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Houston METRO defies national downsizing trend

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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.

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