Thursday, July 31, 2014

The biggest revolution of all

The most-novel thing arising from System Re-imagining is not the Frequent Network.  It's not the fact Northwest Transit Center will boast more routes connecting with it than anywhere else in METRO's service area.

Currently, a good number of local bus routes do not have service on Sundays.  In fact, on Sundays, our Frequent Network is reduced from about ten routes (weekdays) to only service running directly on Westheimer to Hillcroft from Downtown, especially between Hillcroft and Chimney Rock (81/82/53).  Saturdays is a little bit better with about two or three streets running Frequent Service.  But even on Saturdays, there are a good number of routes that have greatly-reduced service or no service at all.

With the Draft Proposed Network Map, all but about four or five routes will run seven days a week with frequency equivalent to weekday/midday!  Those routes not running on weekends are odd routes that serve only weekday-rush hour spans of time.

True seven-day-a-week service in mass-transit of any sort...  This, I do not believe, has ever been done in the history of our region, and may very well be for many people the single-greatest game-changer with the coming new network of local bus service.

With this and the grid-based paradigm on which the new network will be based, METRO finally abandons the age-old ridership model of going to work in Downtown and going right home again with nothing in-between and with only a little bit of service on weekends for grocery trips.  I also see in this a strong attempt by METRO for the first time ever at making local mass-transit much-more appealing to people other than those who cannot afford an automobile.

Upon further thought, though, perhaps the biggest revolution with System Re-imagining is not even seven-day-a-week service, but that the fact the agency is even being allowed to pursue this project in the first place.  Again, I say this: please, next Mayor of Houston, for Heaven's sake, please don't appoint a do-nothing METRO Board who will mess this all up!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

More thoughts on FLEX

As currently proposed, we stand to have five FLEX zones: 395 N. Shepherd FLEX398 Jensen FLEX377 Mesa FLEX378 Kashmere FLEX, and the 376 FW/DH FLEX.  

Overlaid with old routes, here are the proposed Northeast Houston FLEX zones...

When I call our current network a Salvador Dali - Jackson Pollack nightmare, this is what I'm talking about.  Look at all that duplicate service, twisting, and turning for so little return on ridership!

And now, these four zones overlaid with re-imagined routes...  Red lines are fifteen-minute-or-better Frequent Network routes.  Blue lines are half-hour frequency.  Green are one-hour frequency.  Note the hourly route from the 376 FW/DH Flex Zone to the Fifth Ward / Denver Harbor Transit Center.  Ditto for the 378 to Kashmere TC...  The 377 connects at Mesa least according to the current online .pdf route details whereas the interactive draft map has the dropoff/connection point at Kashmere TC.

And here is the 395 N. Shepherd FLEX...

My understanding is that how pickups and dropoffs will work for these FLEX zones will differ somewhat from zone to zone.  METRO has not at this writing released full details as to exactly how this will work.

What I do know is this: if I'm living in these areas and if I can be sure I will be reasonably safe walking, and if it's not two-hundred degrees outdoors, I will walk to and from the one-mile-approximate each was to and from the bus.  The lack of a great deal of connectivity to the Frequent Network is a real problem.  Clearly, this is a system for seniors in that I can walk to and from my fixed routes far faster than the two-hour call-in-advance requirement all the zones will presumably require, a phone call that will effectively begin my trip right then.

One hates conclusions based on partial information, therefore, I am not dismissing FLEX outright.  It will be interesting to see how METRO can alleviate the problems caused with the two-hour call-in-advance time requirement as well as how efficient routings and the driving of these routings can be.

FLEX is a brand-new creature to the Bayou City and our region.  It will be fascinating to see how it works out, but for the few people affected by these new FLEX zones, right now it seems riding the bus will be a far-more complex venture than ever before.

May I be proven wrong.

Monday, July 28, 2014

FLEX: an introduction and why it could torpedo System Re-imagining

FLEX.  as in FLEXible...

It is a concept in mass-transit used in many places for those parts of communities that do not have enough ridership to justify regular fixed routes, but enough ridership to justify at least some coverage.  In the METRO service area, these areas of sparse ridership still needing at least some coverage are large swaths of Northeast Houston and parts of North Houston.

The theory is this: bus takes a regular fixed route through a FLEX zone, but according to passenger requests made in advance by phone or other means, deviates from that regular fixed route within the geographical limits of the FLEX zone to pick up and drop off passengers.

Having to phone METRO two hours in advance for a pickup is the bothersome aspect of this, but I'm not sure of any way to shorten this time without unduly vexing our bus operators.  How METRO solves this conundrum, if it can, will be interesting to see.

Unfortunately at this writing, METRO has yet to put out a proper presentation as to how its iteration of FLEX zones will work.  For an idea of how FLEX works in other places, watch presentations from Tampa and Cape Cod on their FLEX services, which I think will differ from METRO's somewhat.

We stand to get FLEX zones with METRO because the agency opted to be aggressive in resource re-allocation on ridership-numbers focus as opposed to geographical coverage.  With this intense ridership emphasis, it stands to reason there will be those who would have their bus coverage reduced, but not eliminated completely.  Those people are in the sparsely-populated Northeast Houston and parts of North Houston.  These people are getting fewer routes, but they are getting the flexibility of a bus coming near or right to their door to pick them up.

Unfortunately, again, to get that bus pick-up, they have to call METRO at least two hours in-advance.  As an African-American friend of mine put it: 'METROLift for able-bodied people'.  And we know how well METROLift works sometimes: mostly well, but not always.

A friend of mine used to live where he would catch the current 137 Northshore.  And he is feeling for the people in those areas of town near where he once dwelt.  To see the full effect of the changes in the coming FLEX zones, look to my rendition of METRO's current network overlaid with the new Draft routes and FLEX zones.

Look at all the miles and miles of routings being done away with in favor of FLEX!  This is a consequence of the budget-constrained way in which METRO has to go about the whole project of System Re-imagining: no reduction of local bus resources, but no increase, either.  And the offing of these old routings, which had very little ridership, anyway, is part of the reason why the draft Frequent Network stands to be so immense.  That many local bus resources were freed to be put elsewhere.

But there may in all this be a perception of 'discrimination' of one sort or another, I think.  And it is this perception of discrimination on the basis of geography or income - but not race - that I think METRO Board Member Jim Robinson may latch onto re the FLEX zones.  Robinson, more than anyone else on the Board, publicly advocated for making sure no-one had their bus service taken from them entirely.

METRO has a hard sell in store regarding FLEX.  To really help make the proposed Frequent Network what it desperately needs to be for the future while remaining within budget, METRO needs to free local bus resources for re-allocation.  To this end, METRO needs these FLEX zones, which allow buses to not take their former circuitous ways through sparse-ridership neighborhoods save when they truly need to, thereby saving money spent on gas and repairing wear-and-tear on our vehicles.

FLEX could play into the reservations of Jim Robinson concerning ridership coverage, which, in turn could sway other members of the Board, starting with Siegel and CastaƱeda, perhaps, and then going on to Ballanfant and Lewter with the other four (Spieler, Garcia, Watson, and Jefferson) digging in their heels while the great part of the imagination and power of the Draft Proposed Map is watered down into something resembling the frequency issues we have with the current network.

I'm probably hyping things way too much in that in all the critical votes on System Re-imagining, there has been unanimity without exception, even from Jim Robinson.  There was also unanimity from former Board Member Carrin Patman, and I think former Board Member Jim Stobb, replaced by Jim Robinson in late October 2013, was on-board, too, though I admit this was about the time when I really started paying attention to what our Board was up to and, thanks to System Re-imagining, taking a real interest in what METRO was doing.

But we must respect the fact that people don't always think in pure and logical ways.  The current draft proposed transit map - unveiled for public comment on 8 May of this year, is pure and logical and devoid of public input.  The Final map on which the Board will vote in September will have probably a good number of changes based on this public input.

But we do not know for sure the Board will vote for this Final Map.  Anything could happen, and should 'something' go down, FLEX will have at least something to do with it.  Once Board approval comes, we can all rest easy, and so far, the Board in its public appearances at committee and regular full meetings has not been opposed to what's been done so far or spoken out about anything related to System Re-imagining.  Again, though, until Board Chair Gilbert Garcia declares a favorable vote for adoption of this final map in September-ish, we cannot rest easy.

Make Jim Robinson at least not too perturbed, and all will be well.  And we can be quite sure Christof and Gilbert, for whom System Re-imagining is their magnum opus of the work they have done on the METRO Board these four years on, will make sure everything is done to keep the concerns of our Mr. Robinson at bay.

And I think it will be easy to keep him at bay.  While asking the right questions and having certain reservations, he has nevertheless always been enthused with the concept and at least most of the resultants of System Re-imagining, and if FLEX can be dealt with in the right way and sold to the public well, I see no reason why the September-ish 2014 Board Meeting with a unanimous vote of approval of System Re-imagining will not be of the advent of a brilliant new transit network a moment of wondrous celebration laced with more than a little relief and awe at what will be the start of a new era in Houston mass-transit.

Friday, July 25, 2014

My Dream METRO Transit Map...and why it will never exist.

My 'Dream METRO Transit Map' will never exist because I've learned my efforts to make such a thing are - at this point at least - pointless.

More than once, I have taken to Google Maps or some photo-editing program and done up my 'dream' METRO route map - visions of Quicklines and light rail as far as the eye can see and dancing in my head.

As I was not brought on to the community System Re-imagining Stakeholder Task Force until this past 27 February's METRO Board Meeting at which I made what is still my only set of public comments in front of the METRO Board, I came to this dinner party late and far past the previous summer's intense Stakeholder Workshops.  I regret not being a part of those, but watching the video archives of these meetings was still a lot of fun.

It is through this Stakeholder process and to a much-larger-and-much-longer extent intensely watching every video and reading every article on this project I can I have come to learn I am no transit planner and that most or all of my dream-maps for METRO would never had worked.  Not having the copious amounts of data METRO has at its disposal, in no way could I ever have come up with the level of detail the System Re-imagining planners have put into the Draft Proposed System Map, which will be finalized and sent to the METRO Board for approval later this summer and autumn.

What do I want, then, in a 'dream' transit network?  Again, the time was - and not that long ago, I might add - where I would answered that question with an image of a map.  Having been enlightened on many things, I've learned to think of these things more conceptually.  After much thought, I've realized in the light of history what I want from my transit network is one that does not stay static for years on end.

We need a transit network that grows, expands, contracts and changes with our region.  We need transit planners who are allowed to make these changes happen and who are competent enough to make these changes come about with the level of care and detail we see today in System Re-imagining.

And what a foundation for decades upon decades of competent iteration System Re-imagining gives!

The proposed draft Frequent Network from

Look at that above grid upon which our new network will be based!  It's so easy to add and take away and change to the mathematical soundness and geometric efficiency a grid offers, even I could create such a mass-transit network halfway-decently.  New streets can easily be added, upgraded to Frequent Service (or downgraded, if need be) with little muss or fuss.

I want a system that puts high-capacity transport modes such as light rail in smart places where there will always be high ridership.  Nothing is worse than a billion-dollar project no-one uses.  Tumbleweeds and dust bunnies at the new and expensive train station?  Horrors!

I want a system that gives people real cause to have pride in their mass-transit in a way Houston has not had since before the first world war.  The years 1905-1914 were the great hey-day of mass-transit culture in our town, and I want that culture to make a big comeback and stick around.

I want a system that is allowed to do its thing by future METRO Boards who actually care (like our current Board seems to) about the agency, its mission, and most of all, the people of our region.  2004-2010 Do-Nothing METRO Board?  Never again!!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

An early tangible harbinger...

During each calendar year, METRO puts out three sets of Service Adjustments for local, Park & Ride, light rail, and anything else METRO does for the general public regarding mass-transit: January, June, and August.  June and August are scheduled around the end and start of the school year with 'school-tripper' buses going offline in June and starting up again in August.  These 'school-trippers' are not publicly advertised, but are around to help alleviate overcrowding in mornings and afternoons due to scads of kids out and about getting to their classes and home again.

January and August have historically been times with greater numbers of service changes than June (timed for scuttling the school trippers for summer), but 7 June 2015 will mark a bigger June service adjustment than usual: the Mother of All Service Adjustments with the 'switching-on' of the new and re-imagined local bus network in one fell swoop: there will be a last sunset on our current local bus network.  The following sunrise will see the new network come online.

Thursday 25 September 2014 will see the regular METRO Board meeting in which the System Re-imagining Final Plan approval will more-than-likely come.  From the moment onward when Chairman Gilbert Garcia declares the vote to be (hopefully) in-favor, a massive logistical project begins which I have described in an earlier post: getting the new network implemented.

From 25 September 2014 onward, the Re-imagined network becomes a living, breathing thing.  From that Board meeting onward, every Service Adjustment will be directly reflective of the tangible reality of this new network and for a time, the demise of the old.

1 July 2014 saw a remarkable moment that brings out the sentimental part of my nature: the release of the last set of proposed service changes (for implementation in August 2014) with the old network still in full-force and the new network still nothing more than corporeal fog in a somewhat-misty future.

No doubt, January 2015 service changes will reflect the new network in at least some small way.

June 2015 service changes will on the normal pamphlet be written thusly: "o... m... g..."

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Acres Homes 44 no more??

If the route-numbering aspect of System Re-imagining holds, then yes, there will be no more METRO local bus route named 44 Acres Homes.

It's times like this I wish I had had a far-better grasp of routing histories throughout the METRO system with the old schedules to go with them.  I would be able to give you better background information on the current 44 Acres Homes.  However, for our purposes, it suffices to say the current 44 has been around long enough, and Acres Homes has enough pride in its identity to have 'adopted' this route as a part of its culture to the point where this part of town has the nickname, 'The 44'.  If METRO gets any slack for its new route-numbering in System Re-imagining, it will be from Acres Homes.

From south to north, re-imagined routes running east-west west of Main and Downtown are numbered 1-29.  From west to east, routes running north-south are numbered 30-69.  Routes numbered 70-99 run all directions, but they are in an order running from south to north.  They include those routes around FM 1960, among them the 94 Acres Homes.

METRO is opting for a logical route structure, but methinks has not quite hit the mark.  If it were me, I would have everything west of Downtown running east-west numbered 1-60 with odd numbering.  I would have everything east of Downtown running east-west numbered 1-60 with even numbering.  Everything running north-south, I would number 61-99 running in an order from east to west.

The few peak only routes as well as the Intercontinental Airport and some other routes, including the 120 FW/DH Northshore Flyer are numbered in the 100s.  Park & Ride route numberings are in the Draft Map mostly-unchanged.  The 300s are the FLEX Zones, there are no more 400s, and the 700s will continue to be the rail shuttles.

This route re-numbering accomplishes a number of things.  It first of all creates a more-intuitive system for the mass of humanity moving into our city.  And, it communicates to everyone this is not the old network we all grew up with and that this proposed network is not a continuation of the old local bus network that dates back even all the way to days of the mulecars of the mid-to-late 19thC.

This proposed network of local bus service combined with our other transit offerings is absolutely new.

It is fresh.  It is clean.  It is modern.  It is relevant.

And it does a lot of things differently than our current network does.  The current 44 Acres Homes is a very-different thing from the proposed 94 Acres Homes.  METRO believes the people of Acres Homes need to know this, and in part, it is the reason for the proposed demise of the old number 44.

However...nothing in this Draft Map is set in stone, including route numbering.  METRO is more about ridership than anything else.  If the proposed 94 needs to be re-numbered the 44 to get people on the bus, METRO will, kicking and screaming, do that.

And regarding the Final Proposed Map to be presented to the METRO Board this autumn for approval, I will have, yes, a list of predictions of what the Final Map will do compared to the Draft Map.  As of this writing, we are about two months removed from that remarkable day when the final network map that will literally transport us forward into the future will to the world at least be revealed.

Friday, July 18, 2014

A glorious sight

I have been resistant on getting a smartphone.  The expense scares me as well as the attractiveness to thieves.  However, there are moments when one would have come in very handy.

Thursday 3 July saw me at Christ Church Cathedral (Episcopal) sing along with other adults the final Evensong service of the Royal School of Church Music Gulf Coast Summer Course for Girls.  Upon finishing, I walked south to Walker to catch my Westheimer-corridor bus (or buses as it turned out) home.

Along the way, I came across what will become the Central Station transfer points for the East and Southeast Lines.  Right then, I wished I had that phone-camera to catch that glorious snapshot.  The ultimate wisdom of Lee Brown who pushed through light rail come hell, high water, or Marvin Zindler's restaurant reports has yet to be proven one way or the other, but this much is sure: upper Downtown is changing and is changing fast.

It was brilliant seeing the Capitol and Rusk Central Station transfer canopies just about ready for business - well, about ready for the arduous testing that is to come.  Thanks to CAF's delays on getting new rail cars to us and other things going on, perhaps, I've heard through the grapevine the East and Southeast Lines may not go into revenue service until December of this year!

Testing the lines and testing the incoming rail cars will take months and months (can't leave any stone unturned), and integrating all this new stuff with the Red Line will be very interesting.  The next eighteen months will be for the entire agency, what with System Re-imagining and the opening of the two new rail lines, as busy and as hectic as any such span of time in its history.

But I am just pleased that things are progressing at all.  Whether light rail turns out to be a boondoggle or deus ex...train, doing nothing at all to help alleviate Houston's traffic woes would have been worse if only for the cultural damage to mass-transit doing nothing would have caused.

I cannot tell you how excited all this makes me once more for the re-imagined local bus network to go live next year!  By this time in 2015, the sleek, new network will be running along with our trains, and the Harrisburg overpass construction will be under way (we hope), setting the stage for the final portion of the East Line all the way to Magnolia Transit Center.

I am a happy camper and a happy transit rider.  And coming across all this Downtown rail progress, it was very tempting to step onto one of the station platforms replete with cones and barricades - perhaps I would be the first private citizen outside of METRO's purview to have done so.  I resisted and went on my merry way even happier than I already was in the wake of music and worship at Evensong.

A new logo for METRO?

For at least fifteen to twenty years, the logo for METRO has been this...

METRO's Twitter presence boasts a new graphic design the agency has been using on that platform for quite a while...

The old logo has worn well, but with System Re-imagining comes, perhaps, the perfect opportunity to update METRO's old livery - and this extends to buses - to something a bit schnazzier.  This new logo seems to serve this purpose very well, indeed...

Rail to the airport? Not any time soon and for good reason.

It was a beautiful bus.  It was a rocket bus to Bush Intercontinental Airport.

And no-one used it.

In 2008, METRO launched the 500 Airport Direct, a Downtown-IAH express bus that had few, if any stops between start and finish.  I rode this bus once, and found it to be marvelous.  The trip time was a full hour shorter than any other bus to IAH, but in 2011, it was discontinued.  Reading the comments to METRO's announcement to that effect are quite illuminating, but the stark reason was very simple: there was not enough ridership to justify continuing the service.

"Light / commuter rail to the airport"

This, I think, is the number two transit request from most people in the Houston area not well-acquainted with the intricacies of transit planning.  The number one request, of course, is an east-west light-rail corridor.

Are we going to get that mystical train to the airport? service to Bush Intercontinental was given a valiant try by means of the 500 Airport Direct from 2008-2011, and while this window of time may have been in the 'Great Recession', anyone at METRO will tell you that even accounting for the tough economic times, ridership was still bad.

Who, then, upon considering this can actually believe there is at this point in time enough durable demand for direct bus service from Downtown to Intercontinental, much less a commuter or light-rail service that would cost untold billions of dollars?

Besides, good airport transport is all about leaving the car behind, and since most people around here live anywhere other than Downtown, it stands to reason that if we were to have rail to the airport, it would have to come from multiple directions and locations with enough parking for all the cars left behind at Park & Rides or wherever METRO might have the service.

High population density is great for transit.  Hence, why so many cities in Europe and elsewhere have airport-train connections.  Houston does not have transit-friendly high-population density anywhere save perhaps in the Gulfton area.  And even with the gigantic slew of apartments being constructed ad-nauseum in the Downtown area, we still do not have, I think, the sort of density that would make even a direct bus connection to the airport viable, much less a train.

Of course (it seems to me, anyway) trains are clearly the culturally-superior choice for Houstonians.  Every year, I saw cowboys and cowgirls riding the rails to the rodeo, whereas in years before the Red Line went online, I would not have seen any of these hipsters so much as getting within ten yards of a 'bus'.

In order to make an airport direct connection with the sort of ridership to justify its existence, many things would have to happen in Houston.  Of course, the most-logical choice would be to have the connection run from Downtown.

Downtown population density would have to be greatly increased as would our convention traffic.  And the city would have to be far more culturally sensitive to mass-transit than it is now.  Cars are a wonderful thing, but it will take a great deal to, in airport terms, to get Houstonians with Houston's car-friendly layout to leave their cars behind.

However, even if the mystical airport bus or train is decades away (no earlier than 2040, by my estimation), the City of Houston has a wondrous opportunity to at least make preparations for such.  Recently, it approved plans for a new international terminal at Bush Intercontinental.

Do these plans include setting aside space for a future Bush Intercontinental Transit Center with space not only for buses, but also for trains?

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Christof unleashed!! The best presentation on System Re-imagining ever.

From Christof Spieler, the present-day guru of Houston-area transit, comes the best explanation of System Re-imagining you will ever find.  Spieler was on 25 June a guest of Houston Tomorrow and brought transit consultant Geoff Carlton with him for as enlightening an hour of Houston transit talk as I've yet to see.

This is interesting if only because it's the first time I've seen a video done by anyone exhibiting how our present local bus network truly is a descendant of Houston's old streetcar network, witness today's 11 Nance.

Regarding wonky routings in general, Christof also talks about the 40 Telephone, but I would also add the 5 Southmore as well as the 48 Navigation.  Christof's presentation itself is about a half-hour long followed by very intelligent questions that get Mr. Spieler to dish out even more information than he otherwise would have.  And yes: the Amtrak Station is on the proposed Frequent Network!

+ + +

Yesterday evening, I found myself in Rice Village hoping to catch the 27 Inner Loop (counter-clockwise?) and hook up with Westheimer.  Well, it was 8:30pm, and a quick call to METRO's automated schedule system at 713-635-4000 let me know there was no more service that evening.  As I had no desire to walk from Greenbriar to Kirby only to have to wait for the 18 Kirby (a far-too-infrequent bus routing that even in System Re-imagining so far stand to remain somewhat infrequent, but better than today), I elected to do as I've done so many times over the years and hoof it up to Westheimer.  From thence, I was able to catch a bus home.

With System Reimagining, the 50 Shepherd would have been there for me.  Another eleven months, folks...  Another eleven months...

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Musings on fares and why today's DayPass is utter bunk

METRO doing that it should lower fares?

METRO, HouTran, and all of HouTran's manifestations going back to Houston Electric and even before that have had a grand tradition of low fares.  In today's $1.25 base fare for a single local bus/light rail ride (with a 3-hour transfer if using a Q-Card), it is evident that tradition continues today.  In the interest of keeping ridership along with being altruistic regarding low-income ridership (who still are the majority of METRO's local bus ridership), may that grand tradition continue indefinitely.

Prior to 1995 my memory is not so good, especially in the light of my not riding mass-transit until 1998.  I do know that prior to 1995, base fare for a single local bus ride was $0.85.  At least one person has told me that the burden on bus operators regarding their needed interactions with fare items was somewhat trying at times.

Even with the ca. 1995 advent of the time-stamp-generating fare-boxes (someone, correct me if needed) and the accompanying fare-rise to $1.00 for single local bus rides, our bus operators still had a lot to keep up with in that they still had to check time-stamps by hand if the machines were out of whack or if the magnetic strips on the fare-items had gone haywire.

This fare system was in operation from ca. 1995 (with its $35.00 monthly pass - $35.00!!!) and for the next thirteen years with no changes in fares - an incredibly-long time for such a thing.  When light rail came online in 2004, this fare system was retained.  Along with consistency in the high competence and courtesy of its non-contract bus operators, the way METRO has kept fares low have been for me the high-points in the way the agency has done business.

By the mid-2000s or earlier, the technical aspects of stored-value cards with embedded microchips and with the same dimensions and thickness and materials of credit cards had evolved to where a switch to such a system had for METRO become practical.  In 2008, the 'Q-Card' system went into operation along with a fare-hike (much-needed, I think) to $1.25 for base local bus/rail fare (I know nothing of Park & Ride fares through the years).

But along with the messiness of tokens and the magnetic-strip-time-stamped-paper fare items, METRO threw the baby out with the bathwater.  Gone was the DayPass.  Gone was the Weekly Pass.  Gone was the Monthly Pass.  And gone was the Annual Pass.  Students, seniors, and the disabled rightly kept their special discounts, but for the average workaday rider, it was a nasty shock, especially for those like I using the Monthly Pass.

With the Q-Card, METRO did put in a multi-ride discount: for every fifty paid taps of the Q-Card, one gets five extra would-be-paid taps.  This equates to fifty-five paid taps of $1.13 each.  It's not the intuitive and easy-to-remember system that was the DayPass, etc., but it existed and exists today in the Q-Card, though not in the DayPass.

METRO's Q-Card and Fare information page from 2009

Due to public demand, in 2012, METRO brought back the DayPass, but not in the same, elegant way as was the DayPass of old.

METRO's current DayPass page

Fitting the way in which the old DayPass was done, had METRO enacted this new DayPass as such, we would see a paid tap of $2.50 with unlimited local bus and light rail rides for literally twenty-four hours from the moment of that paid tap.  A DayPass tapped at 4:37pm expires at 4:37pm the following day.

With the DayPass as it actually works today, the first paid tap is the $1.25 base fare with the second paid tap being the same price.  The third paid tap is $0.50 with unlimited local bus and rail rides until 2:00am the following morning.  A DayPass tapped at 4:37pm would not last twenty-four hours, but would last only until 2:00am - eleven hours and twenty-three minutes.

METRO wants people to use the DayPass.  It is advertising this DayPass as being the best thing for every local bus and rail rider since sliced bread.

In its current three-tap iteration, it is not.  For the normal workaday rider with one trip to work and one trip back home, the DayPass is pointless.  With three-hour transfers, getting that third paid tap would be for a lot of schedules impractical.  And for those workaday people who would get that third and fourth tap, they are going to lunch on the bus and would get that fourth tap in the transfer window of the third tap!

That third paid tap is a precedent for future METRO Boards to enact even-more janked-up fare schemes.  I've railed against this DayPass on the fact its price does not just double that of base fare and have done done with it.  But really, why couldn't METRO have just priced the DayPass like that?

As currently iterated, I do not use the DayPass and never will.  I don't want to add to METRO's skewed statistics saying everyone just luuuvz the DayPass.  Ridership, I submit, has simply not done the numbers and its memories of the DayPass of old are at best fleeting.

+ + +

What would I love to see enacted?  How about this?

Base fare (cash, one-way, no transfer): $1.50 - Yes, raise this base fare to better-incentivize people toward the Q-Card

The Q-Card
Q-Card 1st paid tap (3-hour transfer): $1.25
Q-Card 2nd paid tap (3-hour transfer): $1.25
Q-Card 3rd paid tap and all paid taps thereafter for 24 hours following the first paid tap: Free

The Q-Card replaces both the present Q-Card and the present DayPass as the Q-Card becomes an effective DayPass.  Assuming seven days a week with two paid taps, this comes to fourteen paid taps per week and a total customer outlay of $17.50 per week with the Q-Card.

The W-Card
A weekly pass...a card separate from the Q-Card, loadable in increments of $15.00 and priced at $15.00 for a full 168 hours (seven days in succession) from what would be on a Q-Card the first paid tap.

The M-Card
Let's have this card expire at 31 days.  This gives us 744 hours from the time the card is tapped through expiration.  Loadable in increments of $65.00, let's price this card at $65.00.

The A-Card (or 'Y-Card')
'A' as in 'Annual Pass'.  (or 'Y' as in 'Yearly Pass)  Price this bad boy at $750.00, but make it non-reloadable.  There is too much risk of a card going bad on someone, and make quite sure people have their cards registered.  If your A-Card breaks and at the time it becomes non-usable it is not registered, too bad - so sad for the hapless patron who was well-warned to register, but didn't.

Having the A-Card gives METRO a further precedent for reasonable discounts, and gives the public yet another club with which they can browbeat a future Wolff-esque METRO Board who elects to try to throw the baby out with the bathwater and scuttle all the regular-rider discounted fares.

+ + +

Finally, with all these cards, if we are within a transfer window or a before a card's expiration time, why do we need to tap every time we board a train?  We need to tap every time we board a bus to prove to the operator we have a fare item, but having to tap at rail stations means a chance for us to forget, the fare inspectors to ticket us, and METRO to make an extra $75.00 off the absent-mindedness of innocent passengers with valid fare items.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Jeff's rant on West Loop traffic

It appears as though in a few years' time, we may be getting dedicated bus lanes on the West Loop between the Northwest Transit Center and the Galleria.  About.  d#*^.  time.

It's funny how the above-linked article, though, laments it will take so long for traffic to get better on this ever-congested piece of highway.  Well, we have the mass-transit and traffic problems we elected to have.

Many of us elect to drive when we could take the bus.  Granted, our bus system's current network for local bus travel is not what it needs to be, but then again, why were we not pressing Kathy Whitmire and Bob Lanier for change en masse?  Do we actually think Mayor Bob would have listened to a million sets of torches and pitchforks?  In Mayor Bob's case, probably not, but in Whitmire's case, I think yes.

Could we have gotten more involved with the system to have pressed Lee Brown to not have put bus service into such a red-headed stepchild back burner during the building of our original light-rail line?  Could we have put pressure on Rick Perry to get TXDoT to have put dedicated bus lanes in the West Loop ten years ago?

We, the People, don't care en masse about mass-transit.  If we did, we would have the best local bus and light rail service in North America.  We are a 'can-do' part of the world.  We don't have overblown union-burdens and zoning to put up with.  We can do whatever we want.

And we have.  We have elected over the past sixty years to put mass-transit into a place of subservience to the automobile.  We have elected to have our Big Huge McMansions in the outer boonies while making one-way one-hour commutes into Downtown.  We have elected to cater to the transient nature of twenty-somethings who will move out of the literal horde of new apartments littering our city, turning these apartments someday into Westpark & the Southwest Freeway.

This is why traffic along the West Loop is so bad: We, the People, have elected over time to not do anything about it.

 But the 'boonies', as you call them, have better schools.

Why haven't we pushed school boards and the State Board of Education to do better for Houston schools so that we don't have to go to Sugar-Cy-Cinco-Out-There?  Where are the millions of letters?  Where are the votes in school board elections?  Where is the PTA?  Where is the understanding of the administrative and standardized testing burdens teachers have to put up with?  Where is the understanding of why people do not enter the teaching profession to begin with and the willingness to act upon it?

One can buy a lot more house way out than inside the Loop.

That is true, but let's ask ourselves.  Do we really *need* that much house?  If we have big families, the answer is a resounding 'yes'.  And it's true, we can't choose where we work for the most part.  We have to drive for the jobs.

Mass-transit doesn't affect me.  Why should I care?

None of us is an island.  The old lady in Sunnyside or Meyerland who can get on a Frequent Network bus has had her life improved by better transit.  And yes, better transit is coming to Houston.

We, the People, in 2009 elected Annise Parker, a very-pro-mass-transit Mayor of Houston whose METRO Board appointees are leading the charge to a brilliant new local bus network that will make the sorts of changes for which so many have prayed for so long.

System Re-imagining?  The righting of the ship at METRO, rendering the agency no longer a laughingstock among the people of the Greater Houston Area?  We, the People, and through our elected representatives who appoint our METRO Board members did this.

This is just one example of what We can do when We put our minds to it.  Annise Parker is only the beginning.  Be it Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, or whoever, elect competence.  Elect a track record of good government or other other good works in business or the public sector.  Don't elect into the lesser aspects of our natures.  Elect those who help us to soar above the clouds of needless despair and anguish.

More mundanely, put the fire to the feet of the Democratic Party.  Put the fire to the feet of the Republican Party.  Expect action.  Expect a Governor who will get TXDoT to change its car-centric way of doing things.

Elect a Mayor of Houston who will continue METRO's new approach to mass-transit.  Elect a legislature who will enact the sorts of educational reforms that will enable government to do its part to make sure Cy-Sugar-Cinco is not the only game in town regarding quality public education.

Do all these things, and your West Loop traffic will improve.