Houston Buses Gain Ridership While Bus Systems Around the Country Struggle

When Houston reworked their bus system they emphasized frequency and simplicity. The results have been a bump in ridership, though some complain the system sacrificed coverage and equity to make those gains.

2 minute read

December 14, 2016, 11:00 AM PST

By Casey Brazeal @northandclark


Houston Bus Lane

Trong Nguyen / Shutterstock

In September of 2015, the Houston METRO bus system reworked their service. A year later, the change is evident. "That massive overhaul decreased the amount of wait times between buses and simplified route geography so maps were easier to understand and read," Bandon Formby reports in the Texas Star Tribune. This change in service gave rise to a 3% increase in ridership.  That number may seem modest but becomes more impressive when compared to the many bus systems that are losing ridership around the country.

Still, this emphasis on more regular service comes at a cost. Formby talked to some commuters who were now further from stops. "Tindle said her old route into work downtown stopped near her home. After the overhaul, the closest stop is now half a mile away. And it isn’t covered." These concerns have also been raised in city government. "After presenting its initial plans for its bus overhaul to the public, Houston METRO’s board agreed to increase the budget for local routes by 4 percent, or about $12 million, amid criticism that poor residents in the city’s northeast quadrant were losing too much service," Formby writes.

This overhaul gets at an important if not "sexy" aspect of successful public transportation. While wild ideas grab headlines, practical concerns about regular service are harder to make newsworthy and, consequently, can be the target of cuts.

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