Much has happened in the Houston/Harris County Region since last year’s APTA EXPO, including the launch of two new rail lines in May and a complete revamp of its bus system, which began running services in August.
“It’s been very exciting for the Houston Metro employees, and the organization as a whole, to be able to expand services and travel choices to our customers,” said Houston Metro President/CEO Tom Lambert.
In 2001, Metro adopted a Regional Transit Plan that was enacted in 2003 and called for 30 miles of light rail transit, including the 5.3-mile North Line, which opened in 2013. Two more rail lines in that plan — Southeast and East End — launched in May.
The 3.3-mile East End Line runs along Harrisburg Boulevard — a major boulevard in Houston — and features six stations, connecting riders to jobs and residential areas, while the six-plus-mile Southeast Corridor serves major residential areas, as well as Texas Southern University and the University of Houston’s main campus.
“We’re really beginning to see the building of a rail network that not only travels North-South, but East-West,” said Lambert. “Since May, we’ve seen ridership continuing to grow incrementally on both of those lines.”
Lambert added that development along all of Metro’s rail corridors has also continued to grow, with public and private investment along the Main Street Line now hitting about $8.2 billion since it launched in 2004.
“We are seeing the growth of urban environments where people use transit to work, live and play in the areas where they reside, so I think we will see this type of development continue to take off,” said Lambert.
To better integrate with the changing transit system, Houston Metro embarked on a three-year project to update its bus network for the first time since the 1970s. That new bus network launched in August, bringing along with it several improvements without any additional operational costs, including 38% more bus service on Saturdays; 93% more service on Sundays; and the addition of 22 high-frequency routes, with headways that are 15 minutes or better, seven days a week.
“Our old transportation network basically forced people to go to Downtown Houston and then transfer out to where they really wanted to go,” Lambert explained. “The new network is a grid-based network, where riders can get directly to where they’d like to go without having to come downtown, unless they want to.”
To help riders with the transition, Houston Metro launched a trip planner that helped passengers plan their trips on the old network and then see how their trip would change once the new network launched.
The agency also launched a massive outreach program, which included radio and television advertising and approximately 22 million pieces of collateral materials designed to create awareness amongst the communities Houston Metro serves.
The new network also includes the Community Connector, which covers an approximate five-square-mile area and functions similar to a demand-response system. Connector riders can either be picked up at their door or at two designated stops.
“We launched the service about six months ago and have been getting very good feedback from the community,” Lambert said. “It was something we looked at from a coverage standpoint, and we’ll continue to see how this type of service may better serve other regions that may need service.”
For all this and more, Houston Metro has been named APTA’s Outstanding Public Transit System, carrying more than 20 million passengers per year.
“I’m proud for the community first and foremost,” Lambert said. “Back in 1978, they voted to tax themselves to support transit, and through that, they gave us the opportunity to build a network that continues to improve.”