Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Commentary: The last (probably) METRO Procurement Committee Meeting 23 September 2014

A simple end to an epic project...

Chaired by Board Member Allen Watson, the presently-active Procurement Committee was tasked about a year and a half ago with streamlining within local, state, and federal law the process by which small businesses are selected to do business with METRO.  The video of what will most-likely be the 'swan-song' of this committee was held today.

0:05 Allen Watson starts off the meeting.

0:15 Rosa!!  The horror of it all!!

2:11 Board member Diann Lewter thanks Allen for his work.

2:23 I would re-name another committee, adding Procurement to its name and function.

2:45 Kim (last name?) from METRO's Procurement Department starts her short presentation.  The program for procurement of small businesses is ten years old, and a refresh of policies and procedures was due.  Hence, this committee.

She goes on to describe some last changes made to certain requirements and goes on to the new pilot program for the re-done procedures and policies.

9:22 Allen talks about why the committee was created.

12:03 Kim thanks her staff for its work in this project.

14:55 Allen calls for a motion to send the new Procurement manual to the Board.  Diann seconds.

15:19 Allen Watson adjourns the Procurement Committee for probably the last time.

Video of this meeting may be had via http://www.ridemetro.org/AboutUs/BoardVideoStreaming.aspx

Friday, September 19, 2014

Commentary: METRO Strategic Planning Committee Meeting 15 September 2014 - brilliant committee discussion on FLEX

The last Strategic Planning Committee meeting before the adoption (hopefully) of System Reimagining was held this week.  Video and the agenda for this meeting can be had at http://www.ridemetro.org/AboutUs/BoardVideoStreaming.aspx

00:38 Geoff Carlton of Traffic Engineers, Inc., the principal consulting firm on System Reimagining begins what will be for the most part a mere formality.  Not sure why the committee is bothering to have Geoff give the overview except to make quite sure everyone is on-board with all the details.

The last thing we need is for some random thought to enter a Board member's head at the last moment, causing them to hesitate to vote to send System Reimagining to the Board at all or vote not to adopt same on the 25th of this month.

02:24 Geoff waxes happily over there being 1100 public comments on the Draft Plan (now the Revised Draft Plan) for System Reimagining.  Feh!  There should have been 11,000 public comments, but the comments received were to the point and gave the agency a strong idea of the will of the people in this matter: for the overall plan with some changes needed.

03:48 METRO received public comments from more than a hundred zip codes - nice geographical spread.  If we didn't have many comments, at least the ones we have gotten are from a comprehensive cross-section of METRO's service area.

06:30 Board Member Burt Ballanfant raises a really good point.  The mighty jist of all the public comment was in support of the creation of a new network supplanting the old.  To a person, I don't think anyone advocated for the retention of our tired, old current local bus network.

Of course, people had lots to say about specific routings, etc., but no-one seems to have wanted to torpedo the project entirely.  To have achieved even this level of success speaks volumes about the quality of people working on System Reimagining from the Board all the way to the janitors.

06:40 Board Member Dwight Jefferson has a place at the table at this meeting.  A jacket is draped across the back of his chair.  Either he was around and had to leave or Burt put his own jacket there for whatever reason.  Or maybe it's Board Member Allen D. Watson's...

06:59 Board Member Diann Lewter mentions 'some of our more-active riders' believing there was not enough done by METRO to really get the word out about System Reimagining to the general ridership.  I have to laugh a little because I am one of those 'more-active' riders!

My thoughts on this are enough for a post of their own, but this I will say: when System Reimagining is implemented, it's going to shock a whole lot of people!  LOL

09:20 Geoff references the 21 November 2013 METRO Board meeting in which the hypothetical 80%/20% ratio between ridership-focus and geographical coverage-focus for System Reimagining was arrived at and adopted by the Board.  That meeting was perhaps the most-important get-together for the Board since METRO's first Board meeting ca. 1978 and one of the top five moments in Houston-area mass-transit history.

10:30 It was thought that under System Reimagining, 0.5% of ridership would be outside a walking-distance of 1/2-mile of bus service.  In fact, that number looks to be more like 0.04% - a stunning achievement for METRO, Traffic Engineers Inc., and Jarrett Walker...

10:49 94% of riders will be able to use the same bus stop they always have.  Crazy-good!

12:56 Red = Frequent Network; Blue = less-frequent; Green = lowest frequency
METRO has since the start of the System Reimagining process used these colors to label its routes in an informal way.  These color-labels will be a permanent part of METRO's network-planning process and route-branding from now on, it seems.

No late-evening service on green routes - that could generate some complaints down the road.  Alas, with a project such as System Reimagining, there are trade-offs resulting in winners and losers with hopefully there being a lot more winners than losers.

At this time-point begins a big discussion on what will be phenomenal weekend service.

15:37 The maps Geoff shows here illustrating what our weekend service will be...  O...  M...  G...

16:57 Geoff flips from coming-Sunday-service-map to current-Sunday-service-map and back again - If this does not excite you on what our weekend local bus service will be, you are dead inside.  :-)

17:43 Burt Ballanfant asks about weekend service to the Medical Center and catches Geoff a little off-guard.  I still cannot believe there seems to have been no pushback on the demise of the current 1 Hospital.

21:27 Geoff starts discussing how METRO will, to the end of maximizing service within the current budget, continue to make small, but judicious modifications to the coming network even after System Reimagining is adopted.

He also goes into what METRO's planners will do once the plan is adopted.  It will be a massive, massive project.

23:38 The most-detailed explanation of METRO's implementation strategy and timetable post-adoption yet seen...  The brain-breaking work will be done from October through December as all three iterations (weekday, Saturday, & Sunday) of all eighty new local bus routes are fully-scheduled and are optimized to work with each other.  Here's hoping the streetlights in the Galleria cooperate with the new network!

Plan implementation is still planned for June 2015.  Geoff should have explained the word 'deadheading'.  For the record, deadheading is running a route with no paying passengers.  I also think Geoff refers to buses having at the ends of their current routes to drive back however long to their garages.

26:35 Discussion on public safety aspects with the new network

33:42 Geoff addresses other topics.  He talks about FLEX, branding, etc.

36:46 Two-way HOV lanes?  Yes, I'll take some of those!  This would be such a boon for METRO and would blow open our bus service, especially on the Southwest Freeway where I think two-way HOV could be put in very-easily, though at the expense of one lane of traffic each way.

No, we're not getting those on US 59 anytime soon, but it's a lovely dream.

37:25 Board Member Jim Robinson gets the FLEX discussion under way...

46:46 YES!!  Board Member Spieler hits upon the very thing that will ultimately make FLEX work: keeping the same drivers on the same zones/routes year after year, allowing them to get to know their customers.

51:00 Jocelyn Thomas is a rare public speaker at a committee meeting, but she has good things to say about the proposed 7 Richmond going along Blodgett and bus-traffic issues resulting.  The perfect example of constructive and critical public input of the sort that will make our system better...

58:50 Discussion before the motion is made and approved to send System Reimagining to the full METRO Board for approval.

59:47 Member Spieler wants route changes that changes the network map to go before the full Board for approval.  Allen Watson wonders if that will put too much work on the Board's plate, but Christof's point is good: the Board needs to know and be responsible for what's going on.

1:01:17 Burt Ballanfant praises the Board and agency on its handling of the community regarding the Harrisburg Overpass and how this same competence was used for System Reimagining.  He makes the motion to move System Reimagining to the full Board.  Diann Lewter seconds the motion.  A great thing to have someone other than an Annise Parker-appointee make that motion...

During this time, Christof talks about the Board needing to be more hands-on about approving service standards.

1:09:14 System Reimagining is sent to the full METRO Board of Directors for approval at next Thursday's Board meeting.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

What a year it's been...

It was about this time one year ago I saw a METRO Facebook post about this video.  Yeah, Mary Sit at METRO first posted it to the METRO website in late July 2013.  I did not see it until the month following.

But when I did, my life was made better, and it is a moment that will stay with me for a very long time.  Seeing government actually doing something the people could really get behind and that would directly improve their lives excited me to no end.  It is this excitement, created from the video, that gave birth to this blog and on-hiatus podcast.

It has been an exciting trip, and it's only going to get better.  System Reimagining will (99.999% sure) will be approved by the Board in September with hopeful-implementation in June of next year at which point our Board can look to the future of the agency past their tenure, which should end in 2016.

2004-2010 was at METRO the worst of times, perhaps.  2010-present-and-beyond-hopefully = the best of times: a can-do Board filled with good people with good common sense who actually care about our city, multi-cities, and region enough to think boldly while doing their due diligence in asking the right questions.

A all-too-rare thing in government.