1. The Public Has Asked for Improvements

In 2011, METRO completed Phase I for the METROVision, METRO’s Long Range Plan to obtain community input on the future for transit in the region. To collect input, five focus groups and 27 public meetings took place over a fivemonth time period.

Common themes from the public input included support for mass transit in Houston, specifically rail service that connects to existing services, and support for expanded transit service. The area inside the Sam Houston Tollway (Beltway 8) was cited as the area in need of transit services the most. Additionally, a growing concern expressed during the public meetings was the need for transit services designed to meet the needs of Houston’s senior citizen community. In all, improving the METRO bus system was the area where the majority of public feedback was focused.

This feedback was valuable to help METRO continue to improve its overall service including reimplementation of a Day Pass fare, and strategic planning projects around METROLift and improving bicyclist access to transit. System Reimagining is the most direct response to the METROVision feedback. System Reimagining develops the plan to most effectively utilize METRO’s resources to provide the community with the improved transit system they have requested.

2. Goals Need Clearer Definition

There is no one clear measure of success for a transit system because transit systems are expected to serve multiple competing goals. Defining goals – and especially making clear choices where two goals are in conflict – is critical in defining METRO’s role in the region’s multimodal transportation system. This is especially true when both of these goals are something that people want. One key task for the Transit System Reimagining project is to clarify these goals for METRO’s bus system.

You can give input on these goals and priorities by taking the project survey.

3. The Houston Region is Changing Faster Than the Transit System has Adapted

The Houston/Harris County region is one of the most dynamic areas in the United States. Strong economic performance, low cost of living, and increasing investments in quality of life in the region have brought significant growth to the fourth largest city and fifth largest metropolitan area in the country.

A key factor in transit performance the amount of activity along a route. In fact, the concentration of housing, jobs and destinations along a route is most highly correlated to route performance. To meet the needs of the region, the transit system needs to adapt to changing development patterns and population densities. Transit System Reimagining is an opportunity to ensure that the bus transit system is designed to provide the right level of service to the right areas to address the growth and changes that have occurred in the region.

4. New Light Rail Line Openings

When the Red (Main Street) light rail line opened in 2004, it showed the potential impact that rail can have on ridership and the level of integration required between the bus network and the light rail operations to make both work well. High performing bus routes like the 2 Bellaire and the 25 Richmond provide strong links with the rail network. METRO currently has 3 light rail lines under construction and scheduled for opening in 2013-2014.

Red Line Extension (North) - 5.3 mile extension from the existing Main Street terminus at UH Downtown to Northline Transit Center. Opened in December 2013.

Purple Line (Southeast) - 6.6 mile rail line from Smith Street on the west side of Downtown to Palm Center on Griggs Road. Provides connection to BBVA Compass Stadium, the University of Houston, and Texas Southern University.

Green Line (East End) - 3.3 mile rail line from Smith Street to Magnolia Transit Center at Harrisburg Boulevard and 70th Street. The Green and Purple Lines share track from Smith Street to BBVA Compass Stadium. The estimated completion date for the Green and Purple lines is by Fall 2014.

The opening of the new light rail lines presents an opportunity to rethink the bus routes that will connect to rail. In all 27 routes, over one quarter of all local routes, intersect or overlap one of these new rail lines outside of Downtown. To ensure that the rail lines and the bus network are integrated into one system, the bus routes will all need to be assessed and revised. Areas of overlapping service can be eliminated and those bus resources can be applied elsewhere to improve the overall service.

Transit System Reimagining represents an opportunity to rethink the bus system in a holistic way to define better rail connections, where additional resources should be applied, and where the system can be better aligned with development. Reimagining provides a platform to make these changes in timely fashion, optimized to meet the overall goals developed for the transit system.

5. METRO Can Do Better

A high level peer review was conducted to see how METRO’s performance compared to a group of peer systems. While no transit systems are identical in the environments in which they operate (demographic, geographic, political, or financial) or the services they provide, the performance of peers can still provide an indication of whether METRO is mirroring, beating, or slipping behind national trends.

The following peer systems were chosen to be generally consistent with the peer systems METRO uses internally to gauge system performance, with a few exceptions. In general, they included systems that are fairly similar in metropolitan area size and service provided. Almost all operate rail transit of some form, and most operate light rail. Finally, none are located in the higher density, older urban areas of the Northeast.

  • Atlanta GA

  • Austin TX

  • Dallas TX

  • Denver CO

  • Miami FL

  • Minneapolis MN *

  • Phoenix AZ *

  • Portland OR

  • St. Louis MO

  • San Antonio TX

  • Santa Clara CA

  • Seattle WA *

Cities with an asterisk include data for multiple agencies in the region; the rest are just for one (main) system. While almost all major cities have multiple providers, these three regions have multiple providers of significant size. All data are from National Transit Database (NTD) for 2007 and 2011 to provide a fiveyear analysis period.

Based on this review, METRO efficiently operates transit service with one of the lowest costs among its peers. At the same time METRO carries fewer passengers for that cost than many other systems. Comparisons to the performance of the peer groups and to its own performance five years ago indicate that METRO has enormous opportunity for increasing its productivity and effectiveness. If METRO were to return to its systemwide productivity of 2007 (in terms of boardings per revenue hour) while keeping service levels and hence financial investment the same as FY 2011, systemwide ridership would increase to over 108 million annual boardings. Even further, if METRO could increase its boardings per revenue hour to the 2011 peer average of 30.6 while holding revenue hours constant, its ridership would soar to 125 million boardings per year, an increase of more than 50%. Based on either historic productivity or in comparison to peers, clearly there is significant room for improvement in METRO’s productivity, ridership and cost effectiveness. The System Reimagining Project may be one way to get there.