The METRO Transit System Reimagining project is a transformative redesign of the Houston region’s local bus system. This reimagining took a blank-slate look at METRO’s local bus network in response to declining ridership, changing demographic and development patterns in the region, and community feedback. The goal was development of a 5-year transit service plan for METRO to better align local bus service with regional travel patterns, better integrate the bus network with three new rail lines, and increase ridership.
This was METRO’s first comprehensive look at its bus system in decades. The plan was developed to better utilize METRO’s existing resources by creating a strong network of transit routes that better serve major activity centers. The plan greatly expands the network of frequent routes and expands weekend service. The plan also called for a move from a radial, downtown-focused system to a regional grid which connects many people to many different activity centers, leading to faster trips for most current riders and a more attractive transit option for potential riders.
This effort required significant stakeholder, elected official, and community involvement. A series of workshops with a 120-member stakeholder group made up of community leaders, bus riders, and staff from METRO and local jurisdictions was held to educate them on potential benefits of redesigning the bus system and build consensus on goals. Innovative design workshops, online games and tools, and presentation materials were developed to communicate the fundamental trade-offs effectively and collect feedback on the budget priorities and rider needs.
Once the METRO board of directors selected a position on the critical ridership versus coverage trade-off, a core planning workshop in which METRO staff and consulting team members designed the bulk of the reimagined system was held. The resulting network was evaluated against the goals over the following months and refined based on weekly conference calls with the core planning team.
The resulting draft network plan was presented first to the stakeholder committee and METRO board. The proposed network more than doubles the number of people in the Houston region with access to frequent (every 15 minutes or less, all week) bus service to 1.1 million and connects them to 1 million jobs. It also places over 70 percent of existing boardings within one quarter mile of frequent service, up from less than half. The frequency and travel time improvements offered by the new network are expected to drive a ridership increase of 20% within two years of full plan implementation, an additional 40,000 or more transit rides each day. The network creates a foundation for future service additions and frequency improvements, positioning METRO to continue making strides toward meeting regional transit demand. The METRO Board adopted the final plan in September 2014 and implementation is scheduled for August 2015.
The plan has gained near total praise, both in Houston and from the national press, putting a major Texas city on the map as a transit innovator. Media coverage of the project can be read here and here.
Location: Houston/ Harris County, TX
Scale: 1285 Square Miles
Client: Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County (METRO)
Prime Consultant: Traffic Engineers, Inc.