"Transit is Transformational"
I’ve heard this statement quoted a bit since I was asked by the METRO Board of Directors to become acting president & CEO and later accepted the job long‐term. Yet, I wonder…will Houston be the biggest proof of this statement in this century?
Will we choose to transform our region to prepare for growth or will we continue to do what we have always done (and simply hope for a different result)?
One thing’s for sure: More people are moving to Houston. As the fourth most populous city in the nation – with the No. 1 port for U.S. international commerce – our population is forecast to grow by more than 200,000 people by 2020 and half a million by 2040.
Employment is also anticipated to grow — but the jobs won’t materialize if our residents cannot get to employment centers or businesses choose to locate in cities where their employees have easier access to work. That’s why significant changes need to be made to our mobility options in this city.
Houston was built for mobility by car. And why not? We were marketing our biggest regional investment — crude oil. Today, our diversified economy is attracting new residents from cities and regions that already have existing, outstanding public transit systems. They have experienced — and expect — public transit that provides a money‐saving alternative to daily driving, an amenity that eases traffic for those who want to drive, a generator of good, middle‐class jobs and a key component of cleaning our air.
Existing Houstonians should expect no less, but only if we choose to make the investment in transit for our economic and environmental future. Transit can mean more personal savings and a smaller environmental impact for Houstonians. The American Public Transportation Association reports that public transportation saves individuals, on average, $9,656 a year. And if a single commuter switches to public transportation, he or she can reduce household carbon emissions by 10 percent — or up to 30 percent if the household eliminates a second car. Compared to other actions that limit CO2, taking public transportation can be 10 times greater in reducing this harmful greenhouse gas.
A first‐class public transit system does more than just attract jobs, it creates them. The research shows that every dollar invested in public transportation generates approximately $6 in economic returns. Transit investments spark an economic chain reaction that generates business activity. Business activity creates jobs. Jobs boost property values and tax earnings. Increased property values and tax earnings maximize the potential of other infrastructure spending. And infrastructure spending gets people to work.
At a time when competition for resources is fierce, capital funding for public transportation is an investment in our community's business that makes good sense. METRO is currently investing more than $4.1 billion (including roadway and utility improvements) to expand the current urban light‐rail system to a 39‐mile system. The potential economic impact of METRO’s current investment of local and federal dollars in Houston is $23.8 billion.
Will we choose to transform our region to prepare for future growth? The fine women and men of METRO are ready to serve in every way we can. We’re transforming METRO into an agency that is laserfocused on providing safe, reliable, convenient and affordable public transit – and on being an unparalleled steward of your tax dollars. We’re solving past problems that had cast a cloud over the agency, moving aggressively to secure all sources of funding and bringing a business‐like approach to managing our budget. And we’re doing all of these things in full public view.
I’m not asking you to take my word for it – that’s the old METRO. Go online to watch our board meetings, look over our checkbook and credit card registers, read our budget and even look at my employment agreement. These and other transparency initiatives recently earned the NEW METRO the Gold Leadership Circle Award from the Texas comptroller – its highest award for transparency.
The NEW METRO is your METRO. Whether you’re a rider who depends on first‐class transit service, a driver who benefits from fewer cars on the road, a parent who depends on cleaner air so your kids won’t develop asthma, a construction worker who depends on Houston’s continued growth to put food on the table – the NEW METRO is your METRO. Take us for a test ride and let us know what you think at RideMETRO.org.
And let us know if you’re ready for a first‐class public transit system to transform the Houston region for the better.
George Grenias is president and CEO of METRO.