Tag Archives: Houston public transit

METRO Rolls Out the New Bus Network

After years of planning, months of aggressive public outreach, weeks of preparation and days of frenzied execution, the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County finally reached its big day.  After completing normal Saturday bus schedules at 2am, just a couple of hours later, METRO rolled out the agency’s New Bus Network. The plans  were heralded as a triumph by the country’s transit intelligentsia, even before buses hit the ground.  But no amount of positive postulation can substitute for action.

So today, postulation finally ended, and the New Bus Network began.  Texas Leftist rode the 56 Airline Montrose this morning to church, and for lunch, and here are the initial impressions.

In my neighborhood of Montrose, the Network’s 56 Airline bus is a huge improvement because it connects Montrose to the Museum District, the Heights, Northline Transit Center and Greenspoint.  It is a desperately needed north-south route that does not have to detour into downtown like the former network.   Via transit, the trip from home to church used to take approximately 45 minutes.  I would have to ride the 81 or 82 to downtown, walk over to the train platform, wait to catch the Red Line, then ride it to church.

Church Map Old Network

But under the new system, I took the one bus down Montrose, and exit with no transfers.  This cuts a 45 minute trip down to 10 minutes if the bus shows up on time.  The level of improvement for this trip cannot be understated.

Church Map New Network

After church, I boarded the 56 Airline/ Montrose to get home, but first decided to go for lunch in the Heights at Good Dog Houston. The new bus trip from the Museum District (Montrose at Bissonnet) to the restaurant (Studewood at Bayland) took exactly 10 minutes.  For anyone that has tried to make this connection under the previous transit system, the New Bus Network indeed represents a new day.  The freedom of being able to travel from one part of town to another just for lunch, and not have to plan one’s life around a limited bus schedule is definitely new to most Houstonians, and most welcome.

My meal at Good Dog by the way??  EXCELLENT.

Of course there are many more tests ahead, like the start of tomorrow’s work week.  We’re far from being able to declare the Network’s implementation a success.  August 16th, 2015 is an historic day for public transit in the city of Houston, and well beyond.  As the nation and the world watches the Bayou City pave a new path for the 21st century, Texas Leftist is glad to have a front seat.

But still behind the line of the bus driver.

New Bus Network

The 56 Airline/ Montrose is one of the Frequent Routes in METRO’s New Bus Network.  

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: METRO Reconsiders FLEX Service

All summer long, Houston area residents have had the opportunity to learn about Transit System reimagining… the complete restructuring of METRO’s local bus network.  If done right, the plan will connect residents to more job centers and points of interest than ever before, while providing a significant improvement in service frequency.  It’s an ambitious goal, but the agency believes they are almost ready to remake public transportation in the nation’s fourth largest city.

However some parts of the original draft present concerns, particularly converting large swaths of Northeast Houston from fixed route service into FLEX zones… basically a hybrid service between fixed route and METROlift.  This plan has generated some concern from affected community members, and blogs such as Texas Leftist.

But the latest reimagining update shows that METRO is reconsidering the draft proposal on FLEX, based largely on community input. In addition to the original draft, there are now some proposed alternatives to FLEX, including entirely fixed-route options.  Here’s a rundown of the new plans, excerpted from METRO’s update…

1)  Original Draft Plan

Flex option 1

2) Reduced Size Flex Zone
Flex option 2
3) Fixed Route Service (optimized for Cost) 

flex option 3

4) Fixed Route Service (optimized for Coverage) 

flex option 4

(Excerpts from METRO’s full update on reimagining)

First it’s really good to see METRO’s willingness to incorporate so much of the feedback within their updated presentation. It shows that the agency is truly concerned with giving Houstonians and multi-city residents a system that works best for them.  Secondly, the expanded options give the public a greater ability to choose what works, instead of being forced to adjust to an unfamiliar new system when it is implemented.

METRO also admitted (after this blog’s original suggestion) that ridership on the 52 Hirsch north of Mesa Transit Center was high enough to justify the retention of a fixed route.

Given that Northeast residents will be the ones most affected by reimagining, METRO’s careful consideration on these plans is needed and appreciated.  Northeast Houston may decide that a FLEX option is what works best for them… they may not.  But at least now they have more information on the matter.  We’ll see what is adopted in the final plans, but kudos to METRO for getting this far.

Examining Houston METRO’s ‘Reimagined’ Flex Zones

Throughout the summer, the Metropolitan Transit Authority (aka METRO) has been meeting with communities to provide information about the new system reimagining plan. In most cases, the plans have been well-received, and left citizens hopeful that they will see vast improvements in service.

This was certainly the case for a meeting that I attended on July 17th at the Third Ward Multi-Services Center.  Residents mostly listened, and had questions specifically about how the changes would affect their specific travel needs.  Not surprisingly, Flex service was mentioned very little by the METRO representatives, save for questions which I asked after the presentation.  Basically at this point, METRO is not sure how all aspects of the Flex implementation will go.

For starters, there are some questions about the justification for Flex service, especially regarding the 52 Hirsch route.  When combined with its southern counterpart the 52 Scott, this bus service is one of the 10 highest-performing routes in METRO’s current system.  52 Scott does indeed have higher ridership than Hirsch, but between FY 2013 and FY 2014, Hirsch’s ridership actually increased by 3.6 percent, while Scott decreased 0.9 percent.  For a route in what METRO refers to as “an area of declining ridership”, 52 Hirsch is bucking the trend.

Where METRO has seen growth potential with its fixed route services, especially that are already high-ridership, the system reimagining either leaves those routes entirely in place (ex: the 82 becoming the 8), or modifies them with close alternatives centered around major thoroughfares.  But this is simply not the case with the 52 Hirsch… a high ridership route that has been greatly reduced with the Flex system.  Where the 52 Hirsch used to run every 15 to 20 minutes during weekday service, that run time will now be cut back to once an hour.

When I asked the METRO representatives how they could justify such substantial cuts on a high-performing route, they actually questioned their own ridership data about the 52 Hirsch, saying it was probably erroneous due to bus driver entering and exiting the bus at layovers.  Texas Leftist asked METRO board member Christoff Spieler about the disparity via Twitter, but has yet to receive a response.

Beyond the one issue with the 52, it’s just important for communities in the Flex areas to understand that their public transit service will change drastically.  What was once predictable, even if sparse fixed route service will now be replaced by this new hybrid system.  To get a visual of how these changes look, I turn to the transit blog HoustonOnTheGo, which has done some stellar work discussing the proposed Flex Zones, and their potential impact on affected areas. These maps originate from HoustonOnTheGo, but were combined them into a side-by-side comparison.  On the left shows bus coverage before reimagining (overlaid with the Flex Zones), and on the right shows coverage under the proposed changes.  Be sure to view the original work, which includes information about all of the Flex Zones.

Flex corridor northeast changes


Under system reimagining, fixed route services will be lost.  



In some cases, citizens will now be forced to walk several miles if they want to reach fixed route service in the system, and are must follow procedures similar to the mostly home-bound customers that use MetroLift… a call-in service.

To be fair to METRO, they do distinguish Flex from MetroLift in a couple of very important ways.  First unlike a MetroLift van, Flex vehicles would stay in a relatively small service area, therefore giving them the ability to respond to call-in requests in a much faster time frame.  If a customer requests pick-ups from a Flex driver, they should already be in the area, and therefore available much sooner to provide rides.  Even with this likely scenario, it is still difficult to reason how the Flex call-in service will work with people whose travel needs far outweigh those of a typical MetroLift customer.  If the system gets overwhelmed, does that mean the person just cannot complete their trip at all?

These and other questions still need to be addressed before Flex is implemented.  Let’s hope that METRO is doing all it can to see these issues get resolved.


Metro North Line FAR Exceeds 1st Ridership Goals

Some great news directly from the METRO website

In its first month of operation, the Red/North Line extension exceeded ridership projections by 62 percent.

METRO launched its 5.3-mile extension of the Red/North Line last Dec. 21 – extending the line from HCC-Downtown Station eight more stops to Northline Transit Center/HCC.

In January, the first full month of operation, the Red/North Line averaged 4,200 weekday boardings. That’s 1,600 more than what we had forecasted for the average daily ridership by Sept. 30, the end of METRO’s fiscal year.

“This speaks volumes about the value of rail in the community, and how expanding the reach of one form of transit enhances others like our bus service,” said METRO Chairman Gilbert Garcia in a statement.

Added Tom Lambert, interim METRO president & CEO: “It’s providing better connectivity and improving the customer experience on many fronts.”

Consider these stats since the Red/North Line expanded:

•The amount of transit service has increased, adding 192 rail trips each weekday, replacing 149 weekday bus trips.

•The frequency of service has increased with peak and midday service running every 12 minutes compared to 15 minutes on previous bus route.

•On-time performance has improved. Route 79, which serves the Northline Transit Center, rose to the top ten routes for on-time performance from the bottom 10.

Ridership on the Red/North Line is expected to surge when two more light-rail lines open later this year, the Burnett Transit Center opens and a redesign of our bus system is implemented.

Once the Green/East End Line and the Purple/Southeast Line open later this year, METRO will have about 23 miles of rail.

Of course in order to properly open the Green and Purple Lines, METRO is going to need some rail cars if they expect those trains to run at full capacity. Even still, the news that North Line ridership has far surpassed initial goals is welcome, especially when considering that the line just opened and much of it’s support infrastructure isn’t completed yet.

I can’t say I’m surprised by this. Anyone who has been brave enough to ride the line immediately finds a charming and interesting way to traverse the Near Northside. The Burnett Transit Center is a striking new edition to Houston rail as the first elevated station in the system. And best yet, at the end of the line, they have access to shopping and dining options that weren’t previously available. Sure many Liberals may detest the thought of stepping into a WalMart, but for most non-politicals out there, the expanded shopping is sorely needed. Slowly but surely, Houstonians are starting to understand that public transit has a place in the city.

The venerable Off the Kuff has more.

Going North: First Test of the MetroRail Red Line Extension

Crack open your urban rail fact books, and get out the corrective tape. Houston’s 7.5 mile light rail line just experienced a significant growth spurt. Yesterday marked the first ever test of the new North Line/ Red Line extension. Though not quite ready for prime time (the rail car was being towed by a diesel vehicle), the test run is a momentous occasion for the very auto-centric Bayou City. Houston’s only light rail transit line now increases from 7.5 miles to a whopping 12.8. Sure it’s a far cry from New York, but everyone has got to start somewhere. The extension will now connect Downtown Houston and the Medical Center to burgeoning neighborhoods in Houston’s Near Northside. 

The Southeast and East End lines are set to open sometime in 2014. 
 Check out the YouTube video of yesterday’s test run below…