Houston’s population is expected to grow to 3.5 million by 2040. Historically commuters have been poorly served by a METRO system based on a traditional spoke-and-wheel, downtown orientated design. Access to the city centre was well served but many citizens needed transit options to travel between the city’s six different urban hubs. As a result, hundreds of thousands of residents, especially in low income neighborhoods, were forced to commute in private vehicles. The Bus Reimaging project was launched in response to declining ridership, shifting demographics, population growth and community feedback. Where light-rail construction requires expensive and lengthily work, disrupting communities, bus services could be improved with relatively little negative impact.
The new bus network more than doubles the number of Houston citizens with access to a frequent bus service to 1.1 million. In the first nine months of the new bus network (Sept 2015 – May 2016), ridership was up almost 7% system-wide, or about 4.2 million boardings. The was the first increase in ridership in 10 years.
The large increase in citizens with access to frequent bus services (every 15 minutes or less, seven days a week), is connecting a million people to a million jobs across the City’s six urban hubs, providing equitable access to jobs for all of Houston’s citizens. Houston's METRO rail was specifically designed to link Houston's urban hubs with areas that have traditionally been economically disadvantaged and under-served by city transit.
The number of single occupancy vehicles on the road has been reduced, easing traffic congestion and improving air quality. Additionally, the project has resulted in the planting of 580 trees along the two light rail lines. Providing transit alternatives to driving also encourages walking and more active forms of transport, improving the health and wellbeing of citizens.
Overall, 58% of trips between 30 key destinations are now faster by 10 minutes or more. 94% of riders can board at their current stop and every route is operational seven days a week. To ensure LRT stations reflected the diverse culture of each neighbourhood, the city engaged 22 local artists in their design, improving community connection to the transit services.
The number of passenger journeys across the new bus network are expected to increase by 20% over the first two years of operation as a result of improvements in travel time and service frequency. This represents an additional 40,000 or more transit riders each day, and will result in an estimated associated emissions reduction of over 90,000 MtCO2e.
Improved and more equitable access to jobs, employment opportunities and education centres, will yield unquantified economic and social benefits for years to come. Better public transport options will encourage citizens to drive less and adopt more active travel habits, benefiting their health and wellbeing. Fewer private cars on the road will significantly improve air quality, resulting in environmental and public health benefits. Houston often has the highest single measurement of ozone pollution in the country. Because Houston is home to many of the largest petrochemical facilities in the world, 161 of the EPA's hazardous air pollutants are present in varying concentrations in the Houston area. Benzene, found in gasoline, can reach annual levels many times higher than in other major U.S. cities. It is predicted that reducing vehicle emissions could eliminate as much as 1/4 of smog forming pollutants in the city.