In 2012 Houston METRO, Harris County’s Metropolitan Transit Authority, realized they had a significant issue in regards to the bus system, which had not been updated in three decades. The System Reimagining Plan was approved by the METRO Board of Directors on February 11, 2015. When the new system debuts in August 2015, 73 percent of bus riders will have access to high-frequency service—a 217 percent increase from METRO’s current system (pictured below).
Photo courtesty of: http://www.smartgrowthamerica.org/2015/07/16/houston-we-have-a-solution/
What is the hard work that made the public plan possible? An effective, far-reaching public engagement strategy in every step of the process. Carleton,a consultant Traffic Engineers, Inc. (TEI), explains that, “We recognized that if we were going to be able to be bold and rethink the system, we needed to touch both the existing and potential riders, and really start to educate people about what a transformative opportunity it was.” METRO board members and staff sought multi-tiered public engagement in the following ways:
- Traditional public meetings
- METRO staff offered to speak about the plan with any organization that requested their presence
- 13 outreach events
- Language interpretation was provided in the priority languages for the Houston area: English, Spanish, Vietnamese, and Mandarin for all events and flyers
- Through maps, graphics, and analysis that illustrated the changes
- Meetings were streamed live on the internet and recorded for people to watch later
- Board members had over a dozen meetings with drivers at operator facilities
- Engaging a stakeholder group of 120 people to provide extensive feedback throughout the process he group, including planners, engineers, bus riders, bus drivers, transit advocates, business owners, and representatives from Houston’s management districts, city government, social service agencies, school districts, colleges, and universities
According to Carleton, the trade-off exercise and extensive outreach paid off. “When we read the feedback for the draft plan, it was clear that people had spent a lot of time thinking about it and have engaged with it at a really deep level,” says Carleton.“Instead of comments like ‘this plan stinks’ or ‘this plan is great,’ we had comments like, ‘this bus needs to turn at this point and have this frequency because of x, y, and z.’ It was really impressive.”
The plan will be launched August 16, 2015.