Is METRO's new bus route network working?

HOUSTON (KTRK) -- Two months ago, METRO launched its New Bus Routes Network. Some of the changes include new stops, more stops and eliminated stops.

One rider who has been riding through all of the changes is Mistie Russell. She turned to public transportation five years ago after a car accident.

"I love riding METRO. It's convenient. I can get anywhere I want to go," says Russell.

With the New Bus Network, she sees improvements.

"One, I like more frequent stops with more frequent times. One bus used to run every 30 minutes. Now it runs every 15 minutes," she said.

This was one of METRO CEO Tom Lambert's goals when deciding to create a new transit system.

"We did a lot of analysis of where people were living, where they were working," says Lambert. "We went out and had numerous community meetings. We met with elected officials. We really wanted to make sure we had a good sense of how we ought to be changing the network."

Since the launch of the New Bus Network on August 16, weekday ridership is down 1 percent. However, bus ridership increased on the weekends with a boost of 12 percent on Saturdays and 28 percent on Sundays.

"Remember we had primarily a five-day a week service; we expanded to seven-days-a-week service," explains Lambert.

Because METRO's goal is to create a transit system, the rail line numbers took a jump. In September, the new purple and green lines had nearly 194,000 riders, and METRO's biggest growth overall is along the red line. Ridership increased by 15 percent in the last year.

"We're seeing good connection of the bus network with rail. So everything we intended to see we are beginning to see," adds Lambert.

Overall, with the local bus and rail line ridership combined, METRO reports a 4 percent increase from September 2014 to September 2015. And while these numbers are positive, METRO plans to continuously monitor and tweak the system.

"Some of our routes are very overcrowded, so we've had to adapt the system to put more service," says Lambert.

And while the new bus network's overall response is positive, some changes, like the new route numbers, take getting used to.

"The August 16 thing, if they'd left the numbers the same and did the other changes, then fine, but now you've got to call and see if the numbers are correct. But other than that, I love METRO," says Russell.

METRO expects to see a 20 percent increase in ridership in the next two years, but they say this is really a five-year plan that includes an increase in ridership of the entire system.
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