Wilson explained that buying a hundred buses a year allowed Metro to phase in technology upgrades at a moderate pace rather than in a hurry all at once. It also allows the system to manage the fleet better by normalizing the maintenance activities and keeping the buses at a good average age.
In its third year of the new fleet management program, Metro no longer purchases the hundred buses a year, instead opting to lease them by using its Formula Funding ? a steady source of income ? to keep a steady source of buses coming in.
?We intend to keep our bus fleet right where everybody would want it ? six years of age introducing technology as we go,? Wilson says.
Now with the implementation of a new rail line, the bus service had to be realigned. As Metro Rail came on line, Wilson says they were already looking to cull 600 bus movements from the downtown during rush hour, which in essence created at least one if not two free lanes of traffic for cars.
But taking bus service off Main and adjacent streets, and focusing on the rail line wasn?t without controversy. Wilson says most people would point to this as forcing a transfer, which he just shrugs off.
?OK, we did. You tell me what transit system worth anything doesn?t have transfers,? Wilson shrugs.
?You know you don?t run in competition with yourself. We have a high-capacity, cost-effective way of carrying people on Main Street. Why do I have to duplicate that 200 feet over on another street? All it?s doing is running up and down.
?The business is replete with the notion that transfers are a penalty, but if the transfer is easy and it?s quick, not that big of a penalty.?
Every bus Houston Metro now leases has a hybrid diesel-electric powerplant. As Wilson says with a laugh, ?Much better fuel economy, much better on emissions, much higher price ? $725,000. This was not an easy decision, but we did it.?
Wilson says Metro is trying to standardize around the hybrid powerplant as its technology, but it will upgrade to the latest technology when it becomes commercially viable. For Wilson and Houston Metro, keeping on top of the latest technology is what keeps them on top of their games as transit providers.
?From front to back, including the powerplant now, this thing is the most technologically sophisticated vehicle out there,? Wilson says.
?Now I don?t care what kind of car you?re driving. Most times when you tell people that, it?s ?Really??
?What do they know about a bus? You get on it. You get off of it. You get behind it on the road ? you?re screwed.
?They don?t realize what?s rolling down that street and how it?s evolved over time. What does that mean for us? It means the skill level for the maintenance people has migrated up the chart.
?What does that means for us? It means we have to recruit more effectively. It means we have to pay better. It means we have to retain these guys, because now you?re trying to pull out of the upper stratosphere of talents and skills.?
Houston Metro is looking to expand its existing 7.5 miles of rail to 30 miles of light rail over the next few years. In the meantime it?s still in an expansion mode, so it is in the process of implementing what Wilson calls the signature bus line ? or a BRT starter system ? with one ready to go and two more under construction. Add in the three more in the planning process and you have the five or six rail lines Houston Metro is planning on building. But what makes these lines different from regular Metro bus lines ? style.
?Every station is remarkably different,? Wilson says, ?It?s not a sign on a post with a bench. It?s a station environment.
?Now it?s not a railroad station environment, but it is a pretty good-looking station environment. And its got amenities in it that you don?t see in a regular station, like the ?next bus? feature.?
Wilson says station location is key because the station isn?t going anywhere in the near or far future. The station for the signature bus line will one day become the station for Houston Metro?s future light rail line, although it might shift a bit.
?Now it might be out in the middle of the street instead of on the sidewalk, but the folks who invested in that station area and what is in that station area will be a permanent investment so you invest for the long term. So we?re trying to influence land development without controlling land development,? Wilson says.