Another version of Metro’s downtown trolley system is shut down due to coronavirus, and likely won’t come back, at least not in that format.
Downtown Houston’s free shuttle may have hauled its last passenger, a victim of the central district’s stop-and-go traffic, as well as changes in how residents and visitors move around town.
GreenLink, shuttles that pick up and drop off at Metropolitan Transit Authority bus stops along various streets in the downtown district, stopped March 23 as transit officials and the downtown district reduced service because of the COVID-19 crisis.
The timing could accelerate what already was a planned discontinuation of the service on May 31, said Bob Eury, executive director of the Houston Downtown Management District, which owned the shuttles that started circling the city’s center in mid-2012, operated by Metro with funding from the downtown district.
Eury said given the weeks of isolation orders likely ahead, it is possible GreenLink shuttles never get a green light ever again, at least in their present form.
Metro on March 24 agreed to buy the seven buses used on the route for $264,439, their estimated value due to depreciation.
Officials said it is possible they will not go far, however. Metro board member Jim Robinson said the transit agency is exploring quick routes across the central business district to connect workers on the eastern side to the park and ride service largely focused on the west side.
“I’ve had a number of people who live in northern or western park and ride areas tell me they would use the service if they didn’t have to walk from the west side of the (central business district) to the east side in Houston weather,” Robinson said.
Robinson said a decision will come within a comprehensive look at the entire commuter bus system, and how it can serve jobs spreading across the downtown area and into EaDo and Midtown.
That makes sense. The Greenlink buses were low-capacity to begin with, and to some extent they were an alternative to walking, which when downtown streets were jammed was often at least as quick a way to go. Uber and Lyft also competed with Greenlink. I worked two different stints downtown, for two years in the mid-90s when the previous trolley system was in place, and for four years in the 2010s with GreenLink. I never used either service, mostly because I’m a fast and impatient walker who doesn’t mind a little recreational jaywalking. In my second time downtown, I made use of B-Cycle when I had to take a trip that was just a bit too far to walk. As Metro redesigned its local bus system a few years ago, it makes sense to rethink what GreenLink is about, and to ensure that it’s providing the kind of rides that most people really need. After we’re all able to get out of the house and use it again, of course.