“We’re not trying to convince people to get out of their cars. We’re trying to make transit an attractive option.” – Christof Spieler, Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County Board Member
If you’re a native Houstonian, there are probably a few more than 5 things that you don’t know about the Houston METRO system. This is likely because you’ve never ridden it before. Trust me. I know, I was there with you and learned a few things on my first few weeks riding the bus to work (see: 10 Things to Know about Riding the Metro Bus)…
Fast forward a few months later and I’m a daily bus rider and find myself at a blogger luncheon with the CTO, COO, and numerous other board members of the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County to learn about the many changes that they’ve made in the past few months to improve the Houston METRO system. Here were some of the top things I learned and thought it would be great to share:
- The Metro system planners started from scratch in 2015. In case you didn’t know, METRO had a HUGE overhaul of the transit system in August 2015. Basically, the bus system was designed in the 1970s, and really hadn’t been updated since. System planners figured after nearly 40 years of population and commerce shifts in the city, it might be time to relook at how the system was organized. The new bus network focused on increasing frequency (especially on weekends, evenings, and midday), creating a grid with logical transfers, and nifty things like next bus texting.
- Other cities envy Houston. The transit system revamp was radical, but thanks to support from Houston officials like Mayor Annise Parker, the changes were made possible. Places like NYC envy Houston because they also struggle with confusing legacy routes–except theirs are from 100+ years ago!
- One small change has a huge impact downstream. One seemingly small change–like temporarily shifting a bus stop a block down because of construction has incredible impact on the system. A few construction cones blocking a bus stop can impact how crowded a bus can get, the spacing between buses, prevent left turns, access for riders with disabilities and so on. (Imagine how the chaos on Shepherd has affected routes…!)
- The big guys in the C-suite have the riders best interests at heart. The meeting I attended was very upbeat, and you could tell these guys were very proud of their work and are genuinely trying to make the system logical and sustainable. Christof Spieler, a member of the board, emphasized that they’re not trying to convince people to stop using their cars (lezbehonest, this IS Houston), but transit should be an attractive option. METRO has worked on things like an interactive service map and service/detour alerts to make your ride simple and manageable.
- The updates to the bus network launches January 24. City planners have been listening and they’ve been analyzing all the data and comments from the August network change. This weekend, they will be modifying the routes and schedules a bit to improve on-time bus arrival and minimize overcrowding. Check out the changes here and join the conversation with #nbnplus.
BONUS: Check out the @METROHouston Twitter. Some how I’ve become the face of the new bus network. LOL.
As someone who’s ridden the bus for school and work in transit-advanced cities like San Francisco and Santiago, Chile, I can confidently say that METRO Houston has definitely stepped up its game and is becoming something to reckon with.
Want to hear more about what went down in the METRO blogger luncheon? Check out fellow Houston blogger Christopher Andrew’s post.
Do you ride the bus? What do you think of all the system changes?