A better vision for MetroI haven't commented much on all of the recent Metro news, but today's article puts the absurdity level over the top. What the heck were they thinking using short-term debt to pay the cities their quarter-cent mobility payments? How are they possibly going to balance the budget and build rail without cutbacks? While I applaud Greanias' appointment as CEO, how could they possibly think they can still build all of these rail lines after the FTA findings/mandates and the huge budget and debt woes? Not to mention spiraling cost estimates approaching $6 billion, Bill King's well-argued op-ed on the plans flaws, and a soon-to-be-Republican Congress that will be focused on slashing spending and deficits, not increasing them. The whole situation reminds me of Hitler still thinking he could unify Europe after Stalingrad and D-Day. At some point, Metro, you have to face reality.
With that in mind, here's my proposal for a new vision for Metro - one that will help many, many more residents and employers of Harris County. Here are the goals:
- Dramatically increase overall commuter transit ridership (and thereby reduce freeway congestion)
- Provide comprehensive single-seat express commuter service from all neighborhoods to all job centers
- Keep employers and their tax base within the city of Houston (rather than moving to the far suburbs because of intolerable commutes and “hollowing out” the city like Detroit and others)
- Increase employee commute productivity: laptop/smartphone email, wifi, tray tables for laptops
- Attract increased employer subsidies/funding because of employee productivity value-added
FROM: Only Metro-controlled, centralized, large Park-&-Ride lots
TO: Optional private, decentralized, smaller Park-&-Ride lots: underutilized existing lots, churches, groceries/malls looking for evening customers, register their interest in participating
FROM: Only Metro buses
TO: Allow private operators of buses, shuttles, and vans in addition to Metro vehicles:
- Operators compete on schedule, routes, service, timeliness, and amenities
- Possibly partially subsidized (Per rider? Per passenger-mile? Hybrid?)
- Metro controls all money (model: Apple and the iTunes App Store), standard card readers
- Metro publishes master integrated schedule
TO: All major job centers: Uptown, Texas Medical Center, Greenway, Energy Corridor, Westchase, Greenspoint, Clear Lake/NASA, etc.
FROM: Show up, wait in line with weather exposure, hope for a seat
TO: Reserved, pre-paid seat reservations: piece of mind, can show up at the last minute, minimal weather exposure
FROM: Unpredictable bus arrivals, time wasted arriving early and waiting
TO: Real-time bus-status text messages: leave the office right before afternoon bus arrives, no time wasted, minimal weather exposure
FROM: Buses often stuck with regular traffic
TO: Use bus tracking and online community to identify common bottlenecks and implement new HOT/MaX lanes (freeways, left lanes, esp. 610 and BW8) and diamond lanes (key local arterials). Managed eXpress (MaX) lanes real-time priced to move the maximum possible number of people at maximum speed (improved throughput vs. free).
FROM: Buses often underutilized or run empty
TO: Detailed commuter database and open source approach allow route/stop tweaking to pick-up/drop-off incremental riders
FROM: Stand-alone agencies with separate domains
Update: now Metro is considering selling debt bonds with a legal obligation for them to raise fares. Will the madness never stop? Hat tip to Barry.
Update 2: Bill King has an excellent op-ed in the Chronicle on Metro's financial situation and the new reality that is starting to dawn over there.