METRO seeks public input, eyes autonomous buses as part of regional transit plan


The Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County is seeking public input on its ongoing long-term regional transit plan, according to a spokesperson at METRO.

Originally slated to finalize this fall, METRONext is still in its early design stages, and the final version has been pushed back to an indefinite date, METRO Media Specialist Laura Whitley said. The plan will identify major projects to meet the area’s transit needs until 2040, largely based on community requests.

Last summer, METRO held 25 open community meetings to elicit feedback, which included greater accessibility to stops, reliable service and forming more connections between major activity centers, such as airports and hospitals, METRO CEO Tom Lambert said.

“METRO did not come out and say ‘this is what we think we should do.’ [Instead,] we went out to communities and asked, ‘what do you think METRO ought to be doing to improve transit in this region?’” Lambert said at a Houston Northwest Chamber of Commerce government affairs public meeting on July 18.

A METRONext board workshop will be held July 26 to discuss community feedback as well as financial constraints, he said.

At the chamber committee meeting, Lambert outlined potential METRONext projects, such as autonomous buses, as well as METRO’s collaboration with other agencies.

In April, METRO’s board of directors approved the agency’s first autonomous vehicle project, which will take place on Texas Southern University’s campus. If successful, the project is designed to eventually extend the AV shuttle route to connect with METRORail and the Eastwood Transit Center, located inside Loop 610 along I-45 in southeast Houston, Lambert said.

The pilot program will help METRO understand how autonomous vehicles could be used to improve first- and last-mile transit connections as well as other uses in places like business parks and medical centers, METRO officials said.

“We think if these kinds of things work, if the technology does what we believe it will do, we may be able to do a reversible operation with connected vehicles that are tied with communication—vehicle to vehicle and vehicle to infrastructure—and we can improve the bidirectional HOV network a lot more efficiently,” Lambert said.

Other projects could include park and ride expansions as well as improving customer service through safety improvements and ensuring clean facilities, METRO officials said. Although no METRONext projects have been confirmed, all developments will be conducted in collaboration with the agency’s regional partners, he said.

“Everything we’re doing [will be]working in concert with the Houston-Galveston Area Council… the city, Harris County Toll Road Authority, [Texas Department of Transportation], anybody that’s got a role in transportation,” Lambert said. “We also want to make sure that what we’re doing builds upon partnering opportunities in future.”

Lambert said METRO already participates in partnerships with other agencies. For example, TxDOT projects that involve building managed lanes benefit METRO’s transit.

“They’re building managed lanes similar to what’s on the freeway for buses and carpools, and managed lanes provide us an opportunity to provide higher quality bus service,” he said. “At the same time, we want to make sure that as they’re building, they’re keeping the right of way for higher capacity transit that may be required in the future.”

Details for the upcoming METRONext public meeting or open house have not been confirmed, but the public can provide comments here.

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Eva Vigh
Eva Vigh joined Community Impact Newspaper in 2018 as a reporter for Spring and Klein. Prior to this position, she covered upstream oil and gas news for a drilling contractors' association.
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