Recent Rice grad helps develop weekend ridership model for METRO

Student project part of Center for Civic Leadership’s Certificate in Civic Leadership program

As Houston’s population continues to grow, so does the need for expanded public transportation. Recent Rice University graduate Kelsey Walker spent the past year working with the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County (METRO) to develop a model to forecast weekend ridership for the organization’s new bus network.

Kelsey during presentation

Rice University graduate Kelsey Walker spent the past year working with the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County (METRO) to develop a model to forecast weekend ridership for the organization's new bus network. Photo credit: Rice's Center for Civic Leadership.

Walker, who graduated from Rice in May with a degree in mathematical economics, worked with METRO as part of the Center for Civic Leadership’s (CCL) Certificate in Civic Leadership program, created during the 2014-2015 academic year.

Caroline Quenemoen, executive director of the CCL, said the Certificate in Leadership program is designed to help bring intentionality, advice and support to students’ progress through a wide variety of community-based leadership, research and service activities. Ultimately, completion of the program represents that students have developed core competencies that prepare them to exercise leadership in a variety of roles as active citizens.

“Our approach to leadership education stresses the development of knowledge to understand the complex problems of today’s society, skills to motivate and collaborate with diverse stakeholders to take informed action, and values to effect positive change in the community,” Quenemoen said.

“The (Certificate in Leadership) program was a really good fit for me,” Walker said. “I was most interested in applying my learning to real-world scenarios.”

Walker learned about the opportunity with METRO during her junior year at Rice, when she worked on a study about alternative mobility and neighborhood transportation patterns as a part of a Houston Action Research Team (HART), another program of the CCL. Walker began working with METRO as part of the Certificate in Leadership program in August 2014.

During her time with the organization, she attended monthly meetings, met with staff and analyzed data to predict weekend ridership in anticipation of METRO’s new bus network, which will begin operations Aug. 16. The new weekend service schedule will increase bus service by 37 percent on Saturdays and 93 percent on Sundays.

Jim Archer, director of service planning, scheduling and evaluation for METRO, said that Walker’s work was intended to help bridge a gap in the current ridership forecasting process – namely, the absence of a tool that would allow staff to forecast the number of weekend riders.

“Kelsey approached METRO with the idea of investigating new ways of analyzing data,” Archer said. “The timing for this project was ideal. While our current one-year ridership forecast has been fairly accurate, that accuracy had more to do with the stability of the system, including service levels, fare structure and demographics. The new bus network dramatically changes everything — offering seven-day service on more routes, longer spans and frequency of service on some high-ridership-potential routes and shifting the service to key areas of high population and employment. Kelsey worked through significant amounts of demographic and ridership data to develop her tool. She is offering us a new way of developing ridership forecasts for weekend service.”

Walker said, “METRO has so much data, and with my set of skills, I knew I could assist them with analysis to make transportation in the city better.”

Walker’s model specifically focused on how proximity of attractions (such as airports, hospitals, retailers and places of worship), car ownership and availability of current public transportation can assist METRO in understanding ridership expectations. She said METRO is using this information as they develop the new network to determine where new routes are needed most.

Archer called the collaboration “another cooperative effort yielding real benefits to both organizations.”

Engagement with the city of Houston was one of the components of Rice’s Vision for the Second Century.

Walker worked with METRO through July 31, thanks to funding from the CCL’s Hilda and Hershel Rich Family Endowment for Student Community Service. She will put her METRO experience to good use beginning this fall as a postbaccalaureate fellow at Rice’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research. In this position, she will work with Kinder Institute staff on developing and implementing the projects of the Institute’s Urban Development, Transportation and Place-making program area.

For more information on the certificate program, visit

About Amy McCaig

Amy is a senior media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.