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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.

http://www.ridemetro.org/AboutUs/MTTV/MetroMatters.aspx

 

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.  

Walkscore.com, 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.

 

 
Transit Agencies Nationwide Increasing Fares
   

Dollar billsFare increases like METRO's announced 25 percent increase are happening at transit agencies all over the nation.

The economic pressures are the same: Costs to operate transit systems have outpaced the rate of fare increases. Expenses, such as fuel, electricity and health insurance, have climbed at agencies everywhere.

For example, at Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority, (WMTA) its Web site reports fuel costs have risen 360 percent; electricity, 30 percent and health insurance at least 86 percent - all since 1995.

Here at METRO, our fuel costs will double next year (FY 09). Our fare box revenues for FY 09 are projected to be about $68 million. That would cover   about 20 percent of our operating expenses. The rest is covered mostly by our 1 percent sales tax and a small portion by federal grants.

In the 14 years since we last raised fares, inflation has increased 48 percent, while our service has grown 18 percent.

Let's take a look at what some other major agencies are doing, based on an analysis by WMTA.

Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority

 

  • Cash fares up 20 percent in 2009.
  • Day pass up 66 percent in 2007, and 100 percent by 2009.
  • Monthly pass up 19 percent in 2007, 44 percent by 2009.

Chicago Transit Authority

 

  • Base fares up 14 percent for both rail and bus in 2006.
  • Planning to raise fares again from 14 to 50 percent while cutting 39 bus routes.

Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority

 

  • From 2000 to 2007, base bus fares up 66 to 100 percent and base subway fares up 70 to 100 percent.

Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority

 

  • Across-the-board fare increase of 11 percent this year.
  • Tokens and transfers up by 15 cents.

New York City Transit

 

  • Facing $1.7 billion budget deficit, prompting discussion on increased subsidies and fares.

Read more here.

So while we understand that a fare increase coming on the heels of a devastating and costly hurricane is creating hardship for some of our riders, please know that this transit agency is not alone in raising fares. Q Card

We are still one of the best bargains around. Even with our fare increase, METRO still has one of the lowest fares in the nation. Base fares for Dallas and Ft. Worth are $1.50; Los Angeles, $1.25; Baltimore, $1.60, and in Atlanta, St. Louis and Denver, $1.75.

"We have kept our annual operating costs essentially flat over the last five years," said METRO President & CEO Frank J. Wilson, in a statement. "There is no other successful business I know of that is expanding service and facing extreme cost increases, yet spends no more money doing so."

One more thing to keep in mind: No transit agency makes money off its fares - or even breaks even. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

METRO Board Passes Fare Increase
 

 

Q CardMETRO's Board of Directors unanimously passed a fare increase today that would raise the base fare to $1.25 from $1 - a fare that has held steady for the past 14 years.

The change will go into effect on Nov. 2.

David Wolff, chairman of the board, called the fare increase at today's meeting a long, overdue necessity, triggered by escalating fuel costs.

He pointed out that diesel fuel cost 55 cents a gallon in 1994 and today, ranges from $3 to $4 a gallon. Our fuel prices have grown 82 percent in the past year.

"The fact that the fare has not been adjusted for 14 years is also very relevant," he said. "It is our responsibility to operate this authority in a fiscally conservative and fiscally prudent" manner.

"We have a responsibility to everybody who uses our service to make sure that our fares are appropriate," continued Wolff.  

In the past 14 years, inflation has climbed 48 percent while we have expanded our service 18 percent.

As reported earlier on this blog, Park & Ride fares will increase 25 to 33 percent, depending on the zone. Fares will rise 4 to 5 percent in FY 2010 and FY 2011, depending on service. After three years, the base fare will be $1.35 - still lower than what Dallas and other comparable transit systems are today.

The fare change is expected to bring in about $14 million in revenue for fiscal year 2009 - slightly more than half of the $23 million in additional fuel costs METRO expects this coming year.

Yesterday, CEO & President Frank J. Wilson and Wolff spoke to the Houston Chronicle editorial board about this fare change. Read the article here.

 

 

METRO to Request Fare Increase
 

 

Person tapping Q Card on readerFor the past 14 years, METRO's current base fare of $1 has remained unchanged. In those 14 years, inflation has risen 48 percent and service has grown 18 percent.

In fact, METRO is one of the least expensive transit systems in the country to ride. You can get around Houston on METRO for less than it costs to ride the Dallas system.

On Thursday, METRO staff will ask its board of directors to approve a fare increase that will increase its base fare 25 percent to $1.25.

The fare increases would take effect on Nov. 2.

To meet rising prices, while expanding service to meet the region's growing transit demands, METRO needs to increase local fares for fiscal year 2009, which began Oct. 1, 2008.

Local and METRORail fares would increase from $1 to $1.25.

Park & Ride fares would increase 25 percent to 33 percent, for an average of 28 percent, as follows:

 

Zone 1: From $1.50 to $2.00

Zone 2: From $2.50 to $3.25

Zone 3: From $3.00 to $3.75

Zone 4: From $3.50 to $4.50

METRO's Board of Directors will also vote on approving a fare increase of 4 to 5 percent in fiscal year 2010 and fiscal year 2011, depending on service. After three years, the base fare would be $1.35. That is still lower than Dallas and other comparable transit systems.

Dollar sign reflected in eyeglasses

In the past year, fuel prices have climbed 82 percent from the year before. For FY2009, METRO's diesel budget is increasing $23 million, or 82 percent, from FY08.

The fare changes will generate about $14 million in revenue for FY 2009, slightly more than half of the additional $23 million in fuel costs METRO is facing in the coming year.

We will be improving service to the region, including more Park & Ride lots and launching Signature Service. We will also be adding 100 hybrid buses to the fleet.

 

Bus Service Debuts in Arlington, Texas
 

Arlington logoThe biggest city in the nation to not have public transportation just got bus service last month.

Arlington, Texas  - with a population of about 375,000 -  is now getting nonstop, commuter bus service from The Fort Worth Transportation Authority (The T).  The service began on Sept. 2 and runs morning and evening between two Arlington park-and-ride lots and the downtown Fort Worth Intermodal Transportation Center.

Commuters in this North Texas city pay $2.50 one way or $80 for a monthly pass. Transfers and children under five ride for free. This pilot program is scheduled to run one year.

Arlington, located midway between Fort Worth and Dallas, has a population of about 375,000. Three times, voters rejected public transit initiatives. An agreement between the T and the city of Arlington pays for the cost of this new bus service with funds from the Sue Pope Fund-North Texas Pollution Reduction Program and the Downwinders at Risk paying for Arlington's portion. The Sue Pope Fund is a North Texas organization that gives grants to reduce ozone emissions in North Texas.

"This partnership between the T and the city of Arlington should help reduce peak Fort Worth traffic congestion, as well as demonstrate to Arlington residents the benefits of mass transit," *** Ruddell, president of the T, told Passenger Transport magazine, a publication of American Public Transportation Association.

A kick-off event on Aug. 29 highlighted the T's new compressed natural gas-powered commuter buses from North American Bus Industries.