The Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County voted back in February to move forward with a radical re-design of the region’s local bus system. Every single route will be affected.
But for most daily METRO riders, information about these changes is still quite unknown. If one doesn’t follow local transit or politics news, it’s pretty easy to see how they could miss the extensive Reimagining campaign entirely. Transit officials have spoken much about these changes within the METRO Boardroom, but very few specifics have filtered down to where they are most needed… buses and bus stops. As Houston Chronicle Transportation writer Dug Begley penned, what lies before METRO in the next 100 days is a “Herculean task.”
Last Friday, the agency released some details about how they plan to implement the new bus network, set to debut on August 16th 2015. Well before that date, METRO must change out 10,000 signs and renew materials at several bus stops. Per a new YouTube video, they will employ a technique called Bus Stop Bagging for the new signs…
The bags will allow for METRO to install new signs without leaving riders confused on the current information. At the same time, the additional banner will allow riders to get caught up on the new information, and they will hopefully take special notice before August 16th.
METRO’s plan for implementation seems quick and efficient. If held on schedule, the signs are sure to be changed in time for the new system’s roll-out. But questions remain about how the agency plans to edue public about these changes before they occur, and time is quickly running out to do so. All the sophisticated studies and intricate maps cannot ensure the successful transition of the region’s public transit routes. At the end of the day, the only indicator of relative success or failure for METRO will be the perception of its riders. Implementation has begun, but it is far from over.
There’s no doubt that the top-to-bottom redesign of Houston’s bus system was the result of lots of hard work. Since its approval last month, System Reimagining has received national media attention, mostly in the form of high praise from transit enthusiasts and critics alike.
But plans on a page are one issue. Bringing the new bus network into reality is an entirely different animal, particularly in the case of Houston.
Houston had it much worse than most cities, for some local reasons. Along the northeast edge of inner Houston, for example, are some neighborhoods where the population has been shrinking for years. They aren’t like the typical abandoned American inner cities of the late 20th century, where at least there is still a good street grid that can be rebuilt upon. In the northeast we were looking at essentially rural infrastructure, with no sidewalks and often not even a safe place to walk or stand by the road. Many homes are isolated in maze-like subdivisions that take a long time for a bus, or pedestrian, to get into and out of. And as the population is falling, the area is becoming more rural every year.
Houston’s situation is worse than most; less sprawling cities can generally prevent any part of the city from depopulating in the context of overall growth. But in any city there are going to be less fortunate areas, and the disastrous trend called the “suburbanization of poverty” means that increasing numbers of vulnerable people are forced to live in places that are geometrically hostile to high-ridership transit, and thus demand low-ridership coverage service.
For all of the reasons Walker states, these same impoverished areas are the ones that will be most negatively affected by the System Reimagining plan. But the challenge for METRO is that these low-density areas also represent a significant portion of the agency’s current ridership… residents that are fully reliant on the bus system, and have fewer alternative transit options than those in other parts of the service area. If the new system all but discourages the current ridership base, could Reimagining backfire on METRO??
METRO has placed a tremendous bet on the Greater Houston area… if given the option will people that do not need the bus choose to ride the bus? It’s an question that no one has the answers to at this time. But judging by current trends across the area, this assumption is not a very safe bet.
To make matters worse, METRO doesn’t seem to be taking advantage of critical time they have to educate riders about the new system. Save for a few vague English-language fliers, the expansive advertising and materials effort for Reimagining has yet to commence. With the Houston Rodeo now happening in full swing, early March would seem an essential time to get the word out about the redesign, as it is the month where our area experiences its highest MetroRail ridership of the year. And granted, plenty of riders will be visitors to the city, but many more will be the very people METRO would hope to lure onto new bus service this Fall.
Conversely, the education effort is also behind for affected communities where services are going to change, or be lost altogether. It will take a massive amount of outreach to citizens in Northeast Houston so that they are informed when these changes occur. Some citizens have already suggested METRO will be charged with discrimination if these services are cut.
At this point, it’s too early to predict how System Reimagining will be received by the Houston region. But one thing is quite clear. The work of METRO and its partner agencies is just beginning. Let’s hope that work picks up steam very soon.
Neil at All People Have Value wrote about the ongoing federal cover-up of a plot to kill members of Occupy Houston in 2011. Occupy Houston protestors were peaceful people. APHV is part of NeilAquino.com.
Texas Leftist reports on the most significant changes to the Houston region’s public transit infrastructure since the creation of METRO. With System Reimagining now approved and the final route maps selected, transit in Texas’ largest city will never be the same again.
Though the new routes are far from being finalized,Texas Leftist shares that Houston METRO has now fully committed to the System Reimagining Plan. After this week’s vote by the METRO board, there’s no turning back.
And here are some posts of interest from other Texas blogs.
SciGuy gives us a look at Russia’s astronaut training facility.
Newsdesk reports on Rep. Dawnna Dukes’ abortion disclosure.
After the big announcement earlier this month, the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County, Texas is ready to move to the next major phase in its System Re-imagining plan. METRO has released it’s schedule of public meetings to gather input about the proposed system changes.
The public meetings are in addition to feedback that METRO is able to receive right now via the website, by phone and by email. Here’s the info from METRO’s website. All meeting times are from 6pm-8pm…
METRO is excited to share the Draft Reimagined Network Plan with everyone, so if you would like a speaker to present the plan to your organization or community group, or have a question about the plan, please email Reimagining@RideMETRO.org.
We will also be conducting a series of public meetings to share more information and receive feedback on the Draft Reimagined Network Plan.
May 28 — Magnolia Multi-Service Center, 7037 Capitol St.
May 29 —Metropolitan Multi-Service Center, 1475 W. Gray St.
June 3 —Ellis Memorial Church of Christ, 412 Massachusetts St.
June 12 — Trini Menenhall Sosa Community Center, 1414 Wirt Rd.
June 16 — HCC – Northwest College (Spring Branch Campus), 1010 W. Sam Houston Pkwy. N.
June 19 — HCC – Southwest College (Alief Hayes Campus), 2811 Hayes Rd.
June 26 — Baker-Ripley Neighborhood Center, 6500 Rookin St.
July 9 — White Oak Conference Center, 7603 Antoine Dr.
July 10 — Hiram Clarke Multi-Service Center, 3810 W. Fuqua St.
July 15 — Westbury Baptist Church, 10425 Hillcroft St.
July 20 — Third Ward Multi-Service Center, 3611 Ennis St.
July 21 — Sunnyside Multi-Service Center, 4605 Wilmington St.
July 22 — Mangum-Howell Center, 2500 Frick Rd.
July 24 — Northeast Multi-Service Center, 9720 Spaulding St.
July 28 — Acres Homes Multi-Service Center, 6719 W. Montgomery Rd.
July 31 — Kashmere Multi-Service Center, 4802 Lockwood Dr.
Hopefully community members, especially those that most depend on METRO’s services, will make it to one of these meetings, have their voices heard. and allow METRO to address some of the concerns that have arisen with the new plan.