Survey Shows Houston's Public Transit Gaps

Public transit has always been tough in Houston. For those who work in downtown, freeways are about the only option to get there from home, no matter where you live in the city. Now a recent survey proves just how bad Houston is for the regular commuter. From the KUHF NewsLab, Edel Howlin has the story.

If you’re a commuter in Houston and you’d like to walk to some form of public transit, good luck!

According to the Brookings Institution, a public policy organization based in Washington DC, only about 45 percent of the Houston population can do this. Robert Puentes is the Senior Fellow at Brookings. He says their study covered all forms of transport around the city:  

"In the Houston metro area, not just the Metropolitan Transit Authority, but also Island Transit, Fort Bend County Public Transit, the Brazos Transportation District. So trying to provide the largest look that we possibly could to get the most comprehensive for transit coverage, for service frequency."

What Puentes means is if you’re of working age, how long it takes you to get from your home to public transport, and then from there to your job. Puentes says Brookings surveyed the 100 metropolitan areas in the US. Honolulu in Hawaii came out on top, so where was Houston, Texas?

"So overall the Houston metro area had a combined access ranking of 72 of the top 100. So that was obviously on the lower end of the scale."

Puentes thinks that number will come as no surprise to most Houstonians as the city is so spread out. But says there is some good news if you do take public transit.

"Service frequency was 7.3 minutes, that’s the median wait during rush hour. That’s actually lower, which is a good thing for the metro area average, which was about ten minutes."

Brookings spent two years on this comprehensive study. Much of the data they needed had never been looked at before, so Puentes says a lot of this was uncharted territory. When it came to the results, Puentes hopes they will be put to good use.

"But what we wanted to do was provide a framework for this conversation for metropolitan leaders, who we know are looking for different ways to re-envision their metro areas in the 21st century."

Jerome Gray is with Metro. While he doesn’t put much stock in Brookings research, he says Metro is one of those companies with an eye on the future.

"We’re really not even focused on the ranking as much as the idea and the hope that this does get people talking about transit and what’s needed for the future."

Gray says Metro believes in a dialogue so much they’re running workshops thru June 30th to hear what locals have to say about transport in their communities. He describes it as a long range plan that will take at least 18 months before they can even come back to the community with suggestions. For now though, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett says commuters can take heart from the movement on commuter rail from Houston to Dallas.

"Well the good news is the Texas Department of Transportation is now the point agency with regard to the federal government and high speed rail. The commuter rail could be within a matter of two years...if the right entity got funding."

Judge Emmet believes we’re not there yet but we’re getting there. And with reports like the one from Brookings Institution, transport can hopefully stay near the top of the city’s agenda.

From the KUHF Newslab, I’m Edel Howlin.

Bio photo of Edel Howlin

Edel Howlin

Producer, Houston Matters

Edel is a producer on Houston Matters and reporter for PBS’s Newshour Weekend...