Beginning next Thursday, college basketball fans will begin descending on Houston for the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament, held at Reliant Stadium. In addition to the games, there is a fan festival at George R. Brown Convention Center, a series of concerts featuring bands like Kings of Leon at Discovery Green and dozens of parties at hotels, restaurants and bars.
Thousands of people will be staying in the immediate downtown area and heavily utilizing Metro's services, particularly the light rail, to get to and from the weekend events.
When Hair Balls asked Andy Skabowski, Metro's senior vice president of service delivery, if they were ready to handle the additional riders, he told us they are not worried. "We do this for three weeks every year," Skabowski said, referring to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. "Between that and the Texans games, we've gotten pretty darn good at it."
Metro will be providing bus transportation that will mirror the light rail as well as additional shuttles to and from George R. Brown and Discovery Green. They will also be putting several dozen Metro employees along the light rail to assist passengers, and Metro Police will be working with the Houston Police Department and the NCAA to deploy extra security at every stop.
Overall, Metro is expecting 12,000 to 15,000 additional riders each day during the extended weekend's events and, while they accommodate around 10,000 additional people every Sunday during football season, the fact that the NCAA title game falls on a Monday will create a unique set of challenges.
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Just as thousands of fans will be making their way to Reliant Stadium for the game, people who work along the light rail line, particularly in the Texas Medical Center, will be trying to get home. The convergence will most certainly cause delays, but Skabowski said they will be providing shuttles specifically for the Medical Center that run every five minutes.
He hopes everyday riders will understand that events such as these will cause delays and asks them to recognize the buses and rail cars will be full of people who aren't from here. "Be patient with people who don't know where they are going," he said.
Houstonians are pretty patient folk, but our guess is many of them will simply make other arrangements for transportation come Monday to avoid any potential bottlenecks.
You can find information for rail, buses and park and ride locations during Final Four weekend on the Metro website.