Frequent Network route map viewed with a METRO bus in the background

METRO’s New Bus Network System Map

  |   Community

In August 2015, METRO rolled out its New Bus Network, a complete reimagining of the local bus system that greatly improved service to many people in the Houston region. The new system is designed to better serve the Houston region of today and create more connections to growing job centers across the region. This means many trips that previously were tough to complete on the bus are now much easier.

Maybe you’re thinking “That sounds great!  But I have never taken the bus in Houston before, what do I do?”  Or perhaps ”My route changed! How do I know where to go?”

So how do you tell if the new system can help you get around?  METRO’s website (www.ridemetro.org) has many tools that can help you see what transit options are available and plan your trip. These including interactive maps, trip planning tools, and individual route guides and schedules. METRO has a nice trip planning app (search METRO T.R.I.P. in your Apple or Google app store) which is particularly useful for telling you when the next bus is coming to any location. And Google Maps (as an app or on the web) is hard to beat as a transit trip planner. There is also a new Next Bus Texting feature which seems to work great.  Send a text to 697433 with the bus stop ID on the info post at your stop and be notified when the next several buses will arrive at the stop.

But not everyone wants to spend time clicking to find the information they need.  If you are like me, you prefer looking at a nice map. One great new tool that METRO has developed which can be really helpful for new and existing customers is the new METRO System Map (You can also download PDF or JPG to your phone). Available in a handy printed form on buses and at the Ride Stores (1900 Main St and 1001 Travis), the new System Map has all the information you need to know about METRO transit options and the New Bus Network in one convenient package.

So where should I start?

  • Grab a new System Map and start to unfold it.
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  • One of the first things you will see is the Frequent Network Map.
    the new METRO System Map unfolded

The Frequent Network? What does that mean?

the METRO's Frequent Network map

Frequency is the term transit planners use to tell you how often the bus is coming. When the frequency is listed as 15 minutes that means a bus is coming every 15 minutes. If the frequency is 60 minutes that means the bus comes every hour. Frequency is important because it determines how long you have to wait for the next bus and how easy it is to transfer between buses.

zoomed-in view of Frequent Network Map

Metro’s Frequent Network is the set of 22 bus routes and three light rail line that are scheduled to come every 15 minutes or better, 15 hours a day (roughly 5 AM to 8 PM), seven days a week. This includes many major routes like Westheimer, Richmond, Bellaire, Post Oak, Shepherd, Antoine, Gessner and Lockwood/MLK. That means if you show up at a stop or a station on the Frequent Network you know the bus is always coming soon. You don’t have to think about the schedule and can feel confident that the next bus or train will be along shortly to take you on your way. Connections are easy because when the bus is coming frequently you never have to wait more than 15 minutes for the next bus. These routes also run later or sometimes earlier, though sometimes with less frequent service.

The Frequent Network connects to a significant share of the jobs and neighborhoods in the Houston region. Over 1 million people and 1 million jobs are located within a short walk of the Frequent Network. The map shows many of these destinations that can easily be reached on this system. Activity centers like Westchase, Greenway Plaza and Uptown are in shown in peach, while colleges, universities and parks are in shades of green.

You will also notice that the bus routes in the Frequent Network are all shown in red. The new System Map doesn’t just tell you where the bus goes but also how often is comes and what time of day you can catch it. When you see routes in red, you know the bus arrives frequently seven days a week.

Well, the Frequent Network looks helpful for lots of trips but there are a few places it doesn’t go. What do I do?

route table and system map

The System Map

While the Frequent Network can help you reach many places in the service area, there are not enough resources to have buses run frequently everywhere. If your home or destination is not on the Frequent Network, it might still be an easy transit trip. Flip the System Map brochure over to see the entire New Bus Network. This side of the system map has two key parts:

  1. A detailed map of the bus network
  2. A route table that give lots of detail about when and how often each route runs

The full System Map displays the whole local bus and rail network, shows you where Transit Centers and Park & Ride lots are located, and notes many key destinations and activity centers around the region.

Hold on now, what is a Transit Center? And a Park & Ride lot?

Transit Center:  Off-street location where multiple routes come together to allow customers to make connections. Other connection can easily be made at street intersections throughout the system.

Park & Ride Lot:  Park & Ride lots are where many people can park their car or bike and hop on an express bus, typically as part of a longer commute to an activity center like Downtown, Uptown, or the Texas Medical Center. The portion of the trip on the freeway typically runs on HOV lanes that let the bus stay out of congestion, making the trip faster and more reliable. We will talk more about Park & Rides in a moment.

The System Map tells you which routes serve each of these facilities. It also tells you if there is car or bicycle parking available at each location.

Let’s get back to the map.

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The map shows you the route each bus takes in the New Bus Network. The map has been designed to allow you to trace each route and see what streets it runs on so you know where to catch it. Specific stop locations can be found using METRO’s Interactive Map. Each route is also numbered to help you follow it across the map. All routes are also color-coded based on their frequency during the midday (around lunch) and on weekends.  Many routes run more often than this during the peak travel time in the morning and early evening when many people are traveling to and from work.

Red: a bus is coming every 15 minutes or better (See the 56 Airline/Montrose)

Blue: a bus is coming every 20 or 30 minutes (See the 44 Acres Homes)

Green: a bus is coming every 60 minutes (See the 79 W Little York)

Orange: Bus runs only during the AM and PM peak travel periods. (see the 108 Veterans Memorial Express)

Rail:  The Red, Purple, and Green light rail lines show up as thicker lines (see the Red Line on this part of the map, south of Northline Transit Center.)  Each of the stations are labeled so you know where you can get on or off the train including at Northline Transit Center (shown as the white-filled circle on the map). Transit Center is often abbreviated as TC. Northline TC is both the last stop on the rail line and a transit center where you can connect to local bus routes.

The System Map shows all of METRO’s fixed route local service so you can plan your trip. Where routes run on the freeway, they do not make stops. These sections of the route are shown as dashed lines.

OK, now I know where the buses go, what else should I know?

Houston METRO route table

The Route Table

Once you have the map figured out, you can review the Route Table on the left side of the map. The Route Table includes all kinds of useful information about the route.

  1. Route Number and Name – Helpful to know what route to look for. Each bus displays the same information on its sign so you know which bus to get on.
  2. Frequency – For each period the bus runs, the table displays the frequency with which buses arrive along the route.
    • The Peak column refers to about 2.5 hours in the morning and 3 hours in the evening when travel demand is typically highest and many routes come most frequently.
    • The Midday column refers to the time between the peak hours typically from around 9am till about 3:30pm. This is also the frequency that corresponds with the color-coding on the map.
    • Evening – this is the service that starts later in the day after the PM peak. Demand is often lower in the evening so the bus may not come as often during this time. Evening service is typically the same seven days a week though start and end times may vary.
    • Saturday and Sunday – people make many trips on the weekends and the New Bus Network makes that much easier. All routes in the New Bus Network run seven days a week and significantly more weekend service is provided than ever before.
  3. Span – Your ability to use the system doesn’t just depend on where the bus goes and how often it comes, it also matters when the bus is running. The hours that a bus route runs is called its “span of service”. The Route Table lets you know how early or late the first and last trips of the day on a route occur. These are shown as full, half or empty moon symbols in the chart.  For example a route starting before 5 AM will have a full moon in the early morning column. If you need to be somewhere early or need a ride to get home late in the day you can check here. You will also want to check the specific schedule for a route to confirm the exact times if you think you will be traveling during the early morning or late evening hours. Red routes will tend to have the longest span as they often have the highest demand throughout the day and into the evening.

    There are two other items you should know of when reviewing the Route Table and System Map.

Frequent Route Sets – In several locations in network, schedules of overlapping routes have been coordinated to provide frequent (15 minute or better) service along a common segment. Look at the 160, 161 and 162 in the table and on the map. Notice they have red boxes around the route numbers.

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That indicates they are part of a set of routes that provide frequent service on the common segment they all share. For the 160s the common segment is from Downtown to Memorial City, with a stop at Northwest Transit Center. That means if you are traveling between these destinations, you can get on any of these buses and they will take you to all the same stops. If you are traveling beyond the common segment (the 162 goes to the Energy Corridor and the 161 goes down Wilcrest) you will want to make sure you get on the right bus or change buses at Memorial City to get where you are going.

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There are three other locations in the system where frequent route sets combine to provide frequent service.

  • 40/41 on West Dallas and Polk through Neartown, Downtown, EaDo, and the East End
  • 51/52 between Kashmere Transit Center and Downtown Transit Center
  • 152/153 on Harwin Drive and Southwest Freeway from Gessner to Hillcroft Transit Center and Wheeler Transit Center

These are footnoted in the Route Table and shown by red-outlined route symbols on the map.

Route Patterns – Routes in the New Bus Network are typically designed to be simple, straight and easy to understand. There are a few routes, shown with two colors in the route table, where some trips travel the full length of the route and some trips, typically the second trip, turn around at a point along the route. These “short lines” or “turnbacks” are typically used when one segment of the route has higher or lower ridership than the rest. You can see these on the map where the color of the route changes from red to blue or blue to green but still has the same bus route number. If you are traveling to the lower frequency end of these routes you can either wait for the bus that travels to the full length of the route or get off at the turnback point and wait for the next bus there.

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This all seems pretty easy, but I want to go downtown and I can’t quite make out what street the bus runs on. What should I do?

Downtown to TMC Inset Map

downtown to the Medical Center map

Most everywhere on the full System Map, you can track the exact street that the bus or train is running on. Often that is the same street that the route is named for which should make it easier to remember. But maybe you are going to a sporting event, a play, a museum or a doctor. In the area between Downtown and the Texas Medical Center the routes can be a bit harder to follow on the large System Map. This is why METRO provided a detailed map for the area from Downtown to the TMC.

This map provides a level of detail such that you can follow a bus route to the exact street it is running on. The map also includes many of the destinations in the Downtown, Midtown, Museum District, and TMC areas including parks, sports venues, museums, colleges and universities, and healthcare facilities.

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The map is designed to be very readable but there are a few items you should be aware of. First, the map is not drawn to exact scale but has been styled to make it easier to read. To help with this, estimated walk times between routes and destinations are shown. Everyone walks at a different speed so your time may be a bit different but these should be a helpful guide to estimate. The figure below shows the estimated walking time from the Red Line to Ben Taub Hospital or the Houston Zoo is 6 minutes.

M12any of the streets in Downtown operate as one-way pairs. That means that where one street in the pair travels one direction, the other street travels the other. Many of these pairs are well known to Houstonians. Smith / Louisiana, Milam / Travis, Fannin/ San Jacinto are southbound/northbound pairs. Lamar / McKinney and Congress / Franklin are westbound/eastbound pairs. When METRO runs service on these one way pairs, the bus travels like cars do: the route runs in one direction on one street and the other direction on the other street. So if you want to go northbound, catch the 82 Westheimer on Travis, when you are heading southbound catch the 82 on Milam. Street directions for one-way streets are noted with arrows by the name as shown in the figure on the left.

The Downtown to TMC map also shows the routing of the various Park & Ride routes that serve these areas. This can help commuters know where catch the bus. Park &  Ride routes that serve the same freeway corridor typically follow the same routing through Downtown. So all buses serving I-10 West (Kingsland, Addicks, Grand Parkway lots) all use Smith (southbound) and Louisiana (northbound). Where you can catch a Park & Ride service all day, including peak, midday and late evenings, the routes are shown in gray. Where the service is provided only during peak periods the route is shown in orange.

OK, tell me more about the Park & Ride service

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Park & Ride and Express Map

The new System Map has lots of information about how METRO’s extensive Park & Ride system works. There are a number of Park & Ride lots along major freeway corridors across the METRO service area. The routes serving these lots are shown in the Park & Ride and Express map.

Park & Ride service is provided to Downtown, the Texa