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Woodlands approves series of changes to bus routes, ticketing

December 6, 2018

Commuters who utilize The Woodlands Express bus and transit services will see some changes in the near future after The Woodlands Township Board of Directors approved on Wednesday a series of minor changes to service and ticketing.

In a series of presentations, Chris LaRue, the township’s transit program manager, revisited several issues related to The Woodlands Express bus service that had been lingering for several months before the board, including the debate about how to deal with old paper tickets that are being used as well as discussion and action on several potential route changes.

Confusion over paper tickets

The township board approved in a 6-1 vote — with director John McMullan voting no — to amend current policies related to tickets for The Woodlands Express bus service.

The issue of what to do with old paper tickets from the previous provider of transit services — the Brazos Transit District — had come to the attention of transit officials during 2018 as a new ticketing app was being put into use. The bus service was taken over by The Woodlands in 2015 and as part of the process began to issue bus tickets from the township, however passengers of the service before it was taken over by The Woodlands still had an unknown number of paper tickets from the Brazos Transit District which are valid and have no expiration date.

As the township moved into its operation of the bus service, a new mobile app created by a company called Masabi was developed and put into use. The app allows riders to make an account and deposit money into an “online wallet” that allows them to use the app for bus ticketing. Transit officials were hoping to fully switch to the mobile app, however they quickly discovered there is a group of riders who refuse to use the app and also that there were an unknown number of old BTD tickets still in circulation.

The issue had been raised by township Director John McMullan, who rides the bus service himself to his job in Houston. Over a series of several meetings in September and October, the issue of the old tickets and the new app were discussed by the township board, but no action was taken. Inprevious meetings, ideas were tossed around including mandating riders use the app only, the cessation of using paper tickets and also a proposal to set an expiration date for old BTD tickets.

During Wednesday’s meeting, McMullan said he was confused about the issue and asked LaRue, “what problem are we trying to solve here?” McMullan also said he feels the old, never-expiring tickets should be honored even though they came from the former operator more than three years ago.

“We failed to anticipate (in 2015) that some day we’d invalidate these tickets,” McMullan said. “I think it would be a terrible decision to invalidate these tickets.”

Township Board Chairman Gordy Bunch said he agreed with McMullan on not invalidating the old tickets, but admitted the township was “financially hoodwinked” by officials from Brazos Transit District into taking over a financially troubled operation.

Under the approved proposal, the township will continue to sell paper tickets for single round trips, any paper ticket sold by The Woodlands can later be switched and credited into the mobile app by a rider, any tickets previously sold by other entities —including the Brazos Transit District and Montgomery County Park and Ride — can be credited to the app until June 30, 2019, and all paper tickets no matter which entity sold them will be accepted forever or until there are no more tickets.

Although McMullan was happy with the changes, he did not feel the policy changes were acceptable and he voted no on the policy changes.

“This is a tremendous improvement from where we were in October, but I can’t support it as is,” McMullan explained.

New departure, stop added

LaRue later told the board that after extensive studies, input from riders and staff analysis, he was recommending several changes to the transit service.

In a 7-0 vote, the boad approved a series of items that LaRue had presented.

* A new, six-month pilot departure time of 8 a.m. will be added to the current schedule of buses leaving the Sterling Ridge Park and Ride. The 8 a.m. bus will go to the same locations and stops as other buses from the site and will come at a cost of $14,000 to the township.

* A new stop will be added to the bus routes in the Texas Medical Center, with passengers now being able to get on and off the bus at the medical center’s dentistry building.

* LaRue was authorized to apply to the Federal Transit Administration regional council for permission to run a special bus service from The Woodlands to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.

* Authorize LaRue and transit officials to explore with private bus operators the possibility of creating special weekend bus trips to various events in the downtown Houston area, including to Houston Texans games, Houston Astros games and assorted plays or other special events.

The directors in their approval also rejected ideas from LaRue including a much more extensive weekend bus schedule on possibly Saturdays and Sundays as well as saying no to a planned survey of riders.

jeff.forward@chron.com

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