Houston Metro has, for the last year or so, been touting its program to build more bus shelters, as it has come under criticism from customers and some elected officials for leaving riders out in the weather. But how serious is it about that commitment?
Metro has about 9,000 bus stops. But according to this ABC Channel 13 report, only about 3,100 have some kind of shelter with seating. About another 2,250 have some shelter but no seating. Over 3,000 have no shelter at all. Even at those numbers, many of Metro’s shelters are poorly maintained and the design of some is outdated and of questionable functionality. Given Houston’s frequent rain and heat, one might expect that providing shelters for riders would be one of, if not the highest, priority for Metro. But the budget recently adopted by Metro suggests otherwise.
That budget plans to spend $9.3 million on building new bus shelters this coming year. According to its bus shelter plan, Metro will build 400 shelters each year, suggesting that it will be over seven years before all riders will have a shelter. So, many riders will have to stand in the rain and heat for, at least, another seven years while waiting for their bus.
However, Metro has budgeted, at least, $168 million for “planning” this year. That is 18 times what Metro is spending on bus shelters, and nearly three times what it would cost to build a shelter at every bus stop in the city. The lion’s share of the “planning” budget will be $117 million paid to consultants to plan the $2.3 billion University BRT boondoggle.
Metro also plans to spend more than twice as much on “communications” as building bus shelters. Most of that budget goes to pay for its propaganda television ads that seem to run nonstop these days.
The Metro budget also gives the CEO/President various contingency budgets for $28.3 million. In other words, Metro has allocated funds for potential needs it has not even identified yet and are not important enough to be returned to the board for its consideration, at over three times the amount it has allocated to build shelters for Metro riders.
In All the President’s Men, the dramatic reenactment of the Watergate scandal, Bob Woodward’s confidential source, Deep Throat, advises him to “follow the money.” It is great advice for sorting out the intentions and priorities of individuals and organizations. Metro is not putting its money where its mouth is when it comes to providing Metro riders with shelter from Houston’s weather. Metro’s budget makes it clear that funneling money to its consultants and running feel good ads are far more important to it than the comfort and convenience of its riders. Little wonder Metro carrying a third fewer riders than it was two decades ago.