The Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County, Texas (METRO)
, light rail
, future commuter rail
, and METROLift (paratransit) service in Harris County
, which includes Houston
. METRO also operates bus service to two cities in Fort Bend County
The Texas State Legislature authorized the creation of local transit authorities in 1973. In 1978, Houston-area voters created METRO and approved a one-cent sales tax to support its operations. METRO opened for business in January 1979. In 25 years, the Authority has transformed a broken bus fleet into a regional multimodal transportation system.
The agency began operation in 1979, taking over the bus service run by the City of Houston known as HouTran. METRO's service area encompasses 1,285 square miles (3328 km²) and also serves portions of an eight-county region with its vanpool service; the agency employs about 3,800 people.
METRO has been known for pioneering the use of express buses in HOV lanes. This was part of the reversible HOV lane concept that began in 1979 with the completion of the North Freeway (I-45) Contraflow Lane. This concept used the inside freeway lane of the "opposite" direction separated by traffic pylons and is closed to all vehicles except buses and vanpools. After a head-on collision involving a car and a bus occurred in 1980, the concept became permanent, as a result, the reversible HOV lane system was built over the years since.
The HOV lanes are separated from the rest of traffic with concrete barriers, run between Downtown Houston (inbound A.M. and outbound P.M.) and the suburbs and are found on the Katy Freeway, Gulf Freeway, North Freeway, Southwest Freeway, Eastex Freeway, and Northwest Freeway.
Since METRO Express buses use them during rush hour, most routes lead to the Park and Ride lots and use "secret" HOV lane exits (often elevated T-intersections) that lead to the lots (also used by vehicles as well) without having to exit the freeway to street intersections. The HOV system will soon get an overhaul in the event of major freeway construction to take place in Houston and may have HOV lanes in both directions with the concept of HOT (Toll) lanes introduced.
METRO has a very expansive, and heavily used bus system. Local bus service usually runs on city streets, stopping at every other corner along its entire route. METRO's bus service is the most used bus system in Texas and the Southwest. METRO's bus service also includes the HOV/Park and Ride System. Park and Ride stations are placed along side the freeways and used heavily during peak times.
Prior to the construction of METRORail, METRO consisted of the largest all bus fleet in the United States, only because Houston was the largest major city devoid of any rail transit since 1990.
In the Fall of 2006, METRO revealed plans to rework its fare system. The new system will involve pre-paid fare cards, called Q Cards, that must be recharged at METRO stores. Transfers will be electronically added to the card each time it is used. Frequent users will enjoy "Rider Rewards" which offer five free rides for every fifty paid trips. Senior citizens 65 and over will continue to receive a discounted rate as will disabled patrons. Senior citizens over 70 may ride for free. This was intended to keep the base fare low and phase out the previous fare system consisting of transfers, day passes and monthly passes, which occurred in early 2008.
| Service Type
|| Discounted |
|| $.50 |
| Zone 1
|| $0.75 |
| Zone 2
|| $1.25 |
| Zone 3
|| $1.50 |
| Zone 4
|| $1.75 |
METRO's bus routes are numbered according to this:
- Local bus routes - 1-160
- Express bus routes - 170s
- Park and Ride bus routes - 200s
METRO also provides shuttle service including the Texas Medical Center and Downtown Houston.
METRO's express and commuter buses which consists of MCI and New Flyer "Viking" buses have reclining seats, small individual lights, as well as small air conditioning vents for each seat.
Types of Service
- Local. Most METRO buses run typically on city streets, with majority of routes serving downtown Houston. There are some exceptions though. There are also local crosstown routes that run crosstown from one part of the city to another with no downtown service. Limited routes are typically local, not in the sense of limited stop service on major streets but more likely run as a regular stop route and simply have no stops along a major freeway. In 2008 METRO downgraded all its Express routes (100's) except for one (170) to Limited. Former bus routes that served downtown prior to METRORail were rerouted to terminate at METRORail stations to eliminate duplicate service and long trips; some routes were rerouted while the modified one kept the original number. Downtown routes such as the 52 Scott/Hirsch count as two routes (i.e. 52 Scott and 52 Hirsch).
- Express. Before several routes downgraded from Express to Local Limited, they were categorized as Express as they do not make stops along the freeway routing for six routes between downtown and the outlying areas. The only remaining true express route is the 170 Missouri City Express.
- Park and Ride. METRO provides a well known Park and Ride service that serves riders who work downtown and live in the suburbs where Park and Rides are located. During rush hour, each Park and Ride has their own route to reduce overcrowding, leading to multiple routes serving the same freeway. In the Midday, this type of service is combined to a single route serving multiple park and ride lots and designated with a 9 at the end of the route number (example: 219, 259, 229).
- QuickLine. Premiered in August 2008, QuickLine is METRO's bus rapid transit service, preferably called Signature Service. The Bellaire corridor is the first for the pilot program with the route called the 402 (or QL2) to supplement service along the most heavily used bus route in the system, 2 Bellaire.
NOTE: The Express and Park and Ride were once under the Commuter Routes umbrella until they gained their own distinctive non-stop service designations in 2004.
Park and Ride Lots
METRO operates 27 different Park and Ride locations . The buses used for these are built like Greyhound
buses and are very comfortable for the rider. The Park and Ride locations are:
- Kingsland Park and Ride
- Addicks Park and Ride
- Mission Bend Park and Ride
- Westchase Park and Ride
- Gessner Park and Ride
- Grand Parkway Park and Ride - currently, this Park and Ride is in the Cinemark parking lot at the Grand Parkway/Interstate 10 intersection. A permanent facility will be built soon, as the lot is already at capacity after a few months.
- Westwood Park and Ride
- West Bellfort Park and Ride
- Missouri City Park and Ride
- West Loop Park and Ride
- Hillcroft Park and Ride - will be home to a future light rail station.
- Pinemont Park and Ride
- West Little York Park and Ride
- Northwest Park and Ride - will be served by the Cypress Commuter Rail Line by 2015.
- Cypress Park and Ride - recently opened in August 2007. This Park and Ride will be home to a future commuter rail station.
- Eastex Park and Ride
- Townsen Park and Ride
- Kingwood Park and Ride
- North Shepherd Park and Ride
- Seton Lake Park and Ride
- Kuykendahl Park and Ride
- Spring Park and Ride
- Fannin South Park and Ride - served by the Red Line. Also will be served by the Southwest Commuter Rail Line by 2015.
- Monroe Park and Ride
- Fuqua Park and Ride
- Southpoint Park and Ride
- Bay Area Park and Ride - will be served by the Galveston Commuter Rail Line.
Park and Ride Expansion
There are plans for future park and ride stations throughout the Houston Metropolitan Area. These locations are said to be:
- Pearland Park and Ride - this will serve the booming south Houston suburbs of Pearland and Manvel.
METRO Lift provides transportation needs for people with a disability, who cannot board, or ride from a regular METRO bus. The METRO Lift vehicles are shared-ride, meaning that they take multiple customers and groups. METRO tells its customers to use standard METRO bus services whenever possible. METRO Lift uses special vehicles that are distinct from fixed-route METRO buses.
METRO's light rail service is known as METRO Rail. Frank Wilson is the current president.
METRO offers a trip planner on its web site that provides information for public transit in the region it serves. It is multi-modal, combining schedule information for buses and rail. Riders enter their intended origin and destination, along with optional time, date, and other information, and the trip planner displays itineraries showing the stops, departure and arrival times, and times to get from the origin to the destination.
Today, the average daily weekday ridership is 45,000 . Notable records in ridership have occurred on the following dates:
On November 9, 2007, METRO surpassed its 40 million boardings mark, something it did not expect to happen until 2020 .
METRO Light Rail lines
METRO currently operates one light rail line, called the . Four other lines are to be complete by the 2012. Three of the four lines were previously going to be bus-rapid transit, but due to high ridership possibilities, the decision was made to make them all light rail.
- METRO's first light rail line is the 7.5 mile (12.1 km) light rail line located in Houston, Texas, United States. It is the second major light rail service in Texas following the DART system. The arrival of METRO light rail comes approximately sixty years after the previous streetcar system was shut down, which left Houston as the largest city in the United States without a rail system (since 1990 when the Blue Line opened in Los Angeles).
Houston operates a fleet of 18 Siemens
light-rail vehicles. Each long, double articulated vehicle has 4 low platform doors per side and has a capacity of 72 seated and 148 standing passengers.
Additional rail will be laid as approved by a 52% yes to 48% no margin in the November 2003 election
. Critics have alleged the existence of a conflict of interest
in the planned expansion. Major contractors including Siemens AG
, which constructs the train vehicles, contributed substantial amounts of money to the Political Action Committee
promoting the expansion referendum
. Supporters of an expanded rail system in Houston have leveled similar charges against opponents of the referendum, noting that suburban development interests largely bankrolled the PAC opposing the referendum.
In June 2005, METRO announced a revised plan for expansion of the METRORail system. The plan included four new corridors, consisting of both light rail and bus rapid transit. The bus rapid transit lines would have later been converted into light rail when ridership warranted the conversion.
On October 18, 2007, the plan was revised to allow for the possibility of more federal funding. METRO decided to go ahead and have all the lines consist of light rail from the start .
The planned expansions are within the city of Houston and will eventually reach the two major Houston airports, George Bush Intercontinental Airport and William P. Hobby Airport. METRO is planning service to suburbs in Houston, as well as other parts of Houston. Alternatives Analysis and Draft Environmental Impact Analysis studies are currently underway on four extensions, but only one extension — the University Line — is planned to be opened by 2012.
METRO is also planning a commuter rail system in conjunction with the light rail system, pending feasibility of the plan. In addition, METRO wants to link up with a planned Commuter Rail line traveling from Fort Bend County to just south of Reliant Stadium, which would use an existing Union Pacific railroad, as well as an additional line branching out along the U.S. Highway 290 corridor to Cypress. In total, the plan currently would add of light rail and of commuter rail.
The passed voter referendum included:
- Additional of light rail
- Commuter rail service (28 miles)
- Increased access to activity centers
- Rail service to both airports
- More than 50 new rail stations
- 50% increase in bus service
The first five lines and services are planned to be up and running by 2012. The plans call for:
- A northward extension of the Red Line past University of Houston–Downtown to open in 2012
- The North/Blue Line from the Houston Intermodal Transit Center to the Northline Transit Center.
- The East End/Brown Line will extend east from downtown Houston to the Magnolia Transit Center by 2011.
- The Southeast/Green Line will extend from downtown near the Main Street line terminating around Palm Center at MLK and Griggs street.
- The University/Orange Line will extend from either the University of Houston or the Eastwood Transit Center to the Hillcroft Transit Center, and follow the Richmond/Wheeler and Westpark corridors with transfers to the Red line at Wheeler Station. Completion is projected for 2012.
- The Uptown/Pink Line will run from south of U.S. 59 through the Uptown/Galleria area to the Northwest Transit Center for a total distance of to be eventually extended another to Northwest Mall.
METRO Solutions is a large transportation and infrastructure plan that will be complete by 2020. METRO Solutions includes the following from METRO's website:
- Nearly of Light Rail Transit - a ten-mile (16 km) University line from the Uptown/ Galleria and Greenway Plaza areas to the University of Houston and Texas Southern University, and a one-half-mile extension of the existing Red Line north to a proposed Intermodal Facility; Also, the North, Southeast, Harrisburg and Uptown Lines will all be light rail;
- 28 Miles of Commuter Rail Transit (CRT) - along US 290 from Cypress Park & Ride to Intermodal Facility and along US 90A from Missouri City to Fannin South Park & Ride/Rail Station;
- 40 Miles of Signature Bus Service/Suburban Bus Rapid Transit - Southeast Transit Center to Texas Medical Center, Uptown to US 90A CRT line, Gessner and State Highway 249/Tidwell;
- 10 New Transit Facilities - Northern Intermodal Facility serving different transit modes (Commuter Rail, Light Rail and BRT), five Transit Centers and four Park & Ride lots; and
- HOV/HOT Conversion - modify one-way, reversible High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes to two-way High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes.
Transit 2035 Plan
Though a slightly different from METRO Solutions (albeit a larger plan), the 2035 Plan for Houston is a joint project between METRO, TxDOT, and the Houston-Galveston Area Council (or H-GAC for short). It includes new bicycle routes, new bus routes, signature bus service, light rail expansion, and commuter rail expansion. The 2035 Plan also includes a new Intermodel Station, to be built in Downtown. The Intermodel Station, Houston's version of Union Station, will connect two commuter rail lines, two light rail lines, and multiple bus routes. It should be noted that not all of Houston's light rail lines connect to the Intermodel Station.
Since its inception, METRORail has been the source of several political controversies in Houston. During the 2003 expansion referendum, critics of the system, including Texans for True Mobility
(TTM), questioned METRO's financial practices. METRO itself was criticized for spending public funds for "educational advertisements" about the proposed system, which were said to promote the referendum.
The main political action committee (PAC) supporting the bond was accused of having a conflict of interest due to the relationship between its main contributors and METRO. The PAC received over US$100,000 in contributions from contractor firms and equipment suppliers for METRORail who stood to gain financially from its expansion. This includes a US$50,000 donation from Siemens AG, a German engineering corporation, which has the contract to build METRORail's train cars.
The Houston Chronicle was also accused of a heavy bias in its coverage designed to promote METRORail. The newspaper became embroiled in controversy following the accidental posting of an internal memorandum on its website that urged the "specific objective" of making "rail a permanent part of the transit mix" in Houston through news, editorial, and op-ed columns. The memo included a "ground zero for November" proposal of attacking the finances of groups and individuals opposed to light rail, and specifically Rep. Tom DeLay and former Houston Mayor Bob Lanier.
METRO operates its own police department.
In addition many unincorporated areas in Harris County are within the service area.
Other sites of interest