Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Houston's first official jitney service growing fast

I was recently able to have lunch with fellow Rice alum Lauren Barrash to talk about her rapidly growing jitney transit service, The Wave.  What started as a small shuttle service for nightlife on Washington Avenue has grown to multiple shuttles now serving the Heights and Midtown, with downtown shuttle service coming soon - all with Metro's full blessing and permitted by the city's brand new jitney ordinance.  There are plans to expand to Montrose, Shepherd, and Kirby - and even Austin and Dallas (not from here - intra-city, not inter-city).  She is proving that private transit can work, at least in selected niches.

Here are some of their details that I think readers of this blog would find interesting:
The Wave is a high quality, fixed route, fixed rate, permitted jitney service running within the Washington Corridor, Midtown and the Heights, connecting people and places, while helping to resolve theses area’s immediate & critical needs. The Wave promotes ease of movement, encourages transit use and enhances existing public transportation systems, while also helping to reduce congestion and improve public safety. The Wave improves Houstonian’s quality of life by connecting people and places with reliable, safe, and easy-to-use travel choices that reduce congestion and energy use, save money, and promote sustainability, healthier lifestyles, and a more environmentally responsible community.
But what is a jitney everyone asks. Wikipedia definitions below:
“A jitney is a North American English term which originally referred to a livery vehicle intermediate between a taxi and a bus.  It is generally a small-capacity vehicle that follows a rough service route, but can go slightly out of its way to pick up and drop off passengers. In many U.S. cities (e.g. Pittsburgh and Detroit), the term jitney refers to an unlicensed taxi cab.”
“The name jitney comes from an archaic, colloquial term for a five-cent piece in the US. The common fare for the service when it first came into use was five cents, so the five-cent cab or jitney cab came to be known for the price charged.”
How Houston defines a jitney:
Houston Code of Ordinances, Chapter 46, Article VI defines a jitney as: “a motorized passenger vehicle having a manufacturer's rated seating capacity of not less than nine nor more than 15 persons including the driver, that is operated upon a closed loop route following specified streets and highways in a specified direction, and is operated without a fixed schedule, carrying passengers from place to place in exchange for a fee.” (as of August 12, 2010)
Business Model
The Wave is a locally owned, private, officially permitted “jitney” shuttle company created to enhance the economic urban development within Houston. Most are surprised to hear about our rapid growth in such a short period of time, as changing Houstonians perception of public transit is quite the challenge.
There are several forces that indicate that The Wave & its services are a necessity:
  • Explosion of development - several new bars, restaurants, retail stores, gyms, and other businesses have already opened in the last couple of years and many more are already in the planning stages 
  • Increased daily traffic volumes - with all the new activity, comes an increase in visitors to this area, making parking and traffic challenging to both residents & visitors 
  • Public safety - many of the establishments in the Washington Corridor serve alcohol and are open late, increasing the number of drivers on the road who have potentially consumed alcohol in this area, thereby increasing the risk of accidents, injuries, and deaths
  • Quality of Life - for the near 44,000 residents of these neighborhoods, the jitney services would serve as a much more economical and efficient mode of transportation than their current personal transportation options, thereby making  the entire area easily accessible to them
  • Current transportation issues - The Metropolitan Transit Authority bus system currently does not have late night service in this area & this demographic are not typically public transit users in this city, cab service is not a viable option for these short distances 
  • Residential parking permits - residents of Super Neighborhood 22 on 3 blocks North and 3 blocks South have been issued permits for their cars & guests in an attempt to reserve the street parking for the area home owners and residents, thus limiting the number of patrons of the Washington Cooridor who can park on the street 
  • Pending parking changes along Washington Ave - thus limiting the amount of time and time of day/night patrons of these businesses can park 
  • Pending valet ordinance - giving less viable parking spots for this service
The Wave resolves most of these issues with our expansive parking lots, a taxi stand in one of our parking lot, and shuttle service from the parking lot.  
Lauren's creating a great asset for Houston.  Please give it your support, and be sure to tell your friends (or even charter them for special events).  Facebook users can start by Liking their Facebook page.

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At 8:19 PM, August 18, 2010, Anonymous kjb434 said...

METRO should take note!

So many METRO routes could be easily served by buses the size of these versus the full sized ones.

At 10:37 PM, August 18, 2010, Blogger Alon Levy said...

Is the jitney service integrated with the publicly run transit network? Can people transfer for free, see both the jitney and the bus lines on the same map, and make timed connections?

At 7:44 AM, August 19, 2010, Anonymous kjb434 said...

The people utilizing this service are primarily ones who would not ride METRO to begin with. METRO's sub-par service and inflexible direct routes to places people want to go is the primary problem.

The Wave's service is targeted and has a stated clear concise goal which is also why it's successful. Many of METRO's lines make little sense (hence lack of usage) and often require many transfers.

At 8:39 AM, August 19, 2010, Anonymous Martin said...


If Metro had a trolley running up and down Washington connecting to downtown, I would GUARANTEE that the people now using the Wave would ride it.

The Wave is primarily targeted to the nightlife scene on Washington Avenue. I think that is great. I generally don't like hanging out on Washington but I would utilize the service if I did.

More generally, jitney services like the Wave fill a vacuum in public transit service. That is why they primarily operate in large cities, in underdeveloped countries with poorly developed infrastructure. They are popular in African, South American and some Asian cities.

I think they are fine but I see them as more of an indicator that the city where they operate lacks the basic transportation infrastructure that most people in the developed world have come to expect for basic quality of life reasons.

At 9:29 AM, August 19, 2010, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Alon: definitely no free transfers, and I don't think the maps or connections integrate, but I'll pass the idea along. I tend to agree with kjb that the demographics are very different and unlikely to make such connections.

At 3:04 PM, August 19, 2010, Anonymous kjb434 said...

The Wave could also look into possible replacing the trolley service METRO discontinued in downtown.

It could run a loop from the skyline district to the convention center. It would cross light rail at two spots. It was a popular service that METRO really had no justification for removing.

At 7:51 PM, August 19, 2010, Anonymous Gratt said...

I agree with Kb434 Why did Metro get rid of the downtown loop is beyond me.

but to comment one thing about the ordinance bothered me

"and is (to be) operated without a fixed schedule"

Why is that? If the service is very frequent in an urban area this might not be a big deal (still dont see how it helps) but it would kill any hopes of using this for direct commuting between the suburbs and job centers besides downtown. IE a direct line from Sugarland to the energy corridor.

Also a tiny suggestion to modify Levy's question. Can they work a deal with Metro to let them accept Q-cards? Swiping a card simply takes less time than fumbling for change.

At 9:14 PM, August 21, 2010, Blogger Houston Wave said...

Sorry for a delay in responding, but as you all can imagine, I've been quite busy. The Wave does function in more areas than just the Washington Corridor. We've already expanded to Midtown & The Heights with extensive expansion plans. And I might as well announce it here, but the buses will be outfitted starting next week to look like trolleys. The good thing is, they are infinitely more comfortable and conducive for Houston's weather. We have started talks with Metro to see where we can help. Last, I've also met with some players in downtown to begin the discussion of running the downtown circulator again. I welcome any and all feedback & suggestions about routes and needs. I look forward to catching you all soon.


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