The High Demand to Park and Ride

Many commuters across the nation turn to park and ride systems to get them to the office. Here in Houston, Park and Ride has been a viable alternative to the inevitable morning gridlock, especially for people living in the outer suburbs. From the KUHF NewsLab, Wendy Siegle reports on this public transit service that has some users wanting more.

It’s 7:30 A-M and I’m on the 217 line traveling from the Cypress Park and Ride to downtown. The bus is full with about 56 riders on board. One woman even has to stand. There’s no sound of chattering between passengers, and a part from a cough or a sneeze every so often, the bus is silent. Some passengers are reading and some have tuned out the world and tuned in to their MP3 players. Others are just trying to get some sleep.

(Bus ambience)

To use the this service the passengers left their cars behind in the park & ride lot, then boarded the coach-like bus that runs express to the Northwest Transit Center then on to downtown. And although the commute is still quite long, at 45 minutes to an hour, passengers here say driving would take a lot longer.

“I wouldn’t like driving. I think it would be so hard.”

Mary Torrez is a mother of two. She says she likes letting someone else do the driving. That way she can relax and not have the stress that goes with navigating traffic. Plus, once the bus reaches the HOV lane, about 7 miles down 290, there’s no more sitting in the inevitable gridlock.

“This is my catch up time, for my nap from a long day, or just myself, time for myself.”

All the passengers I spoke with feel the same way. They say using the park and ride from Cypress is easy, stress-free, and pretty affordable at three-fifty each way. As one rider put it, “I pay a dollar a day more for transportation, but drive sixty miles less”. There was, however, one universal complaint.

“I wish they added more buses.”

That’s Tina Stephens, a bubbly mother of four I met on the afternoon trip back to Cypress. She, like other passengers who use the 217 line, wants to see more buses on the route. According to Metro, one additional bus was recently added in the morning. But passengers say it’s the evening trip back to Cypress that’s the problem. They want more buses in the afternoon to alleviate wait times; the morning trip they say isn’t the concern.

(Bus ambience)

Most park and ride passengers only use public transportation to get to their jobs downtown. Then, they walk. If they need to they’ll take the rail down Main. But for commutes not work related, they drive. That doesn’t mean they want to. Passengers I spoke with would like to have a public transit option available to them on the weekends. Again, here’s Mary Torrez.

“I think it’d be great. I think it’d be a good option for us as a family, like you’re saying on weekends or whatever. from Cypress to the museums or around town.”

Right now, there are 29 park and ride locations in Harris County and around 15 more in surrounding areas. And Metro is currently looking at purchasing two new park and ride lots this month in areas with high population growth — one in Brazoria County, the other in Missouri City. Eleven-thousand people use the service each day and assuming they don’t carpool, that’s 11,000 cars off the roads. But even with the popularity of the system, Metro says there just isn’t enough demand to justify weekend services. This is Kurt Luhrsen from Metro:

“At this point we’ve not really looked or had a lot of requests for weekend service on the park and ride. That’s not to say we don’t get them occasionally and we look at opportunities. But it has to be more than a handful of people to make it worth while to run a 45-foot bus.”

We’re almost back to Cypress and passenger Tracy Murrel is busy finishing his business call on-board, where he can concentrate on his conversation—not on the road.

From the KUHF NewsLab, I’m Wendy Siegle