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High Frequency: Why Houston Is Back on the Bus

Every so often, every city should do a "system reimagining" of its bus network like Houston METRO did.

Back in 2012, Houston's bus network was in trouble. Ridership was down, and weekend ridership was especially weak. Frequent service was rare. Routes didn't go directly where people needed to go. If you wanted to get from one place outside downtown to another place outside downtown, you still had to take a bus downtown and transfer.

It was a system that had basically stayed frozen since the 1970s. And as you can surmise, the service it provided was not effective, convenient, or appealing for many types of trips.

METRO's solution was to wipe the slate clean. What would Houston's bus network look like if you designed it from scratch? By re-examining every bus route in the city, talking to bus riders, and making tough decisions, METRO reinvented its bus network. The new system features better, more efficient routes, shorter wait times, and increased service on nights and weekends. The changes were essentially revenue-neutral -- Houston now runs a better bus system on the same budget, because it optimized the use of existing resources.

This Streetfilm was produced in partnership with TransitCenter, the first in a series of four films looking at transit innovation in American cities.

Clarence Eckerson Jr. has been making fantastical transportation media in NYC since the late 1990s. He's never had a driver's license and never will.

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  • http://www.twitter.com/JN_Seattle/ JohnNiles

    Great work in Houston! Related perhaps, I have made the case in work funded by Mineta Transportation Institute and FTA that suggests higher frequency on a complete city-wide network of ordinary buses -- an incremental step toward "bus rapid transit" -- is likely to be more cost-effective in gaining ridership than gold-plating a few individual bus lines at high cost to become "real BRT." See materials at http://globaltelematics.com/brt. Houston's consultant Jarrett "human transit" Walker would add, I gather, that design of the local bus network routes is very important as well.

  • Benjamin Kintisch

    I love this movie Clarence. Well done!

  • The Bus Geezer

    Every city needs to do this. Seriously. Seems like a win-win-win.

  • Wilfried84

    Just wondering, did anyone lose bus service? Are there neighborhoods where bus service went from infrequent to none at all? I'm just wondering what tradeoffs, if any, had to be made.

  • http://www.streetfilms.org/ Clarence Eckerson Jr.

    Of course, I am sure there were some people who had service altered. But as far as I know the years of METRO community committees tried to be as fair as possible while aiming for the greater good for Houston as a whole.

    For example, one of the people I talked to said they had to walk a few more blocks to get their bus than before and that their personal daily commute really didn't have any time savings, but that every other trip they took outside of work was phenomenally better and that they were now able to use the bus on weekends and making a transfer was a breeze.

  • davistrain

    Reminds me of Los Angeles in the 1960s and early 70s--When the last five streetcar lines were abandoned in 1963, the replacement bus lines followed the same routes for about ten years--so much for taking advantage of the "flexibility" of diesel buses.