Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Giving the "New Metro" credit where it's due

Today Metro held a blogger luncheon with senior Metro people (Chairman, CEO, board members, managers) at the Rail Operations Center south of Reliant.  It was an informative event with a lot of good two-way Q&A.  And it included an impressive tour of the facility, which, btw, is not air conditioned in the main maintenance bay.  Let's just say it was the right time of year for a tour and I'm really glad I don't work there in the summer.  The facility is doing its job though: Metro claims to have the highest operational uptime for rail cars in the country.

Sometimes in my push for increasing commuter bus services and cutting back rail, I fail to give credit to a lot of good work that is going on at the "New Metro":
  • They really are a lot more open and transparent, and are really trying to do the right things.  
  • There's been a lot to clean-up, and they've done a good job (although CEO Grenias says it will take another 2-3 years to completely turn around the organization).  
  • They've also done a good job continuing to reach out and create collaborative agreements to provide commuter bus services outside of their service area (like Baytown and Pearland).
  • They've fixed the poorly performing Airport Direct service, price and route-wise.
  • They shifted to a cash basis for the General Mobility Program instead of increasing debt.
  • They fixed their broken relationship with the FTA.
There was a lot of good talk about improving express commuter bus services to TMC, Greenway, and, most importantly, Uptown.  I pitched them on expanded HOV/HOT lanes (like the 610 Loop) and laptop trays and wifi on the commuter buses, which are under consideration.  They have a very high percentage of downtown commuters - 30-40% - and claim a pretty high number for TMC - 20-30% - but that includes people who park in Smithlands and ride the rail, which I don't consider a true commuter solution (it's not doing anything to reduce freeway congestion).

Ultimately, they're trapped by the voter referendum and the federal money process to keep pursuing a rail plan (and line prioritization) that really doesn't make a lot of sense given the new fiscal reality since the referendum was passed.  It will make even less sense if the Republican House guts rail funding.  But at least they're taking steps to "firewall" the rail plan financially so it doesn't end up stealing from critical local and commuter bus operations.  I may not agree with the overall strategic direction of the agency, but they do have good people doing good work within the constraints of the game they're forced to play.

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9 Comments:

At 10:15 PM, February 15, 2011, Blogger Rail Claimore said...

Side note unrelated to this post: Chicago's census numbers came in lower than expected: 2.695 million, that's below their 1920 population. Texas data comes out this week. If Houston's number comes in higher than expected, say north of 2.3 or even 2.4 million, we could see the switch between #3 and #4 take place by the next census, and not 2030 or 2040. The WSJ briefly alluded to this, link below.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703312904576146741729857936.html?mod=googlenews_wsj

 
At 10:37 PM, February 15, 2011, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

That is surprising news!

 
At 8:39 AM, February 16, 2011, Anonymous Martin said...

The Republicans can gut rail funding all they want. That doesn't mean anything unless the Senate agrees with those cuts (which they won't) and the President signs up to the funding bill (which he won't).

This President and the Senate Democrats (and some Senate Republicans) have been pretty clear that they will not sacrifice critical infrastructure improvements in this country which have LONG been neglected. And rail is part of those needed infrastructure improvements. Just because the Tea Party and some libertarian ideologues don't like that one particular piece of the infrastructure (although they have no problem with more funding for highways and airports), doesn't mean it is going to pass.

 
At 10:05 AM, February 16, 2011, Blogger lockmat said...

According to this presentation, slide 11, it seems like they're at least considering buses as an alternative, for at least this segment.

http://www.ridemetro.org/ProjectsPrograms/PDFs/90A_Media_Briefing_020711.pdf

 
At 10:05 AM, February 16, 2011, Blogger lockmat said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 12:58 PM, February 16, 2011, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for giving credit, Mr. Gattis. I believe Metro is doing a great job under Grenias' leadership.

I'm pro-light-rail, but not at the expense of heavy debt. I believe Mr. Grenias has taken the proper approach and is communicating it effectively.

!!Dean

 
At 3:50 PM, February 16, 2011, Blogger Tom said...

Were there any critics of METREAUXRail invited?

Did GG discuss the likelyhood that the COH will lose the ability to control the BOD in the future?

What if the 112the Congress does slash all "New Starts" now?

Sen KBH never saw a boondoggle urban rail system she didn't want to over-fund. What was startling was when Cornyn seemed to be duped into thinking taxpayers favored the Lee. P. Brown legacy boondoggle.

 
At 4:31 PM, February 16, 2011, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

I was told Kevin Whited was invited and there was a nametag for him, but he didn't show. They really did seem genuinely interested in engaging across the spectrum of bloggers.

 
At 9:10 AM, February 25, 2011, Blogger Kevin Whited said...

** Were there any critics of METREAUXRail invited? **

Tom,

I received an invite.

In general, I don't make a habit of attending PR gambits in my leisure time, whether they are sponsored by transit organizations, Amway, or timeshare condo salespeople.

I have to admit that I took the invite even less seriously, since it was during the workday and I tend to work through lunch. For a country political risk analyst who focuses on energy, the last few weeks have been pretty intense. But again, I certainly don't make a habit of attending PR gambits during the workday. And I do tend to regard "blogger lunches" and "blogger conference calls" as laughably predictable PR gambits (sadly, they seem to produce a decent return, human nature being as it is).

My survey of "conservative" bloggers (loosely defined) indicates that the following folks did NOT receive invites: Tom Kirkendall, Cory Crow, David Jennings, Ubu Roi, David Benzion, and Matt Bramanti. Some of those bloggers are less active than others, but I think that could be said about some of the lefty invitees as well.

Actions and facts are of much more interest to me than PR gambits. Certainly, rhetorical analysis can be part of good policy/political analysis, but I don't think anyone would contend any otherwise unavailable information was disseminated at this PR luncheon. METRO's bloated PR department does a pretty good job of telling its story in the manner it wishes.

Tom (the commenter, not Kirkendall), of course, has been invaluable in getting out facts that METRO would prefer buried (in the form of his public information requests), as has Paul Magaziner. As an analyst, I'm much more interested in those sorts of things.

 

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