Monday, January 11, 2010

A Hop, Skip, and Bus Ride to Downtown

Many of us live in The Heights because it provides the best of both worlds: quaint, quiet town near the amenities of the city. As much our proximity makes it easy to commute to downtown, it makes it even easier to take mass transportation.

Although our city is nowhere near New York or Boston in terms of scope or convenience, we do have a mass transit system and some of our neighbors are using it. I wanted to interview a fellow Heights resident who uses mass transit every day (to commute to her job in the oil industry) to get an insider's perspective on what it's like to hop on the bus from The Heights.

Without further ado, here's Katie of Rutland Street:

Where do you work?
  • I work for Chevron in downtown Houston.

2. Why did you decide to start taking public transportation to work?

  • My motivations were equally about economics and environmental responsibility. Chevron incentivizes employees to carpool or take public transportation. While they would have also subsidized the cost for me to park in a nearby garage, I preferred the option to have them pay my entire bus expense. I’ve already saved a couple hundred dollars by taking the bus instead of driving and parking. We moved to the Heights from the San Francisco Bay Area. Though I didn’t commute by bus, I commonly used the train and bus system to go to the airport or into San Francisco from our house in Oakland. Eight years in the Bay Area made me more aware of alternative transportation options (ridesharing, casual carpool, biking, etc.). Now that we live so close to my work downtown it seemed like an obvious solution to take the bus.

3. When did you decide to start taking public transportation?

  • As soon as our team was relocated from Sugar Land to downtown (October 2009). The Heights-Sugar Land commute by car was a nightmare!

4. Describe your typical day taking public transportation to work (e.g., How far away is the bus stop?

  • There are two lines that pass within 3 blocks of our house – the 40, which goes down 11th, Watson, Bayland and Houston on the way downtown, and the 50, which follows Heights Blvd all the way to Washington Ave, then Sawyer and then Memorial to downtown. I typically pick up the 40 on 11th at 7:09 AM, but I have a whole hour’s worth of bus times for both routes times written down in our kitchen (just in case I am running late). It’s normally on time within 5 minutes—thankfully late rather than early—and I have it worked out as to exactly what time I have to be out the door to make it. It’s a twenty minute ride to downtown and then three blocks (five minutes) walking to my office. Going home, the 40 and 50 share a stop downtown so I just take whichever one comes by first. The whole bus commute, assuming average waiting times, takes me about 40 minutes compared to about 20 for driving, parking and walking from the garage to the office.
  • The buses are, for the most part, clean and well-maintained. Other riders are quiet, but on the occasion when there are loud discussions I am grateful for my headphones. There are two buses I normally use (the 40 and the 50) and neither is ever crowded. In fact I have never even had someone sitting directly next to me. I’ve taken other bus routes to destinations around town and none of those was crowded either.
  • Of course there are minor annoyances- on really rainy days the seats are wet, one time I nearly sat on a cheeseburger, and I have seen a homeless man take up the entire row of disabled seating with his sleeping bag. The driver once passed me up and I had to chase him in the street waving my umbrella. But that’s part of the experience!

5. Would you recommend that others take public transportation? Why or why not?

  • Absolutely, if it is a one-bus trip to your destination. Connections can be a hassle. Getting to downtown from the Heights is a breeze, and getting from downtown to anywhere in Houston can pretty much be done on one bus. I’ve taken the bus from downtown to meet friends at Rice Village, the Galleria and Washington Corridor after work. It’s less convenient to get back to the Heights from these areas so I had a friend drive me home.

6. Do you have anything else to add about public transportation in the Heights?

  • I used Google Maps Public Transit option to find out what bus lines were near our house. Google Maps also shows you the scheduled bus times and estimates your walking time. I’ve found it to be very accurate with bus times, but it tends to underestimate walking time a little bit. You can also download Metro bus routes to your iPod http://www.ridemetro.org/SchedulesMaps/BusSchedIpod.aspx
  • If you plan to commute, get a Q Card. It saves time and money (for every 50 paid rides you get five free). The Q Card works on buses and the light rail.
Thanks, Katie!

Do any of you have experience (positive or negative) with using mass transit from The Heights? Do share!

5 comments:

  1. In most other cities there are several forms of mass transit. Houston is coming along. We now have a jitney service as well that plans on expanding into the Heights next. The Waves are shared shuttle buses that move Houstonians within the Washington Avenue District & now Midtown. We offer a free parking lot as well that you can leave your car in on Friday & Saturday nights without getting towed and there is now also a taxi stand in the parking lot. This is currently our public transportation for our lives after 6pm. Find more info at http://thewashingtonwave.com or http://facebook.com/washingtonwave or http://twitter.com/washingtonwave

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