Ridership on the Upswing After Houston’s Bus Network Redesign

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

Houston’s bus map before and after a thorough system overhaul.

In August, Houston debuted its new bus network, reconfigured to increase frequent service, expand weekend hours, and improve access to jobs.

The implementation was contentious at times, and when we last checked in on the results — two months after the changes took effect — bus ridership was down 4 percent overall but up dramatically on weekends. That was to be expected, wrote transit consultant Jarrett Walker, who worked on the project, because it takes some time for people to adjust to changes and familiarize themselves with the new routes.

Now, after just two more months, METRO is reporting that bus ridership has climbed above previous levels. November totals were up 4 percent compared to the previous year.

“The upswing in ridership on the New Bus Network launched on Aug. 16, 2015 is immensely gratifying,” said METRO Board Chairman Gilbert Garcia in a press release. “The countless hours of researching routes, community meetings and input, planning changes, and redirecting and training our staff is paying off and we’re confident that trend will continue to grow.”

In October, Walker said he would expect ridership to increase about 20 percent by two years after the redesign, provided good management by the local transit agency. We’ll see, but the returns after just a few months are promising.

These results should be encouraging to cities like Columbus that are considering similar changes.

Metro is also getting ready to roll out a new transfer policy expected to boost ridership more. Previously, riders paying with cash did not get free transfers. Under the new policy, tickets will be good for a free transfer for up to three hours.