Friday, November 28, 2014

Silly Bus Stops, Volume 1

Louisiana @ Tuam

So many buses come up Louisiana via Spur 527 from U. S. 59.  On the seldom occasion when they drop people off at Louisiana @ Tuam, they used to stop here.

Looking north on Louisiana, the cross-street here is Tuam.  The decorative rectangle on the sidewalk at right along with the lonely metal pole?  This is where the bus shelter and bus stop for Tuam used to be.  I strongly expect very, very few people got on or off at this stop.  METRO could have used the opportunity provided by sidewalk-obstructing construction on this city block to do away with this redundant stop once and for all.

But no.  The agency opted instead to go with its normal bus stop protocol and temporarily move this stop for Tuam to the next block up.  If you look carefully, you can see the new bus stop sign on a temporary base under the trees just past Tuam.

Here is the new stop (moved from the old location about a year ago) on its temporary base.

Click this image and view same on Google Maps.  Pan around this image and look south toward Tuam and north again toward McGowen.  Notice something?  The difference in walk time from this present bus stop location to McGowen and from this present bus stop location to Tuam is so negligible as to not be worth mentioning.

This bus stop is an opportunity for bus operators' runs to be delayed all-the-more for that one random soul using this redundant bus stop.  Same soul could walk from McGowen or Elgin easy-enough.  Such is not only an exhibition of not only this bureaucratic foolishness, but a grave indictment on the political forces and walking intolerances that have forced METRO over the years to adopt a bus-stop spacing protocol and standard that is woefully inefficient and serves only to be the hardening of the arteries of METRO's local and Park & Ride bus service.

Westheimer @ Weslayan eastbound

I'm talking about the blue bus-icon on the southwest corner of the intersection of Westheimer @ Weslayan and just in front of the Wells Fargo Bank.  This bus stop is needless.

This intersection serves the 73 W. Bellfort Galleria branch as well as the 81 Westheimer and 82 Westheimer.  The 73 comes up Weslayan and turns west onto Westheimer.  Southbound, the 73 comes east again on Westheimer and turns south onto Weslayan.

Ordinarily, this bus stop would be fine, but we already have the bus stop west of it serving the HEB Central Market.  The bus stop at the Wells Fargo bank currently does serve as a destination point for people transferring from 81/82 westbound, but that transfer from those westbound buses to the 73 southbound could be made west of here at Drexel and at a location where the westbound bus stop is closer to the street crosswalk.

As for the eastbound Westheimer bus stop at Weslayan?  Let's get rid of it.

Westheimer between Gessner & Fondren, inclusive

There may be in our entire bus system, no greater concentration of bus-stop nonesense than here in these few blocks.

Not including stops at Gessner and Fondren, the orange markers denote all the METRO bus stops between Gessner and Fondren.

Here are all these stops on Google Maps (You will have to zoom into see them in this frame).  Use the zoom buttons at bottom right to zoom in and out.  Drag the map to move it around.  Of course, you can also click at top left to 'View on Google Maps' in a more-expansive frame than I can provide here.

Let's start at the intersection of Westheimer @ Gessner.  This crossing of two of Houston's most-used non-freeway thoroughfares serves bus routes 46 Gessner, 53 Westheimer Ltd., and 82 Westheimer.  The 53 Westheimer Ltd. on its way up to Briar Forest turns north onto Gessner from Westheimer.  Coming south from Briar Forest, it turns off of Gessner and east onto Westheimer.  Hence, the absolute need for the seemingly-redundant bus stop eastbound on Westheimer just east of the Shipley Do-Nuts.

Zoom out, and the fun begins.  Let's go eastbound on Westheimer from Gessner.  Look at the stop in front of Shipley's.  Then head east and see the stop at Tanglewilde.  Then head but 250 yards and you have a stop at Rockyridge.  About 150 yards east of that is the stop at Westerland.

I promise you, the yardages I have quoted make the distances between all these stops seem longer than they already are.  The fact we have stops at both Rockyridge and Westerland is ridiculous.

Solution: Between Gessner and Fondren inclusive, take out every bus stop save those at Gessner and Fondren as well as those at Westerland.  I leave the Westerland stops in to accomodate the Treemont retirement home as well as the apartments all around there as it is legitimately too much to ask for people from that street to walk all the way from there to Gessner or Fondren to catch the bus.

Every bus stop in our system is an opportunity for a passenger to harden the arteries of METRO's system.  Every time a bus has to stop for one person or fifty, there is braking, opening of doors, passengers entering and paying their fare by cash or Q-Card, closing the doors, watching for traffic, and accelerating only to have someone request the next stop 150 yards away.

Crazy!  And METRO has let this go on and on for decades and decades.


Friday, November 21, 2014

Commentary: METRO regular Board Meeting 20 November 2014

As always, video of this meeting may be had at

METRO Board Chair Gilbert Garcia begins with public comments...

1:06 Would not be a meeting without public comments from Mark Hogue...who usually has something interesting to say.  Today, he wonders why we need to spend all the money on route-number changes as well as continues to lament the imminent demise of the routing of the current 53 Westheimer Ltd.

He also iterates people will be confused when the changes come around.  Gilbert and Christof are being very diplomatic with him, and I'm glad they are.  Mr. Hogue has been a fixture in METRO's life for many years.

6:31 Peggy Garrett talks about the 'METRO Moving Forward' presentation from a while back concerning METROLift and the severity of its coming fare-increase, advocating for an incremental fare increase instead of the brute-force $1.15 to $2.50 increase.

11:28 Dominick Mazoch is against how the BRT is being built for the wrong reason: corporate welfare.  Uptown needs to be held to the same standards of transparency METRO is.  "Image is everything.", he says.  Watch the video for his complete comments.

18:19 Otis Robinson, who is always good.  He talks about a community meeting from last weekend in which he was educated on some things he did not know.  He talks up the experience of METRO's staff and other things related to Reimagining.  He thanks the Board for its recent efforts at engaging the community regarding Reimagining.

This is why we have not heard from Strategic Planning in the last two months: a bunch of things are going on Reimagining the northeast of Houston as well as Acres Homes.

31:40 Robert Whitliffe (sp?) regarding METROLift.  "Without it, we don't go anywhere."  Looks like a lot of people are not happy with the proposed fare increase!  And a coming end to multi-ride passes for METROLift as well?  Guess I need to pay more attention to METROLift stuff in that I am not disabled...  :-O

35:21 Andrew Ryans on METROLift and the Q-Card in general.  At 37:40, Judge Jefferson floors me, God, and Jubal.  After all this time, he is still not sure we have the DayPass?  What?!?

37:45 Bus Operators are, in a pilot program at least, to be selling Q-Cards on buses?  The intent is good: not penalize those people who do not have Q-Cards, but the fact our operators will have more paper to have to push around while they are keeping us safe on the buses is not a good thing.

This whole part of the meeting is a wonderful exposition of the flaws in our current fare-media techonology.

42:00 I'm not sure I like the concept of anyone save METRO sponsoring any part of our bus system, but for Greenlink and (perhaps) Q-Cards, I don't think METRO gives up its right to 'speak out' with these limited forms of extra-agency sponsoring/paying-for any part of our services.

43:45 Andy Skabowski gives an unintended indictment of our current fare-system technology: the system had to be jerry-rigged to make our current daypass work.  Wow.

45:37 Andy's correct.  The DayPass is effectively a Q-Card and a DayPass both.  In order to not inflate the DayPass' stats, I continue to use a Q-Card.

48:25 Ruby Dixon talks about METROLift's proposed fare hike and its suspension policy and the steepness of steps on METROLift vans.  Andy Skabowski iterates the agency looking at better options that are more-commercially-available now.

54:25 Mark Smith's question on Reimagining: "Why"?  Mr. Smith is normally all-right, but now he's pedantic.  He's still funny, though.  He talks about people paying cash at moments when buying a Q-Card would be very easy for them at that moment.

58:32 Preach it, Mark!  We need a true 24-hour DayPass once more!  And yes, we need to spend the money to upgrade our fare system (or replace it entirely).  Gilbert's chair breaks on him.

59.50 Maria Palacios of the Houston Center for Independent Living.  Her organization doesn't like the proposed METROLift changes, either.  She brings up Jim Laughlin, a former director of METRO's Transportation Services.

1:03:44 Board Member Dianne Lewter chimes in.  Her father, who can no longer walk, is now on METROLift.  don't think Mrs. Palacios was expecting that reply...  :-O  Maria responds effectively.

1:05:00 Board Member Dwight Jefferson weighs in about the costs of providing METROLift services and how METROLift is always the one item over-budget and how the agency provides this service beyond METRO's service area at times.

Jefferson also makes the point made by an advocate of the disabled there are disabled people who could use fixed-route services who, due to METROLift's low fares, opt for METROLift, thereby adversely affecting METROLift's performance over time.  Hence, the proposed fare increase.

His final point is striking a balance between cost and quality of service.

1:09:00 Mrs. Stephenson thanks the Board for coming to the recent community meeting.  She laments the overcrowding on the trains in late afternoon as well as one person sitting in pee accidentally due to the cloth seats!

1:13:29 Board Chairman's report...  The introduction of METRO's first female police chief and the first Black American METRO police chief.  Go, Chief Vera Bumpers!

METRO CEO Tom Lambert recognizes other METRO Police promotions.

1:18:55 Dianne Lewter named one of 'Houston's fifty most-infuential women' by a magazine.

1:19:30 Gilbert Garcia recognizes Tom Lambert's thirty-five years at METRO.  Tom was METRO's first Chief of Police - wow!

1:29:00 Working Committee reports...  Setting policy for service outside METRO's service area...  Nothing much with Finance/Audit...  The new government/public affairs committee is starting up.  Staff for the two new rail lines are being hired.

1:34:00 CAF update = all is going according to plan and METRO staffer Rosa Diaz is always on-point with everything she does

1:38:40 System Reimagining...

A very productive meeting with Northeast Houston and Acres Homes communities was had recently.  Finally, the Big Huge Presentation on FLEX...

Yes, this is the sort of detailed presentation we should have seen back in May or June.  I get the feeling that a lot of critical details have been ironed out with the people in Northeast Houston and Acres Homes.

1:46:15 Within the FLEX Zone in question...door-to-door service with a phone call an hour in advance.

1:53:45 Board Member Jim Robinson talks about span of service with emphasis on people in service jobs that dictate odd hours.

2:08:08 No different than getting to a stop just after the once-every-hour bus passes...

2:16:18 Span of service is a big issue.  I predict we will see an 18-hour span of service at minimum for these Community Connector Zones.

2:17:30 Agreed, Gilbert.  The survey will cost a lot more than $32,000 methinks.

2:21:00 Gilbert's going to Dallas to get a sense of how FLEX works there.

2:21:30 May.  We won't get a real sense of what the network will be with a final form of FLEX until May.

2:23:00 Chairman Garcia goes to the Consent Agenda items...

2:25:00 Gilbert and Dianne talk about how the mechanics of quorums affects times when lots of Board Members want to go to various functions in and out of METRO.

2:28:58 Garcia adjourns the meeting.

May.  Not until May.  Not until May 2015 will the world really see a true glimpse of what the Re-imagined bus system will look like.  The Community Connectors have won the day, and those advocating for them have succeeded (for better, I think) in hamstringing the process to where there may never ever be a vote on a 'final approval' of Re-imagining.

Never a final vote?  Well, 7 June 2015 is the implementation date for the Re-imagined network, but what I think will happen is there will be prior to the May 2015 Board Meeting a lot of behind-the-scenes work to make quite sure the Jim Robinsons of the world are made happy and satisfied with the new Community Connectors (aka FLEX) to the point where Board approval of System Reimagining at that May 2015 Board meeting will be nothing more than a rubber-stamp.

This past September's Board Meeting was chiefly characterized by nothing less than an ambush by the Northeast Houston and Acres Homes elected officials and a loud cadre of citizens, all from low-ridership areas that succeeded in watering down what was supposed to be the approval of the whole of System Reimagining from a lock-stock-and-barrel approval to an approval 'in principle'.

In the end, this may not be a bad thing.  Even the 'New METRO' of Annise Parker has now been proven to be anything but immune to the grand inertia that is so much of the workings of any government.  Yes, in lolly-gagging around with the details - or lack thereof - of FLEX, METRO was caught with its pants down.

I was wondering what was going on with no real details in May of this year as to how FLEX would work.  I'm not sure who or what dropped the ball at that time, but President & CEO Tom Lambert did the right thing and take full responsibility for the agency's not being more-proactive with getting the word out about FLEX.

I strongly expect the continuing mopping up of the CAF fiasco and debacle has taken a lot of  Tom's energy.  I also suspect METRO did not foresee just how vociferous the opposition from Acres Homes and Northeast Houston would be.  That recent meeting with the community in Kashmere must have been quite something (lots of pitchforks and torches).

Kurt Luhrsen's presentation from today's meeting gives us the sorts of detail and hustle on this project we should have seen back in April and May.  All of this should have been ironed out with dialogue en-masse with elected officials and the community before the roll-out in May or in the weeks right after that day.

As for marketing, Kurt and all angels are envisioning direct mailings, posters, and other static forms of communication.  The pulpit is also a good way of getting out the word about this apolitical topic.  Houses of worship in what are currently the coming five FLEX Zones need to be encouraged to let their flocks know of the changes to come.

As for the three months in the pilot program set to begin in January, yes, it will take that long for the agency to really get a feel for the ins and outs of what is for METRO and Houston a brave step into the heretofore uncharted universe of Flexible bus service.  Planning will by the end of April really get a handle on the nitty-gritty details of all this.

There is a terrible lot at stake.  This new service must be done right the first time.  There will be no second chances at this for a few decades.  The kinks must be ironed out.  The unforeseen vagaries must be excised.  All this must be done because if this system works in getting people to and from where they need to be in these far-flung-in-METRO's-service-area low-ridership areas, the genuine goodwill built up in the communities affectted and the community at-large will set a precedent for how good government can work as well as carry the cause of good mass-transit forward for years to come, which will be of great benefit to Acres Homes, Northeast Houston, and everyone else in the Greater Houston-Galveston region.

Friday, November 14, 2014

An Open Letter from the Galleria to all of Houston and to METRO in particular

Dear METRO and all who use METRO's services:

You probably think this is from the staff and management of the Galleria shopping mall.  Wrong.  This missive is from you: the agency and frustrated bus rider who heading eastbound on Westheimer hits Yorktown from about mid-November until the first week of January...taking about an hour to get from Yorktown to Mid street.  Ditto for westbound from Mid to Yorktown...

I am the myriad of factors that laugh at METRO's Reimagining.  Greater frequency of bus service means a greater clump of buses getting caught at the West Loop.  Nothing more.  Sure, your bus service will run better than ever before the rest of the year, but during the holidays, you're my b*#(%, bus schedules, at which I laugh and throw away.

Frequent Network?  Feh.  BRT on Post Oak?  Bwahahahaha!!  Why do you guys bother to have bus schedules in effect on the Westheimer corridor from turkey day to New Year's Eve?  It is pointless.  Life is pointless.

I am the sclerotic car-centric culture of the 1960s Loop 610.  I am the 'special sauce' that attracts every SUV, maddened shopper, and kid wanting to get on the ice rink.  I am the TxDoT that heretofore has been completely obsessed with the car, the car, and the car.  I am the needless bus stops at McCue & at Alabama (eastbound).  I am lights that are not timed properly.  I am the West Loop.  I am Neiman-Marcus and all the other stores that attract traffic.

And I delight in your chaos.  I revel in ten buses in a row going eastbound clumped all together at a standstill.  I wallow in the futility.  I bathe in your angst.  And I want you to shop at the Galleria!

Christof Spieler, O Valiant One whose magnum opus, Reimagining, really will make the lives of at least half-a-million souls better, your efforts in my domain at Christmastime are in vain.  The things I throw in METRO's direction near the turn of each year are far beyond the agency's control.

There is but one solution: tear down the Galleria to its foundations and turn that land into a dump.  That'll get traffic moving again - to get away from the ugliness!!

Seriously, though, the solutions to this mess will involve a few kings' ransoms and will involve nothing less than elevating the Loop at Alabama and allowing buses to go through there, making that section of the street a bus-only portion of the roadway.  There will always be traffic at the Galleria, but the way for buses can and must be made easier.

Only then shall I be neutralized and your bus-riding Christmas made sane.