Tag Archives: Houston METRO

August 16th: Get Ready For Houston’s New Bus Network

Anyone with a credible amount of theater experience can tell you… whether it’s costumes, staging, learning lines, orchestra cues, piano tuning or scene direction, the work leading up to a show seems like it will never get completely done.  That is, until the seats start filling on opening night.  Eventually, you have to lift the curtain, get on stage and show ’em what you’ve got.

For the city of Houston however, August 16th isn’t just “another show”.  The Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County (METRO) is about to completely transfigure the city’s local bus system, and they’re not going back.  The stage is set, and early on that Sunday morning, over 10,000 “curtains” will be lifted across the METRO service area.


With so much to do, it’s no surprise that METRO is still getting ready.  According to officials, the vast majority of stops have now been replaced and bagged, with the main exception being Downtown Houston.  Anticipating the need for additional staff, the agency has held several job fairs.  And of course, there are still routing adjustments being made.  Here’s more on those last-minute changes from Dug Begley of the Houston Chronicle

Officials spent more than a year discussing and refining the plan, but as opening day for the new system nears, they are still reshaping some of the routes to correct problems riders have identified.

Among those worried about the new network are senior citizens who live east of Texas 288 near Loop 610, who face a long walk to a bus stop, and patients of the Harris Health System’s Thomas Street Health Center, which serves a large number of HIV-positive Houston residents. The clinic, off Main Street near Interstate 45 on Houston’s near north side, essentially loses front-door access under the new system.

For months, Metro officials have said the new bus system will require some to adjust their riding habits, but it will benefit most riders. The new system also is expected to lure more people to the bus system, which has seen ridership remain below 300,000 passengers per weekday for the past six years, after a decade of higher daily averages.

Most can be assured that the issues will continue, but for good or ill the prep work for these is basically done.  If you’re a bus rider, or interested in giving the new network a try,

METRO has a bevy of resources to help you plan new routes on the website.  Chief among them is the new dual trip planner… a side-by-side comparison for old and new bus routes. There are YouTube videos which walk users through alternatives for several routes Or if you just want to focus on new routes, use the updated and much improved interactive service map.  For the tech savvy, ultra-hip patrons the transit agency hopes to attract, there is much to love about the new bus network.

As part of the New Bus Network, Houston METRO will institute drastic changes to local bus service.  Some bus routes, even popular ones like the 81 Westheimer Sharpstown, will be eliminated and replaced.  

But an important question remains… has METRO done all it can to prepare and educate its current ridership about the new system?  As we know, there are many patrons that do not have access to all of these high-tech tools.

To address those patrons and any others riding the system, METRO has just announced that the new print version System Maps will be released to the public next week.  Even in 2015, the system map and route maps truly are the cornerstone information pieces for current riders, and will likely prove critical to a successful transition of the network.

If you haven’t heard yet, METRO is also doing one more thing to help riders learn the new system.  For the week of August 16th through August 22nd, all METRO local bus service will be free for all riders.  It’s an extraordinary step, but again one that is needed. This time frame also happens to be the week before most Houston-area public schools start classes for the fall semester.  Families need at least one week to figure out the particulars of their new transit routes, perhaps even more time.

In just over a week, Houston’s regional transit system will be forever affected by the New Bus Network.  The stage is set, and the nation is watching.  Let’s all hope for a good show.


METRO Bus Driver Risks Life, Saves Man From Fire

What began as an ordinary morning in Houston turned into an ultimate test of inner strength and character for METRO Bus driver Paul Nelson– one that he passed with flying colors.  As KTRK news ABC 13 reports, Mr. Nelson proved himself an incredible hero today…

Houston METRO Opens New Rail Lines, New Possibilities

It’s been a long time coming, but Houston METRO finally reached the big day.  Dug Begley of the Houston Chronicle has the scoop…

After years of construction and months of testing, riders began boarding Green Line trains headed from downtown east along Harrisburg and Purple Line trains toward the University of Houston and Palm Center Transit Center on Saturday morning.

The dual openings mark the end of a sometimes controversial six years for Metropolitan Transit Authority, which first approached voters and won approval for the lines in 2003, with the hopes of opening them in 2012. Numerous delays and setbacks pushed opening day farther away from those original plans, as anticipation grew in the neighborhoods.

With the lines open and shuttling thousands of people around, the communities turned out for various celebrations, where Metro and residents celebrated the end of construction and the beginning of what is predicted to be a major change in how people get around, especially those more dependent on transit for daily trips.

With new lines in service, Houston’s light rail transit system increases from 12.5 miles to 23 miles. Here’s the new rail system map, from the METRO website…

new system map


Its tough to assume how the community will ultimately adopt the new transit, but from yesterday’s opening, METRO’s Southeast and East End Lines seem off to a very good start.  I was able to ride the Purple Line on its inaugural, and took some pictures of the experience..


A new Metro railcar as it passes by the construction site for Houston’s Marriott Marquis, a 1000 room hotel slated to open next year.  


A packed group of patrons wait at the Central Station platform, as a train approaches.


Houston METRO celebrated with a concert at the BBVA Compass soccer stadium.  With the opening of the Purple and Green Lines, every major sporting facility in Houston is connected by light rail to the City Center, and the Texas Medical Center.  


A Purple Line train rides along it’s new route on the University of Houston campus.  The new lines now connect Houston’s four largest 4-year educational institutions– UH, Texas Southern University, Rice University and the University of Houston Downtown– as well as various campuses of Houston Community College.  Students have access to new career and internship opportunities.  



Places most likely to see immediate benefit are the 50,000 students that attend the University of Houston and Texas Southern University.  For those that already commute via METRO, the new lines give them a direct route to downtown, and decrease travel time for their overall trip.  Once classes are back in session, it will be interesting to see how students utilize these lines.



Culberson, Garcia Put METRO Federal Funds, Commuter Rail On Fast Track

So last Friday, I wrote the following regarding then-unknown plans surrounding the new open-door policy between U.S. Congressman John Culberson, and the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County, AKA METRO…

“But let’s be clear on what the Congressman did not promise.  If a new vote occurs, rail supporters can be sure that Culberson and his group will do everything in their power to defeat the measure.  The door to funding may have been cracked open, but it is far from a guarantee.”

With the details of that plan now released, I am happily prepared to eat those words.  As Katherine Driessen of the Houston Chronicle reports, the new agreement between Culberson and METRO Board Chairman Gilbert Garcia is more significant than most anticipated…

Metropolitan Transit Authority leaders and U.S. Rep. John Culberson on Monday announced details of a new agreement to help the agency move forward with transit projects.

The Houston Republican, who has long been at odds with Metro over its plans for a rail line on Richmond, has agreed to help Metro obtain funds for a proposed commuter rail line on U.S. 90A and other projects. Rail on Richmond west of Shepherd Drive or on Post Oak Boulevard north of
Richmond would be contingent on voter approval.

Culberson lauded the agreement as a “historic breakthrough” in addressing Houston area traffic congestion and rebuilding his fractured relationship with Metro.

“Above all, what today symbolizes is a new era of cooperation between Metro, under Gilbert Garcia’s leadership, and the Houston area congressional delegation,” Culberson said. “We will all be working arm in arm to make sure that metro and the elected officials in the region solve our transportation problems by looking to every kind of transit and transportation available, beginning with commuter rail out 90A.”

It’s something that should probably be avoided most of the time, but today, Hyperbole is warranted.  The new understanding between METRO and Houston’s Congressional delegation not only fosters new hope for a University Line, but puts Commuter Rail along the US90A corridor on the fast track.  The planned route would connect Houston’s inner loop (most likely via the south end of the existing Red Line) to Missouri City.

But wait… there’s more!!  Like back-door Federal funding for the East End Rail Line (originally built entirely on local funds) can now be used as “transfer credit” towards the Commuter Rail? Wha huh???  Here’s an excerpt from the full letter of agreement between Garcia and Culberson…

Congressman Culberson will begin work right away to change federal law so
that METRO can count $587 Million in local funds spent on the East End Rail Line as the
local matching credit for a commuter rail line along 90A, and secondarily for any non-rail
capital project, or any other project included in the 2003 Referendum. Rail on Richmond
Avenue west of Shepherd Drive or Post Oak Boulevard would only be eligible to utilize these credits once approved in a subsequent referendum.

Also included is another $100 million payday for METRO to improve its bus fleet and transit infrastructure (again some of which is already being done as a result of System Reimagining), and a recoup of funds diverted to the Southeast and North lines that can be put back into general maintenance and improvement projects.

Of course some of this has yet to materialize, but given how Congressman Culberson was the most vocal opponent of previous initiatives, there’s little reason to think that all of these plans can’t be realized.

All told, today is a great day for transit in Southeast Texas.  And Houstonians have Chairman Gilbert Garcia to thank for it.

Could Culberson’s newly-discovered love for transit spread to other Republican Lawmakers, and result in significant new transportation investments nation-wide?  Only time will tell.  But if today is any indication, Obama’s “lame duck” period may not be as lame as we once thought.

US90A Commuter Rail

Though not the finalized route plan, here is one proposed route for the US90A Commuter Rail project.  


Culberson Opens The Door To University Line

It’s probably no secret that recent years have brought some huge changes at METRO… a complete scrubbing of former leadership, the formation and soon-to-be implementation of an entirely new local bus system, and the successful construction of 3 new light rail lines.  For all these reasons, the METRO of today has very little in common with the agency from 6 years ago.

Even still, a few issues have haunted new leaders from the past, like the ongoing stalemate which has prevented Houston’s transit authority from receiving federal funding for two key rail projects… the beleaguered University Line down Richmond and the Uptown Line, currently planned as Bus Rapid Transit.

But as Dug Begley of the Houston Chronicle reports, agency leaders may have found a way to bring the stubborn Congressman on board with rail, or at least not continue to stand in its way…

Metro and U.S. Rep. John Culberson have called a truce in their war over a planned light rail line on Richmond Avenue, suggesting an end to an impasse that has stymied local transit development.



The announcement follows months of discussions and comes days before Metro is set to open two new rail lines serving east and southeast Houston. The Green and Purple lines open May 23, the next step in development of a light rail system that has divided Metro and many critics, notably Culberson, since voters approved it in 2003.

From his seat on the House Appropriations Committee, Culberson has stopped Metro from receiving any Federal Transit Administration funds related to rail on Richmond or a similar rail plan along Post Oak, later converted to a fixed-route bus system.

Culberson represents voters west of Shepherd along Richmond, many of whom vigorously oppose the rail line.

Recently, Culberson announced he would seek to continue cutting off the Richmond money in the next federal funding bill, but he softened his stance by saying Metro could seek money for the lines if they receive local voter support in a new election.

See here for text of the actual amendment.

Culberson has promised to allow the funding to go through if and only if  voters approve the rail construction through a new ballot referendum.

But let’s be clear on what the Congressman did not promise.  If a new vote occurs, rail supporters can be sure that Culberson and his group will do everything in their power to defeat the measure.  The door to funding may have been cracked open, but it is far from a guarantee.

However given the previous situation, any amount of progress is worth recognition.  This is a huge victory for METRO, particularly Board Chairman Gilbert Garcia.  At a time when the University Line seemed all but forgotten, this move sheds light on a lot of hard work being done behind the scenes.

We’ll learn more next week in a press conference.








Houston METRO Approves FINAL Reimagining Map

This week,  METRO’s long-awaited public transit overhaul now leaves the imagination, and becomes reality.

On Wednesday, the METRO Board voted unanimously to approve the System Reimagining plan, a comprehensive re-design of all of the region’s local bus routes, and released the organization’s soon-to-be new system map. After months of planning, community feedback and a bevy of changes, Board members felt the new map was a best case scenario to serve the Houston region’s growing public transit needs.

The new map carries noticeable differences from METRO’s original draft plan. Chief among them is the complete absence of Flex Zones… removed after substantial push-back from residents in Northeast Houston.  At the same time, plans to dramatically improve and increase services in under-served areas like densely-populated Gulfton will move ahead.

As one Board member pointed out, a vote on Reimagining is a big step forward, but more remain.

“Adopting this map does not end the continuous process of adjusting routes” said Metro Board member Christof Spieler.   “As the region changes, we will keep needing to adjust.  [The new plan] is a much easier system to expand than the system we have right now.  When you start with a simple grid, it’s a whole lot easier to extend.”

Besides basic route adjustments, much work remains to be done to get the project off of the ground.  METRO is now faced with the daunting task of launching a massive education campaign about the new routes and new connections that they hope riders will utilize.

METRO’s target for implementation of the new routes is August of 2015, though no firm date was decided as part of this week’s resolution.

So what can riders expect from this new system?  Here are some initial thoughts…

1) Expect more buses and more transfers.  Many of the new routes will be shorter and more direct, which means the bus should run faster.  But it also decreases the likelihood of one bus hitting lots of diverse locations.

2) Wait time per bus should decrease. The goal of Reimagining is to have a system where riders don’t have to spend all day waiting on the bus.  Other cities have managed to achieve this with many of the changes METRO outlines in this plan, so hopefully that will be the net result for Houston as well.

3) Easier, faster access to popular destinations.  The new bus routes will not only provide faster service, but open a wide variety of places reachable by public transit.  With direct, frequent connections between areas like Montrose and the Heights or the Galleria and Northwest mall, riders will have more options for commerce, entertainment, education and employment.


After this week, Houston’s bus system will literally never be the same.  But hopefully those changes will be of great benefit to a growing city and region.  Check out the interactive map, a side-by-side comparison of the old and new route maps, and full details of the new routes for yourself. Share your impressions in the comments below.

Houston On The Go has more thoughts on this momentous occasion.



The new METRO local bus network, via the System Reimagining page.


Houston: New METRO Rail Lines Delayed

Here’s the news directly from Swamplot

There’s still “some uncertainty” over the exact schedule, but all the pieces needed to allow Metro to open Houston’s second and third light-rail lines won’t be in place until late December, according to reports delivered to a committee of the transportation organization’s board of directors last Friday.


The contractor building the lines won’t be ready to turn over the completed tracks until September 30th to Metro, which will then need approximately 60 days to prepare for their operation.

Just for further verification, I went ahead and asked METRO via Twitter, and they gave the same response as quoted above.

metro se


The article also cites delays in construction of axle counters, and construction that of a separate building project in downtown. Not mentioned however is the continuing drama surrounding METRO’s delivery of rail cars.  At this point, the CAF-USA factory in New York has actually made adjustments to be able to build the cars and ship them to Houston as quickly as possible.  But as Off the Kuff notes in a recent post, the delay for the opening of both lines actually gives  more time to get the necessary cars operational.

Delays have their annoyances, but it’s far more important that these lines start when everything is done the right way than it is to try and rush the process.  Let’s hope that METRO can get them running soon.