Houston has spent five years discussing how to establish a bus rapid transit (BRT) system that would efficiently serve the city’s commuters from Post Oak Boulevard to Westpark Drive. While Uptown Management District rebuilds Post Oak Boulevard, Houston’s Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) is set to spend at least $11.2 million next week on 14 buses for the BRT service lining the boulevard.

Ticket vending machines will cost the MTA $730,000 and are to be placed on platforms alongside Post Oak, making Metro’s totals costs – not including operations – between $11.2 million and $12.1 million. The project is expected to be ready by May 2019.

Houston’s BRT will run from Loop 610 at Richmond, connecting on the north side to the Northwest Transit Center at 290 and I-10, and, on the south end, to a Bellaire Uptown Transit Center at Westpark Tollway and Southwest Freeway. Suburban commuters will be able to use the Park and Ride lots along those corridors. Eight stops are planned for the bus line, which the MTA will operate and for which it will provide special, three- or five-door vehicles.

Houston's BRT map

Courtesy of Ride Metro

“The concern is there won’t be sufficient parking,” says Metro board member and former Bellaire mayor Cindy Siegel. “Otherwise, people are going to be parking in Bellaire and walking there.” She notes that the plans call for 237 spaces in a lot at the Bellaire station, far less than initial ridership demands indicated were warranted.

Another thing that hasn’t been resolved yet is the issue with the doors on the vehicles. By having doors on both the left and right of the buses, the buses could share a single central platform for the entrances and exits, similar to those of MTA’s light rail transport (LRT) line. The light rail line’s trains traveling in different directions share some platforms like the Central Station Main stop in downtown Houston.

Houston's BRT map.

Courtesy of Ride Metro

Based on the 14 buses needed to operate the Uptown service, the three-door buses would cost $10.5 million, while the five-door models would cost $11.4 million. Officials who side with the two-sided, five-door buses defend their case despite the costs, saying that they could reduce how much right of way the BRT needs to operate along certain routes, or sometimes allow the BRT to also use LRT platforms, such as the route to the George R. Brown Convention Center via the LRT stops on Rusk and Capitol.

Earlier in February, San Francisco’s El Camino Real BRT was scrapped, in a move that has polarized the debate in the coastal city which suffers from dismal traffic. The initial plan, reported in 2014, intended to connect San Jose with Palo Alto, near Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, passing through Mountain View, which is home to Google. The proposed line on the El Camino Real BRT was supposed to be 17.6 miles (28.3 kilometers) long, and was supposed to be as fast as car transport by 2018.

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