Houston Just Rebuilt Its Bus System From Scratch

Houston's bus system before, on the left and after a complete system redesign on the right.
Houston’s bus system before, on the left, and after a complete redesign.

On Sunday, Houston debuted an entirely new and improved bus system. The city didn’t pass a new transit levy. Instead it put existing resources to use in a way that is designed to maximize frequent service and boost ridership.

With the help of consultant Jarrett Walker (of Network blog Human Transit), Houston’s METRO changed nearly every route and every stop in the system. Smart Growth America explains what riders will gain from the process:

73 percent of bus riders will have access to high-frequency service—a 217 percent increase from METRO’s current system. The high-frequency routes will have 15 minute headways. An additional 19 percent of riders will be on routes with headways of 30 minutes or less. Almost 60 percent of bus trips to 30 key destinations will be 10 minutes or faster. METRO will accomplish this more frequent, speedier service primarily by shifting to a grid system that allows for more direct routing than the current hub-and-spoke network though downtown. Some of the speed improvements are the result of reducing the number of street-level rail crossings encountered on a bus route, almost eliminating route branching, and moving away from long, delay-prone routes.

To top it off, the frequent routes will run just as often on the weekends, dramatically expanding access for those with weekend shifts or who rely on the bus to make a Saturday grocery run. With Houston’s current system, about half of bus riders had access to high-frequency service during the week, that ratio dropped to 25 percent on the weekends.

It will be really cool to see if this kind of service upgrade can move more people to transit in a city like Houston. Columbus, Ohio is currently engaged in a similar effort.

Elsewhere on the Network today: We Are Mode Shift reports a new website will allow Detroit transit riders to share and publicize service issues. Green Caltrain says a bill in the California legislature would reserve some cap-and-trade funds for transit. And NextSTL shares lessons from one of St. Louis’s early experiments with parklets.

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