Tag Archives: Houston Bus System

METRO Reveals System Re-imagining Plan

At over 2.2 million residents and over 600 square miles in land area, Houston has the unique distinction of not only being one of the largest cities in the US by population, but also one of the most spread-out cities.  This reality can be quite the challenge when trying to plan for the for the transit needs of so many people in such a large space. Also, as more citizens discover the benefits of public transit options, demand for quality service increases.

Which is why public transit advocates have been awaiting  some big news, as Houston METRO considers a total transformation of its existing bus network.  Last week, that news was revealed as the  transit re-imagining plan.  And as promised, it is a total transformation.

From the slideshow presentation, Here are the basic goals:

System Re-imagining delivers a transit network that…

  • Has more frequent routes to more places

  • Is much easier to understand and use

  • Connects more people to more jobs

  • Provides much better weekend service

  • Better serves METRO’s current riders

  • Provides faster, more reliable trips

  • Is built to support future growth.

Job centers are a big stress of this plan, with improved service to all of Houston’s major employment hubs.  At present, METRO has a lot of duplicating routes… multiple buses that travel on the same thoroughfare for an extended amount of time.  Under the new plan, those duplicated routes are virtually wiped away, in favor a simpler system.  This also would allow those simplified routes to run more frequently, which decreases wait times at stops.  What METRO calls its Frequent Network… buses that run every 15 to 20 minutes, would be dramatically expanded.

Here’s a look at METRO’s current Frequent Network…

Existing METRO


And here is what the proposed re-imagining would move to…


Clearly, the plan covers a wider area of the city, and stresses more reliable connections.  Of course this is at the expense of other routes, many of which are in areas that depend on METRO’s services the most.  The solution proposed for those cuts is called a Flex Zone… an area that operates essentially as a ride-share service instead of having fixed route coverage.  If one is in the Flex Zone, they would have to call ahead and schedule a ride (this is already done under the current MetroLift service) which would then take them to the nearest fixed route service.  Most of the Flex Zones are located in Northeast Houston.

Overall, this is a great first draft, and will represent a significant improvement over the current public transit network.  If METRO can deliver 10 to 15 minute service in the Frequent Network as promised, it will undoubtedly attract more riders to the system.

But the greatest concern here are the Flex Zones… especially that they are all in one concentrated area.  A call-in service may work for home-bound citizens, but it’s not a practical solution for frequent travelers that have jobs, children to support and other basic needs.  After spending billions of dollars to build the North, East and Southeast rail lines, it appears that these transit stops are being underutilized in the current iteration of re-imagining.  For example, the current route 52 Hirsch/ Scott is consistently one of the highest ridership routes in METRO’s system, with a northern terminus at Mesa Transit Center.  But under re-imagining, Mesa TC will be left with significantly reduced transit coverage, serviced by just three routes, and no frequent network coverage.  Additional connections to either Kashmere TC’s frequent route, or to Northline Station could be a low-cost solution that would decrease the need for such large Flex Zones in the area.

There are definitely some kinks to work out with this, but on the whole this is good plan for Houston’s transit future.  The public comment period for System Re-imagining is going on now, so this is the time to take a look at the new system, and leave METRO your feedback.   This is a bold opportunity to guide the future of Houston transit, so let’s be a part of it.

Reimagining METRO






Testing Houston METRO’s T.R.I.P. App

As noted in a previous post, Houston transit ridership has been experiencing some significant growth over the past year. More residents of the Bayou City have discovered the Mass Transit system, and are using bus services throughout the city. As transit usage grows, so too does the expectation of safe, predictable and reliable service.

The Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County (abbreviated at METRO) has been working to address these higher expectations. Just last April, the agency unveiled the METRO T.R.I.P. app… a smart phone app that locates nearby transit routes, matches GPS technology in the smart phone and links it to GPS technology on the busses, and thus provides real- time arrival information for the next bus or train. As a result, this app potentially gives users more flexibility over their schedule, as they will know when to catch busses down to the minute. When working properly, the T.R.I.P. app represents a significant, potentially transformational upgrade in Houston’s transit operation.

But any frequent user of the T.R.I.P. app can attest that it sometimes doesn’t work. I’ve used the app on several occasions where it says a bus is due, and the bus doesn’t show up for another 10 or even 20 minutes. This leads many to wonder if METRO’s busses and trains are all outfitted with the proper GPS technology. I decided to test the app over the course of a full week, using the METRO rail, and bus routes 42, 68, 81 and 82.

First up were the 42 and 68 routes. Out of 20 total tests, the T.R.I.P. app successfully predicted bus arrivals 16 times, down to the minute. Both busses that seemed to be lacking the GPS technology were on the 42 route… all 68 busses were located. The 81 and 82 route was even more successful. Out of 20 total tests on that route, the T.R.I.P. worked properly 90 percent of the time, missing only 2 out of 20 busses. METRO rail however was a different matter. Out of 20 tests, the T.R.I.P. had 0 successful predictions for train times. No real-time information was even available. With the busses, it’s also important to note that these 4 routes are not necessarily a good indicator of service-wide accuracy, but meant to serve as a sample. 

Given this result I decided to ask METRO to provide some answers. Can Houstonians reliably use the T.R.I.P. app?? Here’s the response…

So at this point, real-time arrival information isn’t available for all busses, and isn’t really helpful for train times. But nonetheless, it’s an important first step toward improving mass transit in Houston and providing commuters with alternative options to their cars. Hopefully they will work to get busses to 100 percent soon. If you are a frequent bus rider, try out the T.R.I.P. app and see how well it works for you.

Transit Ridership: Is Houston Discovering the Bus?

When most Houstonians leave the house to traverse the city, the overwhelming mode of transportation is by car. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that most people in the Houston metropolitan area have never even taken public transit. If they have, it was probably in a limited capacity. Houston is the definition of a “car city”.

But even if progress is slow, it’s still happening just the same. The latest report from the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) reveals that some Houstonians are at least beginning to discover that our public transit system is usable for more than the rodeo. From 2012 to 2013, Houston’s overall public transit ridership increased by 2.76%. Though not a huge number, it is the largest transit ridership growth of any major city in Texas. Dallas, San Antonio, El Paso and even ultra progressive Austin all saw declines in transit ridership.

The numbers are even more surprising when examined by mode of transit. It’s clear that Houston’s bus system is leading the way in this growth. Bus ridership alone grew by a healthy 3.44% between 2012 and 2013, putting Houston 2nd in the nation for highest increase in bus system usage. Only Washington DC’s bus ridership increased faster than the Bayou City at 3.45%.

Many bus riders are starting to see a change in Houston METRO services, including more new busses on the road, more predictable travel planning thanks to new innovations like METRO’s T.R.I.P. app, and increased numbers in the seats. As was discussed recently on Houston Matters, there are some surprising intrinsic benefits to public transit use.

For all of the focus that Houston has put on rail transit, including the recent opening of the North Line, ridership on Metro Rail was actually down by 0.72%. Granted, the North Line occurred only 10 days before the close of 2013, so we’ll have to wait for next year’s report to see any true effect on those numbers. But the heart and soul of Houston mass transit system is certainly busses, and it’s good to see growth in that area.

Off the Kuff has a broader take on this interesting report.