In 2003, voters in the Harris County Metropolitan Transit Authority's (HCMTA) service area approved a referendum on the expansion of light rail. Tom Delay intervened, and overrode the voters' choice. Light rail expansion in Houston was blocked by the George W Bush administration for five years. Suddenly, in 2009, the ban was lifted by the President's new FTA. Every year, the FTA has sent the HCMTA at least $150 million for light rail expansion. On December 20, 2013, the first new line, Northline-Houston Community College, went into service. This year, two more light rail lines will open.
The suburbanites are complaining because HCMTA is concentrating on the democratic-majority Houston center city. They want commuter light rail to their outlying areas but keep electing republicans who are adamantly opposed to rail expansion. Somehow Houston suburbanites have not made the connection between whom they vote for and what kind of transportation they get.
HCMTA recently announced that additional cars have been added to Northline (named after a 1950's shopping mall) because passenger boardings have exceeded forecasts. HCMTA removes motor vehicle lanes and allocates them to rail. Unlike other new light rail systems, HCMTA is operating the lines as limited-stop streetcars, which is unique in the modern US. Northline has cut the travel time in half from the 15 Fulton Bus which it replaced. I talked to many passengers, and every person I talked to is thrilled about the huge improvement in service. The new line runs every 12 minutes, seven days a week. I recently took a Sunday photographic stroll on the line and uploaded the video to You Tube.
None of this much-needed expansion would have been possible without President Obama. Thanks to federal help, and the backing of Democratic Mayor Annise Parker, these lines are going in fast. On the Northline, it took less that 3 years from the original groundbreaking to the start of service. Houston, which was the least-likely city to embark on electric rail transit 15 years ago, has an aggressive rail transit program underway. Elections do make a difference.