Friday, January 30, 2015

Commentary: METRO Board Regular Meeting 29 January 2015

I caught a cold yesterday, which I thought was going into a fever.  Because of this, I did not attend METRO's Regular monthly Board meeting today, much to my chagrin as I had put myself on the docket to make public comments.

The Agenda for this meeting may be found here.  As always, METRO's meeting videos, including that for this meeting may be found at

01:00 Board Chairman Gilbert Garcia changes the order of the agenda and sends the meeting into Executive Session with hopes it would not be as long as the session at the special Board meeting earlier this month.

35:10 Chairman Garcia brings the meeting out of Executive Session and right into...

Public Comments

35:31 Mark Hogue hates the route-renumbering, which is currently a part of System Reimagining.  His angst over Reimagining's doing-away with the current 53 Briar Forest Ltd. has caused him to become fully opposed to Reimagining altogether.

He believes the agency should keep everything as-is and create new routes.  Of course, due to constraints of budget and common sense, I say this is impossible.

36:00 Oho!!  Gilbert Garcia says to Mark he will be pleased at what comes out at the 11 February Special Board Meeting.  A lot of things have been 'scaled back'.

37:00 Mark Smith should be officially styled the poet laurete of METRO, bringing the Board to laughter.  LOL

He says Reimagining is 'quicker and simpler' for METRO, but not necessarily for the rider.  He absolutely does not care for this project.

45:47 Guillermo DeLaRosa (sp??) is opposed to the proposed fare hike on METROLift, saying it would be better to optimize present resources: shorter trips, better itinerary logistics, etc.  METRO is looking at ways of bettter handling geography, etc.

50:54 Andy Skabowski talks about 'lost trips' or 'no-shows' in METROLift: when the driver gets to a destination and no-one is there and the procedures followed in such an instance.

54:50 Noah Ramirez of the Living Hope Wheelchair Association and his association strongly opposes the METROLift fare-hike (which will still be reasonable, but which is set to rise dramatically).

Ramirez talks about bad trip logistics as well.

1:05:09 Christof publicly complements METROLift's demand-response staff on the work they do in scheduling - a mammoth task.

1:06:00 Victor Sanchez & Sylvia Chicas voice the same themes as Mr. Ramirez and Mr. DeLaRosa.  They come bringing recommendations on how things can get better.

Mr. Sanchez hates the fare increase.  He talks about his own financial situation and asks the Board what they would do in his shoes.

Ugh.  METRO is in the horrible place of not being able to sustain durable long-term METROLift service without passing more of that cost onto the ridership.  Believe me when I tell you, the last thing METRO wants to do is to raise the METROLift fare, which it has not done since 1991.

Ms. Chicas is a good interpreter.  She can handle large chunks of speech at a time - good on her.

1:12:37 "We're going to have a lot more dialogue on this issue.", says Garcia about METROLift.

1:13:05 And here is where I was going to speak - alas for taking sick the night before the meeting!

1:13:16 Dominic brings up the issue of problems with the union Local 260 trust fund.  He suggests Board Members, CEO/President Tom Lambert, and other METRO staffers go out on periodic trips with Bus Operators as they go about their days driving their routes from the time the driver gets their bus and inspects it through when the operator finishes for the day.

Consent Agenda

1:17:29 Board Member Burt Ballanfant is all for Item No. 10, loves the artist concept for the Harrisburg Overpass, and is concerned over anxiety over increased traffic in the Lindale area due to the extended Red Line to Northline Mall.

Committee Reports

Board Member Jim Robinson explains METRO is already looking at how sales tax receipts fared in the oil busts of the mid-1980s and ca. 1993.


1:32:50 Amen, Burt!!  The West Loop is a dead-zone for mass-transit.  We must have dedicated right-of way.

1:36:00 Preach it, Jim!  Headway is everything.

1:38:45 Truth, Christof.

1:41:05 Whoops!  Burt accidently cuts Lisa off at the pass...  lolz

1:52:00 I guess the jist of this discussion is: who regarding the Uptown BRT project is going to pay for what and when and how?

1:55:00 We need to be able to use the Q-Card on the Uptown BRT.  How will this system fit into METRO's plans a half-century from now?  Very well, I think!

Lots of stuff to work through...

2:04:00 I would say, Board Member Jefferson, that if we don't get those things, Uptown BRT might as well not happen.

2:07:00 Lordy me, such vagaries!!  I say build right-of-way such that rail can be built later on, but such that we can put BRT down now, but according to the now-former Texas Attorney-General, the 2003 referendum is the 2003 referendum.

My question to any who can answer it is why has rail not already been built along Loop 610 in the eleven years since the 2003 referendum?  John Culberson might have some answers to that.

2:22:30 Omg...  Government at work...  Our METRO Board cannot go forward with its part of Uptown until it deals with how to deal with the referendum.

2:28:55 Are you meaning to tell the Board there is not an extra $25 million lying around somewhere in the luxurious area that is Uptown?  It seems to me that sum is quite paltry, and if Uptown cannot come up with that money in some other way than TXDot or whoever, then perhaps it really doesn't want it to go forward?

Chairman Garcia waxes that this will be a great project.  If this goes through with all the bells and whistles, it will be a boon for Houston.  If it ever gets built...

3:03:00 The Board gives the agency authorization to move forward with contract negotiations for the construction of the Harrisburg Overpass.

3:15:00 Chairman Garcia adjourns the meeting.

The biggest news item from this meeting?

System Reimagining vote at a Special Board Meeting on 11 February!!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

METROLift, CAF cars, and FLEX, oh my! METRO Board Meeting 18 Dec 2014

METRO this past 18 December held its regular monthly Board meeting.  Thanks to a lengthy presentation on METROLift as well as an Executive Session lasting over an hour, the whole of this meeting was almost four hours.  Video, agenda, and minutes of same can be found as-always at

0:41 Chairman Gilbert Garcia does not yet have a quorum.
1:15 The Chairman gets his quorum.

Public Speakers

1:52 Mark Hogue is the first speaker of the day.  Predictably, he talks about the Westheimer corridor current routes, continuing to lament the seeming-demise of his much-ridden-by-him 53 Briar Forest Ltd.

3:23 Member Christof Spieler to Mark: "I realize 'not to you', but we're not going to plan the system around you, specifically."

Our Mark Hogue rides the 53 to literally everywhere he goes: groceries, church (Lakewood), METRO, and everywhere else.  Specifically, he is lamenting the demise of the direct connection from Westheimer to Richmond and Greenway Plaza, avoiding the Richmond Strip entirely and the denizens who populate that area of town and give it its colorful reputation.

With System Reimagining, this direct connection is gone.  Mark is not happy.

3:43 Gilbert diplomatically tries to get Mark to leave the podium, but Mr. Hogue is not yet budging.  He wants his Briar Forest Ltd. kept the way it is.

Mark is not going to get his way on this, and he has been told in so many words he is not going to get his way.  As Jarrett Walker has put it, with processes like what we are going through, there are winners and there are losers.  With the legions of winners all along the Westheimer corridor, there will be a number of people along the Briar Forest-Westheimer-Richmond-Greenway Plaza-Downtown current routing who will lose their direct no-need-to-ride-more-than-one-bus service.

5:13 Marisol Rodriguez with AARP in Houston has brought her boss, Tina Tran, and thanks METRO for its recent work with Sheltering Arms.

7:55 Benjamin Broadway is not happy with the proposed METROLift fare increase.  1991 was the last time METROLift's fare was changed in any way.  He also has questions regarding what recourse customers have for when METROLift is not on-time.

14:19 Noe Ramirez comes representing the Living Hope Wheelchair Association which helps those lower-income individuals with spinal cord injuries get medical supplies.  He thanks METROLift for its work and the taxpayers who let it go ahead.

Mr. Ramirez requests more bi-lingual staffers (English-Español, specifically).

The Board asks questions of METRO staffers of the extent of our bilingual competence.

30:11 Otis Robinson on Reimagining's FLEX zones and how they will not work in Houston.  He and his friends have also done their own routes and schedules, and he gives his findings to the Board.

There is discussion here on System Reimagining, which tells me there is a lot of work going on behind the scenes.  It will be very interesting to see what what I know will be a future revised map will look like. still in flux!

"Fix what needs to be fixed.  Don't try to do it all.", says Otis.

40:00 Dominic Mazoch celebrates the Northline Red Line extension's 1st birthday (21 December).

Mr. Mazoch agrees with the idea for the Reimagining, but wonders if what we need to do crunch numbers and get second or third opinions on what a Reimagined system would look like.

He then goes on to talk about marketing System Reimagining in that most people don't know our bus system exists.

44:00 Mr. Mazoch wonders if it might be good for the 2016-20?? Board to finish up System Reimagining.  Board Member Dwight Jefferson nixes that idea citing the need to have the courage to make necessary changes.

21:29 Mark Smith is always a poet.  And he waxes against System Reimagining, citing certain instances in which the Reimagining seems to not work.  He will be getting a car.

CEO's Report

53:15 METRO's CEO and President, Thomas 'Tom' Lambert gives the public the first peep from all-things-System Reimagining since September.

55:45 Well, well...  Looks like we are going to have a final map to be considered by the Board at this month's meeting and not in May as I had feared.  Very good news, indeed!!

I sure hope Board Member Jim Robinson is having a look-see ere this 'consideration' comes to pass!  We don't need him hemming and hawing at the last.

There has been an enormous amount of work behind-the-scenes, says Board Member Christof Spieler, in getting detailed schedules made and field-testing the new routes, turning them from just lines on a map to living, breathing things.

57:30 CEO Lambert recognizes a number of METRO employees for community service: METRO's Blue Santa program, Operator Patricia Moon who has supported for many years a Sock Drive, METRO's garage superintendents who work with schools to identify families and children who are in need.

1:02:00 METRO General Counsel and Assistant Board Secretary Alva Treviño is congratulated on her receiving the Magna Stella Award from the General Counsel Forum.

Tom Lambert will be performance-reviewed next meeting.

Working Commitee Reports

Nothing much out of the ordinary from Customer Service and Finance/Audit save that Houston's economy continues to be strong.  Nothing big from Strategic Planning save System Reimagining, which we'll see plenty of next month.

1:08:00 Public Safety: METRO's new police chief, Vera Bumpers, is doing very well and being proactive as to gauging how the public sees METRO's Police Department.  Board Member Dianne Lewter says it's been a very safe year on METRO buses and trains.

1:09:45 CAF Update: All is on-schedule.  As of this writing, at least one CAF rail car has been put into revenue service.

1:14:50 Mark Smith tries to chime in, but Gilbert diplomatically cuts him off.


1:16:10 Linda Charrington from TTI and Andy Skabowski discuss METROLift at length, answering questions posed by the Board at earlier meetings.

This presentation is far too long, detailed, and complex to discuss here.  I strongly encourage you to look up the video of this meeting and watching it for yourself.

Items for Separate Consideration

2:22:00 Julie Fernandez gives a short presentation on METRO's proposed pilot program for Bus Operators to distribute Q-Cards on buses.  METRO staff also wants to make a rail ticket a valid fare item for transfers onto buses.

After that was Executive Session which when it occurs gives us who attend said METRO Board meeting a chance to visit with the many METRO staffers who usually attend these things.  I met at this meeting Chief Bumpers and the Director of METROLift, a very nice man who has worked for METRO for twenty-five years.

The January METRO Board Meeting stands to be very interesting.  Perhaps we will get that long-awaited real vote to approve System Reimagining in more than just 'in-principle'?

Happy new year, everyone!!

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Silly Bus Stops, volume 2

Happy New Year, everyone!  What better way to start off 2015 than with more redundancy in our bus stops!  Today, we visit Richmond @ Weslayan, just west of Greenway Plaza...

Here is this stretch of road with proposed Reimagined routes as well as bus stops...

As always, the blue bus-icons along roadways denote bus stops, and if everything worked out all-right, you should be seeing a gigantic version of my annotated map.

Currently, we are still using our old local bus network.  The Reimagined network should go live this coming June.  With our old bus network, we currently have running this particular section of Richmond the 25 Richmond & 53 Briar Forest Ltd.  East of Timmons also runs the Galleria Branch of the current 73 W. Bellfort.

With Reimagining, we will have (as currently proposed) the 48 Buffalo Speedway and the 7 Richmond.

Eastbound on Richmond from just west of Weslayan through Cummins, we've three bus stops.  Were there a streetlight at Cummins, we could reduce the number of stops to only one.  However, I see the 48 Buffalo Speedway does not continue south on Weslayan, but turns east on Richmond, thereby negating the need for the Richmond eastbound stop just west of Weslayan.

I also see there being 0.35 mile separating Weslayan from Timmons.  We can remove the Cummins stop as well, leaving the stop in front of the Sushi Wabi (and servicing the Edwards 24 among other places).  Easy access to both directions on both routes is assured as well as easy access to all sorts of businesses and destinations.  Eastbound between Cummins and Weslayan, we need only take out the stop at Cummins.

East of Cummins, we run into a low tolerance of office workers for walking.  Without question, stops in both directions at Timmons must remain (since we're gutting everything west of there), but really, do we need this stop?  (the one in front of 'Pathways for Little Feet).  I know it gets hot in Houston, but couldn't our workers walk just a little farther to help ensure the trips of thousands of other people all along Richmond is that much quicker?

This sort of redundancy plagues our system.  It plagues the trips of every local bus rider.  It forces our Operators to have to start, stop, and brake far-more often than they should, which brings on wear and tear on our buses, which costs METRO more and more money.

Keeping bus stops in front of retirement homes, large houses of worship, major shopping areas, and places where the physically-challenged congregate and/or live en-masse, a full-scale and ruthless bus-stop consolidation is in order.