Today, after a year of work, Houston just revamped its bus network overnight, bringing better service to more people than ever before. Free rides for the first week so people can try it out. I like that off-peak service will be the same every day of the week. It gives a sense of dependability and recognizes that transit is more than just for 9-to-5 commuters.

The amount of work they’re doing to inform and educate riders is incredible. Very ambitious!

42 Replies to “Sunday Open Thread: METRO’s New Bus Network”

      1. Does buses literally mean Metro buses, or do Connector buses and charter buses count too?

      2. If it doesn’t mean all buses, it should. There could certainly be “Transit only” or “Bus only” signs where appropriate.

        Actually, I don’t think that allowing charter buses, intercity buses, school buses, or MS/Amazon buses in most bus lanes would cause any harm at all to transit operations. And, as far as I’m concerned, the point of bus lanes is to get vehicles carrying significant numbers of passengers through the pile of single-occupant vehicles. A few duck boats carrying 40 passengers isn’t the problem here. And it will be the duck bus waiting behind a Metro bus at a bus stop, not the other way around.

        Common sense here, please.

      3. People make a fuss about “always empty” bus lanes. I’m fine sharing with the Connector / various unlabeled shuttles to boost public perception.

    1. Also: intersection blockers. We could fund the entire Seattle Subway system by letting a few cops stand at major intersections downtown during rush hour to ticket every violator.


        SPD & SDOT said this week that they would start cracking down on drivers who “block the box.” In typical Seattle style it’s going to begin with warnings for those who break the rules and Starbucks gift cards for people caught being good (not joking).

        Ticketing will begin in the Fall and SDOT says it’s looking at installing automated enforcement cameras (like red light cameras) at some of the worst intersections.

    2. Hey, Bruce, good thinking! Because if police start concentrating on the Duck tours, it won’t be long until some violator hits the pedal and tries to escape from the cops.

      True, top speed of the chases will be about the same as OJ Simpson driving five miles an hour around the freeways, with every helicopter in the state following him taking pictures for a whole day.

      Even better will be the police sirens being drowned out by the loud sustained quacking from all those plastic duck calls from the passengers, who will having a lot more fun than usual floating-around-Lake Union-in-a bathtub experience.

      But best of all will be the absolute hurricane of real mallards filling the skies over the whole freeway system, attracting a huge number of middle aged guys with shotguns, adding fireworks and also more purebred spaniels than the plastic bag industry can handle.

      And best of all for transit: share of huge new Duck ride ticket sales will fund ST5! And a new pigeon latrine that will also be called your statue.


    3. You people are funny. A few months back, you were blathering that, “it’s unfair that I was given a ticket for not tapping-in on Link! Everyone makes mistakes! Everyone should get a few free warnings per month!”

      But now you’re all, “There needs to be more enforcement and more tickets and bigger penalties for car drivers when they’re in the bus lane!”

      “Yeah Sam, but you have to understand the difference is that we already paid for our ORCA card and ….” Oh STFU you car-hating hypocrite.

  1. Indiana has decided to have Iowa Pacific Holdings provide the passenger cars it uses for the Hoosier State between Indianapolis and Chicago.

    Amtrak will still operate the train and do ticketing, as pretty much required by the class 1 freight railroads over which it operates.

    Some say it’s a great day for privitization. Others say it just adds another layer of money grabbing between the passenger ticket money and the actual operation.

    The dining car used is an ex-Milwaukee Road superdome that once roamed the Wasington Cascades on that mainline.

    1. How does purchasing their rolling stock from Iowa Pacific Holdings make this a great day for privatization? Has there ever been a publicly owned railcar manufacturer?

      1. IPH owns the stock and will continue to maintain it under contract to the state.

        It’s a bit like the Talgo deal, except if Talgo still owned the train sets and just provided them at a regular fee than outright purchase.

      2. The articles call it “providing” so there migt be some sort of difference. I don’t know enough of the details.

    2. This is a response to Congress’ requirement that Amtrak routes of less than 750 miles be subsidized by local governments. The Iowa Pacific rolling stock is refurbished equipment from 50+ years ago, but it may be in better shape than the equipment that Amtrak has been using. The train will offer food service, but the train only runs 4x per week in each direction and the times are difficult: departs Indianapolis at 600am, returns at almost midnight. The trip also takes about 5 hours in each direction for a distance that is equivalent to Seattle to Portland. To me, this seems to be a valiant attempt to re-create the failed model of passenger railroading that died off in the 1950s and 1960s. Indianapolis to Chicago could be a great corridor for passenger trains if there is a willingness to invest in rail infrastructure improvements that would improve trip times and provide better than once-a-day vitamin schedules. I’m sure this initiative will be an improvement over what Amtrak currently provides, but I doubt it will be a financial success.

      1. We would probably take the train to visit family in Indianapolis, but as you say the service is infrequent between Chicago and Indy. I think they offer a bus most of the time to connect the two cities, but it would come with a long layover in Chicago. Something I wouldn’t want to do with children. The only other option is to go through Sacramento and then east through St Louis. No thanks.

    3. Speaking of Amtrak from the previous thread: “I think it’s in our National interest to treat the railroad industry like we did the air travel industry 100 years ago.
      Imagine if every airline had their own routes and controllers all competing for landing spots. Chaos.
      What if all rail ROWs were lumped into one National system, with a common control setup, much the way the FAA works (and it’s highly efficient and fair), and duplicate ROW’s were designated either for freight, passengers, or both? How would the UP and BN ROW rise to its ‘best and highest use’ between Seattle and Tacoma, under that scenario.
      How would the Tacoma Eastern ROW between Olympia and Centrailia be utilized along I-5? (it’s a parking lot of derelict container cars now that haven’t moved in years). How would our National ‘Rails to Trails Act’ operate when local electeds are taken out of the mix? Could we actually return some ROW back to rails without the bike and pedestrian lobby coming unglued?
      That’s just a glimpse of what a National effort could do, given the political will of DC.
      The first step is to figure out what a National HSR 100 year plan would look like, and see if it made economic sense to pursue. Then it’s a matter of working through all the hurdles to make it happen, including the crushing pressure the Class 1’s would bring to bare.
      Warren Buffet need not reply, but everyone else is.

  2. Question 1) Does anybody know when the new trolleybuses will enter limited service? I’ve seen them on test drives around the city a bit, but I’m wondering when they’ll start running real routes.

    Question 2) Why the two block reverse couplet on 12th/14th on the north end of Beacon Hill? It seems like 14th has plenty of space to accommodate two-way running.

    1. there is no traffic light at the end of 14th Ave S and Golf Dr S, thus having a bus making the left turn could be difficult going northbound.

      The couplet predates Metro Days and goes back to Seattle Transit Days. Remember, the 12th Ave S (Jose Rizal) Bridge was modified in the mid 60’s for I-90 construction. It used to go straight, instead of curving towards Golf Dr. ( so I think the trolley line operated 12th to Massachusetts to 14th, Note the wider road ROW here).. More info here.

    2. I think the couplet routing is so that passengers do not have to cross the street to get into the building which was a hospital when the wire was strung.


  3. Do any of these comments have any relationship to the Houston story, or did I click on the wrong article?

    On the clip, I love the job title “Service Planning and Transit Reimagining”. And looking forward to seeing how well a complete system reset will be accepted and used, compared to the slow evolution preferred here…

    1. I kept expecting a politician would jump in front of the camera to claim victory for their neighborhood, and credit for the ‘new deal’.

    2. It sounds wonderful for Houston. I only watched the first few minutes of the video but I’ve seen earlier articles about the restructure. It sounds similar to what RapidRide and Prop 1 did for Seattle. I don’t know anything about Houston’s neighborhoods or where the routes “should” be. But I’m curious about the light rail: if I wanted to live in Houston near an LR station, how many stations would I find in (at least minimally) walkable mixed-use neighborhoods?

      When I was in Dallas, there were hardly any such station areas that I could find. The train crawled on the surface downtown, then had one underground station at an isolated office building that I’m told has an emerging walkable neighborhood, then north of that it’s all six-lane boulevards and sprawly hell. (I took the train to Arapaho station in a suburb, where the connecting bus was half-hourly, on one of those six-lane boulevards, to the Galleria where I was staying.)

      1. I did a lot of transit work in Houston back in the day, and although the development of their LRT network has been painfully slow, it’s encouraging to see it happening, and the bus re-org is fantastic, and represents a lot of work by some very smart and dedicated planners.

        Mike Orr – the Houston system is quite different from that in Dallas, Denver or Portland – Houston skipped building long commuter lines along freeway ROW because they already have an extensive network of barrier separated HOV lanes and suburban park & ride lots (which have to be seen to be believed – 1,000s of spaces). Instead, they have focused on building out the central core system, with the assumptions that the local and regional bus networks would link into them.

        There aren’t many neighborhoods in Houston that would seem walkable by Seattle standards, but the city has been gradually filling in at fairly high densities, so maybe some day the urban design will catch up with the development patterns.

    3. Transit Re-imagining?!!!! I just re-checked, and it’s true! The poor guy!

      He probably got hired on of April 1, but Human Resources didn’t get let in on the joke. Or maybe they thought if they left it that way, people would quit bad-mouthing them for no sense of humor.

      Come on, somebody from Metro Service Planning, weigh in here. What are the consequences for anybody in your trade who imagines anything once, let alone becoming a repeat offender?

      The planner who first thought of rolling a rock on logs in stead of dragging it is probably still looking for work.

      Does King County’s health plan cover remedial frontal lobotomies so an otherwise good worker can at least keep their job?

      Hope the Affordable Care Act covers that doctor in the Balkans who’s always on Oprah with his revolutionary natural-electronic treatment to make Those Fools Realize! things.

      Too bad the software the Italians pirated got loose in Palermo. Our Breda fleet was one of those Things Mankind Was Never Meant to Know!

      Meantime, back in Houston, some vindictive hacker whose route home now goes through Sinaloa has rigged the Re-imaginer-In-Chief’s office sound system so it constantly makes him re-imagine nothing to kill or die for and no religion too.

      Imagine that wrapped onto the side of a bus in…ok, everybody knows what State has JR Ewing heading the DOT.


  4. Oran, might want to think about why the long video about Houston transit is way behind lane violations the one-way transit vehicles that survived the beach route to Normandy.

    Though problem could be taken care of by giving them ST 550 signage while I-90 gets its overdue railroad.

    But watching the video- I can see why first comments went to blood-thirst over services that really do give people alternatives to SOV motoring. Which is pretty much like politicians yelling about abortion, gay marriage, and immigration so nobody will notice that Congress has wrecked our country.

    Houston? Not a word about transit-only lanes, except by showing an empty HOV-HOT lane. Or about signal pre-empt. Maybe these things are illegal in Texas.

    And nothing about any interface with the light rail system. Though comparison with our own might give us some motivation to build faster. But weirdest of all, especially after STB’s detailed discussion of route colors, and the video’s stress of Houston’s new scheme,their own bus stop signs are in black and white.

    And no graphic examples whatever of the kind of service each color indicates. Very puzzled about the Green lines, which have the longest headways.

    Any chance we can do serial about Dallas, with JR Ewing being the transit manager?

    All in all, for comparison, would be good to have next video in the series cover Mexico City or Guadalajara- which has a transit tunnel that used to be light-rail and trolleybus joint use. Lot of good stuff about their system online.

    Well, flash-flood water through the culvert, after the bridge washes out. We can’t give Texas back.

    Mark Dublin

  5. Though if Mexico could be persuaded to accept State of Washington instead, our transit development would doubtless swiftly make up for our own fifty year lag.

    Whatever Spanish is for “just sayin’…


    1. I think they would gladly accept Texas back, and then rail could be extended out to Katy and Conroe.
      Sr. Bush habla espanol?

      1. The scene fades to the secret Skull and Bones lounge in the Yale Alumni Center. And we hear:

        “I say, GWB! Did you notice in that droll transit blog up there at the gateway to the Alaskan oilfields, we have commenters making fun of public transit your new home state again?”

        “Dreary, Chip, dreary. But it’s so typical of that tacky little duck pond to be envious its betters because their whole state wouldn’t fill a parking space in our smallest strip mall. After all, how long did it take them to get twelve miles of light rail, let alone 22.7?

        “(Yawn) And not to mention the centuries old public transit here in my actual home state of Connecticut! We’ve got an inch of catenary for every mile of their Lionel HO gauge electric transit”

        “Oh, Georgie, those people are just the cat’s meow! But look at the time! You’ll be late for your personal-brand Texas language lesson! Our sorority throws panties at the screen every time you give a statement on our military progress!”

        “By Jove, you’re right, Muffy! Have to run. My staff is panicking because they’re getting warnings from my Citizens-United protected donors that a dangerous percentage of the electorate can understand me. I find it annoying to constantly be misunderestimated. Ta Ta!”

        Hasta la Vista!


      2. The Texas Republic would consent to be recolonized by Mexico? I think not. Especially since that would allow the drug cartels to spread their mayhem into Texas, and El Paso and Houston would no longer be safe.

  6. Despite hammering and delays by their own local politicians, Houston seems to have constructed a multiline Light Rail system, METRORail that far exceeds that of Seattle (yet construction begun under a similar timeline). Of course their different geography led them to truly live up to the name Light Rail as it was cheaper and faster to build at grade and on existing roadways.

    1. One thing Houston’s light rail doesn’t do and doesn’t pretend to do is carry long-distance commuters into the center of town from distant suburbs. The entire Red Line is 7.5 miles end to end, and the Purple Line is similar length. There is also very little free all-day parking along the train line, and the one P&R lot at the end of the line actually is actually paid parking.

      What it does do well is connect the neighborhoods along the line to each other, with signal priority and a dedicated line, and half-mile stop spacing along almost the entire line.

      While the brute speed of the train may top out at around 30 mph, it’s average speed is about double what local buses with stops every other block used to do when traversing that stretch.

      1. Houston Light Rail also uses traditionally hung trolley wire (the LRVs do have Pantographs), as opposed to much more expensive catenary.

        Some of the commenters here who claim that catenary is the only possibility for modern light rail would have a heart attack.

      2. The commuter train thing is mostly just talk. When they see the price tag, I doubt it’s actually going to go anywhere. A big problem is that commuter rail is designed to get large numbers of people to one place at the same time. In Houston, jobs are scattered throughout the Metro area, and only a small minority of the population there actually works downtown.

        Parking downtown is also quite cheap for those willing to walk a few blocks. There’s a huge glut of parking near the sports stadiums, and some spaces that go for $20/car on game day can be had for as little as $2-3/day during the week (about a 1/2 walk from downtown Houston’s largest office buildings).

        To be fair, transit there is cheap too, with fares as low as $1.25/trip – roughly half of what transit in Seattle costs. Of course, gas is also cheaper there as well.

  7. Mike, like the rest of the Confederate states, the main freedom the Texas Republic was rebel-yelling about was its citizens’ right to keep slaves. Santa Anna was last year’s moth-eaten toothless tyrant compared to Abraham Lincoln.

    So I really think that every other Western state should celebrate a three day holiday every year March 26 thru 28, to honor the well-regulated Union militia that turned back an aggressive foreign-backed power whose economy and ideology rivaled the Nazis.

    And while The Republic’s worry is directed southward, it’s a good opportunity for us to re-fortify Glorieta Pass. Our soldiers shouldn’t have to rappel down the sides of a canyon on miners’ safety lines like they did in 1862.

    Mark Dublin

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