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.