax revenue. Slaughter said METRO carries all of our programmed, long-range projects through FY 2030 in our financial plans.
Click here to read a PowerPoint presentation of today's press briefing. Click here to watch an archived video of Kimberly Slaughter conducting the briefing.
The picture of the three trains posted here illustrate the three types of technology that could be used on the 90A/Southwest Rail corridor.
The severe weather and icy conditions have resulted in service changes at METRO.
METRORail has modified its service with double cars, running every 10 minutes instead of six minutes.
HOV lanes are closed due to severe icing conditions. Park & Ride service has been canceled due to extreme icing conditions on local freeways and overpasses. We expect to resume Park & Ride service on Monday.
We will continue to provide all scheduled weekday local bus service. But please expect delays, due to detours required to avoid unsafe road conditions.
We'll continue to offer warming vehicles at 20 transit centers, as weather conditions dictate.
The photo posted here was taken yesterday and shows Geroge Greanias, our president & CEO, chatting with customers in a warming vehicle. Stay warm - and stay safe, everyone!
With forecasts of sleet and even snow by this afternoon, we know that many of you will be allowed to leave work early.
METRO is accommodating those commuters by starting all outbound Park & Ride service today at 1 p.m.
The Park & Ride buses will be operating every 30 minutes until the start of the regular P&R schedule. We'll have staff on hand to help you out.
We're offering early service to ensure you arrive home safely, but please be patient as you may experience delays and overcrowding on our system, due to large crowds leaving the downtown district at the same time.
We'll continue our regularly scheduled service for the remainder of the day. Weather and road conditions will be monitored and services adjusted as needed.
We'll also continue offering our 20 "warming vans" at transit centers until Friday afternoon, or as weather conditions dictate.
Yesterday, more than 2,100 people boarded our "warming vans" between 3:30 p.m. through 10 a.m. today. "People used the vans all night at the various locations. Whether it was just one or two customers at a location during an hour, that was okay because we were there, and we helped those people in need," said Art Jackson, senior director of customer care and customized services. "We're glad we can make travel across the city during this arctic blast just a little more bearable."
One customer called in, saying that two METRO staffers - a driver and a supervisor - walked through the Hillcroft Transit Center, inviting customers to wait in the "warming vans."
The report said, "Customer wants to commend the woman METRO employee because she was very friendly."
Freezing temperatures greeted Houstonians this morning, along with sporadic rolling power outages.
We want to make sure our patrons stay warm and comfortable, so starting at 3:30 p.m. today, we've been providing warming vans at transit centers. Look for "Operation Warm" signs on our METROLIft vehicles, and climb aboard to wait for your bus. Click here for a list of our "warming vans."
We're doing this to provide relief during the frigid temperatures and the planned, controlled, rolling power outages that CenterPoint says it had been ordered to do earlier today by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), as part of a statewide emergency.
CenterPoint said this afternoon on its website that utilities are now running normally, and the planned outages have ended. But if high demand puts the Texas electric grid at risk, more planned outages could occur.
These power outages may adversely affect METRO service. Traffic light outages - flashing or no signal at intersections - may result in system-wide sporadic delays.
METRORail is on priority power with CenterPoint, but there is a chance power outages may occur along the rail, if CenterPoint does more planned rolling outages. We don't expect service to be interrupted, but there may be some delays.
Our METROLIft warming vans will be a last-resort refuge overnight. We'll decide later whether to continue this service, based on weather conditions. We'll have MPD emergency patrols on the streets after dark, to ensure the safety of our patrons and drivers.
Most of us have had manners drilled into us since we first learned how to talk.Say "please," say "thank you," our parents instructed. By the time we're adults, we are expected to know how to behave in public.
But some of our riders are writing to us, urging a courtesy campaign.
Here are some of their pet peeves:
"Take the seat next to the window, and don't block or cover the open-aisle seats. Subdue/limit cell phone use, as no one else wants to listen," writes one commuter.
"Something needs to be done about people who take up two seats and talk loud on cell phones," writes another rider.
Another goes a step further: "I implore upon you and your superiors to consider a 'NO CELL PHONE' rule, on at least the Park & Ride buses. It's very distracting to the driver and foremost distracting, if not totally annoying, to those of us that turn our cells to silent while on the bus. I don't have a problem with talking for a minute or so to get matters handled, but there are so many who talk from the second they get on the bus until they arrive at their destination."
Another rider wants cell phones to be banned only when a Park & Ride bus is on the HOV lane. "I am not interested in hearing other's business for 45 minutes. You all would be a better service if this nuisance was snuffed out," writes this patron.
Our neighbor to the north, the Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART), posts a code of conduct, along with a list of courtesy Rules of Respect, on its website.
"Respect your ride by being courteous to others," says the DART website, and then has a checklist of reminders - some written tongue-in-cheek - on how to be courteous. They include:
* Keep the volume low on music, conversation and cell phones. Respect the people around you and remember you're not the only one riding.
* Make room for other riders. Keep your personal items in your area, and remember that one person equals one seat.
* Be cool on DART vehicles. Pushing, shoving or bullying isn't.
If you're a regular commuter, let us know: Do you encounter rude riders most of the time, or courteous ones? How do you handle boorish behavior? Do you think we should ban talking on cell phones on our Park & Ride buses, or limit their use to three minutes?
The Chevron Houston Marathon is only two days away, and hundreds of runners are descending upon the George R. Brown convention center to pick up their race packets.
Among the many vendors there, you'll see METRO. We'll have a booth in Hall E on Saturday, 11a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Come by and visit our staff. We'll tell you about the expanded services of Airport Direct - along with its great new price of $4.50 one way. Now Airport Direct is stopping at downtown hotels, including the Hilton across the street from the convention center.
We're hoping out-of-town runners and their families will discover how quick and convenient it is to take Airport Direct is.
Now, if you ever need an accident report, you can order one online.
You'll need the date of the accident and the last name of one of the drivers. The report will immediately be displayed, and then you can print it.
The cost is $6 - the same fee you'd be charged if you received it by mail or in person.
The old-fashioned way to get an accident report is still available. You can mail a request or visit the MPD records window at 810 N. San Jacinto, Houston.
Please allow at least five business days after the accident before you try to find the report online. Some reports may require even more time to process.
Any questions? Call the MPD records section at 713/615-6480.
Colorful flags are snapping in the breeze downtown, and that means it's time for the annual Chevron Houston Marathon and accompanying runs.
That also means bus detours.
Beginning today at 7 p.m., Avenida de las Americas between Walker and Lamar will be closed until the end of the day Sunday, Jan. 30.
Click here to see all the detours for the Chevron Houston Marathon, Half Marathon Championships and Kids Marathon.
Good luck to all the runners.