Short-to-medium term transportation options in Houston?
March 30, 2013 1:20 AM   Subscribe

Asking for a friend: I'm leaving graduate school for a job in Houston, TX in a few weeks and I'm looking for the best short-term transportation situation - apparently there is no public transportation whatsoever going to my job, and I'd like to be able to, you know, get to work. The hitch is that while I'm leaving in 2 weeks, my wife is leaving in 3 months, and she needs our car to get to work. I've got a motorcycle, but it's cheapest to ship that in the moving truck when we move our stuff in 3 months (not to mention I'm not sure how quickly I can arrange for it to be moved out there, and if it gets there too late, it's not worth doing anyway).

I'm planning on buying a new motorcycle anyway when I get there, but I doubt I'll be able to have one waiting for me when I arrive, nor would I want that sort of time constraint (plus my salary is going to increase dramatically, and I don't think I have a good sense of what I can afford yet). Are there any good, cost-effective options for transportation that will let me (in order of priority) 1.) get to work 2.) get to the store 3.) get to random parts of Houston where people are selling motorcycles, 4.) look at apartments (I'll have 1 month in temporary housing) and 5.) explore my new city?

I think I can reasonably buy a new motorcycle within 2 weeks. Shipping on my old motorcycle will likely be ~$700-$800, so that's the price to beat - I don't have a good sense of how long that takes. Also, I'm not sure how feasible commuting is on a motorcycle in Houston between April and July - so far my plan is to use a motorcycle as my sole vehicle until my car arrives - it's worked well in the SF bay area, but if Houstonite motorcycle riders tell me that's not a workable solution, I imagine I have a whole different set of questions.
posted by abcde to Travel & Transportation around Houston, TX (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: You can rent a car for around $150 per week from Enterprise or Budget or whatever.
posted by cilantro at 2:51 AM on March 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Renting a car short term is probably the best bet. Unless you're lucky enough to be on a bus line or our one existing train, you're out of luck.

There are lots of folks on motorcycles in Houston, but recommend honing up on your defensive driving skills. And May-July is going to be hot, not sure if the breeze from riding is enough to keep you dry or if you need to bring a spare set of clothes. See if your office has a shower. We expect to be in severe drought conditions this summer, expect it to be hot!

If you're working at a large company you might find a carpool or a shuttle sponsored by the company. Or if you're going from the suburbs to downtown, metro has a nice park and ride system, nice coach buses. I've used it for jury duty. Metro.
posted by beowulf573 at 6:10 AM on March 30, 2013

Ship your things and ride your motorcycle there? That might be awesome.
posted by oceanjesse at 6:52 AM on March 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

Houston all depends on where you live. Inner loop, lots of stuff is close (for Houston). If you are commuting from, say, the southwest corner to the northeast, you can easily log in 50+ miles.. one way. So a location might help :) I find the Houston bus website actually has a pretty good route finder. But I think the majority of people use their own transportation. (probably cause the busses are slow)
posted by Jacen at 7:00 AM on March 30, 2013

Houston is a very large city spread out in roughly a 30 mile circle and when you first move there you will likely be running all over the place. I would suggest buying an older small truck when you get there. An older vehicle will not likely loose much value in the next 4-5 months, so you would have cheap or free transportation for your initial relocation and until your wife comes and gets settled. At that point you should have no problem selling or trading up your vehicle after you have a better handle on your finances. A motorcycle is not very practical in Houston for commuting. When it rains you and your bike will get a nasty residue. My office parking garage has 400 cars and occasionally 1 motorcycle if that is any indication.

Very short term, when you get there, it will be cheaper for you to rent a car for a few days than to take a taxi from the airport to most places. A specific location of your work would help. Keep in mind, if you work for a large company, they likely have multiple locations around the city and you may be transferred around often.
posted by Yorrick at 7:09 AM on March 30, 2013

Renting a car for a few weeks is probably the way to go. You might want to reconsider being a one-car household in Houston. My husband and I were one-car there for about 4 years, but only one of us had a 9-5 job and for some of that time I lived within walking distance of my employer (which is pretty rare there).

If we had both had professional jobs, having only one car would have been impossible. Whether this will work for you depends on how far you have to go between work and home and other activities, the formality of your workplace, etc. Also, if you've never lived on the Gulf Coast, you may be surprised at how hot and humid it gets, and for how long (like, 6 months of the year). I knew several people with motorcycles when I lived in Houston, but people tended to use them as fair-weather toys rather than workhorse transportation. I think it is just too uncomfortable for much of the year.

Coming from the bay area, Houston is going to seem fantastically affordable, but transportation and weather are definitely going to be trade-offs from what you are used to.

On preview, Yorrick's suggestion is also a good one.
posted by jeoc at 7:14 AM on March 30, 2013

I used to have a motorcycle. Although you definitely do see people riding the to work and back, it is not at all enjoyable to ride in the city. The roads are filthy and in some areas they are kinda falling apart, we have massive bugs, and the heat coming off the road will be over 100 degrees in the summer. Plus our famous humidity. In stop-and-go traffic. For maybe an hour each way.

Seconding the people who recommend renting a car or buying a cheap used truck. Especially for your first summer here, which is always a serious shocker for people from the North.
posted by Houstonian at 8:47 AM on March 30, 2013

I think it would be worth it to rent for a couple of weeks while you buy a beater truck or a car.

I've never known anybody (unless they lived very near work, and even then there were bad days) who has used a motorcycle year-round in Texas. There's the heat, and the drivers, and even with the drought when it rains in Houston, it rains. Sideways. With hail and tornadoes and zero visibility in already heinous traffic. You're dealing with every tropical storm and hurricane that gets into the Gulf. The roads are greasy and turn into slip-n-slides when wet.

Even on a pretty day (these are scheduled for a week each in March and early November), the air smells like something you don't want to be breathing without a filter.

If your wife will be working in Houston, or not working but would like to go anywhere ever, you will need two cars.

(And if you will be living in a house, get a generator. If you'll be in an apartment, get whatever people in apartments use when the power goes out for 5 days in August.)
posted by Lyn Never at 9:32 AM on March 30, 2013

I'm from Houston but live in the Bay Area, and I agree with what most people are saying - you'll ultimately want 2 cars. That said, a motorcycle is a workable short term solution. I know some people who commute on them in Dallas and they find it miserably hot and uncomfortably smoggy in rush hour traffic; in Houston it's hot more of the year and the pollution is worse.

I think you motorcycle shipping estimate is too high - find a car shipper online and ask them for a quote. It cost me slightly less than $700 to ship a car from Dallas to the Bay Atea.
posted by asphericalcow at 11:03 AM on March 30, 2013

I am abcde's friend - thanks to everyone for the advice, it's much appreciated. The similarity in type of our chosen usernames is coincidental.

Just to clarify one thing - I definitely wasn't planning on trying to be a 1-car household in the long run. I was planning on buying a nice truck and a nice motorcycle once I get settled in. If I can really get a rental car for $150/week, then just renting a car for at least 2 weeks seems like the cheapest, lowest-cost and lowest-hassle option.

To the people saying get a cheap old truck - that's some solid advice. I only have two concerns - 1.) people don't have a lot to say about Houston, but the one thing they continue to emphasize is how HOT it is. I'm very worried about buying a car that will break down or whose air conditioner will not work appropriately. 2.) I'm really bad at selling stuff. I plan to sell my old stuff, and then I just never get around to it.

Still, based on what people are saying about motorcycle commuting, it sounds like that might not be a very viable option. Motorcyclists out there - do you know if Texas has a culture of lane-splitting / filtering? It's illegal everywhere but California, but driving over the speed limit is illegal everywhere and everyone goes 5 miles over anyway. In Massachusetts it's very rare to see people lane splitting, but in New York it's very common. Obviously having driven a motorcycle in California for many years I'm comfortable with the practice, but that really would make the difference for a motorcycle commute (I mean, you have to wear kinda bulky gear on a motorcycle and air conditioning is not really possible, so in crazy hot weather, you're like a shark - keep moving or you'll die.)
posted by 0x006DB0 at 11:51 AM on March 30, 2013

Oh, right, people were asking where I'm going to work. I'm going to try to be vague because I don't know the corporate culture there yet and while this question is very quotidian, better safe than sorry.

It's a big company, in the northern part of Houston on what I would call the outer loop, based on the map of the city. From what I can tell about what my day-to-day job will be, I think I'll be in just that once place, not driving around much. I have no idea where I'll be living. I would guess that a carpool is possible, but I'm going to keep that as a backup option.
posted by 0x006DB0 at 11:58 AM on March 30, 2013

Down in Clear Lake there are a million motorcycles, and I used to ride mine year round in good gear. You do start to die at stoplights, but it can be done. I currently drive a truck with no ac, so that is doable too.

That said, you will have enough on your plate with the move and new job, so I highly suggest a reliable rental car.
posted by BeeDo at 12:46 PM on March 30, 2013

Lane splitting is a very excellent way to get killed on our freeways. You do see it every now and then, but basically it is not done which makes it especially dangerous -- already it's difficult to get drivers to see motorcyclists, but they are not looking for you coming up beside them in their own lane. They will not see you. At all. And they are driving heavy vehicles. Sometimes at high rates of speed. While texting. Please don't do this.

You say "outer loop" and I'm guessing that you mean Beltway 8/Sam Houston Tollway, probably near Intercontinental Airport. I currently work in that area, and there's a lot of hiring going on with companies there. If that's the case know the area north and south of the Beltway, between I-45 and US-59, is pretty rough and has been rough for three decades. Maybe it's improving because lots of big businesses are moving in due to the triple freeport tax exemption, but real improvement is still a ways off. By rough I mean a very high crime rate, with people getting shot. A car is just safer than a motorcycle in rough neighborhoods.

I just checked the price for a car from the Enterprise car rental near my house, renting an economy car from April 15 to June 15. The cost is $1644.10 for the two months. That's a little more than $200/week. However, there was this right next to the price quote: "When you need a longer-term rental, we've got a plan for you. Looking for a lower cost alternative to a traditional monthly rate? Try our Month-or-More Program. Speak with a Month-or-More specialist who will answer all your questions, and make all your arrangements. For details call us: 866-580-6222."

You could call them, and compare what it would cost with them versus what it would cost to rent the same car for your wife to drive in your current location and then do whichever is cheaper.
posted by Houstonian at 12:55 PM on March 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Houstonian: Thanks for the advice. Yes, that's the right location. I've actually only ever been to Houston once for less than 24 hours, all of which was spent in interview or interview prep, so I'm really not sure what to expect there. I have noticed the housing prices in the immediate area were much lower than in other areas of the city, so I figured it wasn't a nice neighborhood.

As for lane-splitting, I think you might misunderstand what I meant by that. Most people who lane split (including myself) do so exclusively in stopped or extremely slow traffic, at around 15-20 mp/h above the speed of traffic. Since most people don't have the ability to switch lanes or anything (and if they do you should be even more careful), there's not much they can do to kill you from inattention. Filtering is a similar concept, but when exercised at a stop light (everyone stops, motorcycles drive up to the front, in between lanes). I cannot even understand the impulse to weave in and out of traffic at high speed, but sitting in traffic on a possibly air-cooled motorcycle is not pleasant and can easily damage the bike.
posted by 0x006DB0 at 1:25 PM on March 30, 2013

do you know if Texas has a culture of lane-splitting / filtering? It's illegal everywhere but California

I moved to CA from TX two years ago and commute up and down I-5 50mi/day, and the motorcycles here make me need a cardiologist. In Texas, motorcycles fall in the same category as smoking or owning a monkey as a pet: you do what you want, buddy, but whatever happens is your own damn fault. Someone will eventually shoot you right in your face for lane-splitting (in Texas, this is known as cutting, as in cutting in line, and you don't cut in Texas unless you're on the city council), if they don't just run you over changing lanes and decide not to notice the thump-thump.

I am a commie hippie two-Prius-family peace-loving eco-liberal Texan who believes motorcycles are a gas-friendly vehicle that deserves respect, but I can't tell you the number of bikers I've nearly mirrored in California because I simply had no expectation that they might be there. Why would they be there?? I've learned what bike lanes are (because I used to drive in Austin pretty often - that's the only place that has bike lanes BTW) and pretty much never hit them, but motorcycles that do not behave like cars are completely outside my realm of experience. There is not a single thing about motorcycles on the test (though there is also nothing about it on the CA test as far as I can tell either).

No, there are no concessions for motorcycles in Texas. It makes you an officially-classified dumbass, and being a dumbass in Texas comes with a big expectation of personal responsibility.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:14 PM on March 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

All of this is not to say that a motorcycle isn't enjoyable sometimes. It's just that motorcycles can be for transportation or for entertainment. They are more for entertainment with us. It can be great at night when everything's cooler and you're just cruising around, or going around the Hill Country, or taking a longer trip out to Big Bend or West Texas in general. But for a commute, not so great.

Don't let people scare you with talk about the heat, by the way. Yes, it's hot and humid. But, somehow 5 million of us are living here, most people came here from somewhere else (very few natives any more), and we're still growing. You were calling Beltway 8 the "outer loop" probably because you saw Loop 610 on your map. But, take another look at the map. See Highway 6/FM 1960? That's basically a half-loop outside the Beltway. Then look for Hwy 99/Grand Parkway. That will be another loop when it's finished -- a 180-mile circumference around our city, the longest beltway in the US. It's all Houston, and we're all living with the heat.

You're going to be just fine. Welcome to Houston!
posted by Houstonian at 8:26 PM on March 30, 2013

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