Still tweaking the reimagining

An updated version of Metro’s reimagined bus network will be out soon.

The so-called reimagining plan, which the Metropolitan Transit Authority began studying more than a year ago, touches every bus route in the sprawling Houston-area system. Changes will take effect in June, with Metro planning some early testing of new services and a massive public information campaign prior to the launch.

Staff plans to unveil the updated, final plan for the system to the transit agency’s board on Jan. 29. Though officials originally said the changes would not increase costs, correcting issues raised during the process might lead to increases in bus service, which would require more money.

The new system abandons routes that haven’t shifted as the region’s population moved farther from the city’s core or adjusted as transit-dependent residents moved in large numbers to areas like Gulfton and northeast Houston.

Supporters say the new system will include frequent east-west and north-south lines that are fed by less frequent routes that fill in the rest of the service area.

In some areas where Metro officials said ridership was low, the plan controversially introduces “flex zones” where riders can call a bus roving in the area. This bus would take them to a destination within the specified zone, or to a nearby transit center where they could connect with regular bus service.

Residents in the northeast part of Houston, where three of the flex zones are planned, have balked at the proposal.

“We are not in the position to experiment,” said Otis Robinson, a part-time Metro bus driver who has led some of the opposition to the flex zones in his Tidwell-area neighborhood.

Robinson said neighbors would prefer regular service. He said ridership on current routes is low because Metro doesn’t provide frequent service to places residents want to go.

See here for the background. If this winds up costing Metro some money, I doubt that’s a big issue. If nothing else, one would hope that the increased sales tax revenue that is now coming their way ought to help pay for whatever expansion of service would be required. As for the “flex zone” question, I honestly don’t know what the best answer is. Maybe take the residents’ word for it and have fixed routes with higher levels of service in those areas, with flex zones as the fallback in case ridership doesn’t increase? Like I said, I don’t know. I look forward to seeing what the updated map looks like.

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