CarShare and Other Alternative Transportation Strategies Could Increase Affordability
Houston is losing its edge in affordability, says a study by the Rice University Shell Center for Sustainability.
And transportation costs are eating away a big part of Houstonians’ paychecks.
The average person in City Council District F, including the Eldridge, Alief and Westchase neighborhoods, spends 33 percent on housing and 16 percent on transportation, according to the study. That means nearly half of their income goes toward housing and driving vehicles.
While spending around a third of your income on housing is comparable to other large cities, it’s the added bite of transportation costs that is making Houston less affordable, according to the study and its author Lester King, a sustainability fellow for the Shell Center.
"Houston is the fourth-largest city in the country behind New York, Los Angeles and Chicago," King says in the study. "Of the top three, Los Angeles has the lowest percentage of people using transit, with 11 percent. New York has the highest with 55. Houston has 5.5 percent of people using transit, so we will have to at least double our transit usage to be comparable to the large cities in the country."
Since housing prices here are relatively low, explains King, “policies aimed at reducing transportation costs to the average Houstonian would help make it a truly affordable city.”
King says Houston needs a major reimagining of its transit approach.
“One sure way to cut costs is to reduce your use of personal vehicles,” explains John Nunez, the ECD’s Transportation Manager. “When you take the bus to work, or join a vanpool, you can pocket the money otherwise spent on fuel and vehicle maintenance. With fewer cars on the road, air quality improves and that, in turn, can lower health care costs associated with asthma and other respiratory ailments.”
To help cut not only traffic congestion but also the cost of living, the Energy Corridor District (ECD) this year launched its CarShare program. The idea, explains Nunez, is to help commuters take advantage of alternative transportation like vanpooling, while providing a shared vehicle at work to run errands when the need arises.
The ECD is also working with the Re-Imagine METRO initiative, which seeks to completely rethink mass transit in Houston.
The report from Rice's Shell Center for Sustainability looked at some two dozen social, economic and environmental indicators in 11 council districts.