Houston METRO made waves last year when it decided to completely re-design its public transit network. The decision to trim and tighten routes was widely considered controversial but, in a time when many cities are facing decreasing ridership, deemed necessary by transit officials and professionals like Jarrett Walker, an internationally known Transit Planner who consulted on the project. Essentially, Houston eliminated low performing and redundant routes and replaced them with higher frequency and all-day service on key lines (although increasing walk time to some stops) without increasing costs. The grid-like network is striking in before and after photographs:
Even more striking, however, is ridership information one year after the re-design: bus and light rail ridership is up a combined 6.8% over last year. Although light rail accounts for the majority of the percentage, any increase in ridership is a first sign of success for the project. Walker had noted an overhaul like this should expect a 20% increase in ridership after two years.
These results coincide with findings from Transit Center’s Who’s on Board survey: riders value frequent service, reliability and cost. Could eliminating low-performing routes and reducing the need for downtown transfers be a key to increasing ridership? While these results may seem picture perfect, there were accessibility concerns when officials were planning the re-design. In an effort to accommodate transit-dependent riders who may have needed to walk further to reach a bus, several routes were not eliminated as in the original plans.
Houston’s project can serve as a reminder to systems who are considering changes in service: accommodating riders wants, needs and the changing atmosphere of transportation can be a recipe for (initial) success.