Har­vey more proof that pub­lic tran­sit is needed

Houston Chronicle - - OUTLOOK - By Car­rin Pat­man Pat­man is chair­man of Metro.

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.

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