System reimagining time

Big day today, hopefully.

A once-in-a-generation change to Houston bus service – shifting from a downtown-focused, hub-and-spoke design to a broader network reflecting new ways people move around – could receive final approval by Metro’s board Wednesday.

Officials say the “reimagining” may represent a make-or-break moment in the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s efforts to boost lagging ridership.

“If we screw it up, rolling this out, we are going to shoot ourselves in the foot,” board member Cindy Siegel said.

The board will consider authorizing staff to revise the entire local bus system. None of the changes apply to park and ride service.

The final plan, however, scraps one of the biggest changes originally proposed in several northeast neighborhoods – on-demand “flex” service as opposed to fixed routes. And the redesign won’t take effect until August, two months later than planned, giving officials more time to transition to changes that could affect most of Metro’s 290,000 or so daily riders.

Cost estimates reflect Metro spending $9.3 million more annually than it does now on bus service, a roughly 3 percent increase. The higher costs would be covered by additional fares – officials predict the revised routes will increase ridership by 20 percent – and sales tax revenue tied to the 2012 referendum that allows Metro to keep more of the region’s 1-cent transportation sales tax.

See here, here, and here for the background. As I’ve said before, I’m one of the six percent that will be negatively affected by this, as the #40 route that I take the most often will no longer pass through my neighborhood. From what I can tell, I’ll either have to take two (high-frequency) buses to get downtown with a minimum of walking, take a lower-frequency route that’s farther from my house than my current stop is, or take a high-frequency route (the Washington Avenue one) with a long walk; this latter option is something I do now occasionally on my way home. As someone once said, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, so I’m okay with this as long as it meets the stated objectives. I look forward to seeing what final changes Metro has made as they move forward with this. Houston On The Go has more.

UPDATE: System reimagining was unanimously approved, according to a Metro press release. The approved map can be found here.

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