METRO's Silver Line bus lanes in Galleria area not meeting ridership expectations

Elissa Rivas Image
Tuesday, November 7, 2023
Is METRO's Bus Rapid Transit the future of Houston or a dead end?
METRO's Silver Line has failed to reach expectations after carrying fewer than 1,000 people. ABC13's Elissa Rivas is asking why that's the case.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- METRO has spent tens of millions of dollars to create a bus rapid transit line through the heart of Houston's Galleria area.

When METRO began construction on the Silver Line's dedicated bus lanes, it was a different time, years before the pandemic.

RELATED: Houston business owners concerned about METRO's proposed bus rapid transit

"Hopefully, our quality withstands it, but I know we're going to lose business," one business owner said.

But as time went by, following the line's opening in 2020, records show just about 1,000 people are riding it per day, failing to reach METRO's expectations.

At 4 p.m. on a weekday, most people at Westheimer and Post Oak sit in traffic, but not one Galleria worker, Rae Schwartz.

She rides the METRORapid Silver Line.

"I don't have to worry about traffic because the Silver Line has its lane," Schwartz said. "It is the fastest way for me to get to work."

The Silver Line takes you from the Northwest Transit Center, through Uptown and the Galleria area, to the Westpark/Lower Uptown Transit Station. Unfortunately, not a lot of people ride it.

METRO patron Bobby Kittinger can attest to that.

"Even at the busiest times of day, I'll ride, and there's hardly no one on there, which is crazy," Kittinger said.

When the Silver Line launched amid the COVID-19 pandemic, ridership did not meet projections. Three years later, it is still nowhere close.

ABC13 took questions to Sanjay Ramabhadran, a METRO board chair.

"Year on year, our ridership on the Post Oak line, the Silver Line, has gone up almost 23%. Park and Ride ridership is still pretty down." He added. "The office buildings in the Galleria are still at only about 60% occupancy."

The most recent METRO data shows an increase in ridership. The METRORapid Silver Line's first full fiscal year of ridership in 2021 shows 231,000 boardings.

The next fiscal year increased to 255,000, and then 299,000 boardings in 2023.

However, millions were poured into a project that was projected in 2015, during planning, to carry 14,850 riders per day, according to METRO documents.

Bill King has spent years working in business and public service lives in the Uptown area and is concerned about how we're spending the community's dollars.

"It's not that this line is inherently evil or something. It's just that it cost $200 million. And you think about all the things that you could do with $200 million," King said.

In 2019, voters approved METRONext, giving the green light to additional Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) lines along the Inner Katy corridor through Gulfton, and planning is underway now for the most ambitious BRT line in the nation - the University Line.

"You have to build out a system before you analyze how a segment is performing," Ramabhadran explains. "An analogy would be if you're building 20 miles of a roadway, and you build the first three miles, traffic conditions don't improve on the other 17 miles. You've got to build out the other 17 miles. The METRORapid on Post Oak is built. You've got to build the other parts so the region can truly see the benefits of the transit system."

However, transit is not Houston's only concern, and residents like King hope we're using our money wisely.

"We've got to do a better job of allocating our money and making the value proposition for living in Houston, Texas, better than it is for other places," he said.

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