Despite being a large metropolis, many parts of Houston don’t necessarily feel that way. A big reason why is because Houston’s population density isn’t high. As a comparison point, New York City has about six million more people than Houston, but its border only encompasses an area about 70% of the area Houston occupies.
Because of this footprint, the scale of building an effective transit system has always been an acute problem for Houston. Houston area residents are dependent on cars to an extent that New Yorkers never are.
This engendered a poor reputation for Houston’s transit system. Up until 2012, that might have been somewhat deserved.
No longer. In 2012, Houston did a full scale revamping of its bus map all at once. The city performed a wide scale study that identified the most used routes along in the system and optimized the buses to emphasize them. Previously, the buses ran more stops to more places, even if going to little used stops was incredibly inefficient.
Although some residents initially complained about less frequent stops at more out of the way locales, the city stayed strong. The bus system still services those places, but less frequently to the benefit of the vast majority of Houston’s residents.
The best part about the redesign (especially for music lovers) was to boost weekend and evening services. The Houston bus system isn’t just for commuters anymore!
The redesign combined with the opening of a light rail system in 2004 that was significantly expanded in 2013 boosted Houston’s transit capabilities exponentially.
In the years since, Houston’s bus ridership had posted strong year over year growth, 3.3% in 2015 and 2.3% in 2016. That growth is second in the nation (to Seattle, which has also been going through a transit redesign) and far outpaces most other places in the US where bus ridership is falling.
The massive success of Houston’s transit redesign has inspired other cities to undertake a similar reimagining of bus routes. Austin, where in addition to being plagued by numerous other transit issues, also ranks poorly in bus ridership numbers, has decided to undertake a redesign of its own modeled on Houston’s transit system. I suppose Austin can only aspire to be as great as Houston.
So next time somebody cracks a joke about Houston being a car-only city, tell them how great the bus is and how well it works. And show them this. The New York City Subway isn’t so great now, huh?
Wanna see this bus map in all its glory? You’re a nerd (so am I…) but here it is!
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