January 20, 2004
Train ride

So I got on board at the Smithlands station at Greenbriar and Old Spanish Trail, just a block from my office, at about 10:10 to head towards downtown. I have no idea what Smithlands refers to - I'd have called it either "Greenbriar/OST" or "Medical Center Parking Lots". This is one of the busier stations because of its proximity to these huge parking lots that serve the Medical Center. I presume the buses that used to ferry people there still run, but from what I can tell most of the action is on the trains now.

Six other people got on board the northbound train with me. There's no turnstile or ticket-taker - you buy your ticket from a vending machine that takes coins, bills, credit and debit cards, and must present it if a cop or other Metro employee asks to see it. Most of the time, it's on the honor system.

As it happens, an ABC-13 reporter and cameraman boarded at the Dryden stop, which is the first Fannin/Medical Center stop on the northbound line. I asked him what story they were after, and he said they were looking for people who were riding without a ticket. They had just started, so they hadn't found any miscreants yet. Apparently, the reporter had ridden before without being checked and got curious. A woman sitting near me piped up to say that her husband had had his ticket checked yesterday, so it does happen. I figure it'll be like speed traps - some days they'll be checking and writing people up all day.

It took me 17 minutes from the time I got on to arrive at the Downtown Transit Center stop, right outside the brand-new Lee P. Brown Administrative Building, and almost exactly the same amount of time on the return trip. That's about as long as it'd take me to drive from my work parking lot to my destination's lot. Of course, I still have to walk to and from the stations, plus there's waiting time, so the overall trip took about 35 minutes. On the plus side, it was a nice day to walk and I enjoyed the ride, which was way more pleasant than the stoplight and construction-infested drive ever is. I couldn't do it if I were in a rush, but with a few extra minutes' padding, it's the better choice for me.

The train did stop at a few traffic lights, which I didn't expect, but not many - maybe two each way. The ride was very smooth, way gentler than any subway train, which admittedly goes faster. I'd estimate it'd take 30-35 minutes from the UH Downtown origin to my work location, so commuting on this thing, if there were an easy way for me to get to it from my house (such as the proposed commuter rail line along 290), I'd be looking at up to an hour each way. As noted before, though, that duration would include time for walking and reading, so it would certainly be worthy of consideration.

For the record, both trains were reasonably full, with people getting on and off at nearly every stop. At their fullest, each train had a few standees, though there were empty seats in both cases. Still, not bad for the middle of the day.

All in all, a good experience. I'll be happy to do it again.

As for the reason for my trip, that deserves a post of its own. I'll get to that shortly.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on January 20, 2004 to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles | TrackBack