Houston boosting bus service without boosting bus budget

Fri, 2014-05-23 06:00 -- Doug Cooley

Is it possible to create a better bus system without incurring higher operating costs? Transit planners in Houston are out to prove you can.

Houston Metro, burdened with a transit system devised in the 1970s, has proposed an extensive makeover of the local bus service under its System Reimagining Plan. Moreover, the plan sidesteps the need for new money by redeploying existing resources rather than relying on fare hikes and more system funding.

Under the draft plan, Houston Metro would target 80% of its transit network resources toward maximizing ridership and 20% toward network coverage. The ratio is more like 50% in each area today. Prioritizing ridership over service coverage means focusing on corridors with high ridership patterns at the expense of those serving more remote areas with fewer passengers. However, the proposed system creates better access between home and work by connecting to job centers all around the city instead emphasizing routes to the downtown core.

“Houston is a constellation of centers, and the transit network needs to be more decentralized to effectively service all of those centers where the density and walkability make transit viable,” writes transit network design lead Jarrett Walker in his blog.

Municipal planners looking to initiate significant service or infrastructure changes in their communities may want to examine the Houston transit project for other reasons. Houston Metro has promoted high levels of community engagement  in coming up with its plan.  And the agency continues to devote considerable attention to keeping the public informed about project details with the use of interactive transit maps, feedback tools and other resources. To learn more about effective community engagement practices, download the Smart City Council Readiness Guide (one-time free registration required).