Houston is often known as a large sprawly city built on the back of some truly massive motorways such as the Katy Freeway which is the world’s widest road and is now up to 26 lanes wide in places – yet more congested than ever after a NZ$4.3 billion upgrade.
Despite that this year it will be a city to watch when it comes to public transport. Here’s why.
In 2014 Houston went out for consultation on a re-imagined bus network to completely overhaul their PT network. Helping lead the design was Jarrett Walker who has been doing the same thing in Auckland. He talks in more detail about the network and process in this post. Like Auckland, Houston were running a lot of buses but due to the poor network design many duplicated other services, meandered all over the place or were focused on serving a small population and as such the network was not effective. The map below shows the frequent routes under the old system
And here’s what the frequent network looked like after the reimaging. Like the proposals in Auckland there are other services running at lower frequencies too.
One area Houston have definitely got over us is that after going out for consultation in May 2014 they implemented the entire network in August last year. By comparison Auckland Transport consulted on the idea of the new network in the 2012 Regional Public Transport Plan (RPTP), launched consultation on the South Auckland part of the new network in 2013 and aren’t expected to implement it till near the end of this year with the whole network not likely to be rolled out till the end of 2017. I’m suspect one of the reasons Houston was able to make the change so quickly is that the buses were run by transit authority and they already had the interchanges they needed in place.
At the same the city has also been rolling out improvements to its light rail network. In late 2013 it opened an 8.5km extension to their original Red Line and in May 2015 it opened two new lines – Green and Purple with a further extension to the Green Line still under construction.
What makes Houston interesting to follow is to see particularly what impact the new bus network has on ridership. The image below was being shared around social media last week and Kent included it in the most recent Sunday reading.
When a complete bus network is changed a decline in ridership is is expected early on but it’s expected that over time it will then rise and do so at a faster rate so that after a few years the system is performing better than it was had the change not happened. The results above are surprising in just how fast the change appears to be happening. Bus ridership in Auckland is been growing however if the same sort of improvement in trend was seen it would be very positive.
Looking into the details a bit further one of the reasons for the good result in November was actually due to an extra working day which accounts for about 46% of the increase however even taking that into account the result is positive. Obviously it’s only early days but I’ll be keeping track of what happens in Houston as it might be an indicator as to what will happen hear following the roll out of the New Network in South Auckland. I’m sure many other cities will equally be watching what happens to see the value in moving to a connected frequent network.
In looking into the details I was also able to get ridership results for the city for the last 5 or so years allowing us to the trends that have been happening. One thing that surprised me was how comparing it to Auckland’s. At the start of the period Auckland had around 62 million trips to 69 million in Houston. As of November Auckland had 81 million trips to 74 million in Houston. Things obviously aren’t so comparable on a per capita basis as their urban area has around 5 million people so per capita they are much lower than Auckland
A breakdown of their results as a 12 month rolling average is below and as you can see a lot of their growth is being driving by growth on light rail since the network was expanded – much like how in Auckland the rail network is driving the growth. The big difference is our bus ridership has also continued to grow. Interestingly their Red Line on the light rail network is carrying about 54,000 people a day which is about the same as Auckland’s entire rail network.
Given the implications for the new network I’ll continue to keep an eye on what happens as it may be an indicator of what we can expect.