METRO approves 2021 service changes in response to pandemic

METRO board members on Thursday voted to enact service changes for the new year in response to a coronavirus-related shift in travel patterns.

With more people working from home and others out of a job, METRO has seen a big drop in ridership since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Along with lower fare revenues, sales tax collections are also down — operations are funded by a one-cent sales tax collected in Harris County.

In January, some new service changes will go into effect that reflect current ridership patterns, the agency said. Service on some routes will be restored to pre-COVID levels to help promote social distancing, while others will see reduced service due to a drop in the number of riders.

“The changes that have been proposed I think move us a long way toward meeting the demand for service as it exists today and also helps us to deal with our budget issues,” said METRO board member Jim Robinson.

At a public hearing earlier this month on the proposed service changes, public speakers were concerned about staff recommendations to reduce downtown park and ride service to one bus an hour.

Robinson said in response to those concerns, there will be two downtown park and ride buses per hour with a third on standby if needed.

“People I think very properly noted that that was going to make it very difficult in their lives,” said Robinson. “The one 5 o’clock bus would leave at 5 o’clock, and speakers noted they would not have time to even get to the bus stop. In that case they’d be waiting until 6 o’clock.”

METRO has maintained park and ride service to the Texas Medical Center since the start of the pandemic and those routes won’t be affected.