Harris County Transit has surpassed 1 million boardings on its buses 12 years after it started its original routes in Baytown, a sign that the pandemic has not stymied transit use in the eastern half of the county.
Since 2008 Harris County Transit has grown from two routes to 12, serving places in east Harris County that aren't covered by METRO. The agency operates with the assistance of local municipalities and it also gets federal grant money.
David Jones, Harris County Transit's deputy assistant director, said that with 12 routes, the agency will get to 2 million in an even shorter timeframe.
"Baytown has been our biggest and best supporter of our service, but this milestone has actually been a target that we've been shooting for a long time," Jones said.
Overall ridership has dropped just about 7% during the pandemic, which Jones said was a sign that people continue to depend on the service. Harris County Transit also discontinued fares back in March, a policy that will remain in place to help promote social distancing on buses.
As for who uses Harris County Transit, Jones said its takes a lot of riders to medical appointments — either people who can no longer drive or who don't have a vehicle. Students also make up a large part of their ridership along with employees of local businesses, Jones said.
In addition to Baytown, Harris County Transit operates in places like Crosby and La Porte. There's also a shuttle between La Porte and Baytown that allows riders to connect with the METRO system at the Baytown Park and Ride.
In 2019, Harris County Transit used federal Hurricane Harvey relief funds to set up routes in the Shelton, North Shore, and Cloverleaf areas that also connect with METRO. That funding runs for two more years, but Jones hopes the routes will eventually become permanent. Those buses currently have about 3,000 boardings a month, he said.
"Some of the facilities and programs are still shut down over there due to COVID," he said. "Otherwise that number would be about 4,000-5,000 boardings a month."
As for future plans, Jones foresees demand for public transit to grow in the Houston region's outlying areas.
"Our biggest request is something we really can't do right now, is Chambers County," said Jones. "They're looking for public transportation there but we're only funded for Harris County through the Federal Transit Administration."
Jones said one new route they're considering would take riders to the Generation Park commercial development area in northeast Houston.