Yeah, it looks like we do have to worry about Metro going backwards

I have three things to say about this.

Transportation advocacy group LINK Houston, in its annual “Equity in Transit” report released this week, asked the region’s public transit provider to accelerate a $7.5 billion plan that was backed by Harris County voters in 2019. The idea behind the recommendation was to provide more frequent service, especially in low-income communities of color such as Gulfton, and to ultimately boost ridership.

But the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County (METRO) appears to be backtracking from, if not scrapping altogether, one of its key selling points when it asked voters to approve $3.5 billion in bond funding for its aforementioned METRONext Moving Forward Plan. That plan at the time included bus rapid transit, an environmentally friendly service entailing dedicated lanes for electric buses, platform boarding and buses arriving every 15 minutes or less.

The webpages for three planned bus rapid transit (BRT) lines in Gulfton, the Inner Katy corridor along Interstate 10 and the University corridor – with the latter being a 25.3-mile route from northeast to southwest Houston that a previous METRO board chair described last year as a “transformational project for the region” – all were removed this week from the METRO website.

“We are alarmed by METRO’s removal of all three BRT webpages without any sort of announcement or explanation to its customers or to Harris County taxpayers and voters who voted overwhelmingly to support the METRONext Moving Forward Plan in 2019,” LINK Houston executive director Gabe Cazares said Friday.


“METRO’s new leadership team is committed to reviewing all projects in order to best serve our customers and the community,” METRO’s interim president and CEO, Tom Jasien, said in a statement to Houston Public Media. “We are prioritizing ridership and meeting customer needs for today by ensuring each service we offer is safe, clean, reliable, and fiscally responsible.”

Cazares said LINK Houston, which noted in its Equity in Transit report that overall METRO ridership is at 86% of pre-pandemic levels, supports the idea of improving safety on its buses and light rail lines and better serving the needs of its current customers. But he also said, “pitting that against the transit system we want for the future is a false dichotomy.”

One of the stated goals of the METRONext Moving Forward Plan is to help alleviate congestion on Houston roads by giving residents a range of attractive and feasible transportation options. In that regard, Cazares said scaling back or scrapping bold plans based on current ridership, or even expected ridership, is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

“The Silver Line doesn’t connect to anything now,” Cazares said. “To increase ridership on the Silver Line, you need the Gulfton BRT and you need the Inner Katy BRT so all those lines connect and folks have access from southwest Houston to downtown Houston using all three of those lines.”

1. How is any of this consistent with wanting to increase ridership? The Universities Line, first as light rail and now as BRT, was always envisioned as a backbone of the entire system, a key east-west connector that would make it possible for a lot more of Houston to get to places like the Galleria area more easily. Look at the map in that story – it literally intersects with every existing light rail and BRT line. The original projections for the Universities Line showed it having very high ridership. What are we doing here?

2. And by the way, voters have now twice approved referenda to fund the construction of this line. How many times to we have to vote to build this damn thing before it finally gets built?

3. As with many other projects, also mentioned in the story, all of this has come completely out of left field. None of this was discussed during the Mayoral campaign. Whatever you thought you were voting for if you voted for John Whitmire last year, this wasn’t it. Again I ask, what are we doing here?

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10 Responses to Yeah, it looks like we do have to worry about Metro going backwards

  1. It looks like those multi-billion-dollar projects are off the table for now, especially since the ridership data doesn’t justify their expense. When Metro proposes those kinds of expensive projects to the public, it seems they always vastly overestimate their projected ridership and transit benefits (I guess they have to do that in order to gain voter support).

    At their core, I believe Metro riders want: a robust bus route network (which we already have), shelters at all the bus stops, the buses to be on-time, buses to be in good shape (e.g. AC working, clean), the fares to be low, and their ride to be safe. Metro should focus on those core fundamentals, along with funding major street repair and road expansion projects (to include fixing all the existing potholes). As far as adding more Metro routes, those decisions should always be data-driven based on actual ridership needs, including a costs vs. benefits analysis – getting the highest number of riders to/from their destinations in the most economical way possible. We really need to start getting more mass-transit bang for our limited taxpayer bucks.

  2. For the open-minded blog readers who would like to get away from the spin and review the actual data and details concerning those Metro projects, Bill King did a lot of research on the topic:

  3. mollusk says:

    The people who will be paying for this (i.e., “the voters”) have approved this repeatedly. Adding improvements and working on the core fundamentals are not mutually exclusive.

  4. Kenneth J Fair says:

    Agreed with mollusk on this. I have now voted twice for this, specifically to implement the Universities line. I didn’t vote for the funding in 2019 to make other improvements, as much as those maybe necessary and desired.

  5. Mollusk, I would argue that voters have been mislead about the actual mass-transit benefits of these projects. Frankly, there is only so much money available to spend on mass-transit, so it just comes down to prioritization. Metro can’t properly fund/address its’ core rider needs while sinking billions into these other projects.

  6. Adoile Turner III says:

    I agree with Greg, METRO is willing to put way too much taxpayer money on the line for speculative ridership numbers that never pan out. The Uptown, East End and Southeast lines are all blatant proof of that with not one of those lines carrying over 6K riders a day. In comparison the 82 Westheimer sees over 13K riders a day AND STILL HAS NO EXPRESS OR STOP SKIP OPTION, like the 2 Bellaire does with the 402 Quickline which follows the route stopping only at major transfer stops reducing trip times significantly. The 82 Westheimer, 4 Beechnut, 25 Richmond, 46 Gessner, 54 Scott, 56 Airline, and 65 Bissonnet should all have these skip services that would be extremely cheap to implement, and be a sort of BRT Lite network that could then be a basis for further upgrading those routes, now the current BOOST network is attempting to do that but adding the Skip Busses would be the icing on the cake. And yes the University line BRT should at the very least be built because it’s the one that we as voters have asked for over 15 years now.

  7. voter_worker says:

    Just speculating, but the success of the save the trees activist in forestalling the Montrose Blvd project could be in the mix. The Universities Line BRT could involve removing orders of magnitude more mature street trees than proposed in the Montrose TIRZ project, generating a potentially very strong activist opposition movement when that aspect became obvious.

  8. J says:

    I don’t think Whitmire gives a damn about trees, activists, or bus riders. Especially bus riders, who aren’t rich Republicans after all. I think he is just throwing his weight around, seeing what he can get away with before everyone figures out we no longer have a Strong Mayor form of government.

  9. Thomas says:

    The Gulfton and University BRT projects involve taking away general traffic lanes, which Whitmire has decreed is a no-no. Not sure what his issue with the Inner Katy project would be, since it’s an entirely new structure and fills a gap in the region’s HOV network, which would benefit his precious commuters.

  10. Joel says:

    Tell me about it. Austin finally voted to approve a bond for a train four years ago, and so far, as best I can tell, the only movement has been focus groups and studies to decide how best to scale back what the voters approved.

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