Making Government Work

This City Fixed Its Public Transit System Without Spending a Dime

March 3, 2015
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This City Fixed Its Public Transit System Without Spending a Dime
Houston redesigned its bus routes, making the system much more user-friendly for riders. Metro. Transit Authority of Harris County
Getting to work just got a whole lot easier for thousands of people.

Houston just revamped its entire transit system, an upgrade that doubles the number of frequent bus lines but didn’t cost a cent.

Some 2.1. million residents live in the nation’s fourth largest city, and they’re spread over a wide geographic area. (Point of reference: Nearly eight times as many people live on one New York City block compared to Houston.) And since the Texas town is known as a place where cars are a prerequisite, this makes Houston METRO’s feat all the more astonishing.

How did the transit authority do it? By focusing on areas where ridership could be increased and people could be moved most efficiently. Duplicate routes and meandering zig-zags that were originally designed to pick up a few hard-to-reach passengers were dropped.

A small number of residents, designers admit, will have to walk further to reach service, but only 0.5 percent of bus riders will be more than one-quarter of a mile from a stop.

“The core idea of the new network is the high-frequency grid,” says planner Jarrett Walker. Downtown, for instance, this means riders will be able to catch any bus within 15 minutes and transfer somewhere else along the line. While that may require one additional stop than riders are used to, residents will be able to move around town much faster than ever before.

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