Comment of the Day: No Need for a Train on I-10 When You Can Just Park-and-Bus

COMMENT OF THE DAY: NO NEED FOR A TRAIN ON I-10 WHEN YOU CAN JUST PARK-AND-BUS “. . . The train isn’t going to travel that much faster than buses, if at all. Also, buses in the Katy corridor make just one stop at most between the burbs and Downtown (the major route is express from the Park-and-Ride lot direct to Downtown). And people play on their phones on the bus (have you never been on one? the park-and-ride vehicles have nice cushy seats and baggage racks). And unless one’s destination is outside the CBD, no transfers are required; you are likely dropped off within a few blocks of your destination, an easy walk. Furthermore, on the highly used Park-and-Ride routes the buses leave every several minutes; you don’t have to time your arrival, the wait time to depart is minimal. Commuter rail never works like that (though light rail can). The assumption that rail is going to provide superior service simply isn’t true. In fact, it’s likely to be worse service for the patrons than what we have now with the Park-and-Ride buses. Especially since most everyone will have to drive to the station anyway, so no difference there.” [Local Planner, commenting on Was It a Good Idea To Derail I-10?] Photo: Energy Corridor

19 Comment

  • I still prefer trains to busses.

    Trains are generally electric while busses are generally diesel powered. Busses are stinky and noisy especially when you have to walk by then when they are idling and picking up passengers.

    Trains don’t have to deal with traffic or contribute to it. As Houston grows, there are going to be more people sharing the HOV lanes and city streets with busses and busses are not just slowed down by the congestion but contribute to it.

    Trains also scale better than busses. You can run long commuter trains at rush hour but running more busses is often not practical given street congestion. In 10 or 20 years a rail line is going to be better than running 10x or 20x the number of commuter busses than we have today.

  • You are definitely a local planner because you have no idea how trains work. HOV lanes get clogged up during rush hour all the time on I-10. Even when traffic isn’t that bad, you are lucky to average 40 mph from Katy to downtown because the HOV lanes dump you off at the parking lot that is also known as I-10 from 610 to downtown. Decent commuter rail lines can go 70 mph. All trains from Katy could be express to downtown. 35-40 min tops. Commuter rail intervals on the East Coast can go at 5-6 min between trains during rush hour. Buses are very slow to load because everyone has to go through a single entrance and pay. And, if the bus is full, you have to wait for the next one. On commuter rail, everyone has already paid to get on the platform and just piles in through several wide doors. It is vastly more efficient than a bus. So, even with a few stops, rail still is faster because people get on and off very quickly.

  • This. Exactly this. I sincerely wonder if those who gripe about Houston’s public transportation have ever used the P+R system. It’s an outstanding system that provides service to downtown that is in many ways superior to what rail could offer, at a fraction of the price.
    For a fraction of the cost of replacing just one of the P+R routes with a rail line (say, the route along I-10), you could invest in the existing P+R service and have a much more positive impact on the utilization of the entire system (for example, by adding direct P+R routes to more business districts, like the Galleria, Memorial City, and the Energy Corridor, along with circulator routes in those business districts).
    Additionally, the P+R system is far more flexible than a rail-based system. Routes can easily be added or removed, buses can be upgraded as powertrains evolve, and the whole system could be dismantled if autonomous cars, ridesharing, etc ever render nearly all mass transit obsolete.

  • @Old School: The commuter rail model to look at – what we would do in Houston – are the California ones and Chicago, not NY/NJ/CT. You are lucky to get 3 trains per hour on any of those systems, and usually it’s 1 or 2.
    I will agree that the county commissioners and HCTRA need to raise the toll in the managed lanes to reduce their congestion. They are failing at their job right now by not doing this. When those lanes aren’t congested, traffic is 60 mph. You’re also failing to account for the transfer time to other modes in Downtown itself. I know what that’s like; I commuted on CalTrain for a year to SF.

  • I believe JM and old school owned this debate. No point piling on, but Planner may need to take on some student loans to pay for this schooling.

  • I rode the Memorail Express daily for 2 years. It is exactly as local planner described. Picked me up right by my house, dropped me off right by work and was always on time. Traffic was not an issue. The route planners take it into account.

  • *If congestion pricing is applied*, I agree that P&R coupled with HOV/HOT lanes is vastly superior to commuter rail. The winning argument for me is that the precious ROW on which they operate can be shared with many thousands of other vehicles that share an incentive to pack in the passengers, and then that all of those vehicles can circulate around to drop off passengers as they near their final destination, which doesn’t need to be in the urban core (because the majority of jobs aren’t there). This is vastly better than fixed-guideway transit which is orders of magnitude more expensive to implement (meaning that there would be much less of it if METRO had gone that route). Tolled ribbons of pavement are also awesome because as technology improves in the future, that tech will almost certainly accommodate them in an economic way because they are already there and because they finance themselves and expansion as well.
    And now I am going to suggest the thing that, when I suggested it to someone in a PM, got me banned from HAIF: if you look at rail-based transit and you look at the drawbacks and you consider the way that the future seems to be unfolding, and you still think that more rail-based transit is needed…you’re either ignorant of facts, don’t process facts very well, are speaking disingenuously, or are on the autism spectrum. This is a very clear-cut matter. If you are pro-rail, you are wrong. I don’t say that very often or quite as resolutely, but this is one issue that merits it.

  • Commenter7…actually LocalPlanner’s take on this is 100% correct. I’ve ridden the on the bus routes he’s talked about for years.

  • Dangerous comments like that area those that keep Houston derailed from obtaining mass transit transportation. The idea that having a commuter train that doesn’t doesn’t share the same road as HOV while traffic peak hours would be the same is complete, LUDICROUS.

  • @jgriff – and I have travelled on actual trains in Europe where they use the train model to zip from town to town. I’ve also taken the subway in DC, Boston and Chicago. Trains are faster than buses, my friend. Not this light rail shit, though. Talking about light rail on the streets is a straw man attack against trains.

  • Sperging out over econometrics and then declaring DEBATE. OVER. is pretty much the definition of autism. People are pro-rail because people like riding on trains. People in internet comments sections will continue to say “Houston needs more rail” because they live in Houston and they like rail. Our job as engineers is not to say “BUT, B-B-B-BUSES, HAVEN’T YOU READ THE LATEST REASON FOUNDATION STUDY?” Our job is to figure out how to give the people nice trains.

  • for me this is a settled issue just like with niche. ive been to other cities that have good trains, and it definitely makes it easy to get around without a car, so my first impression is that i wish houston had transit like that. upon closer inspection, it doesnt make sense to compare those cities with houston as it is right now. our light rail isnt like the good rail systems ive been on in other cities because it has to stop for traffic (and makes traffic stop for it) so it isnt much faster than buses and doesnt justify the cost or the loss of such a substantial amount of precious row.
    and now you guys are talking about adding in commuter rail when we already have a park and ride system that works pretty well. it would cost so much money to put in all those rails even if you could cobble together the substantial row required, and the problem of how to get people from the end of the line to their ultimate destination is not insignificant. bus park and ride is way cheaper, doesnt monopolize large amounts of row, and is way more flexible to add new routes and stops as population centers and business districts evolve.

  • Self-driving cars aren’t going to happen, y’all. Mainly because it’s far more cost-efficient to have self-driving trains.

  • “Self-driving cars aren’t going to happen, y’all. Mainly because it’s far more cost-efficient to have self-driving trains.”
    “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.”

  • TMR: Self driving cars ARE going to happen. hell, they ARE happening. My car (Tesla) does a lot of driving for me already and is capable of more pending some software and regulation update. They already have cars driving around without drivers.
    It’s not long at all before you can get an uber type ride to your house in minutes that’s driverless. And it’ll be so cheap that owning a car will not be needed by most people.
    While it might have been reasonable to assume self driving cars won’t be coming 5+ years ago (though I’d have disagreed), given they’re HERE now, why would you think they won’t continue?
    The better question is how long will it be till there are roads off limits to human drivers?

  • Oh shit, Commenter7 has been to Europe and ridden trains there. The gig is up, men (and women possibly). We must give up the whole charade of applying facts logically now because he’s been to Europe.
    @ Former Blogger Guy: Nobody here applied econometrics to any damn thing. You don’t know what econometrics is; you should do a Google search when you feel like you may have exceeded the competencies of your vocabulary. (That’s what I do.) Furthermore, I am not an engineer. I am merely an informed prognosticator, and my posts on Swamplot serve that purpose. Local Planner is a planner, not an engineer — same deal, more professionalism. Maybe there’s a relevant sort of engineer on here that’s rendering an opinion, but if that is the case then they aren’t doing so in an official capacity. And even if they did, the vast majority of engineers work for companies, not the public, and not all engineering companies are interested in the same RFQs/RFPs.
    @ TMR: There will be self-driving privately-owned cars, self-driving taxis, and self-driving jitneys. On very high capacity routes, there probably will be self-driving buses…but the decentralized nature of the smaller vehicles will probably not tend to favor larger vehicles. If somebody can pull of truly *rapid* transit (, that will be interesting…but that solves its own ROW problems and it isn’t the sort of thing that we need to plan for at this very moment. I’d suggest letting that tech prove itself in the real world first and then getting aggressive about it.
    @ Cody: I think that roads being designated as off-limits to human drivers are absolutely in the cars. Houston’s HOV/HOT system could easily be converted to that when the time comes, and in my opinion that is what we need to build more of. We need a spiderweb of these things crisscrossing the metro area in every direction and we need to look at ways to tie together all of the HOV/HOT systems clear through the downtown area. It really ought to be figured out by TXDoT, METRO, and HCTRA *right now* before they move forward any further on the downtown loop reconstruction.

  • There is also an element of permanence with trains that has value. I’ve sat at bus stops before waiting for a bus that never came, because it was detoured due to some construction or other event elsewhere that I didn’t know about. I’ve also seen busses get severely off schedule due to more factors than those that would affect trains – especially vehicle traffic and construction. With a dedicated train ROW, you get more regularity and predictability, important elements in transit planning. Also, once you invest in that rail line, though it was very expensive, people can plan accordingly knowing that there is a rail stop nearby, and will be for a long time into the future. So you can set up a business, buy a home, etc. an incorporate access to the rail as part of that decision.

  • @ Superdave: I get the issue about how the physical presence of fixed guideways can be comforting, especially if a person is trying to order their life around the use of mass transit. However, this is a conversation that compares rail and P&R. Both of these operate on fixed guideways.
    P&R can circulate around within a business district when it gets there without forcing a transfer onto local buses, but I have never heard anybody complain about that, and even then certain lanes can be dedicated for those buses either physically or by statute. To the extent that that impacts its reliability, well just consider how much more reliable and convenient that P&R system might have been had resources not been diverted toward such irredeemably wasteful investments in light rail.

  • Here’s an idea… take a bus from Katy into the city on Saturday and Sunday and go shopping. Oh wait, you can’t get there from here. Public transportation sucks in Houston. I’ve done P&R for more than 10 years, lived in Houston over 30. Still can’t get anywhere without a car.