Thursday, August 27, 2015

Metro Free Riding in Mid-Summer: Here are 1 Innerlooper's 2 cents in lieu of $2.50

Last week, Metro rolled out its new bus system, offering free rides to the skeptical public. 

While we are awaiting the official post-mortem on the success or otherwise of the free-riding operation, here are the Innerloop Pedestrian's two cents in appreciation of the fare savings for a day of joy-riding in the interim: 

The switch was ill-timed for enticing first-time riders 

Metro couldn't have picked a worse time to transition to the new system and offer the public free rides for a week. In mid-August it's simply too hot (and often too humid) in Houston.

This can only deter new would-be riders (those who currently use their own air-conditioned cars, but are willing to consider the pubic transport option), and will predictably result in a less pleasant public transit experience than would otherwise be the case. And the quality of the first experience is important for convincing those willing to try to come back for more, i.e. become regular riders.

Metro passing Power and Drama 
The rides on the trains were gratis too. Here a unit
at the end-of-line at Northline Mall 
Having saved $2.50 in fares for a round trip to work is not going to make up for a sticky-sweaty first experience, not to mention a soaky one - even if there is no cause for complaints about on-time performance. And that two-fifty incentive won't apply anyhow for the rest of the summer as Metro will revert to regular fare collection. Rain or shine may not be predictable for purposes of scheduling the roll-out, but the summer heat is a different matter.
The Majestic Metro Experience, but
not on the Bus 

True, in comparison to other big cities, the ticket price is a bargain, but for those who have a choice between car or public transport, cost is hardly the only factor, even if drivers who have no cultural aversion to riding on a bus, be it in front or in the back.

The promise of real-time pothole tracking 

No matter how well optimized the system may be for efficiency and increases in ridership, there is nothing Metro can do about the potholes and similar road conditions, short of routing its lines to avoid the worst sections. But why couldn't Metro's onboard communications system be used to collect pothole location and severity data systematically on a continuous basis, so that it can be forwarded to the city for optimizing crew dispatching and workflow planning and scheduling, i.e. to improve the triage system for allocating road repair resources to the spots that most urgently need it.  It would be in Metro's best interest to cooperate as its will save vehicle maintenance costs in the long run if street surfaces are improved.

A live feed of GPS location data for each bus must already be available to Metro's fleet management operations center because it is an essential ingredient for the system that allows riders to obtain next-bus arrival time for any bus stop (each of which has a unique number for identification) via cell phone in real time. The real-time bus movement data is also available through Google Maps. All it takes is a click on the icon for the nearest bus stop.

An on-board motion-detection device could simply be hooked up to the existing system and it wouldn't have to be a sensitive as earth-quake monitoring stations. Systematic location-based bone-rattling data could even be collected by a passenger with a GPS-enabled cell phone or similar device. So, this shouldn't pose much of a technical challenge; nor should it be cost-prohibitive.

Google is reported to be working on a GPS-based pothole tracking system to integrate into its route-optimizing app, albeit for motorists. A metropolitan bus system does not have much flexibility to dynamically alter routes in response to fluid road and traffic conditions, but the pothole data on the fixed routes could nevertheless be put to good use to procure pothole relief more quickly, benefiting Metro as well as the general public, no matter which mode of transportation it uses.


Metro Headquarters on the Southern edge of Downtown on the Red Line 
Briar Forest Metro Bus at CITGO Headquarters in the Energy Corridor 
Park and Ride Express Bus to and from the suburbs 
Metro on Memorial Drive near Eldridge Pkwy,
a line that was affected by the system revamp

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