Metro officials discussed today the details of a sizable overhaul of the agency's bus service for next year, and, surprisingly, the move has little to do with saving money.
In fact the changes, as currently proposed, will cost Metro about $21,000 more, and if the details are tweaked in the upcoming weeks as planned, it will add another $336,000.
The changes officially begin on January 23 of next year, affecting 35 routes, and the 500 line, the Airport Direct, is being revised the most.
That line, which runs downtown to Terminal C at IAH, hasn't attracted a high number of riders during the last two years, so Metro is dropping the fare to $4.50 (from $15) and making stops at seven downtown hotels and the convention center instead of running direct from Metro's "passenger plaza" at Pierce and Travis, across the street from the main downtown transit center.
Metro is actually doing away with the passenger plaza altogether and will save about $766,321 in rent on the building and land.
Agency officials are still deciding if the new 500 will run once an hour or every 30 minutes, but to remain at 30 minutes would cost Metro $336,000 -- two more buses and four more operators. But George Greanias, Metro's president, seems to think the 30-minute schedule will stay.
The changes on the 500 will get a test run for six months, and if ridership still doesn't increase, Metro will evaluate the need for the line.
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Apart from the Airport Direct, most of the route changes involve adjusting times or using smaller buses on routes with less demand. The 131, for example, which runs along Memorial, is adding an earlier inbound trip and a later outbound, and the 38 line, which runs along Harrisburg, is going to a smaller bus. All the proposed changes are up on Metro's Web site.
Since today's meeting was a public hearing, the public had a chance to sound off on the changes. While most of the people had some suggestions on how to improve bus service, a lot of them also pleaded with Greanias and the two board members at the meeting to do away with the Q Card system and go back to selling day passes or something similar.
People complained that, basically, the Q Card costs too much and doesn't work.
And Gilbert Garcia, Metro's board chairman, said the agency plans to make a change. "We're going to do something," he said.