All Aboard

I am proud to say there is change happening at Capital Metro.  It is indeed a new day for us.  Just this morning, Capital Metro was approved to begin MetroRail operations on March 22, 2010– a development that has been some time in the making, but a great transformative step for our transit agency.  I can assure you this is the first step in a series of changes for our organization, and without a doubt, there is more to come.

Central Texas’ transit agency is at a critical turning point, and we know it will not happen without good leadership, good service, good employees and community support, all of which exist and is growing stronger each and every day.  The final approval of our MetroRail operations is testament to that.

The new board at Capital Metro has hit the ground running, and we are committed to working tirelessly on behalf of our communities to realize the mission of our organization.  Our mission statement drives us to “provide high-quality, customer focused, effective and efficient transportation services and systems for our communities.”

To get our agency to the place we all want it to be, we must also gain the necessary community confidence that has not always proven to be there for us. If we strive to fulfill our mission statement exactly as it is stated, I believe that community confidence will follow.

We are all very aware our transit agency has a history with particular issues, and they tend to be the mainstays of people’s perception that linger over our heads — a lot of which is not good. We cannot and will not shy away from our past.  We must accept and embrace who and where we are today, learn from our past struggles, challenges and success, and move forward in our desire to make Capital Metro the premier transit agency in the country.

Beyond rail, we have already begun making decisions to improve in strategic areas by creating a more active, involved board with new sub-committees to ensure a more direct interaction by board members on an ongoing basis and to create a more transparent decision-making process. We have created a rail operations subcommittee to ensure MetroRail’s success, a labor relations subcommittee to help relieve the strain from past negotiations, and an executive search subcommittee to spearhead the nationwide search for our next General Manager. We have also maintained the two existing board subcommittees– audit and finance, as well as operations and planning.

In keeping with this new culture of change, I am thrilled to announce the agency brought on two individuals with extensive and impressive financial experience to ensure our financial stability over the short and long term. I am honored and pleased to have former Mayor Pro Tem Betty Dunkerley and former deputy comptroller for the state of Texas, Billy Hamilton joining the CapMetro team. Betty and Billy will serve in a consulting capacity for the agency as we face, and work through, one of the most difficult economic downturns the country has ever seen.

Without a doubt, our community demands and deserves a transit agency that is reflective of a world class city. I believe MetroRail will help us achieve that vision for our transit agency.  Rest assured, there is no one on this board, nor within the agency, that believes otherwise. As we move forward, we will work on both short and long terms goals simultaneously, as one should not forsake the other. We no longer have the option of pitting one issue against another at CapMetro. It serves no purpose and does nothing to move this agency forward. I am confident with a new, engaged board and new executive leadership, CapMetro is on the road to success so that we can become an agency that not only earns the public trust, but also commands national respect.

As our rail gets up and running, I encourage each and every one of you to come out and see what MetroRail has to offer as part of our next steps to success.  And when you do, tell us what you think, how we can be better, and where we have risen to your expectations.  It is only through community partnership and conversation that we will stay on the road to better times at CapMetro.  I hope you will all join me in the endeavor.

14 thoughts on “All Aboard

  1. Don Dickson

    I wholeheartedly agree that this is an exciting time for Capital Metro, not only (nor even primarily) because of the rollout of the Red line, but because of the new leadership of the board and the agency. I have great expectations.

    I think the biggest challenge facing the board and staff is to change people’s perspectives on public transit. In New York City, my hometown, mass transit is decidedly egalitarian; the captains of business and industry ride the subways and buses elbow-to-elbow with the poor, the aged and the infirm. Here in Austin the situation is very different, and we need to make Austin less different on this score. A lot of our taxpayers think of expenditures on mass transit as akin to a welfare program. They don’t feel invested in it. They don’t use it, and they don’t want it in their backyards because they still won’t use it.

    A lot of this has to do with Texans’ love affairs with their automobiles, but I think there’s also a certain element of class warfare at work here, too. This is evident in the number of our taxpayers and property owners who cling to the perverse notion that proximity to mass transit decreases property values. Quite the opposite has been demonstrated time and time again in cities and suburban communities across the nation.

    The board and staff, and daily riders like me who is neither poor nor infirm and wears a suit to work as often as not, have a hard job ahead of us to change Austinites’ perspectives on public transit. But I know that we can do it.

    We have to do it. Anyone who doesn’t believe that should consider the example of the home I purchased, south of William Cannon and a mile west of Brodie Lane, back in 1999, which is worth little more today than what I paid for it eleven years ago. Back then I could leave the house at 8:15 a.m., hop on MoPac and be downtown a little after 8:30. Nowadays that ride averages about forty minutes and sometimes it can take nearly an hour. What will the average driving time be five years from now, fifty minutes? An hour? And to take a Capital Metro bus from there, with one transfer, averages an hour and twenty minutes and on a bad day, or with a just-missed transfer, it can easily take close to two hours. At some point, people who work downtown just aren’t going to want to live in that area any more. I already fled! Now, close your eyes and imagine that area with a Brodie Lane train station….or for that matter, imagine a train that could take you from Georgetown to Round Rock to Austin to Kyle/Buda to San Marcos….makes you go “hmmm.”

    Austinites, please, take my word for it….not owning a car is its own form of freedom.

    I hope the board and staff will focus their efforts not only on the creation of new transit options for the people and the neighborhoods of Austin, but on changing public perspectives on the options we already have.

  2. Don, I wish there was a way to get where you and I both want to be, that starts with the Red Line, because it’s a fact on the ground, as it were.

    But there isn’t; you can’t build a successful rail system in a modern city by requiring everybody to transfer to shuttle-buses. This isn’t opinion; this is fact; it’s been observed – trains that go “right up the gut” like the 2000 light rail line deliver new commuters; trains that hit the edge of downtown and force transfers to buses don’t get anybody the old buses didn’t get.

    The only hope of getting to the vision in your post is the city’s urban rail network – and the Red Line is actually more of an impediment there than a help.

  3. Don Dickson

    While I understand your objection to the Red Line’s reliance on connecting buses, I hasten to add that most of the bazillion rail commuters who arrive at Grand Central Station and Penn Station every morning in New York City, and countless others in cities like Philadelphia and Washington and Chicago, have another leg on their journeys to work when they hop off the train. That doesn’t stop them from leaving their cars in their driveways or in train station parking lots.

    At our current rate of growth, it’s only a matter of time, and not much time at that, before the Red Line plus a connecting bus will beat the bejeebers out of driving downtown from Leander.

    Nor do I necessarily believe that rail lines are the sole means by which Capital Metro can endear itself to new audiences. If it didn’t take an hour and a half to get downtown on the bus from that neighborhood I described south of Sunset Valley, I think there’d be a lot more people in that part of town who would consider going to work that way instead of clogging up MoPac.

    One thing that never ceases to amaze me in the downtown area is the “lunch rush hour.” Every weekday around the noon hour you will observe heavy volume on streets near my office like Enfield/15th, and Guadalupe and Lavaca. These are people driving to lunch! To its credit, Capital Metro tried, mostly unsuccessfully, to get some of these folks to go to lunch on the Dillos. I’d like to see them try again to create service options that cater to these kinds of short trips around town.

    We have got to get some of these people out of their cars!

  4. Don,

    It’s a common mistake, but an important one: We’re not New York or Philly or Washington or Chicago. Nor did most of those cities start with a rail line that didn’t go anywhere useful, by the way.

    If Austin had $30 daily parking, we might be able to get away with a train and a shuttle-bus as a ‘new service’ to choice commuters. But we don’t, and we can’t.

    That shuttle-bus will get slower and slower in the traffic from Airport to UT just like the express bus will get slower and slower on Mopac (until the HOT lane opens up, if it can get past some design flaws).

  5. vindobonensis

    I agree with points that Don and M1EK made.

    Where I grew up (Vienna, Austria), we also had the egalitarian mass transit system Don describes. I was recently in the Tokyo area and saw another great egalitarian mass transit system. Public perception is a factor in this, but I think it’s also necessity. I doubt you can get around NYC or Tokyo or Vienna as fast or convenient with a car compared to the mass transit system. The necessity needs to exist to convince a large part of the population to choose to spend their commute in close contact with 200 strangers. I don’t think we’re there yet in Austin. Either traffic needs to get worse or the mass transit system more efficient, faster, and reaching more people. Perhaps Capital Metro needs to try to advertise their system better to the middle class population.

    I also agree with M1EK that the red line is not laid out well. I understand it was supposed to be an inexpensive starter line by reusing existing tracks (not so inexpensive anymore) but unfortunately its tracks and stations are just far enough away from existing development that it part of its big advantage (bypass traffic) and forces people back into unpredictable traffic on the shuttle buses. I think this will only work with a really well timed shuttle bus connection that consideres traffic signal phases along the shuttle bus route, dedicated bus lanes, etc.

    I think a BIG mistake is that Capital Metro distinguishes between dedicated “shuttle buses” along the station routes and regular bus service in terms of pricing (shuttle buses included in fare, regular buses at the station not, etc.). It builds such a complicated pricing model that I’d rather not take rail because I don’t want to study an Excel spreadsheet to calculate my fare everytime I need to go from point A to B.

  6. Adam

    vin,
    To avoid that confusion, I recommend the MetroPlus Day Pass, 5-Day Pass or 31-Day Pass which can be used on rail and any bus route.

  7. Vin, the distinction is because the regular bus isn’t going to be waiting at the train station for the train to arrive – it’s going to be struggling through traffic – maybe early one day, maybe late the next. The whole point of shuttles is that they’re sitting there idling when the train pulls up.

    It’s a common tactic used with commuter rail lines – it shows a little bit of intelligence in understanding that people who don’t take the unreliable city bus today want a reliable connection, but then completely forgets the fact that, also, the shuttle-bus itself will be unreliable – in terms of arrival time to work. Note how much earlier the afternoon trips leave – this is to leave a LARGE buffer so they don’t end up pulling up to the train station right after the train leaves in the afternoon…

  8. vindobonensis

    Adam,

    Thanks for your suggestion. It looks like depending on what I need to do, I might be paying up to a 100% premium for the MetroPlus Day Pass to avoid that confusion over what I’d be paying in fares alone (example, one way trip in Metrorail 1-Zone and connecting with non-shuttle bus).

    However, to be fair, for a return trip with rail + non-shuttle bus the MetroPlus Day Pass will be at least break even.

    If I start my journey on a non-shuttle bus, how I do get a hold of a MetroPlus Day Pass for the trip?

    1. Erica

      vin, check it out. You can buy your MetroPlus Day pass from all of our buses, including the Rail Connectors. Just tell the operator which day pass you’re trying to buy first.

  9. vindobonensis

    Adam, here’s one more question. How do you make sure people boarding a shuttle bus to the station actually purchase a ticket and continue with the rail? What if they just use it as a free shuttle ride in their area?

    1. Adam

      The Rail Connector buses have fare boxes. You don’t have to be a MetroRail passenger to use a Rail Connector route. For example, if you live in those cool-looking houses near MLK Station and work in the State Office Complex, you could use Route 464.

  10. vindobonensis

    M1EK,

    To clarify, I wasn’t questioning why we need to distinguish between city buses and shuttle buses in general. I understand that shuttles will be tied to the train schedule. My question was one of pricing. Most of the stations don’t even have shuttle bus service.

    I suppose I need to think of the shuttle buses as extensions of the rail system and not as transfers between the rail and bus network, although I think it’s pretty bizarre that we need to have different pricing for both.

  11. vin,

    Agreed it’s weird if you’re not familiar with it – but it’s common in other cities with half-hearted rail service like this and pre-existing local bus. The shuttles in South Florida are branded differently and fare-free; the local buses (those few that exist) are standard buses, fares and all, that happen to go to a Tri-Rail station.

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