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By the numbers: Examining disparities within Houston’s transit system

HOUSTON – There’s a big difference between the level of public transportation service Houstonians receive and it all depends on where they live, but METRO is spending big money to work on solutions to create more equity in the city’s transit system.

Here’s a closer look at the issue by the numbers.

40% of bus riders don’t have a car

According to LINK Houston’s 2018 “Equity in Transit” report, 40% of local bus riders don’t have a vehicle to help them get around the city.

19% of bus riders use only public transportation

The same report found that 19% of people who ride the bus in Houston are using it as their only mode of transportation.

984,000 people live in areas that need more transit money

A total of 984,000 people live in areas that require more investments in transportation, including people who walk, bike or ride transit, according to the report.

“The high-need areas identified in the report exist largely in communities of color, including all the east side of Houston from I-45 to the 610, parts of Spring Branch, the Gulfton/Sharpstown area, and Greenspoint," LINK Houston said in a written statement to KPRC 2. “These investments would provide affordable, safe, and reliable options to reach places where people need and want to be.”

2/3 of transit riders are minority

According to LINK Houston, Black and Latinx people make up more than 2/3 of all of transit riders and more than 85% of local bus riders, based on METRO data from 2017.

According to a research article titled “Racism has shaped public transit and it’s riddled with inequities” written by Christof Spieler that was published by the Kinder Institute in August, 60% of local bus riders are minority.

60% of park-and-ride users are white

According to the same Kinder Institute article, a majority of those who use park-and-ride services are white.

These services cater to suburban riders -- who drive to a location to catch a bus. Local bus riders have to catch the bus near their home and usually walk to a single stop.

Kyle Shelton, deputy director for the Kinder Institute, said METRO doesn’t spend the same on neighborhood bus service as it does on park-and-rides. Shelton said the problem isn’t new, and it’s not just a METRO challenge -- it’s a nationwide problem.

“Agencies will say, ‘OK. Great. We are looking to get more suburban white, higher-income riders into our system, and the way we’re going to do that is by building a very expensive, light-rail, heavy-rail, bus route or whatever it is out to a suburban community,’” Shelton said.

44% of METRO’s board has minority representation

There are nine members of METRO’s Board of Directors. Some of them are appointed by the mayor of Houston and confirmed by the City Council. Some are appointed by the Harris County Commissioners Court. Others are appointed by the mayors of the 14 cities that are part of the METRO system. It should be noted that eight of the twelve members of the executive leadership team are minorities. To read more about METRO’s board and get to know the members, go to ridemetro.org.

What can be done

Transit experts like Shelton and Spieler give METRO credit for understanding change is needed. They said the agency’s 2019 multi-billion-dollar bond is a start. It allocates a significant amount of money, to improve local bus services, in particular, $179 million dollars will be invested into METRO’s Boost Program, which will upgrade a pair of Houston bus routes.

Depending on the routes, enhancements could include bus stop relocation, new shelters and accessibility upgrades among other improvements.

The 54 Scott and the 56 Montrose/Airline routes were the first to be considered.

And even before voters approved METRONext, on-demand transit services were being provided in some lower income neighborhoods and according to METRO, extensive work has been underway to improve shelters and bus stops.