On a sweltering morning in downtown Houston, the shiny green and white bus is a welcome sight as it glides to a stop. The most noticeable thing when you climb aboard is the cool blast of air conditioning.
“Well, we’re riding on the Greenlink downtown circulator. We jumped on at Walker and Main Street and we’re headed west, toward City Hall.”
It’s a free bus service that takes riders along a two-and-a-half mile route though downtown Houston.
Houston Downtown Management District Executive Director Bob Eury
“We like to think it’s the one place in Houston where you can walk everywhere, but really, there are some trips where you really want something other than to walk. And we certainly don’t want people to have to drive their own vehicles which really doesn’t work environmentally and otherwise.”
The Greenlink started last summer with the help of federal grants. Houston had been without a free circulator bus since 2005, that’s when Metro’s old trolley buses went out of service.
The new buses have 28 seats and they’re powered by natural gas. Corporate partners help fund the yearly operating costs of around a million dollars. Metro is under contract to provide drivers and maintenance.
“It obviously is extremely helpful to them because we think it actually increased ridership on the other parts of the Metro system.”
Eury says the Greenlink also benefits the city’s convention business, since it provides access to the George R. Brown Convention Center.
“Well we now have 16, we’re getting ready to have 18. It will even be more I think with what’s in the pipeline, the hotels in downtown. A lot of those rooms are a little further than comfortable walking distance, so this Greenlink will be extremely helpful.”
But are Houstonians warming up to the Greenlink?
Eury says after a year of operation they get close to 900 riders a day. They’d like more, but Eury says it’s going to take a while.
“The one thing we were advised by experts in the industry, it takes a long time to build ridership on a route, and I would have never thought that. I thought it would be, you know, you put it out there and everyone jumps on. Some experts have said to me it takes years.”
But as summer temperatures soar, people like first-time rider Candice Reed say they’re ready to make Greenlink part of their downtown travels.
“It’s good. I mean you can get around downtown without having to pay so that’s convenient. So I really like it. I’ll start using it more.”
As for what’s next in downtown circulator service, officials say they’re looking at plans for the “Purple Line” which would transport out-of-town visitors in the evening during major events.