Is Commuter Rail Right for Houston?

Houston Strategies blogmeister Tory Gattis has a great piece in today’s Houston Chronicle comparing transit on Houston’s HOV express bus system versus the planned heavy commuter rail system, and he finds commuter rail lacking:

At the end of the day, if we opt for commuter rail, we will have spent billions of dollars rerouting freight trains and developing these lines, only to discover that our new transit service, while stylish, is now less convenient than before we started. The result? There won’t be loud riots or protests, just the quiet sound of people voting with their feet as more and more employers choose to locate in far suburbs because the commutes will have simply gotten too difficult for their employees ââ?¬â?? slowly draining Houston’s commercial tax base and vitality. Maybe it’s time we get past our New York-envy and develop a flexible, regional commuter transit system for our dispersed, multinodal city of the 21st century.

Read the whole thing, archived here on his blog. He includes a side-by-side comparison of a typical commute via the two systems and makes the great point that transit customers need to know exactly what they’re in for with commuter rail. No matter how sleek and stylish the cars are or how “big-city” the system may be, commuter rail will be a loser if it’s not convenient for consumers. Speed- and flexibility-wise, you just can’t beat the bus. And in case you missed it, be sure to check out Reason’s recent Virtual Exclusive Busways study, which makes the case that by converting carpool lanes into toll lanes and setting aside a guaranteed percentage of the lanes’ capacity for buses and vanpools, cities can create “virtual exclusive busways.” In fact, the nation’s first virtual exclusive busway is under construction on the Katy Freeway in Houston, where up to 25 percent of the new lanes’ capacity will be preserved for buses and three-person carpools. Check out the study for a complete review of the project.