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Another review of Metro’s bus system reimagining

This time from the Chron:

HoustonMetro

Nearly three months into what many consider the most significant operational change any American transit system has made in three decades, Houston transit officials and supporters are calling the new bus network a rousing success. Critics, however, point to broken connections and to transit-dependent riders whose service has been cut as Metro tries to appeal to riders who have the option of driving.

For many, perhaps most, Metro riders, the new bus system didn’t drastically change anything. Their trips usually start and end at bus stops within a block of where they always have. Getting there might involve a different route, and buses may come a few minutes later or earlier.

Roughly two dozen riders – among more than 100 interviewed over seven weeks starting after Labor Day – said they preferred their old route. Reasons ranged from longer walks to crowded buses that require transfers in inconvenient spots.

Many others said the new system was easier to navigate and seemed quicker and more responsive to their needs. Most, however, could only point to a minute or two saved or lost – maybe a slightly shorter walk – while applauding the decision to expand weekend service. For many working folks and those dependent on the bus, the pluses and minuses were minor.

[…]

At the roughly 9,000 bus stops and train stations where Metro’s riders rely on service, reaction to the changes remains mixed. Some riders find the route changes inconvenient, while others cheer the more direct, dependable service.

Popular routes, notably the Route 82 Westheimer bus, have become huge carriers of transit riders. The Westheimer line is the most used bus in Metro’s system – averaging more than 12,000 trips on an average workday – leading some riders to complain of crowded bus stops and standing-room-only rides along a curvy, bumpy major street.

Those frustrations, however, can be fixed by adding service, something Metro started doing along some routes less than two weeks after rolling out the new system. Many more significant changes are planned for January, pending Metro board approval. Among them is adding even more buses to the Westheimer route, giving it a frequency of every six minutes during peak times. That would put it on par with the light rail Red Line that connects the central business district and Texas Medical Center.

The bus system changes have had little effect on the trip down Westheimer, however. Buses bounce along the same bad roads in the same congested traffic. Dozens of riders along major routes report that while buses might come more frequently, their trips are really no shorter or longer under the new system.

I’m sure that’s true, and it’s also one of the main selling points for light rail and BRT that have their own dedicated right of way, but more frequent buses means shorter wait times, and that’s definitely something. From my perspective as a once-or-twice-a-week rider, I used to primarily take the old #40 that ran down Bayland through the Heights. I’d catch it in the afternoon going home at a stop on Bagby in front of City Hall, where I could also catch the old #36 that ran down Washington Avenue. (Initially, the old #50 that went on Height Boulevard via Washington stopped there as well, but it was rerouted several months before the big change.) The #40 would drop me a few blocks from my house, but it ran infrequently so if a #36 came along first I’d catch it instead. That dropped me at Washington and Studemont, and from there I’d walk a bit more than a mile home. Now I catch the #85 – the new Washington Avenue bus, which has very frequent service – at a stop where the #44, which goes down Houston Avenue, also stops. The #85 has always been the first to arrive, usually within five minutes. I get off at Washington and Studemont as before, but can now catch the #56 to take me the rest of the way. It too has frequent service, and it too has usually arrived within five minutes. I find that this new two-bus commute is usually faster than the one-bus ride I used to take.

It helps that these are fairly short trips, and they are for the most part on streets that aren’t terribly congested. Be that as it may, it’s knowing that there’s a bus coming in short order is what makes the experience better for me. I don’t worry that I may have just missed a bus, which used to mean a potential 20 or 30 minute wait. For those times I had to ride in the morning and needed to worry about being late for work, that was an especially big deal. My experience is my own, and others will be different, but this is how it looks to me. I don’t know what individual ridership numbers are, but it also looks to me like the #56 is pretty popular – I see those buses go by all the time as I walk my dog, which includes early morning and nighttime, and there are always riders on these buses. And I’ll add, I’m already planning to take the #56 to next year’s Art Car Parade. I expect that will be a much better experience than driving and trying to park.

Mostly, I’m glad to hear that thus far there hasn’t been much more than basic grumbling. I mean, there were all those predictions of doom and gloom and whatnot. There are still issues to work through – I look forward to seeing what tweaks they have planned for January – but I feel like this has largely been a success so far. We just need the numbers to follow in due course.

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One Comment

  1. […] figure they’ll get it. As I’ve said before, my experience has been positive, though I am not a typical rider and I live in a part of town that is heavily […]