New METRO chairperson talks plans to attract more riders: 'I think we have some work to do'

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Wednesday, June 12, 2024
New METRO chairperson talks plans to attract more riders
Elizabeth Gonzalez Brock, the new METRO chairperson, is changing the agency's approach to helping Houstonians commute around the city.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Elizabeth Gonzalez Brock took the wheel in February. She now leads an agency with a $1.6 billion budget and hundreds of thousands who count on its safety, timeliness, and convenience.

"If a service is easy to use, people will use it," Brock told ABC13.

That is the simple mantra for the new METRO under Brock. She wants to change the agency's approach. Instead of building first in the hopes of attracting more riders, she wants to attract them first. This means improving what exists instead of growing the footprint for growth's sake.

"I would love to see light rail expanded to the airports," she said, "but I think we need to focus on our basic current services today and making sure that we're growing our ridership."

Attracting riders has not been easy.

According to METRO, riders improved post-pandemic last year but fell short of pre-COVID-19 levels. This year, so far, 48 million have used METRO. To improve, Brock says the agency needs to be reliable, easy to use, safe, and on time.

"I think we have some work to do. Obviously, with our ridership being down, that's an indication we're not where we need to be. And so we're working towards that," she said.

As for safety and the possibility of Houston Mayor John Whitmire asking METRO police to supplement a shortage of Houston police officers, Brock is not concerned about how it might impact the agency's ability to combat crime proactively on and around buses and trains.

"We should be looking at taxpayer dollars as taxpayer dollars, right?" she asked. "And we're not separating them into buckets. I think the taxpayers would very much appreciate that we are responsible with those dollars and we are collaborating. We're working together to see how we can solve our city's issues and our transportation issues and how we can work together. We're currently reviewing that process and seeing how we're going to be able to put more people and have a larger presence on our transit system. I think presence is really important."

Over the past five years, statistics show relatively consistent levels of crime, averaging one major crime for every 133,155 rides, those include non-violent crimes such as theft.

Brock says they're working together to improve the state's largest transit agency.

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