System Reimagining FAQs

The following is a set of frequently asked questions (FAQs) relating to the Transit System Reimagining Project and the System Reimagining 5-year Transit Service Plan. Click on any question to expand the answer.

What is System Reimagining?

  • System Reimagining represents METRO’s first comprehensive review of its transit system since its inception as an agency in the 1970s. In that time the Houston region has grown and changed dramatically and the transit system has not adapted to those changes.
  • The System Reimagining Project is redesigning METRO’s local bus service, utilizing METRO’s current resources to create a plan that better meets the mobility needs of the region.

Why is METRO Reimagining its transit network?

  • The community asked for improvements – in the 2011 Long Range planning process significant feedback focused on improvements to the METRO bus system.
  • Houston is a rapidly growing, dynamic metropolitan area and the current METRO service no longer fits the changing development patterns and population trends of the region.
  • METRO is opening three new rail lines in 2013 -2014 necessitating changes to better integrate the bus and rail networks into a seamless system to serve riders better.
  • The Reimagined Network should improve the system, opening transit opportunities for more people with frequent service and reversing the decline in ridership the local bus system has experienced.

How was the System Reimagining Plan developed?

  • In summer and fall of 2013, we had a long conversation with the community and stakeholders about this question. This conversation built on the significant public input gathered through the 2011 Long Range Plan and included stakeholder workshops, an extensive online survey and a range of other outreach tools.
  • We especially asked whether service should be deployed based on ridership, which would mean putting service where the most people will use it, or based on coverage, which means that more people and jobs have access to the system regardless of the level of use.
  • This public input was combined with an analysis of the existing METRO service  to identify what works and what can be improved. This information was reviewed at both a regional and route-specific level.
  • After this conversation and system assessment, the METRO Board of Directors directed the System Reimagining team to design a network where 80% of resources are aimed at maximum ridership and 20% of resources are used for coverage (compared to about 50%-50% today). The result is a simpler, easier to understand network that better aligns with the Houston of today. At all times, the plan strives to keep service to as many existing riders as possible.

Does the plan mean I’ll have to walk further to a stop?

  • Importantly, 94% of current riders will be able to access the system at the same stop as today.
  • Some walks will likely be longer (and some will be shorter);  Overall 99.5% of current boardings would still be within ¼ mile of service; 99.95% of current boarding would be within ½ mile of service meaning all but less than 100 current riders will be within reasonable walking distance to service.
  • A large majority of riders (72%) will have close access to frequent service, seven-days a week, providing a stronger network of opportunities to reach more destinations vs. only 25% today.
  • In general the plan makes walking distances more consistent. If you compare today’s system with the proposed one, you’ll notice that today, the spacing between parallel routes is very uneven. Some current areas have routes spaced 1/4 miles apart or less, while in other areas it’s closer to 1 mile. When we run routes too close together, these routes are duplicating each other.
  • The proposed network has a more consistent spacing of routes, usually around 1/2 mile where the street network allows.  If we combine them into fewer routes, we can use the combined service to increase the frequency (shortening the waiting time until the next bus) so trips are faster.
  • To support better access, METRO will continue to work with our partners like the City of Houston, the other 14 cities in our service area, Harris County, TxDOT, and local management districts to improve pedestrian access to our bus and rail stops. If there is an issue you’d like to see addressed, please let us know.

The plan means I’ll have to transfer. Why is that?

  • People are traveling between homes and destinations all over Houston. If we tried to run direct service from everywhere to everywhere, we’d have hundreds of routes and wouldn’t be able to afford to run any of them frequently enough to be worth waiting for. Instead, the new system is designed around simpler, straighter lines that are more useful to more people. It’s easy to transfer among these lines because they run so frequently that the next bus is always coming soon.
  • Many people already transfer today (about 50% of local bus trips) even with relatively low frequencies on some of the connecting routes. We expect that rate to stay about the same in the Reimagined Network.
  • Because of the design of the existing network, many of these transfers occur out of the direction that people want to travel (e.g. you have to travel Downtown to get a connection). The proposed network makes these connections easier, faster, and often closer to your destination.

How would the plan impact current users of the system?

  • Nearly all (94%) current riders will be able to access service at the same stop they do now.
  • The vast majority of current riders (72% up from 49.5% on weekdays and 25% on weekends) will be on or near frequent service that is useful for travel to more places than they can reach easily now. Even if you are already on a frequent line, the plan makes it much easier to transfer to other lines to get to more places.
  • 99.5% of existing riders will have local bus service within 1/4 mile. The small percentage that will be farther from service either live or travel in areas where the pattern of development and the street network make it impossible to run transit efficiently, and as a result they could only be served at a very high cost per rider.
  • About 0.6% of existing riders will have flexible service rather than fixed route service. This service will provide hourly pick-ups and drop-offs within its defined zone and to reach a point where you can connect to fixed route service. Riders can call ahead to reserve a ride on the service or meet the bus at a designated location and time. Some fixed routes will still run in these zones, but the flexible service will fill in the gaps for those who might find it difficult to walk to a bus stop.

How would the plan impact weekend service?

  • It would be a massive improvement. We know that more and more people need to travel seven days a week, so the plan aims to run the same level of service on Saturday and Sunday as we run during the midday on weekdays.
  • Many riders would get weekend service for the first time, while most others would find their weekend service is much more frequent and useful to reach many more destinations.

When would the changes happen?

  • Importantly, the plan would not be approved and implemented until we hear from the community. There will be multiple opportunities to provide input on the plan through Spring 2014. The METRO Board is expected to review the plan for approval in Summer 2014 and wants significant input on the plan before moving forward.
  • The planned improvements to the bus network would be implemented over the next 1-2 years.

How much does it cost?

  • The draft plan presented here is a no-growth network plan, which means it is designed to use existing METRO operating funds. The plan reallocates existing service rather than imagining new resources. That’s why the plan doesn’t always offer as much service as METRO or its customers would like.
  • The 2012 METRO Referendum does create the potential for more revenue to fund an improved bus system in coming years. As additional revenue is realized, the plan establishes a framework for future growth to best allocate that additional funding to improving the overall bus network.
  • There will be some capital improvement projects identified to support the operations of the bus system. These would include future improvements to METRO facilities such as Transit Centers, Park & Rides and bus stops. These would likely be programmed through METRO’s Capital Improvement Program budget as future funding is available.

How will this help reliability of the system?

  • The proposed pattern of routes is much simpler, and the frequencies are higher. Simplicity means it’s easier for METRO to manage the operations and correct for lateness, while high frequency means that if a bus is delayed or broken down, another will be along soon, minimizing the impact on customers.
  • The plan has also been developed to greatly reduce issues such as extremely long routes and at-grade freight rail crossings.  Grade crossings represent a significant source of lateness for the current bus network and would be reduced by almost 30% in the Reimagined Network.

How can this plan improve the rider experience and safety on the system?

  • Transit security issues are more likely to arise at stops than on vehicles and customers will spend less time waiting at stops. More people on the system and at stops will keep more “eyes on the bus”.
  • The high-frequency lines will also support investments in better stop amenities and improved walkability that will improve customer security and the experience while waiting.

How would bus shelter locations be impacted by the plan?

  • METRO believes that more and better bus shelters are part of a better transit system. METRO’s bus shelter program will continue to target installation of 100 new shelters every year. Programmed new shelters would be deployed according to ridership so as to maximize the number of riders who benefit from them. Shelters that are no longer served by changes in the network would be moved to other locations such as high-ridership stops, especially transfer points.

How does this plan address the Park & Ride System?

  • The Park & Ride system is mostly unchanged. We are looking at providing better two-way peak and mid-day service on some corridors to support better connectivity with the local bus network and commute options. Some services have been revised to reduce duplication with other more reliable services. Please see the route by route descriptions for more details.

How does this plan address METROLift Services?

  • No changes to METROLift services will occur as a result of the Reimagining plan.  METRO continues to lookat ways to improve all its services including the METROLift service through the METROLift Moving Forward program. Coordination between the fixed route network and METROLift will continue.  To learn more about METROLift click here.

Why are new rail or BRT lines not proposed in the plan?

  • The Reimagining is designed to be implemented in the short term, likely in just 1 to 3 years. As a result, it focuses on how to make the most of existing resources and infrastructure. Further rail and bus rapid transit infrastructure is a separate conversation. However, the plan will improve the ridership on the rail system and build ridership on many streets that could improve the case for additional rail or rapid bus lines in the future.

What are Flex Zones and how do they work?

  • Some parts of our service area have relatively low levels of population and street patterns that make it impossible to design an efficient bus route. Yet these areas still have a need for transit service.  Flexible Service is a more effective way to offer basic access to hard-to-serve areas.
  • Within designated Flex Zones, customers can call to request service, which will pick them up at their curb or at a nearby intersection. The service will take them anywhere inside their zone or to a local transit center or connection point served by multiple fixed routes where they can connect to the rest of the network.
  • Service will be available once an hour at a time specified by when you call, and it will make stops to pick up other people. However, it is an efficient way to provide access to meet the needs of a community where fixed route bus service cannot be effectively operated.
  • Also, some customers within the Flex Zone area will be within walking distance of a fixed route service giving multiple options for utilizing the transit system. The flexible service allows riders to make the best decision for their trip.
  • METRO will discuss the potential Flexible Service with the communities in which it is proposed to be sure it is operated in a way that best meets their needs.
  • To learn more about the proposed Flex Zones click here.

How do I provide input on the plan?

There are many ways to provide input on the plan:

  • By following the links under the Draft Reimagining Plan at the top of this page you can read more about the plan and download project maps and reports. You can also provide feedback on the plan, how it impacts you, and how you see it benefiting the region. [Click here for Plan Feedback Page]
  • At public meetings held around the METRO service area, conducted specifically for the System Reimagining project. Check this website for times, dates and locations for upcoming meetings.
  • At other neighborhood meetings where METRO representatives will present an overview of the plan. Look for the METRO bus at events, transit centers, and other high traffic locations where you can learn about the plan, ask questions and provide feedback.