METRO service is quick and efficient Commuting to work downtown, going to the museum or taking care of business in the city; consider taking the METRO. Why pay $4 per gallon for gas when you can ride METRO for $2.50 to $3 each way and you do not have to look for or pay to park your car? With the price of gas going ever higher, it is time to consider alternate means of transportation. Riding the METRO bus is easy and convenient. Another factor to consider is this: crawling traffic can contribute eight times as much to air pollution as traffic moving at regular highway speeds. In 1978, Houston voters to create METRO and approved a one-cent sales tax to support its operation. What was once a fleet of broken down buses has now become a regional transportation system. Communities that are part of the METRO system include: Houston, Bellaire, Bunker Hill Village, El Lago, Hedwig Village, Hilshire Village, Humble, Hunter’s Creek, Katy, Missouri City, Pitney Point, Southside Place, Spring Valley, Taylor Lake Village and West University Place. Some areas of unincorporated Harris County are also included. For residents of Humble, Atascocita, Kingwood and East Montgomery County there are three convenient Park & Ride locations. The Kingwood station located at West Lake Houston and Rustic Woods, the Townsen station located at Townsen and U.S. Highway 59 and the Eastex station located at Old Humble and U.S. Highway 59. “I took the bus from the Eastex terminal when I had jury duty. I could not believe how convenient it was. It dropped me off and picked me up right in front of the courthouse,” said Hattie Baker, resident of Atascocita. The buses that operate from the Kingwood, Townsen and Eastex stations start as early as 5 a.m. from Kingwood and 5:10 a.m. from Townsen and Eastex. Each station has a number of buses departing every 10 to 15 minutes throughout the morning until shortly after 8 a.m. During the midday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., one bus operates between all three stations. Schedules returning from the city, in the late afternoon and early evening, operate between 3 and 7 p.m. For the exact departure and arrival hours for each station, refer to the METRO schedules. “Currently, the bus schedule operates during the weekdays only. There are not enough riders to warrant weekend service,” said Rosio Torres, METRO media spokesperson. METRO maintains 27 Park & Ride lots with approximately 30,600 parking spaces. The Park & Ride lots also serve as staging areas for van and car pools. The METRO buses conveniently connect to METRORail lines in the city. METRORail includes 7.5 miles of light rail operating between the University of Houston-Downtown to south of Reliant Park serving 16 stations along the route. Stops include downtown, midtown, the museum district, the zoo, the Medical Center and Reliant Park. The METRORail operates daily. For hours of operation, check the schedule. “This summer we will begin construction on an additional 30 miles of rail. It will include expansion to the north, south and west sides of the city,” said Sandra Salazar, communications supervisor for METRO. “We will also continue to build a network within the 610 Loop and open additional Park & Rides.” The METRO fare structure recently underwent a complete overhaul. Prior to the end of February there were 65 ways to pay to ride the METRO system. The new system has introduced the Q Card. The Q stands for ‘quick.’ The system will now take only cash or a Q Card. Free transfers are only available with the Q Card. The card can be purchased or reloaded at any participating retail store, METRO RideStores, METRO ticket vending machines or credit vending machines at transit centers, some Park & Rides, and the Q Card Reloader on the bus. “The Q Card contains a computer chip that stores your cash balance. Fares are deducted by touching your card to the Q Box on the bus or METRORail platforms. The card also tracks your progress toward earning five free trips for every 50 paid rides. The data on the card is encrypted. When you register your card, all the information you submit records what kind of passenger you are (full fare, senior, student, disabled), how much money you have loaded onto the card, a card ID number and if the card is lost it is protected,” Salazar said. “More importantly, do not throw the Q Card away. It can always be reloaded. As long as there is money on the card it is good forever.” The downtown bus fare is still $1; seniors between 65 and 69 (seniors 70 years and older ride free with the 70+ lifetime Q Card); the disabled and students will continue to get a 50 percent discount. High Occupancy Vehicle lanes are also a part of the many services that METRO manages in the greater Houston area. “As early as the end of 2008 or the beginning of 2009, we will be offering a toll service to single occupancy riders who want to use the HOV lanes. We have not completely worked out all facets of the program; it is in the planning stages. Single occupancy car use of the HOV will depend on the volume of cars using the lanes. If it is determined that there is a slow down or crowding of the lanes, single occupancy cars will not be allowed to enter the HOV lanes. METRO had not established the pricing, but it will be based on a dynamic pricing system. At peak traffic times the cost will be greater than at other times. The revenue generated will support more staff and METRO police,” said Salazar. Another service offers is METROLift. METROLift is a pre-scheduled transportation service for persons with disabilities. Call 713-225-0119 for information on hours of service and eligibility. For up to date information on schedules, fares and additional information on METRO services, go to www.ridemetro.org. Customer service specialists can be contacted at 713-635-4000. Photo: The 255 Kingwood Metro bus awaits passengers in the early morning. Photo by Bonnie McKenna

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