In-Depth

As Things Get More Crowded on The Freeways, Houston Commuters Are Urged to Share The Ride

Figures show that most people in the region are driving to work by themselves

When you made your trip to work today there’s a good chance you were alone in your car, like many others on the road. According to the Houston-Galveston Area Council, about 80 percent of Houston commuters drive to work solo instead of taking a bus or a carpool.

We wanted to learn more about why commuters do what they do, so we headed out to Sugar Land when the sun was barely up. We met some people who were starting their day in a movie theatre parking lot that doubles as a park and ride.

One of the people we met was Holly Afinowicz, who was waiting under a tent that serves as a covered bus stop. She was about to climb aboard a Fort Bend County transit bus. Those buses take riders to places like Greenway Plaza, the Galleria, and the Med Center.

Afinowicz told us she’s been riding the bus for about six years now. She said she drove to work before that but finally decided to leave her vehicle at home.

“It’s so nice to be able to just get on the bus and go and not have to be concerned with traffic,” said Afinowicz. “And it’s reliable as far as when I’m going to get there.”

But despite those advantages, Afinowicz and her fellow bus riders are still in the minority. But why aren’t there more commuters like her? We decided to ask some experts.

We caught up with H-GAC’s Veronica Baxter-Lamb at an outreach event at Metro’s Downtown Transit Center, just a few feet away from where commuter buses were rolling in from all over the region.

Baxter-Lamb was there to promote Commute Solutions, an effort to get people to try other modes of transportation. But in Houston, it’s not always an easy sell.

“I think people love driving their cars because they’ve gotten used to it over the years,” Baxter-Lamb told Houston Public Media.

But over those years a lot has changed. The region is home to many more people and it continues to grow. H-GAC says by the year 2045, the area could have close to eleven million residents. That translates into a lot more vehicles on the road.

Even with those overwhelming numbers, Baxter-Lamb said individual choices can make a big difference. If you’re carpooling with just a couple of other people, that means two less cars on the freeway.

“And if I’m riding the bus, you have your driver but you’ve taken those passengers, those 54 other riders that are on that bus, you’ve taken that many cars off the road,” added Baxter-Lamb.

But there’s another thing that’s changed that could influence commuters’ habits. And that’s where people go to work.

With new employment centers spread out across the region they’re not just headed to downtown Houston. We talked about that with Robert Benz, a research engineer with the Texas A&M Transportation Institute.

“You might have a lot of access if you lived in Katy to downtown,” said Benz. “It’s a little more challenging to get to The Woodlands from Katy. So how do you do that? There are alternatives but it may not be the most direct route.”

But despite those challenges, Benz feels many commuters simply come to a breaking point.

“There’s a lot of different factors and most of them come down to if they’ve had enough,” said Benz. “And I think it comes down to that time. Are they tired of driving? Do they value their independence versus getting in that carpool, getting in that vanpool, and doing those alternatives?”

Meanwhile back in Sugar Land, bus rider Holly Afinowicz is encouraging fellow commuters to consider those alternatives, even if they’re not ready to make a full commitment. She recommends giving it a try for a week or two to see how you like it.

H-GAC is also planning more outreach events to mark Commute Solutions Month. Representatives will be at the Cypress Park and Ride on the morning of August 27. They’ll be at the Kingsland Park and Ride in Katy on August 29.

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Gail Delaughter

Gail Delaughter

Transportation Reporter

From early-morning interviews with commuters to walks through muddy construction sites, Gail covers all aspects of getting around Houston. That includes walking, driving, cycling, taking the bus, and occasionally flying. Before she became transportation reporter in 2011, Gail hosted weekend programs for Houston Public Media. She's also covered courts in...

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