In a seamless two-day operation under tight security, METRO operated 40 shuttle buses, taking Houstonians to pay their final respects to former First Lady Barbara Bush on April 20 and 21.
"People were very appreciative of METRO being able to provide that type of service for them. Everyone took it as if we had personally picked them up. They were very kind," said Andy Skabowski, chief operations officer. "It was like for our own family member. You wanted to make sure it was done with dignity and respect."
Mrs. Bush was in repose on April 20 at St. Martin's Episcopal Church where the public could say their final goodbye from 11 a.m. to midnight. On April 21, an invitation-only funeral was held at 11 a.m. at St. Martin's. But visitors had to first arrive at Second Baptist Church, go through security and then board buses to St. Martin's. No one was allowed to walk up or drive up to St. Martin's.
Other agencies and organizations involved included the Secret Service, the Bush Foundation, Houston Police Department, Harris County Sheriff, Second Baptist Church, St. Martin's Episcopal Church, and the Mayor's Office of Special Events. METRO's participation included Operations and MPD.
VIP guests mingled with the everyday citizens. Spotted among the mourners were Chuck Norris and his wife Gina, Mattress Mack, the Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell and his wife Suzette, the Oakridge Boys, former White House correspondent and anchor Sam Donaldson, Texans owner Bob McNair, and Charles Butt, president & CEO of the family-owned H-E-B grocery store chain.
METRO essentially created a mini-transit center at Second Baptist Church with bus loading and unloading areas, bus queuing location and by-pass lanes. "We also had layover locations on the property. If somebody had to take a break, we had a spot. The Discover Bus was there and used as headquarters for logistical briefings," said Skabowski.
Operators came dressed in full uniform and some of the women drivers wore pearls.
It took just under an hour for people to park, undergo security, pay their respects at St. Martin's and return to Second Baptist. About 1,000 people an hour boarded buses on Friday evening.
"Everyone was wonderful. There was no issue taking a bus. You saw a variety on Friday – from people dressed as if they were going to their own mother's funeral to people in jeans and T-shirts. Everybody was very well-mannered," said Skabowski.
As the family was leaving the funeral, the Bush family had a special message for METRO. Former Governor Jeb Bush, Neil Bush and Billy Bush reached out to thank the staff, saying they were more than pleased at how well the events unfolded.
Look out for a bright orange, freshly-wrapped train rolling down the tracks.
METRO's newest wrapped train features the Dynamo and the Dash teams with a message: Take the train to the game. METRO has formed a partnership with our hometown soccer teams, and we are offering free rides on METRORail to every Dynamo and Dash home game. All you need to do is have a valid game ticket.
Our newly-wrapped train features orange, horizontal stripes. On one end, a Dynamo player is playing, and on the other end, a Dash player is in action. It's a high-energy train that will make you Houston proud looking at it, or riding in it.
So, support our home teams, and ride free to the games.
Let us know when you spot the Dynamo/Dash train, and tell us what you think.
This is a guest post by Darla Bell, manager of Strategic Analysis in Communications & Marketing.
Another Houston weekend – hooray! This one happens to be Earth Day weekend, so let's go outside and take advantage of Houston's wonderful green spaces. There's a two-day music festival in a beautiful location and, on Sunday, you can revel in the Earth Day celebration at Discovery Green. It doesn't hurt that admission to both these events is free. If you prefer indoor entertainment, our Houston Symphony offers four performances of John Williams' amazing music from the movies.
Something else you can do to celebrate Earth Day every day is ride public transportation. Help us decrease use of fossil fuels and promote clean air by leaving your car in the garage and taking the bus or train. Make it a regular habit to plan your trip with our Trip Planner. It's easy, and your outing will be more fun if you haven't stressed out in traffic on your way there. Here's a new slogan for you – reuse, recycle, ride METRO. Enjoy the weekend!
Event: Houston Symphony – "The Best of John Williams." Spend some time reliving edge-of-your-seat moments from the movies. Our symphony is celebrating the 40th anniversary of Star Wars this weekend, by highlighting music from those films in a concert of compositions by John Williams, the famed writer of thrilling movie scores. Think Jaws, Harry Potter, E. T. the Extra-Terrestrial, and more.
When: Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 2:30 and 7:30 p.m.
Where: Jones Hall for the Performing Arts, 615 Louisiana St.
Bus – 30 Clinton/Ella, 32 Renwick/San Felipe, 44 Acres Homes, 82 Westheimer, 102 Bush IAH Express, 160 Memorial City Express, 161 Wilcrest Express, 162 Memorial Express, Greenlink Circulator - Orange
METRORail – Green and Purple lines (exit Theater District Station)
Event: Willow Waterhole MusicFEST 2018. The Willow Waterhole Greenway is 290 acres of natural beauty and worth enjoying for that reason alone. However, combine that beauty with two days of free, live music from professional and student/school bands, and you have a winning combination. There will be a second stage at the Art Village for performances by dance troupes and aerialists, and artists will offer their works for sale and perform live exhibitions. You'll also find food trucks to cater to your refreshment needs. Check out the performance schedule on the website to catch your favorite musicians.
When: Saturday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Where: Willow Waterhole Conservation Reserve, 5300 Dryad Dr.
Bus – 7 West Airport, 49 Chimney Rock/S. Post Oak
Event: Earth Day at Discovery Green. Learn how you can help save the environment at this free celebration of Mother Earth. You'll explore exhibits on alternative energy, recycling methods and more and enjoy a farmers market. Canned Acoustica will rock the stage with music from Fat Tony, Hogan & Moss, Max Flinn, Arthur Yoria, The Broken Spokes, Heapin Helpin and Giant Kitty. It's a wonderful opportunity for the whole family to be educated and entertained.
When: Sunday from noon to 6 p.m.
Where: Discovery Green Conservancy, 1500 McKinney St.
Bus – 6 Jensen/Greens, 11 Almeda/Lyons, 40 Telephone/Heights, 41 Kirby/Polk, 51 Hardy-Kelley, 52 Hardy-Ley, 137 Northshore Express, 413 Greenlink Circulator - Orange
METRORail – Green and Purple lines (exit Convention District Station)
*Suggested connections as provided by our Customer Care Center; more convenient routes may vary per individual needs.
Dust off your bicycle, and get ready to pedal.
Soon, Houston will be a leader in urban mobility with 50 miles of new bike paths in the next 12 months, making streets safer for both bicyclists and pedestrians.
Mayor Sylvester Turner announced this ambitious bike plan on Monday, along with Harris County Precinct One Commissioner Rodney Ellis.
The plan includes new bike lanes and high-visibility crosswalks. Ellis committed a one-year, $10 million contribution to enhance city streets in Precinct One, and the city is promising $1.1 million over five years.
The 50 miles of high-comfort bike lanes will be connected to the city's bike network, and when the project is complete, 80 percent of all Houstonians will be close to a bike infrastructure, Turner said.
METRO encourages bicyclists to plan a trip with your bike. You can ride your bike to a bus stop and load your bike on the rack on the front bumper of the bus. All local buses feature a rack that holds two bikes. If you're taking a commuter Park & Ride bus from the suburb, simply stash your bike in the belly of the bus where luggage is stored.
If you take METRORail, you are welcome to roll your bike right on the train with you.
Would you start riding your bike more around town once there are 50 miles of bike trails?
Starting this fall, METRO, Texas Southern University (TSU) and the city of Houston hope to join an elite group: providers of an autonomous university shuttle. TSU will be one of the few U.S. universities to test use of autonomous technology to move students around. University of Michigan began its service in the fall 2017.
The pilot, which will be available to the approximately 9,000 students, staff and guests, can operate without a driver. A self-driving automated vehicle, called a university circulator, will shuttle around on the campus pathways of Texas Southern University. While the vehicle is autonomous, there will always be an operator on-board and the self-driving shuttle will operate for a pedestrian environment, slowly – averaging from eight to 12 miles per hour.
“Safety will definitely be a priority in this pilot, which will include campus education on the vehicle and the safe use of it, ” said METRO’s Chief Innovation Officer Kimberly Williams. "We’re looking forward to learning what people think and how they will use the shuttle. We hear a lot about the potential of this technology. This gives us a chance to see, look, feel and experience. We’re using all the lessons learned to inform this project.”
Eventually, METRO will be studying how an autonomous vehicle can make the first and last-mile connection seamless, bringing passengers from the TSU campus to the Purple Line at Scott Street, and eventually, connecting to Eastwood Transit Center.
“A lot of people feel it’s premature – that autonomous vehicles are too far off in the future,” said Williams.” I think this is where this project is critical. The Legislature approved operation of autonomous vehicles on Texas roads in the last legislative session. This means we may see more of this technology very soon, and we need to understand and be ready for it. ”
So how do self-driving vehicles drive? A series of sensors and cameras read the operating environment. Some are 350-degree views to “see” obstacles that are both stationary and moving in that environment. In most closed-looped environments, GIS mapping is downloaded to the vehicle so the autonomous vehicle has memory of the corridor and can remember where it is and can operate accordingly, explained Williams.
Already car manufacturers - including Nissan, Cadillac, and Audi – have announced plans to roll out autonomous passenger cars this year and next.
Are autonomous buses in our near future? “It’s logical that it would continue to advance to heavier vehicles, like buses,” said Williams. “Even if we are not operating autonomous vehicles, it’s important to understand how this works because our buses may soon operate in a mixed environment,” said Williams.
“There has also been discussion that the Federal Transit Agency may issue a call for demonstration projects in the next 12 to 24 months related to AV technology," continued Williams.
For the pilot, METRO is looking for a partner who will be a turnkey provider to provide the vehicle and mapping. METRO is part of the Texas AV Proving Grounds Partnership, a consortium of cities and regions across the state that is partnering with the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, the University of Texas at Austin’s Center for Transportation Research and Southwest Research Institute.
In January, the U.S. Department of Transportation designated 10 automated proving ground pilot sites to encourage testing and information-sharing. The Texas AV Proving Grounds Partnership was selected as one of the 10.
Eventually, autonomous vehicles would be tested at the Texas Medical Center, the Port of Houston and METRO’s HOV lanes.
How do you feel about riding in an autonomous vehicle? Is this something you’d use?
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