Planning & Community Process: 2013 – 2014
METRO Board approval: Feb 11, 2015
Opened for service: August 16, 2015
- More Service…linking riders to more destinations, and providing new frequent weekend service
- Better Service…simpler routes with better connections
- Your Service...a sustainable system, linking people and places, to give the best transit service possible
In August 16, 2015, Houston’s Metro transit system implemented one of the largest bus network changes in U.S. history. All local routes, including routes that had not been rethought since the 1920s, were redesigned and integrated with recently opened light rail lines.
Just a few months after implementation of the New Bus Network, local bus ridership had increased 4.3%, and total local network ridership increased 11% from November 2014 to November 2015. Weekends in particular received much more frequent service, resulting in a Sunday ridership jump of 30%. The fast success of this effort demonstrates the value that cities can generate by matching the transit network to the street network.
The New Bus Network replaced a mostly peak-oriented low-frequency radial network with a high-frequency all-times grid. The first major aspect of this change is turning a radial system focused on Downtown Houston into a grid that reaches Houston’s polycentric employment clusters. The second aspect is a focus on frequency, doubling the number of routes that have service every 15 minutes or better. This change provides dramatic improvements in midday, evening, and weekend service, transforming the network into a full-time system. Routes now operate as frequently on a Sunday morning as they do at midday on a Monday.
The grid network allows simpler, more direct, and faster routes by creating logical transfer locations. Riders are no longer forced to go through Downtown, and routes are both easier to use and more efficient. About 95% of the city’s population now lives within one quarter of a mile of a frequent service, and less than half a percent of existing riders moved beyond a quarter-mile of service.
The network was created through a planning process that took a “blank sheet” look at the network, convened a policy discussion on whether to focus resources on ridership or coverage goals, and involved extensive public discussion and consultation. The result was a decision to intentionally shift service hours towards ridership goals, and to rethink all routes—even successful ones. Rail and bus are complementary rather than competitive in the new network; the new light rail lines are used as high-capacity network spines for access to Downtown, carrying riders who previously used buses. By making each route more productive, the network change was implemented with almost no increase in bus operating costs. Ridership growth building on these service changes is expected to continue, as people make decisions on where to live and work based on it and as the system becomes easier to use through better passenger information, real-time arrival information by text messaging, three-hour tickets, and longer-term investments in stops and pedestrian improvements.