Boots may have been made for walking, but Houston was definitely made for driving. Houston, like many other southern cities, is overrun with automobiles. While public transportation actually does exist, it is neither extensive nor user-friendly. If you’re planning on stay permanently in Houston, you might want to think about getting that car or (since its Texas) pickup truck!
Driving in Houston: Houston is connected by miles and miles of freeway, which they should probably just rename “free-for-all” because it seems like nobody is following the rules! You will see cars exceeding the speed limit, weaving in and out of traffic, and taking last minute turns off the highway without signaling. The best solution is to simply get used to it because driving is really the only way to go in Houston.
Keeping in the Loop: To understand the Houston highway system, you’ll have to learn “the loops.” These highways are ring roads that bypass the city itself, similar to the beltway in Washington, DC. Houston is surrounded by two “loops”: Interstate 610, which is the main inner loop and Highway 8, the larger outer loop. Interstate 610 is a major point of reference and geographical boundary for Houstonians, with common terms like “in the loop” referring to within the confines of Interstate 610. Grab a GPS or map to help you through the rest of Houston’s tangle of highways.
Buying, Leasing, or Renting a Car: If it’s not already abundantly clear, let me say it again, you probably need a car in Houston. So what are your options? First, buying a car. Buying your first car can be a huge financial burden if you don’t already own one or don’t have help from family. DMV.com offers a comprehensive guide to buying your first car. Then there is leasing. Leasing a car requires that you pay small monthly payments for a designated period of time, but at the end of the lease, you don’t actually own the car.
For short stays, short road trips, or infrequent trips to grocery stores or Home Depot, renting a car can be an option. Zipcar, the car sharing company, is alive and blossoming in Houston. More traditional rental companies, such as Hertz, Avis, and Budget, also have locations throughout Houston.
Taxi: Traveling by taxi is easy enough in Houston, but usually involves calling ahead of time. Trying to hail one on the street can be a fruitless endeavor. The main cab companies are:
Yellow Cab (713) 236-1111
Fiesta Cab (713) 225-2666
United Cab (713) 699-0000
MetroRail: The MetroRail is a fun and convenient way to travel in Downtown Houston. Unfortunately, it really only goes to Downtown Houston. It connects the Downtown area to Midtown, Texas Medical Center, and the Theater District. If you’re living in one of these areas, the MetroRail is a convenient way to get around, but suburbanites are out of luck.
Bus: Houston has an extensive bus system serving the areas around Downtown. Buses are not the most popular means of transportation, but if you live near a bus stop and the bus comes at the right times, it may be a viable option for you. The most common complaints about the bus system are inconvenient schedules and long journeys compared to cars. Generally speaking though, the buses in Houston are clean and your fellow riders will be nice enough.
Airport: Getting in and out of Houston for long trips is usually done by air, either from George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) or Hobby International Airport (HOU). George Bush Intercontinental was recently voted one of the top 4 airports in America for timely departures, so traveling in and out of Houston should be a breeze.