Harvey more proof that public transit is needed
As our resilient community rebuilds from Hurricane Harvey, now is a good time to focus on the critical role of public transit, and to recognize its value not only during natural disasters but during normal times in a region facing burgeoning population.
As rain pummeled our city and flooding overtook neighborhoods, Metro moved 10,000 people into shelters, helped Red Cross supplies reach their destinations, and provided transit for essential services. Metro is now an important part of our recovery, moving folks to temporary shelters or back home, transporting many students back to school, and resuming our regular service to get Houstonians back to work and to a semblance of ordinary life. For those who have lost cars or whose parking garages remain flooded, Metro is a new lifeline.
But Harvey also illustrates that we must significantly enhance our transit system to accommodate our region’s exploding growth.
Our region’s population will reach 10 million by 2040, a 50 percent increase equivalent to adding the combined populations of San Antonio, Dallas, Austin, Corpus Christi and Arlington.
These numbers take on real-world significance when applied to how we live, work, access medical care and education, play, and transport even larger numbers of people in a crisis. Metro provides 116 million rides a year now. Expansion to meet population growth is essential to keep our region thriving and livable.
Metro already reduces congestion for today’s population. Our commuter buses eliminate 20,000 automobile trips each day on crowded highways, and our 100 miles of HOV/HOT lanes divert 25 million people annually from regular lanes. One-third of downtown Houston employees use Metro instead of cars to get to work.
But as our population grows, our mobility options must keep pace.
Adding enough cars and roads to handle the growth is not feasible. The Katy Freeway was widened at a cost of $2.8 billion a decade ago and is already congested again. Houston-Galveston Area Council researchers estimate that if vehicle miles traveled increase at the same rate as population growth, the Katy Freeway will need 40 lanes!
And for many, cars are not an option. A Metro customer survey revealed that 45 percent of local bus patrons do not have access to vehicles and must rely on Metro for access to jobs, schools, health care and other resources.
For others, including many millennials, walking and transit are preferable and expected options in a vibrant community.
Transit accessibility is one of the most influential factors when choosing a neighborhood, according to the National Association of Realtors.
Fortunately, a robust public transit system is a sound economic investment. Research shows that, on a yearly basis, households can save $10,100 a year taking transit.
The larger region benefits too. According to the American Public Transportation Association, 87 percent of public transit trips impact the economy; every $1 invested in public transportation generates approximately $4 in economic returns; every $1 billion invested in public transportation supports and creates more than 50,000 jobs; and every $10 million in capital investment in public transportation yields $32 million in increased business sales.
Transit also enhances property values. A Harris County Appraisal District three-year comparative study of property values within a one-mile radius of Metro rail lines reflected a 31 percent increase in value, from $58 billion to $76.3 billion.
Thus, high-capacity transit — regular buses, bus rapid transit, enhanced HOV lanes, various types of rail where appropriate, and all other feasible options for moving large numbers of people — is a sensible, comparatively cost-effective, and, in fact, critical part of our region’s future.
In collaboration with the Houston-Galveston Area Council and other community partners, Metro is developing a Regional Transit Plan to meet our region’s current and future transit needs. We hope our region’s residents will participate in our robust community involvement process, which includes public meetings and online input at www.ridemetro.org. We are considering all ideas about the corridors or sections of town that need enhanced service, and the type of transit best suited for that corridor. New developments in transportation, such as autonomous vehicles and the role of transportation network companies (think Uber and Lyft), are important considerations in our planning.
And as we plan, we are always focused on enhancing the ridership experience by adding bus shelters and other amenities, enhancing safety and improving accessibility for those with impaired mobility.
If public transit can step up as 50 inches of rain falls, we can handle what comes next, whether it’s a population explosion or a community crisis. With your help, we are ready for the challenge.