Houston has added more than one million people since the last time the city's Metro bus system was designed, in the 1970s.
But more population hasn't necessarily meant more ridership. Since 1999, Metro bus ridership has declined roughly 20 percent. Noticing the falling numbers, Metro CEO and President Tom Lambert and the board of directors decided to pull out a sheet of paper and re-imagine Houston's bus system in the 21st century. On Sunday, August 16, riders will experience what that looks like for the first time.
“When you really take a look at the current bus network,” Lambert said, “it really has not changed to adapt to all the new employment centers that are throughout the region. It hasn't adapted to where population shifts have gone to. It hasn't adapted to where jobs have gone to.”
That's what will change the most. The new bus network will reflect those shifts in population and high-growth employment areas, focusing on more direct routes traveling on a grid-like system instead of, for example, circling riders back downtown before they can go west, Lambert said. Lambert noted that 61 percent of routes will be faster as a result of the redesign, and 94 percent of riders won't even have to change bus stops.
Planning took place over two years. For the first week, from August 16 to 22, riders can ride for free. And while the new routes will change literally overnight, Lambert pointed to a few key resources riders can use so they're not scratching their heads and riding in circles.
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Before the new routes even take effect, you can go to ridemetro.org and use the dual trip planner: If you plug in your current route, it will show a direct comparison with your new route and how it will change.
If you forgot to do that and you showed up at your bus stop confused, each of the 10,000 stops around the city will have its own ID number that you can plug into Metro's new text messaging system, and it will tell you exactly when your bus is set to arrive.
And if that still isn't helping, you can call Metro's help line at 713-635-4000.
Here's a list of every significant or minor route change. If you're lucky, there will be a Metro employee standing at your bus stop to help you. If that still doesn't help, well, then we're out of ideas. Good luck, riders.