Metro is currently holding a series of meetings to gather public input on its “Re-Imagining” plan for Houston’s bus system. Transit officials say they want to provide more frequent service and better connections, and they also want to get riders to more places. News 88.7 Transportation Reporter Gail Delaughter talked about the plan with Metro board member Christof Spieler.
Delaughter: Metro has been working in recent years to increase bus ridership here in Houston. What are some of the main reasons people don’t ride the bus?
Spieler: Well, I think frankly our bus system is not very easy to use. For a lot of people, it really doesn’t go to the job centers that have developed. It doesn’t serve the areas where the region has grown very well, and I think it’s hard to understand. We have a lot of routes that don’t follow logical paths and don’t have logical names, a lot of transfer locations that really take people out of the way of where they’re trying to go. So it’s very fundamentally a system that hasn’t grown with Houston and here’s our chance to fix it.
Delaughter: What about bus frequency? That’s one of the things that you want to correct in the process. What do you hear from riders about frequency and how that may stop them from using the bus as they’d like to?
Spieler: If you have frequent service it means you don’t have to plan your life around the bus. You can just show up at the bus stop and know there will be a bus there in 15 minutes. We don’t have very many frequent routes today and all the ones that we do have are going into the Texas Medical Center and downtown. What this plan is proposing is a network of frequent routes really covering the core of the region, as far north as Tidwell, south to Hobby Airport, all the way west to State Highway 6, that form a grid.
On that grid, you can show up at any bus stop, seven days a week. There will be a bus there within 15 minutes, and because it’s a grid, it’s setting up connections all over the region. So regardless of where you’re going from and where you’re going to, you’re connecting in a rational place.
Delaughter: One thing you’re looking at is making things convenient for the most amount of riders, as you reimagine the bus system. Bus some people will be inconvenienced, their plans will change. So basically how do you view that playing out, who is going to have more convenient service and who will be inconvenienced, and how do you plan to accommodate that?
Spieler: What we’re looking at is vast majority of our current riders get real benefit. So this isn’t just about getting more people on the bus, it’s about serving the people we serve today better. We looked at trips all over the region for example, a matrix of 30 different destinations. And out of those, 58% of those, ended up being ten minutes or more faster. That means a lot of riders will be able to get where they’re trying to go more quickly and will have more time for everything else in their life.
We’re also taking something like 100,000 of our current boardings and putting them on frequent service all week, which they don’t have today. So if you’re looking at our current riders, you’re seeing the vast majority really benefit.
That doesn’t mean things don’t change, and I think a lot of people will figure out they have a different trip to take. Even if it’s a better trip, it’s a different trip. So there’s a very big part of this which is about really communicating these changes before we implement them, to make sure everybody knows how to use the new system. But the good news is, out of our current boardings, 93% will have a bus at the exact same stop they get on today, and out of that remaining 7% percent, nearly all of them are within a quarter-mile or a half-mile of service under the new system.
Delaughter: How much is it costing the taxpayer to do this effort?
Spieler: This system we’re showing costs the same amount of money to operate as our current bus system. This is about using the resources we’re already spending, and operating the local bus system is Metro’s largest expense, year in and year out, using those resources more effectively.
You can learn more about the Metro reimagining plan here.