• JUser::_load: Unable to load user with id: 79
Monday, April 05, 2010

Houston METRO defies national downsizing trend

Written by 

More than 80 percent of transit systems are raising fares or cutting service due to state and local revenue declines, a transit industry organization reported. Houston METRO is not.

The American Public Transportation Association report, called 
Impacts of the Recession on Public Transportation Agencies, shows that since
 Jan. 1, 2009, 84 percent of public transit systems have raised fares, cut service or are considering either of those actions. Fifty-nine percent of public transit systems reported that they have already cut service or raised fares. METRO has not.

Thanks to fiscal discipline - which resulted in a nearly flat budget the past five years - METRO is prepared to weather the current economic downturn. In fact, since Jan. 1, 2009, METRO added two cross-town routes (Renwick and Eldridge), a Park & Ride route (Pasadena), and two Signature service routes (Quickline and Swiftline).

The survey found service cuts that have been either implemented or will be considered for future action include: reductions in rush-hour service (56 percent, reductions in off-peak service (62 percent), and reductions in geographic coverage (40 percent). METRO has not.

But, as it has each fiscal year, METRO will take a critical look at service for FY 2011 (effective Oct. 2010) to determine the best deployment of its resources.

According to the report, public transit systems have taken significant personnel actions to reduce spending. A total of 68 percent of public transportation systems have eliminated positions or are considering doing so in the future. Nearly half (47 percent) of public transit systems have laid off employees or are considering layoffs in the future.

METRO has had a hiring freeze in effect for more than a year - except in critical service areas including police officers, bus operators and mechanics.

The survey also found that more than half (54 percent) of public transportation systems responding have transferred funds from capital use to operations, thus aggravating efforts to keep systems in a state of good repair. METRO has not.

In fact, METRO has been adding 100 new buses to its fleet each year and 100 new bus shelters on its routes. More importantly, METRO has started construction on three new light-rail lines.

The report is based on a survey of 151 APTA transit system members representing more than 80 percent of the nation's transit riders, and includes 19 of the top 25 agencies in terms of annual ridership.

Get the latest rail news

The inside scoop from RT&S, IRJ and Railway Age on and off the track. Join our email list.