better busses

City of Houston, METRO reveal autonomous shuttle,  zero-emission initiatives

FutureLink is part of the second phase of METRO's autonomous vehicle testing program. Photo courtesy of METRO

Houston and METRO took the latest step towards transforming the city into a leader in innovative and eco-friendly transportation.

Mayor Sylvester Turner unveiled METRO's new autonomous shuttle, FutureLink. The vehicle a fully autonomous zero-emission shuttle that can operate on city streets between Texas Southern University and METRO's Eastwood Transit Center. The level 4 zero-emission shuttle bus can seat 14 passengers and up to two wheelchairs.

FutureLink is part of the second phase of METRO's autonomous vehicle testing program.

"FutureLink represents the intersection of innovation and sustainability," says Mayor Turner in a news release. "METRO continues to pioneer change and today, we celebrate METRO's commitment to advancing our city's vision for the future in which transportation is safe, equitable, and resilient."

METRO's electric bus was also on display at the event, which is part of its fleet of zero-emission vehicles that align with the city's Climate Action Plan working towards a greener future.

"At METRO, we believe that innovation and sustainability are not just responsibilities, but opportunities to create a better tomorrow," METRO Board Chair Sanjay Ramabhadran says in a news release. "We are passionate about building a thriving, livable, and equitable future for the Houston region, and we are working hard to make it a reality for generations to come."

The project was funded by the Federal Transit Administration through its Accelerating Innovative Mobility program. Phase 2 of the pilot program is expected to run through October 2024, with a final report aiming for March 2025.

Earlier this month, the city approved funding for an EV rideshare service. The $281,000 of funding went toward the expansion of free electric vehicle rideshare services in communities that are considered underserved by utilizing services like RYDE and Evolve Houston.

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A View From HETI

Houston could have ranked higher on a global report of top cities in the world if it had a bit more business diversification. Photo via Getty Images

A new analysis positions the Energy Capital of the World as an economic dynamo, albeit a flawed one.

The recently released Oxford Economics Global Cities Index, which assesses the strengths and weaknesses of the world’s 1,000 largest cities, puts Houston at No. 25.

Houston ranks well for economics (No. 15) and human capital (No. 18), but ranks poorly for governance (No. 184), environment (No. 271), and quality of life (No. 298).

New York City appears at No. 1 on the index, followed by London; San Jose, California; Tokyo; and Paris. Dallas lands at No. 18 and Austin at No. 39.

In its Global Cities Index report, Oxford Economics says Houston’s status as “an international and vertically integrated hub for the oil and gas sector makes it an economic powerhouse. Most aspects of the industry — downstream, midstream, and upstream — are managed from here, including the major fuel refining and petrochemicals sectors.”

“And although the city has notable aerospace and logistics sectors and has diversified into other areas such as biomedical research and tech, its fortunes remain very much tied to oil and gas,” the report adds. “As such, its economic stability and growth lag other leading cities in the index.”

The report points out that Houston ranks highly in the human capital category thanks to the large number of corporate headquarters in the region. The Houston area is home to the headquarters of 26 Fortune 500 companies, including ExxonMobil, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, and Sysco.

Another contributor to Houston’s human capital ranking, the report says, is the presence of Rice University, the University of Houston and the Texas Medical Center.

“Despite this,” says the report, “it lacks the number of world-leading universities that other cities have, and only performs moderately in terms of the educational attainment of its residents.”

Slower-than-expected population growth and an aging population weaken Houston’s human capital score, the report says.

Meanwhile, Houston’s score for quality is life is hurt by a high level of income inequality, along with a low life expectancy compared with nearly half the 1,000 cities on the list, says the report.

Also in the quality-of-life bucket, the report underscores the region’s variety of arts, cultural, and recreational activities. But that’s offset by urban sprawl, traffic congestion, an underdeveloped public transportation system, decreased air quality, and high carbon emissions.

Furthermore, the report downgrades Houston’s environmental stature due to the risks of hurricanes and flooding.

“Undoubtedly, Houston is a leading business [center] that plays a key role in supporting the U.S. economy,” says the report, “but given its shortcomings in other categories, it will need to follow the path of some of its more well-rounded peers in order to move up in the rankings.”

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This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

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