METRO's Big Boom

Surprise! METRO gets big boost from free service, but how will it fare now?

METRO gets big boost from free service, but how will it fare now?

METRO bus Houston skyline CROP
METRO experienced a big boost in ridership during its first week of revamped bus service, which was offered free to customers. RideMetro.org

METRO officials are crowing about the big boost in ridership that occurred last week with the advent of new bus service that offers more frequency and better connections.

But how much of that big growth spurt occurred because rides were free all week?

Ridership increased by 24 percent on METRO's new bus network and light rail with 1,742,500 boardings. Bus ridership was up 13 percent over a typical August week (from 1,161,500 to 1,315,000) while rail ridership zoomed up by 72 percent (from 248,900 to 427,500).

METRO offered free fares August 16 through 22, which officials concede contributed to the increase in ridership. But they are convinced the new routes, which generally got mixed to positive reviews, will have a more lasting effect on future growth.

"The free fares promotion gave people an opportunity to test drive our new system," METRO President & CEO Tom Lambert said in a statement. "But we anticipate consistent increases in ridership after two years of implementation. By then, we expect a 20 percent hike in ridership."