Because change is hard. It always is.
Transit officials might have reimaginged bus service in the Houston area, but the riders who rely on it for daily trips are asking them to rethink it again.
Since the redesigned bus system was approved in February, concerned riders have appeared at every Metropolitan Transit Authority board meeting worried the changes will leave some riders — notably elderly and low-income Metro users — a farther walk from convenient bus stops and with less effective bus service. Those concerns amplified this week during public hearings to discuss the changes.
Dozens of riders, ranging from disabled transit-dependent downtown workers to late-shift restaurant employees at Houston’s airports to elderly users afraid of half-mile walks, have voiced concerns about the new bus network, set to debut Aug. 16.
“It is the only transportation I have,” said Sharon Bomar, one of many residents of a senior apartment building at 2100 Memorial to oppose the changes.
This is going to be hard. It was hard work getting to here, and it will be hard going forward. This change affects everyone who currently rides a Metro bus, and some of those people will be worse off as a result. The goal, and the hope, is that far more people will be better off, and that some number of people who currently don’t ride Metro buses will be persuaded to do so because the new routes are sufficiently more convenient for them. But again, some people are going to lose. They’re likely the only ones showing up at a meeting like this, since there’s not much for those who like the new routes to say. The good news for Ms. Bomar and her neighbors is that an alternate route that restores her service has been proposed, and it already has the approval of board member Christof Spieler. If any further changes are coming, I figure that will be one of them.
Along with the route displacement, residents in northeastern and southern Houston have raised numerous concerns, including a lack of sidewalks to get to bus stops.
“Look at the reality of my mama, your mama, a grandmother having to walk four blocks for the bus,” Houston Councilman Dwight Boykins told Metro officials.
Boykins, who said he is exploring what the city can do to improve streets and sidewalks, noted some bus stops are “so close to an open ditch that I am sure (riders) fear they will fall in.”
“The last thing I need is for one of my senior citizens to have to walk, and then get hit by a car waiting for the bus,” Boykins said.
No question better sidewalks would be a huge help here, but that’s not something Metro can control. They can do more to improve stops, especially at transfer points, and we should expect to see more shelters at stops thanks to the extra sales tax revenue that Metro is receiving. The thing is, I don’t think we will be able to judge how good the new system is until people start using it. Does ridership increase? Do people say they like it? How does Metro adjust if things don’t go as well as hoped? We’ll see what changes they make in response to this feedback, then we’ll see how it goes in August. Let’s please have a little patience and some appreciation of the fact that there will be some bumps in the road no matter what.