In their joint “State of Metro” address before the Greater Houston Partnership, Chairman Gilbert Garcia and Interim CEO Tom Lambert touted the agency’s recent successes. Bus and train boardings in fiscal year 2013 topped 80 million. That’s the highest number since 2009.
But during the recent mayoral debate there was criticism that Metro is “leaderless.”
Lambert has held the top job on an interim basis since George Greanias resigned at the end of last year. He says he’s not interested in the job on a permanent basis. But Garcia says Metro’s board has full confidence in Lambert’s leadership.
“That’s why things are going faster, things are coming together quicker, the financials are stronger. We just got upgraded on our debt. All the evidence is pretty clear, there’s some strong leadership and good things happening.”
So when will Metro get a permanent CEO? Garcia says Metro has been advised to hold off on things until after the mayor’s race.
“Right now we have an executive search firm. We’ve met with them. We’ve talked to them, for them to know what our needs are, and they’re starting to source candidates.”
And when the new CEO does comes on board, one of their first jobs will be the rollout of Houston’s new light rail lines.
The first of four new lines will open before the end of the year. That’s the extention of the Red Line. It takes riders up Main and Fulton Streets to the Northline Transit Center. Lambert says there’s an aggressive program of safety education to avoid the numerous accidents that happened when the trains first started running on Main Street in 2004.
“I think we’ll be continually focused on that. We’ve gone into all the schools along the corridor. We’ve had a rail safety program working with all the schools in the corridor. We work with all the civic organizations and we’ll continue to do that.”
Another challenge for Metro is getting more riders. Lambert says bus ridership is up by fifteen percent after years of declines.
“I’ll use the Katy Freeway corridor as an example. The Harris County Toll Road Authority as you know raised the tolls on the Katy Freeway Managed Lanes. We’ve already seen more and more increased ridership on all the park-and-rides in that corridor. We’re now looking at where we can build additional park-and-ride lots.”
Metro is also holding public workshops as part of a re-imagining study of the city’s transit system. Officials say a lot of Houston’s buses are still following routes that were laid out in the 1920’s and they want to redesign the system to accommodate today’s needs.