Metro’s Cash Crunch

METRO’S CASH CRUNCH Metro’s unrestricted cash investment portfolio is now down to $76 million, but the transportation agency is carrying a grand total of $190 million in short-term debt, reports the Examiner Newspapers’ Michael Reed. A separate pool of money has already been committed to construction of several new light-rail lines, but the liquidity problems may still affect Metro’s ability to obtain federal funding for some of the lines: “As a condition of receiving funding as part the Federal Transit Authority’s New Starts program, which includes the already-under-construction North and Southeast lines, an applicant must receive at least a ‘medium’ accumulated rating based on five categories. One of the categories, ‘current operating financial condition’ requires a liquidity ratio (cash, accounts receivable and nonrestricted investment portfolio vs. current liabilities) of at least 1-to-1 to avoid receiving a ‘low’ rating for that category. Based on the June 2010 unaudited report, Metro’s rating for 2009 appeared to be about 0.79-to-1, having fallen from 1.55-to-1 in 2007 to 1.03-to-1 in 2008, according to Metro financial reports for those years.” [River Oaks Examiner] Update, 1:40 pm: Metro’s board just announced the agency will have a $49 million budget shortfall this year.

32 Comment

  • We started out with Ph. II implementation supposed to be completed in 2012. It got quietly pushed back to 2013. Then 2015.

    What now?

  • Don’t forget that METRO owes the city of Houston $350 million plus in funds as per their agreement to rebuild city streets that the buses utilize. How many streets could have been repaired with that money?

  • Metreaux is a corrupt joke. At grade rail in Houston is also a joke. Too bad actual factual information was never provided to the public to vote on.

  • Too bad the Metro had to play this game: building the loser lines with low anticipated ridership first, and then coyly asking the federal government to, in effect, bail them out on the Uptown and University lines.

  • Shame big red’white’n’blue is basically hemmoraging red. Don’t know if people expect public transportation to be a profitable venture, or if it’s been decided it’s a necessary public service? I for one say the city would grind to a halt without Metro, and while light rail hasn’t been a gangbusters success it’s a step in the right direction, but apparently one we can ill afford. I blame management (mis).

  • I think METRO has done pretty damn good in terms of getting a foot in the door with rail, especially in an anti-rail city. Hopefully in the future, they will construt better quality (grade seperated) rail.

    Oh, and for all those complaining that the current light rail being at grade is cheap, METRO tried to build grade seperated rail, but it was voted down/killed by mayors. In today’s economy, it’s just too much money to build grade seperated rail and (sadly) in this city, it’ll probably never happen. The public only likes to spend billions on highways.

  • Mfastx – You apparently will believe just about anything. Metreaux is one of THE worst run organizations that Houston has ever fostered. The accountable to almost no one organization has squandered millions and millions of taxpayer dollars. The most common sense approach to mass transit in any city like Houston is clean diesel/hybrid buses, but that’s not whirled class enough for the “progressives” that don’t depend on public transportation, but want to ride on it because it’s cool…. or chichi as some mystery dude would say. For the money Metreaux has already squandered, we could have clean diesel/hybrid buses serving just about every nook and cranny Houston has. Instead we have a toy train that doesn’t collect revenue from most of it’s passengers, emits stray current eroding adjacent infrastructure, cannot function when it rains, has a high degree of traffic accidents, the ridership numbers put out by Metreaux are flat out blatantly dishonest…. the list goes on and on.

  • CK,
    So you think METRO should only spend money on buses, and that means that we will have a world class transportation system, right? Well for 30 years after METRO was created, all it did was spend money on buses, and inside Beltway 8, they pretty much serve “every nook and cranny” in Houston. AND, they are buying 100 new hybrid buses a year to replace the current 1,000+ fleet (which BTW, when they were purchased, were great quality buses). Problem is, having a world class bus-only transit system is an oxy moron. Care to prove me otherwise? Name one transit system that is “world class” that has only buses. Yes, we all know that light rail is not the best rail technology, but METRO has tried numerous times to build a better quality system, but Houstonians have voted it down, and mayors have killed it. I’m surprised METRO has gotten one line running in this anti-rail city. You shouldn’t have to ride public transportation because you don’t have a car. As a regular METRO rider, I have waited hours for unreliable buses, hybrid or not. A core rail system is essential to a good transit system and public transportation systems should provide a feasable alternative to driving, and that is definately not the case here in Houston. What has METRO “squandered” millions and millions of dollars on? We could have a reliable rail system serving most major employment centers in Houston, but instead we have buses that are never on time, so broken down that they have to tape the route number on the windshield, get stopped by freight trains, causing me to wait for an hour (true story)and get caught in the same traffic jams as cars (yes even the new clean/hybrid buses). And since we have an unreliable bus system, we have one of the lowest, if not the lowest, transit ridership percentage out of every large city.

  • From kjb434:
    Don’t forget that METRO owes the city of Houston $350 million plus in funds as per their agreement to rebuild city streets that the buses utilize. How many streets could have been repaired with that money?

    Hush now. You’ll embarrass our esteemed mayor. Who approved some of this and looked the other way with what she didn’t approve. The latter of course what the previous mayor, who now wants to be governor claiming he’s a financial whiz on top of a fiscal conservative, slipped by everyone while everyone wasn’t paying attention.

    Add the $350 million debt to the city to the $190 short-term debt to the $97 million in cash reserves, with no real assets by the way, and what do you get?

    A bankrupt Metro.

  • I’ll give credit where credit is due. On a fairly limited budget, METRO has done a teriffic job with buses, park & rides, and managed lanes. The level of service that it provides for constitutents and commuters in our region is on par with agencies that have bigger budgets and that have developed much more extensive rail-based infrastructure. MARTA comes to mind, in particular, as an organization that makes METRO look thoughtful and deliberate.

    But METRO’s foray into rail technologies has been a flop. They have been plagued by scandal, engineering mishaps, traffic accidents, transparency problems, and have lost the public confidence except among its single-issue partisan supporters (most of whom have no appreciation for METRO’s awesome legacy in non-rail transit). The myopic focus on rail expansion is also pushing the envelope where METRO’s financial safety is concerned.

    This is unacceptable. Whether Houston’s transit is considered “world class” is not an issue that we have the luxury of debating right now. First and foremost, we need to be focusing on how the agency plans to keep its head above water; whether it is by authorizing a subsidy from the City or another entity; or whether it is by pruning the tree a little.

  • Ah, TheNiche, seems we have also had discussions on HAIF, lol. Sure, MARTA’s overall ridership is slightly smaller than ours, (by about 100,000) but keep in mind that the area it serves is also smaller than ours. Atlanta’s population is only about 600,000 (yes I know that the metro area is much higher than that, but transit authorities are usually not useful in suburbs). I’m not sure I agree with you about METRO’s rail service to be a “flop.” To me, METRO’s rail line is the second best in the country behind Boston’s light rail. Why? Ridership per mile. That’s the most useful tool IMO in determining if a rail system is good or not. You also mentioned scandals. To my knowledge, METRO has been cleared of these, still waiting for the buy america verdict, but I heard the voicemail from the FTA official. Obviously I don’t know for sure, but it seems like most of these “scandals” have been started by anti-rail parties to try to stop rail expansion in Houston. And if METRO got it’s whole sales tax, this story we’re commenting on wouldn’t even be a problem. (BTW to keep METRO’s head above water, let METRO get all of it’s sales tax, and create a new 1 cent sales tax for Harris County roads, currently, 25% of METRO’s sales tax is not enough to maintain the crappy streets in my neighborhood)

  • mfastx,

    Check your numbers. The city of Atlanta just barely reaches 500k. The region of Atlanta reaches the 4 million mark but is stretched out much further than Houston.

    MARTA’s rail system is perfect example of how to waste millions on rail.

    The Atlanta regions lack of investment in a versatile road system has for GaDOT to only respond by widening freeways only. Atlanta could easily have constructed dedicated HOV/Bus lanes and provided a service that easily exceeds what their rail line provides and be able to extend it further out.

  • MARTA has a bigger budget in absolute terms, a smaller service area (small enough that the Atlanta region has a second transit agency), and less ridership. Additionally, a smaller percentage of Atlanta-area commuters use transit and the average commute takes more time. Just about any way you slice it, METRO outperforms MARTA.

  • kjb434,
    According to wikipedia Atlanta is about 540,900 people, rounded to 550,000. Close enough to 600,000. And why exactly do you think Atlanta’s rail system is a waste of money? It’s a great system, the only reason it hasn’t expanded is because people in the suburbs have fought against it. Atlanta tried to build additional rail lines, but people have lobbied against it. I still think it would serve the area much better had they be allowed to expand. Soon enough, they will, and Atlanta now has a core rail system to build around, they are better equipped for the future than we are. They will be able to grow denser along their rail corridors than we will around our freeway corridors.

  • The Niche,
    Your analysis is flawed. They only have slightly less ridership, but their service area is MUCH smaller. Of course in the “Atlanta area” ridership percentage will be less, because most of the “Atlanta area” is outside of MARTA’s service area. When I travel to Atlanta, I don’t need a car, and can get downtown in 20 min from the airport. If I am traveling to Houston, it takes me 50 min to get downtown from Hobby Airport (which is about the same distance from downtown as Atlanta’s airport). Per square mile of service area, Atlanta’s transit ridership is much higher. It is also by far the largest agency to not even get state federal funding. The only other transit system to never recieve state funding is Toronto’s system.

  • BTW, Houston’s METRO service area is 1285 square miles, with a ridership of only about 600,500. I couldn’t find the actual square mileage of MARTA’s service area, but they operate in Fulton and DeKalb counties. Assuming MARTA operates in 100% of those counties, and not just a small portion of them, MARTA’s service area comes out to be just 797 square miles, with a ridership of 482,500.
    METRO: 467.3 people/square mile
    MARTA: 605.4 people/square mile
    Now is METRO really the better transit system? Remember to consider that MARTA has NEVER recieved state funding, AND that they have tried to expand their rail/service area, but NIMBY’s in the ‘burbs are opposed. MARTA achives higher ridership by having a core rail system (which Houston is just now attempting to build) with bus routes connecting outside neighborhoods to the rail.

  • We need to do what it takes to build the Uptown and University line. Connecting our densest employment centers just makes sense in looking towards the future. I just can’t understand the opposition to this. We can connect Downtown, Uptown, Greenway Plaza, TMC, Hermann Park, Disco Green, the metro’s cultural institution, Rice University, St Thomas University, UH, UHD, TSU, Galleria, bars, restaurants, and a densifying core. Not to mention our excellent Park&Ride system will feed into the LRT.

    So you say the rail is at a grade? And? Did the Earth stop when the red line was implemented? Once people become familiar with the line accidents went down but it has been the driver’s fault in a near majority of the cases.

    Should the red line be elevated in the med center? Yes. Do all the lines need to be elevated? No. Should the lines be elevated at critical areas? Yes. I would certainly support that increased cost.

  • mfastx, you have gone through the trouble of confirming that MARTA has a smaller service area and smaller population to serve, as well as that their service area is more dense, which should be in their favor. This is essential to my point. It has a larger budget that METRO, and much (much) larger per capita. But by any practical quantitative measure, it underperforms METRO.

  • TheNiche,
    I never said anything about density, I do not know if their service area is more dense. Just because MARTA’s service area is smaller does not mean that it is inferior. MARTA serves more people in it’s region, how does that make it worse? And of course it has a bigger budget, they probably get their whole sales tax, and they get more farebox revenue due to higher base fares. It costs more money to operate a good rail system, you get what you pay for. I think you misunderstood my comment. Those numbers were for the amount of people that ride transit per square mile. MARTA preforms better in that category, how does that exactly prove your point?
    BTW, this is not really directed at you, but I’m really tired of transit agencies being so heavily scrutinized in terms of money. In each thread, people talk about how expensive so-and-so is. Why is that? We spend billions of taxpayer money (not gasoline tax, that only covers about 50% of cost) on highways all the time, why does nobody seem to know that? Why was there a vote to expand/create a transit system, but we couldn’t vote on spending billions on expanding freeways? Shouldn’t we, the taxpayer, get to choose where TxDOT spends it’s money? Maybe there are votes, maybe I just don’t know about these? Do you know anything about this? I just wish that we, as a nation, spent as much money on our rail infrastructure as our road infrastructure. (Well we wouldn’t need THAT much money for a good nationwide rail system LOL)

  • why can’t the TIRZ’s be used to fund the light rails?

    yes we will need rail, but the time is not right (they’re currently unnecessary) and the money is nowhere to be found.

  • mfastx,

    I like your comment.
    If transit was funded as well as highways, then we would have a high quality transit system – this is quite obvious but it is somehow forgotten. Why transit gets the shaft in funding when compared to highways I’m not sure, but it is hurting our quality of life and competitiveness as a region, and it will continue to hurt us even more in the future.

  • Gawd these so called “facts” from these rail agencies kill me. Metreaux NEVER states accurate facts when it comes to backing up their projections. Ridership is never even close to the pie in the sky numbers they claim. mfastx, you claim that Metreaux’s bus service is broken down and not run on time. You people amaze me how you continue to buy into all of the BS pumped your way from these governmental agencies rife with corruption. Metreaux couldn’t manage a department properly if their life depended on it. Metreaux systematically has deleted one crucial bus route after another in order to try and shift usage to the danger train. Which makes no sense (as most of Metreaux’s actions), because it’s pretty tough to get to some hyper expensive toy train, when you’re depending on a bus route that’s been eliminated. Let’s see, fallacious, pumped up ridership figures, horrid management and maintenance of department assets, disingenuous accounting practices, corrupt leadership (see Frank Wilson), Jesus, how long can you stick your head in the sand. Also, what makes you think that a series of phenomenally expensive trains will be maintained and managed better than reasonably priced buses… by a corrupt, bumbling accountable to almost no one agency?

    Oh, another thing…. someone earlier in the thread said Metreaux should get an additional sales tax on top of bungled away bounty. What on earth is wrong with you people? The socialists in control of the current administration in Washington are spending this country into oblivion and you want to INCREASE taxation? Where do you think this money is going to come from? This bloated, irresponsible government needs to focus on cutting spending, not increasing the amount going to corrupt out of control departments.

  • CK,
    What facts are you talking about that are wrong? Their projections were wrong, yes. They thought that the Red Line would have 40,000 daily ridership by 2020, but it had 40,000 daily riders two years after opening. What “pie in the sky” numbers do they claim? I do not “claim” that buses are unreliable, I know. I know because of experience. I can tell you do not ride METRO. If you did, you would want more than just a bus system. I ride METRO buses every day, and I ride the METRORail about once every couple of weekends to go downtown, and the difference of reliability and time has been night and day. I have already said that light rail is not the right kind of rail transit for Houston, I think that heavy rail would be better here. But people saw how much it cost (2.1 billion in 1983) and voted it down. Of course, no one cares that expanding a freeway for a few miles cost even more than that (2.8 billion for Katy freeway). Yes all government might be corrupt, who knows? But I am 100% sure that anti rail people (DeLay, Culberson) are just as corrupt as pro rail people. So you think METRO is managing wrong. How the fuck would you manage? How do you know what they’re dealing with? Tell me, because I am inclined to just dismiss your points as being produced by an ignorant person. What “crucial” bus route have they deleted? The only bus routes they’ve deleted recently have been low ridership routes. They’ve also added more routes. Yes, they cancelled all of the bus routes on Main, because there’s rail there now, and the bus routes can tie into the system. And why the fuck are you calling it a “danger train?” METRO buses average over an accident per day, METRORail has never caused the accidents, it’s always been idiot drivers who ignore street signs, there’s video evidence to back that up. Sure there might be a few cases where people have complained about METRORail because they had a slightly more direct bus route, but generally it’s helped transit commuters. OK “hyper expensive toy train” really? Well then those must be toy cars and buses that run the red lights and get smashed up by the “toy” train. Hyper expensive my ass. The red line only cost 300 million, nothing compared to freway expansion (billions). In fact, I would say that the red line was the cheapest transit project in the city this last decade. Airports and highways cost much more, and payed by the taxpayer BTW. (Don’t even bother bringing up that paltry gas tax, only covers a fraction of the costs) METRO should get it’s FULL sales tax, not an additional. What the fuck is wrong with you? The interstate highway projects were (and still are) the largest social engineering project in US history, “obamacare” doesn’t even come close. Don’t worry, the money will come from the billions and billions we spend a day overseas fighting useless wars. BTW, I want to emphasize that I DO NOT LIKE LIGHT RAIL EITHER, but sadly it’s the best this city can do. Light rail is still better than buses (this is coming from personal experience, with factors such as average speed, reliability, etc.) METRO has tried 3 times to build better quality rail systems, but I bet people like you voted it down in 1983, and anti rail mayors (coughLaniercough) have killed projects. Houston, whether you like it or not, will not continue to be a giant suburb, it is already getting denser, and the only way to have a dense city is to have a rail system, in a dense city, there are not enough roads to go around. Houston’s transit system sucks, why? Because it’s unreliable and slow. Why? Because it’s nearly all buses.

  • Earlier, I posted some numbers about MARTA and METRO and their ridership per square mile of service area, and did not know the service area of MARTA, so I just used the area of the two counties MARTA operates in, which was too high. MARTA’s service area is actually only 498 square miles (instead of the 770 square miles I originally used) compared to METRO’s 1,200+ square miles, meaning that MARTA has a higher percentage of riders in their service area. I’ve found the actual numbers now, and found out that MARTA serves much more people per square mile of their service area. The new numbers:
    MARTA: 968.9 riders/square mile
    METRO: 467.3 riders/square mile
    IMO, this is really the best way to tell if a transit system is “good” or not, and in any transit system that is in the 500+ range, you’ll find a rail system. Granted, Denver’s transit system is horrible, and it only has something like 150 riders/square mile. Even though Denver has a light rail, it is too small a line to make a difference, like Houston’s. On the other hand, LA (which has heavy rail, light rail, AND commuter rail which the bus system ties into) has over 1,000 riders/square mile of service area. A city like New York has over 2,500 riders/square mile of service area. Sure, people will say that MARTA has a higher budget, etc., but a higher budget is needed to operate a good transit system. Just like a higher budget is needed to operate and repair a good highway system, and so on, and so fourth.

  • just a comment about the highway vs. rail funding, the difference is that a reliable highway system is an integral part of a well-functioning economy and is not an option like rail. for a city like houston that is always under threat of hurricanes, you cannot count on rail replacing highways either without having to tell citizens to expect devastating losses in the case of hurricane.

    you could say that increased rail funding could lead to a decrease in the amount of highway funding, but you would have to build an incredible amount of rail infrastructure before that gain could even be realized and we’d be bankrupt before that could happen. additionally, the problem we’re in now is that outward growth would probably exceed the ability to build new rail anyhow.

    we could all agree that mass transportation deserves more funding, but based on how much people cry about taxes you’re barking up the wrong tree.

  • mfastx,

    No time to post right now. Your lack of class is showing. Chill on the cursing. It doesn’t help your argument. However, it does prove the stereotype of the typical leftist that cannot prove his/her point to where they simply stoop to hysterical profanity laced tirades.

  • joel,
    Good points, but I’m sure that rail funding could be increased without going bankrupt. Right now, highway subsidies are over 41 billion/year, but rail subsidies are only about 10 billion/year. I think the country would be better off if that gap closed a little.
    I’m sorry but did you mention lack of class? I was taking after your example. You do not explain your statements, and do not address mine. I am proving my points by numbers and experience. You have yet to prove a point. My post was patterned after yours. Since you used “hysterical tirades,” so did I, but from another perspective. In fact, most of your post #22 is a hysterical tirade. You have not presented one shred of evidence, nor any personal experience. Big deal, I used the word fuck. You have been just as disrespectful towards my ideas.

  • Not to insert myself into an argument where I might not necessarily belong, but as one who took up public transportation for both practical means and as a future career, I need to say something on both sides of coin, of which I’ve been hearing valid points go back and forth.

    First, METRO doesn’t serve every nook and cranny. If that were the case, there’d have been a route down Buffalo Speedway beyond University Blvd. That has yet to happen, and thus in high school what would always be a five minute drive (minus interruptions from trains) was an hour long trek taking me through the medical center or forcing a walk that could take up to 45 minutes depending on which way I wanted to go to catch the bus. Specifics: 8 min to the Main St. intersection for the med center buses; 20 min to the west side of the neighborhood just to make three transfers; anywhere between 30 and 45 min to make it to the north side of the neighborhood and to a stop to avoid making unnecessary transfers. Short bus rides thus were very…inefficient, for lack of a better word, since most of the time I spent walking I could have spent traveling and transferring in the med center.

    While the buses do connect with the light rail, and my applause to METRO for avoiding route duplication, the light rail only serves a certain slice of Houston. I’ve ridden the entire line for the sake of riding it to see where it went, and sometimes even because I could get a good shot of Amtrak from UH Downtown (back when we were serviced at 10a and it ran late). However, the most prevalent use of the light has been to get to one’s car, or catch another bus, thus making the light rail a middle man and irrelevant to the purpose it was supposedly created to accomplish. If there are mass boardings, it has only been between Smithlands and the med center; don’t get me wrong, there is a healthy amount going to places like the zoo or Hermann Park or the Museum District, but when it came down to it, they were a small percentage. The majority of people I rode with were getting off where they could catch the bus to continue their journey, such as the #85 or the #20; I was only there because there was access to the #40 to get to youth group. Part of me says that would justify the “forced boardings” but another part of me looks at the ride as a whole, and this is the conclusion I reach: these people decided to take mass transit instead of navigate traffic, and nothing else. In other words, the light rail became another accessory to one’s car just like OnStar has become prevalent in many vehicles, voice activation, or other flashy gizmos (OnStar notwithstanding – I realize that such an addition can save a lot of trouble too).

    Business on Main St? Came to a crashing halt as far as I’ve seen, and hardly anything has sprouted up since. I’ve been told this is because of the lack of parking. Based on what I’ve seen for the past 6 years, I see what they see and I agree because its things like this that back the current notion that driving is the most efficient way to get around Houston. After I got my license in 2005, I, too, saw that was the case. The only use for light rail was for me to be dropped off at Fannin South to avoid parking a Ford E150 in those garages. A pity they didn’t send the Red Line all the way down Main because they truly would’ve gotten me for dermatologist visits at Main & Greenbriar. I’m both for rail and for buses, but implemented more efficiently. Because they are not, I can see why out of nearly 3 or 4 million people, only 15-20% actually use the system (based on the 600,500 number used earlier and because I forget if we are closer to 3 or 4 million people). That’s still 80-85% still using cars or other forms of transportation such as driving themselves, carpooling, taxis, or what have you.

    Solutions? Plenty, albeit more brainstormed than actually anything that I could prove to be feasible at the moment. The whole thing behind my solutions, though, is something that a relative of mine told me was said to them by someone in transportation: “build [the transportation] for those who want it.”

    For starters, University Line west of Wheeler: plenty of former railroad right-of-way that could either be ballasted or elevated, depending on the situation (meaning make sure it is sufficiently elevated over the bark park to avoid eliminating it). If they want express, that’s the way to do it. In fact, simply (loosely used here) make Wheeler bi-level, where the University Line is elevated at the station and the Red Line underneath. No need for constructing switches or diamonds, and then descend to street level before crossing under 59
    when headed east.

    Uptown Line: extend north to the Cypress Park & Ride to avoid making buses from the NWTC an appendage to the route. Allow for paralleling to UP right-of-way to ensure that if commuter rail can be implemented, a transfer can occur at whichever station is deemed to be the transfer station. At Westpark, allow an extension of the line down Rice to the Bellaire TC and a left/right on/off Beechnut to allow access to Meyerland, south to the West Loop P&R, and then sending eastbound traffic down S. Braeswood and bring in westbound traffic from N. Braeswood, ultimately ending at the TMC Transit Center. #33? Start that bus at the Bellaire TC and cover its usual ground south. Also, use it instead of a separate shuttle bus when needed to cover the entire route on a bad day for the light rail. Same can be said for the #4, #68, and #8 if it were to traverse N. & S. Braeswood.

    Something should be done so that it can’t be said of the #73 running in West U, “That’s just there so they can drop off their maids.”

  • Ah, the fear-based argument. “What about a hurricane?” At least you know your intended audience.

  • Darius,
    OK, your right, METRO currently doesn’t serve “every nook and cranny,” I admit that statement was a little broad. In my own experience, in high school, the fastest way to get home on the bus was to walk about 1-15 min, ride the #25 for about 10 min, and walk about another 10-15 min. That’s about a 10-15 minute drive. But I think if we build this rail system, METRO will be able to cut routes along the corridors, so they will have extra buses to serve more areas. Now whether they will do that or not, that’s another story. (They probably won’t lol)
    Also, I acknowledge that the light rail line currently is too small to make a real impact on transit in Houston (much like Denver, they have a couple of lines but their transit ridership is lower than our) but when they expand the lines, I believe that will be no longer the case.
    When METRORail was built, it added about 20,000 new transit riders, so I’m assuming about as much use just the rail to commute.
    Yes there are some people who park their cars and ride the light rail (which I think is stupid) but I think that will change when it is expanded. Since the line is so small, some people want to ride it, but are afraid to get on a bus (lol). Sorry, but I’m gonna have to disagree with you there about business on Main St. Yes a few businesses closed down, but there are many more that have been opened, especially in downtown. It’s actually walkable. And in Midtown, there’s been many new apartament developements spurred by the lighr rail.
    Currently, driving is the most efficient way to get around Houston, even in the inner loop. But I garuntee that will change in the next 30 or so years when Houston actually becoms dense. Then people will be glad for a rail system, since buses in the inner city are in the same gridlock as the cars.
    I think the University line is fine where it is proposed. In every city that builds new transit, residents are opposed. But after some time, residents grow to love it, and want more transit. Take LA for example. When the heavy rail was first built, nobody wanted it in their neighborhoood, but now that they are talking of expanding it, neighborhoods are clamoring over it. Same in DC, I visited Georgetown, and everyone talked about how Georgetown didn’t want a METRO stop, so they didn’t get one. Now people regret that, and they wished they had a METRO stop.
    Does METRO need better leadership? YES (but what government agency doesn’t?)
    Should we be building grade seperated light rail instead of in the middle of the street? YES, but METRO has tried already; project killed.
    Should Houston have higher capacity heavy rail instead of light rail? YES, but that has been voted down years ago, and way too expensive to build now in this city. So until Houston gets denser and most Houstonians grow to love transit (which will happen one day, if not for about 30 years) we are stuck with the cheapest rail: middle of the street light rail.
    BTW, thanks for backing up your post with actual experience.

  • mfastx,

    I’m in no way being sarcastic or rude when I ask this as I’ve been back and forth from college over the past five years, but I did take a drive down Main St. not too long ago (two weeks ago from Sunday), and while yes there is stuff in downtown, what in midtown along Main St. has changed? I did notice the new apartment buildings, but they were one or two streets over, and otherwise the same buildings with the same empty buildings with maybe one or two new things more toward Wheeler was the case on Main. As far as downtown, I noticed the new businesses in what I think is an attempt to make a downtown mall, but it was very desolate except for the lone soul coming out of what I believe was a bookstore (couldn’t tell as it was a shop that you had to take an escalator up to get to it).

    One the things that I know hasn’t changed is that downtown is still the homeless people’s capitol, and with the light rail running straight through it, unless they’ve changed something in the past five years, the whole aspect I know is what has discouraged people, even with the pedestrian-friendly environment. It’s that very reason why I always made sure that my transfers between light rail and #40 were as quick as possible because even in broad daylight you had people drinking or even the insane people that talked to themselves or something of the like (one of which managed to follow me all the way to the #33…don’t ask how because I don’t know, either). Had to run away from one dude that claimed he couldn’t enter the CVS next to the Main St. Square (North) Station and then came inside and insisted that I get him something different than water. If none of this is happening anymore, though, I’m happy and hope the mall succeeds (don’t get me wrong, I hope that it can succeed even if the situation hasn’t changed, but reality may not be so gracious in thought). So yes, there are ventures, but unlike the Angelica Center and Bayou Place (where the people are driving and finding convenient parking), I can’t say that I’m confident in the light rail spurring anything, currently or when expanded, unless it can be made more convenient than driving.

  • Darius,
    About the apartaments in Midtown, development doesn’t have to be right on the line to be “spurred” by it. It’s no coincidence that many new apartaments were built right after the rail line was installed. In downtown, try driving around on a weekday, its much less desolate. I hate that downtown is somewhat deserted (especially on weekends) but that’s because not many people live there. (The reason for that is another story) There’s plenty of people around that area on Friday/Saturday nights, as well as weekdays. I work in uptown, and sometimes go downtown for meetings (I’m an intern, not that succesful lol) and the whole point of the rail expansion is that people wouldn’t have to park beause they will get there from the light rail, since it’s been expanded to other parts of Houston. I wish I could hop on a train just to get downtown, I could get on the bus (#5 I think?) but that takes the route along 59 and it’s routinely backed up, generally that takes almost an hour. Driving, I can get there in 20 minutes along Memorial, on METRORail I would probably get there in about 30-40 minutes. I would take the METRORail because I wouldn’t have to pay for parking.
    BTW I’ve also met my fair share of the crazies on the bus/rail. Once on the bus there was this guy with a heavy coat on (it was summer) and was shivering and talking to himself/convulsing. When he got out, he angrily yelled at nobody, I assumed he had schizophrenia. Have many more stories but I dont want to bore you, but I think that’s just part of public transit, you see the most interesting people, and crazy as it sounds, I don’t mind it. Sometimes it’s good to have a laugh. :)