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Bus ridership up 8%; new larger buses, sidewalks on way

June 20, 2018

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Representatives from the Office of Transit Services in Harris County spoke to city council about new buses that will soon be on the roads as well as signalization and new sidewalks for the city. 

Ken Fickes, CCTM, Harris County Transit director, said next month marks the 10th anniversary of bus service in Baytown. 

“When we first started our project, we started off with two routes and two buses,” Fickes said. “Within eight months, we had a third route.”

Fickes said now they have about 7,000 boardings per month with more than 100,000 more boardings expected this year. The transit service predicts that there will be an 8 percent increase in ridership from last year to this year as a result of more reliable and transparent transit features. 

“We enjoyed working with you folks, and Baytown is a great customer,” Fickes said. “The citizens love the service.”

New buses, called the Arboc Liberty buses, are coming in August, Fickes said. He explained that new, larger buses will be used on Routes 1, 2 and 3, which cover Garth Road, Baytown Central and North Alexander Drive, respectively. Route 4, which covers Decker Drive, will use smaller buses. 

David Jones, Transit Services deputy assistant director, said the new buses will all have low floors with ramps, eliminating the wheelchair lifts. 

“Everyone is getting away from lifts,” Jones said. “This eliminates stairs on the vehicles, which are harder for people to get up on. Also, wheelchair lifts tend to fail. When it fails, it might be a wiring or hydraulic issue. The only way to take it down is to pump is like a car jack manually. Wheelchair lifts can be tricky and dangerous. Some rollback even with safety belts and a lift may fail during deployment.”

Jones said the elimination of the lifts is a safety issue.

“Ramps are considerably safer and fail-safe since you can deploy them by hand in case something breaks down,” Jones said. “It is easier than trying to pump up a lift. It is also safer for passengers. They can roll on and roll off and no steps. The big buses also do what they call ‘kneeling.’ This is when they lower down on that front end, and that makes it easier for people to get on and off.”

For new sidewalks, Jones said they have the contracts already in place for the first sidewalk project that was just completed in Baytown. That project began with a $700,000 budget. Now, he says, they are awaiting the completion of a triennial federal review before beginning the second phase. 

“It is just a matter we want to be sure we have taken all of the right steps for the first project,” Jones said. “Also, to see if there are any steps we didn’t follow through with. After this review, it will tell us how to do the next rounds.”

The review is expected to be complete by the end of the week.   

Fickes said they actually came in under budget for the sidewalks, by putting in $541,000 of their own funds along with $100,000 for the city. He added that the transit services have just filed for their 2015 grant and are ready to file for their 2016 grant the first of August. The 2016 grant is $300,000 and is for the signalization, and the other is $500,000 for sidewalks. 

Jones explained that it usually takes a year to two years to file on a grant. 

“This is because we don’t want too many grants,” he said. “So, we spend down one before you get to the next.”  

Mayor Stephen DonCarlos reflected on when the bus service first came to town 10 years ago. 

“I was thinking back about this ‘big experiment,’” DonCarlos said. “We saw folks walking and thought there was a need. But we did not have any idea if this would work and have ridership. We started getting weekly counts at first, and we were shocked at the number. We saw buses go by and hoped people were in them and they were. It is amazing to me how they have grown.”

DonCarlos said he was also happy with the number of sidewalks installed. 

“The amount of sidewalks we have is amazing,” he said. 

Another aspect DonCarlos is happy with is the bus shelters installed at each stop. He said Fickes got the package and the Baytown Parks and Recreation employees built them. 

“They look attractive,” DonCarlos said. “It has been a great program, and we really appreciate you.”

The first shelter was built at Garth Road and Park Street, which is considered a transfer point. Fickes said they have since added 60 bus shelters, at a cost of $250,000 with the city paying 20 percent. 

“The first, were basically free,” Fickes said. 

Jones said 10 of the shelters were built with funds from a Livable Communities Grant and 20 were done on an American Restoration and Recovery Act grant. 

“The first 30 shelters were 100 percent paid for and the city paid made a 20 percent match on those,” Jones said. 

The shelters are 135 mph wind resistance, have trash cans and are lit using solar power. 

Both Jones and Fickes talked about a new transit app, which can be downloaded at app stores. It is called RideSystem. It provides real-time GPS tracking for buses. 

“It shows where buses are, when buses arrive,” Jones said. “People can also use a text system, and it will tell you when bus arrive within 10 seconds.”

Users can scroll through a list of clients the app serves until they find the one for Harris County Transit. There, they can download the layers for bus routes. It is also available on desktops and iPads.  

Jones added that the transit services plan to install new signs that are easier for people to read and see. 

“On the signs, they can text to number, and that stop will have a number on the sign,” he said. “If you text it to the number listed, and send it, within a few seconds it will tell you the estimated time of arrival for that bus at that stop.”

Fickes was also gracious to Scott Johnson, Baytown Parks and Recreation director. 

“I cannot thank him and his team enough,” Fickes said. 

Fickes also said they will be celebrating their 10 years of service in Baytown from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. July 27 at Park Street and Garth Road, the site of the first bus shelter.  

Representatives from the Office of Transit Services in Harris County spoke to city council about new buses that will soon be on the roads as well as signalization and new sidewalks for the city. 

Ken Fickes, CCTM, Harris County Transit director, said next month marks the 10th anniversary of bus service in Baytown. 

“When we first started our project, we started off with two routes and two buses,” Fickes said. “Within eight months, we had a third route.”

Fickes said now they have about 7,000 boardings per month with more than 100,000 more boardings expected this year. The transit service predicts that there will be an 8 percent increase in ridership from last year to this year as a result of more reliable and transparent transit features. 

“We enjoyed working with you folks, and Baytown is a great customer,” Fickes said. “The citizens love the service.”

New buses, called the Arboc Liberty buses, are coming in August, Fickes said. He explained that new, larger buses will be used on Routes 1, 2 and 3, which cover Garth Road, Baytown Central and North Alexander Drive, respectively. Route 4, which covers Decker Drive, will use smaller buses. 

David Jones, Transit Services deputy assistant director, said the new buses will all have low floors with ramps, eliminating the wheelchair lifts. 

“Everyone is getting away from lifts,” Jones said. “This eliminates stairs on the vehicles, which are harder for people to get up on. Also, wheelchair lifts tend to fail. When it fails, it might be a wiring or hydraulic issue. The only way to take it down is to pump is like a car jack manually. Wheelchair lifts can be tricky and dangerous. Some rollback even with safety belts and a lift may fail during deployment.”

Jones said the elimination of the lifts is a safety issue.

“Ramps are considerably safer and fail-safe since you can deploy them by hand in case something breaks down,” Jones said. “It is easier than trying to pump up a lift. It is also safer for passengers. They can roll on and roll off and no steps. The big buses also do what they call ‘kneeling.’ This is when they lower down on that front end, and that makes it easier for people to get on and off.”

For new sidewalks, Jones said they have the contracts already in place for the first sidewalk project that was just completed in Baytown. That project began with a $700,000 budget. Now, he says, they are awaiting the completion of a triennial federal review before beginning the second phase. 

“It is just a matter we want to be sure we have taken all of the right steps for the first project,” Jones said. “Also, to see if there are any steps we didn’t follow through with. After this review, it will tell us how to do the next rounds.”

The review is expected to be complete by the end of the week.   

Fickes said they actually came in under budget for the sidewalks, by putting in $541,000 of their own funds along with $100,000 for the city. He added that the transit services have just filed for their 2015 grant and are ready to file for their 2016 grant the first of August. The 2016 grant is $300,000 and is for the signalization, and the other is $500,000 for sidewalks. 

Jones explained that it usually takes a year to two years to file on a grant. 

“This is because we don’t want too many grants,” he said. “So, we spend down one before you get to the next.”  

Mayor Stephen DonCarlos reflected on when the bus service first came to town 10 years ago. 

“I was thinking back about this ‘big experiment,’” DonCarlos said. “We saw folks walking and thought there was a need. But we did not have any idea if this would work and have ridership. We started getting weekly counts at first, and we were shocked at the number. We saw buses go by and hoped people were in them and they were. It is amazing to me how they have grown.”

DonCarlos said he was also happy with the number of sidewalks installed. 

“The amount of sidewalks we have is amazing,” he said. 

Another aspect DonCarlos is happy with is the bus shelters installed at each stop. He said Fickes got the package and the Baytown Parks and Recreation employees built them. 

“They look attractive,” DonCarlos said. “It has been a great program, and we really appreciate you.”

The first shelter was built at Garth Road and Park Street, which is considered a transfer point. Fickes said they have since added 60 bus shelters, at a cost of $250,000 with the city paying 20 percent. 

“The first, were basically free,” Fickes said. 

Jones said 10 of the shelters were built with funds from a Livable Communities Grant and 20 were done on an American Restoration and Recovery Act grant. 

“The first 30 shelters were 100 percent paid for and the city paid made a 20 percent match on those,” Jones said. 

The shelters are 135 mph wind resistance, have trash cans and are lit using solar power. 

Both Jones and Fickes talked about a new transit app, which can be downloaded at app stores. It is called RideSystem. It provides real-time GPS tracking for buses. 

“It shows where buses are, when buses arrive,” Jones said. “People can also use a text system, and it will tell you when bus arrive within 10 seconds.”

Users can scroll through a list of clients the app serves until they find the one for Harris County Transit. There, they can download the layers for bus routes. It is also available on desktops and iPads.  

Jones added that the transit services plan to install new signs that are easier for people to read and see. 

“On the signs, they can text to number, and that stop will have a number on the sign,” he said. “If you text it to the number listed, and send it, within a few seconds it will tell you the estimated time of arrival for that bus at that stop.”

Fickes was also gracious to Scott Johnson, Baytown Parks and Recreation director. 

“I cannot thank him and his team enough,” Fickes said. 

Fickes also said they will be celebrating their 10 years of service in Baytown from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. July 27 at Park Street and Garth Road, the site of the first bus shelter.  

By Matt Hollis, Baytown Sun
http://baytownsun.com/news/article_77e94846-743e-11e8-b347-0bca747703bd.html