It should be no surprise that an oil town like Houston loves its cars – the expansive city is spangled with blacktop and is home to a rich car culture of slab hot rods and custom art rides. But you don't have to get behind the wheel to get around. Houston is home to more options for transit than ever, with a reimagined bus network and a bustling light rail system that connects downtown to some of the best neighborhoods for visitors.
If you're wondering how to navigate Houston, Texas, we have the lay of the land on public transportation, parking, highways, a unique take on taxis, and more.
Car and Motorcycle
While Houston’s Metrorail system provides a convenient link between downtown and the Museum District, it's sometimes been a challenge for Houston's public transit system to encompass the sprawling metro area. To go beyond the essential tourist neighborhoods, you'll either need a car or you can expect to take a lot of taxis or shared rides.
Houston's major highways include Interstate 45, Interstate 10 and U.S. 59. There are a few toll roads in the area, including Texas 225, Hardy Toll Road, Sam Houston Tollway and the Grand Parkway (Texas 99), but you can either avoid these, carry a little cash, or snag a EZ Tag if you'll be in the area for a longer visit.
Downtown, metered streetside parking is made easier by numerous vending machines that sell timed tickets that are not site-specific. They are plentiful, if not cheap (upwards of $25 a day). Outside downtown, parking is usually free but can be in short supply.
In fact, for many Houstonians, the availability of parking is the most important consideration in picking a restaurant. Don't be put off by valet parking at restaurants and malls; if it costs at all, it's cheap, and it can be easier than finding a space.
Despite Houston's geographic size, most areas of interest for visitors lie north or south of I-59 in the 10 miles between the Galleria area and the city center – and these have been given a good deal of emphasis by public transit planners. The largest concentrations of attractions are in the Museum District and nearby Montrose, but don't overlook downtown and the many delights of Buffalo Bayou.
Fares run $1.25 one way for bus and light rail tickets, but you need exact change. You can also use a METRO Q Fare Card for cashless transactions. Cards can be picked up at grocery stores, gas stations, and convenience stores around town. Using a card or the mobile ticketing app gives you the added advantage of free three-hour transfers, which aren't available to cash payers.
Metrorail's fast and frequent trams run on three routes, the Red Line, Purple Line and Green Line. The very useful Red Line serves Reliant Park, the Rice University area, Hermann Park and the Museum District, Midtown and downtown. The Purple Line serves southeast Houston, which is full of Black culture and history, the University of Houston and Texas Southern University, the Columbia Tap multi-use hike and bike trail, and Houston Astros stadium Minute Maid Park. The Green Line serves the Theater District, the historic East End, and downtown.
Taking a bus isn't as quick as driving, but you won't have to find parking and it'll get you outside the tourist districts beyond where the light rail network can reach. Bus transit is geared toward weekday, downtown commuters, and serves thousands of Houstonians each day. Free Greenlink shuttle buses run on two routes serving major sights around downtown. Buses arrive every seven to 10 minutes.
Taxi and Rideshare
There are a variety of taxi companies and rideshare apps available within the Houston Metro. One unique innovation, however, is that the city of Houston has a flat fee for any taxi trip within downtown – hail a cab in the central business district bounded by Interstate 45, Interstate 10 and U.S. 59., and it will always cost $6.
Houston B-Cycle is good for a quick jaunt about town. Find a B-Cycle station, swipe your credit card and head off on a bicycle (which you can return at other stations). The first hour is included in the membership charge. Download the useful app for full info.
Accessible transit in Houston
Houston may be far-flung, but it's still accessible. All buses are equipped with ramps or lifts and many of them "kneel" to a lower boarding height to assist those with mobility limitations. METRORail is similarly in line with ADA guidelines, with audio and visual announcements at train stations and onboard for those who are Deaf, hard of hearing, or visually impaired. There are reserved seating areas on board for those in wheelchairs, as well.
Yellowcab is the recommended taxi service to arrange for wheelchair-accessible transport. These are low-floor vehicles full modified for scooters, chairs, and other mobility devices. Fares are no different than for other cabs in the fleet, and up to three additional passengers can ride without increasing the fare. Cabs can be booked by calling ahead, using an app, or online.