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Our Summer Interns

What it’s Like to Ride the Bus

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This summer, Houston Tomorrow has hired two interns. As a part of their experience here, we would like them to try out various modes of public transportation in order to gain an understanding of how the system currently works, as well as to inspire a level of comfort with public transportation that will encourage them to continue to use it in the future. Here is what they had to say about their experiences on the bus.

John Guttman:
My name is John Guttman, and I am a summer intern at Houston Tomorrow. My internship is spent helping to accomplish the mission that Houston Tomorrow has set forward: to improve the quality of life for all the people of the Houston region. I’ve done this primarily by creating maps, collecting and summarizing data, and researching for different projects. I’ve learned a lot about Houston by doing this—just not enough. How can I fully immerse myself in my work if I haven’t fully immersed myself in Houston? What right do I have to say that the METRO transit system increases urban walkability if I’ve never been on the METRO transit system? Well, the only way to fix my problem of never having ridden the bus is probably quite obvious: ride the bus. So that’s what I did.

Of course, like most people, I had preconceived notions about public transit, all of which guided my experience riding METRO. Here were many of my biggest concerns and whether they were justified or plain ridiculous. The bus is going to be so slow. Compared to the length of the commute if I had driven myself, the bus was ultimately slower (read: not speeding); however, I did not need to find parking (read: Downtown parking…). So, time concerns were plain ridiculous of me. The bus is going to be gross. Not only was this proven demonstrably false, but the bus was considerably cleaner than my car has ever been. I saw far fewer gum wrappers and old fast food receipts lying everywhere. The bus is going to cost way too much. False. My commute from home to work is roughly 8.4 miles. At 15 mpg in the city (easily on the “inefficient” end of the spectrum) and $2.50 per gallon, my daily commute into work costs me about $1.40 one-way. A METRO ticket, regardless of the distance traveled or fuel economy of the bus, costs $1.25 one-way. Compare this to the average commute into downtown Houston of 21 miles (a $3.50 fee), and taking the METRO is a no-brainer. Riding it just once a week can save upwards of one hundred dollars a year.

My cost assumptions were plain ridiculous. It’s going to be difficult to find bus stops, especially near my destinations. This was slightly justified. There was no clearly defined way to navigate between bus stops and my destination. I’m sure this will be improved upon with METRO’s new transit grid, but at least for now, searching for a bus stop in the heat was a mild inconvenience. Lastly: taking the bus is going to be boring since I won’t be able to drive. As it turns out, doing almost anything is more fun than driving through downtown Houston, like for instance, talking with other people, or checking one’s phone (legally, too!), or staring out the window and admiring the incredible urban walkability of downtown Houston. Okay, maybe that last part is still plain ridiculous.

Jordan Pettigrew:
My name is Jordan, and I am working as Houston Tomorrow’s ExxonMobil summer intern. On Monday, June 29th, I rode the Metro bus in Houston for the second time in my life.  Though I am not a native Houstonian, I still consider my lack of experience with Houston’s public transit to be rather pitiful. I have just finished my third year at Rice University, and I can’t even remember why I took the bus that one time my freshman year or where I was going.

As an intern with Houston Tomorrow this summer, I am being challenged to explore Houston’s public transit in order to discover first-hand the many ways in which it needs to be improved. On this particular Monday, we embarked on a journey from our office on Richmond Ave in Upper Kirby to the George R. Brown Convention Center downtown. We walked a few blocks up Eastside Street to Westheimer to catch the 82 bus. We waited about ten minutes before boarding the bus, when I realized I didn’t have my Q-card with me. That is the first thing I need to change. If I don’t have my Q-card, I will be less inclined to ride the bus. So, I should just carry it with me at all times (why wasn’t I doing that in the first place?). We paid the $1.25 per person and found some seats near the back. We traveled along the ever so bumpy Westheimer amidst its perpetual construction and arrived at our destination in about 25 minutes.  Not too bad, especially considering how many times the bus had to stop on the way.

We left the Convention Center in what appeared to be an oncoming storm and scurried from overhang to overhang until we reached a stop where the 53 bus would soon arrive. We waited only a few minutes and climbed aboard.  On this bus, we traveled along Smith Street and onto the freeway, making the journey back much shorter than the journey into downtown. We got off a few blocks away from our office, and luckily the sky had cleared as we strolled home.

This trip was rather hassle-free, but I know that the lack of trouble I had today is not the experience that many Houstonians face on a daily basis. We should be able to walk out the door and know that a bus will arrive soon that can take us where we want to go. Then, I believe that many more of Houston’s residents will begin to see the value of the bus system. The bus is a convenient and environmentally friendly mode of transportation for any and all people, and once it is as simple as walking out your door, there will be no reason not to take it.

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