More on Metro’s bus strategy

The anticipated “re-imagining” of Metro’s bus service is underway.

The “new” Metro is still prioritizing things in an old way, splitting its priorities evenly between ridership growth and coverage to areas where officials know the bus provides the only viable option for many residents. Metro strives to serve anyone who needs a bus, which takes away from its ability to put buses where they’re most in demand.

In a process they call “re-imagining,” Metro officials are examining bus routes and policies in advance of three new rail lines opening between now and late 2014. They hope to better coordinate bus and rail service and increase ridership while keeping costs flat.

Legal requirements don’t mean Metro must cover everyone. Ridership, with some conditions, can trump coverage. If Metro focuses on high-volume routes, its bus ridership could grow by double-digit percentages. Such a change could deprive less than 1 percent of current riders of convenient access, Walker said.

Members of a Metro focus group are overwhelmingly telling the agency to tilt toward serving neighborhoods ripe for increased ridership. In a poll, more than half of respondents said Metro should focus 75 percent of its efforts on ridership and 25 percent on coverage. Only three of the 46 members of the group said Metro needed more coverage consideration.

The focus group of local residents, planners and business and elected officials meets periodically to discuss the opportunities and pitfalls of the proposed changes. Traffic Engineers Inc., a local transportation planning company, won a $1.1 million contract in January to consult on the re-imagining effort and conduct public meetings over a year-long process.

See here for some background. The goal is to increase ridership, and there is a lot that can be done at minimal cost to coverage, but that still means potentially cutting some people off from their main or only source of transportation. These are never easy things to do. I’ve suggested before that Metro seek to integrate its bus network more comprehensively with B-Cycle and Houston’s expanding bike network, as I believe that will help make Metro buses more accessible to more people. I look forward to seeing what they come up with.

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