Budget Video and Survey

As Capital Metro begins to develop the budget for the upcoming fiscal year (October-September), we want to hear from you about how we move forward.  In an effort to improve your knowledge of our budget process and to gain valuable feedback on your transit priorities, we’ve created an informative video and survey. 

The 11-minute video informs you how Capital Metro determines the budget and the limitations the agency is up against this year. Please take a moment to watch the video and complete the survey below.

Spanish Video

After viewing the video, please take a couple more minutes to complete this quick survey (Spanish survey).

Your feedback is important and it will be shared with the Board of Directors on June 28.  Capital Metro will present a proposed FY2011 budget  in August.

33 thoughts on “Budget Video and Survey

  1. Paul McKelvey

    In reviewing Capital Metro’s income and expenditures, there is one area where revenues can be raised by $1.5 million over the current forecast with no impact to riders or service: Raise fees for freight service.
    Freight service is a profitable business. It likes, but does not need, a subsidy from Capital Metro.
    Freight service is the perfect place to make an increase. There is not one Austin rail user who will discontinue rail service simply because rail costs go up. Why? Because freight service today consists of things too heavy and too low value to bring in by truck.
    So there you have it: $1.5 million you can use any way you want.

  2. chrysrobyn

    I find it hard to believe that MetroAccess is <2% of riders but 14% of operations costs and that's a plan people feel fine with.

  3. Scott Wood

    Yeah, screw the disabled! 😦

    MetroAccess is a different service that is provided for a different reason than normal transit. It doesn’t make sense to insist that it cost the same per passenger.

    Now, MetroRail is 5.3% of the operating budget (and accounts for a big chunk of capital spending — I see they didn’t show the breakdown of that…), and what percentage of riders? Maybe half a percent (900 riders/weekday in April out of “more than 130,000 daily riders” plus however many ride on weekends)? And limited potential for improvement due to poor routing.

    1. chrysrobyn

      Scott,
      If CapMetro is on the verge of being unsustainable, we as customers need to look at the expenses. Nobody’s saying “screw the disabled”, and nobody’s insisting that it come out to the same cost per passenger. There are sensible ways to approach the problem without assuming the extreme.

      How does CapMetro’s spending per handicapped customer compare to comparable cities? Is CapMetro being used to enable handicapped people to live their own independent lives, or is it being used to enable handicapped people to live wherever they want without regard to the cost?

      Heck, I don’t even know how it works. Are handicapped people given a bucket of money and told “you can have $5000 worth of services per 6 months”, or are they told “we’ll drive you wherever you want within a 20 mile radius for 6 round trips per week”? I would expect that customer base would be very interested in making sure they’re as affordable as possible to protect their own interests. There are ways of sharing the costs without expecting people to bare the full burden. Handicapped customers who find a way to live closer to their destinations or to a dispatch center should, in my opinion, reap some benefits.

      1. Scott Wood

        My response was unnecessarily harsh (I apologize), but your initial comment did come across as suggesting that significant cost per rider disparities between the two types of service are inherently a problem.

        I’m fine with saying that we should look into ways to improve that section of the budget — maybe charge higher fares in more distant areas rather than remove service altogether? And look for ways to operate more efficiently (e.g. better routing, fares dependent on flexibility of the customer’s schedule, disincentives to overuse).

        I’m unconvinced by the argument of some that the level of service is too high simply because it’s more than the federal government requires, though.

  4. Don Dickson

    MetroAccess is the part of the budget that I have the biggest problem getting my head around.

    Let me begin by pointing out that I am a disabled person. I am a non-driver because of partial blindness and poor vision. I have very effectively tailored my lifestyle to my transportation needs and the available options. I have never asked Capital Metro or any other transit agency to tailor its transportation services to my lifestyle.

    It bothers me, frankly, to see these public meetings attended so disproportionately by disabled people, and so much of the meetings dominated by discussions of issues which are specific to the region’s disabled population. I wish that there were a way to express this that didn’t sound so insensitive, because believe me, I’m not insensitive to the transportation needs of disabled people. Hell, it’s why I don’t live in Oak Hill any more, because the transit system wasn’t adequately serving my needs. I moved to a place where the transportation options were better….it even takes a lot less time to get a cab.

    It makes no sense to me that 14% of the budget is spent serving less than 2% of the riders. There has got to be a better mousetrap there. There has got to be another transit system out there somewhere that has figured out a better way to provide legally-compliant transportation services to those whose disabilities preclude riding on fixed route buses.

    I’m all-in-favor of some of the accessibility projects on the capital projects list. For heaven’s sake, there are some stops along Burnet Road where you practically get dumped off in a bar ditch. Even at 611 Congress, you can’t exit through the back door without having to circumnavigate some sprawling cactus-like things.

    The future utility and fiscal health of this transit system are going to be determined in substantial measure not by how well it serves the disabled community, but by how well it serves motor vehicle owners. And I’ll bet there wasn’t one vehicle owner at yesterday’s meeting.

    The survey was interesting. Several questions, particularly those about revenue generation, should have had an “all of the above” choice. Raise fares. Raise freight fees. Carve out some underutilized bus runs but maintain service levels where demand has been sufficient. Seek concessions from contractors. (BTW, no mention of scaling back on the use of fat-cat consultants?) Prioritize capital projects and put some of them on a future wish list.

    And God help me for saying this, but stop pandering to the poor and the disabled. The future of your transit system depends on your ability to attract users who are neither poor nor disabled. Call it trickle-down-transit if you must, but I don’t believe the status quo is sustainable, and if you don’t generate more money and more users, the poor and the disabled will be the ones who suffer most for it.

  5. Don Dickson

    BTW, who at CM is reading this blog besides Misty and Erica and occasionally my buddy Leo? When I post my views here am I speaking into a tomato can? Or into Mike Martinez’s ear?

    1. Erica

      Don–
      a lot of staffers are on the blog, but I think your sentiment is well-taken: we need to do a better job of responding to questions that are posed here.

  6. Don Dickson

    Questions about capital expenditures for bus replacement: What IS the condition of the fleet? My anecdotal impression is that the fleet is pretty modern and in pretty good shape….it’s been a long time since I was on a bus that was taken out of service for mechanical problems or that did not have good air conditioning.

    What’s the condition of the fleet? And what’s the current policy on retirement of fleet vehicles? (I know you auctioned the Dillos, but what do you typically DO with retired buses? Are they sold? Scavenged for parts?)

    1. Adam

      The bus fleet is well maintained. But many buses are in excess of 12-years old which is the typical life span of a transit bus. We already deferred some bus replacements in FY2010.

      Retired vehicles are usually sold at auction. Keep an eye on govdeals.com; we may have some “new” retirees available soon.

  7. Kelly

    I agree with don that MetroAccess’s service might be able to be streamlined a bit more. Maybe a stricter policy on who is allowed, or a new trapeze upgrade, I dont know. What I have a problem with is his focus on “choice” ridership. I would like to think as much as everybody that everybody rides because the love it and think its so great and easy, but the fact is that this is Texas. We just havent gotten to that level of acceptance yet, people still have stereotypes that car owners are better than bus/rail riders. So we need to try to encourage and grow our “choice” rider base but also serve the rest of the current riders, that depend on it. I am classified by my home transit system drivers as a “choice” rider and I find it embarassing. I am no different than the guy in the wheelchair needing to board, we both pay our $1.50 and we both are riding the bus to get somewhere. The only thing that makes me different is I have a car, that I didnt have to ride the bus, I feel that the term “choice” ridership is demeaning, Categorizing people by if they have a vehicle or not.

  8. Kelly

    Congratulations are in order! Cap Metro took the gold at the International Bus Roadeo 2010. Congratulations to all the world class drivers there!!

  9. Kelly, untrue: “choice” riders are important because transit systems without any rely on, effectively, charity from the voters – and voters in Texas are disproportionately unlikely to prefer such charitable giving.

  10. Don Dickson

    Precisely. When our “average vehicle-owning taxpayer” thinks of Capital Metro, they think of it as some kind of welfare program. We’ve GOT to change that. When the Board caved in over the difference of a quarter in the fare last year, I think they sent the wrong message to taxpaying motorists….their action reinforced the perception of our transit system as a program for the poor.

    I am acutely aware that that quarter means a lot to the poor. But as I said earlier, if we don’t start attracting new riders, it’s ultimately the poor who will suffer the most for it.

  11. I just filled out the survey and left this comment at the end:

    “The failure to include any other rail options in this survey (such as contributing funds to the Austin Urban Rail project) makes this all meaningless.”

    No to any more wasted money on MetroRail. Yes to serving Austin residents with rail that will actually work (urban rail project).

  12. John

    Why is Capital Metro expanding service to include rapid bus when they can’t afford to sustain current levels of service?

    A portion of the buses may be paid for with a grant or something but what about the service costs?

    How is it rapid transit without a dedicated lane?

    What is the benefit to riders in relation to this additional cost?

    1. Todd

      John- Thanks for the question about MetroRapid. The program consists of two lines (N. Lamar-S. Congress and Burnet-S. Lamar) and has an estimated cost of $47M, which includes new buses (distinctive from the rest of the fleet and a mix of 60-foot and 40-foot); new stops spaced further apart at higher ridership locations (again distinctive and with real-time bus arrival displays); and transit signal priority (allowing buses to automatically coordinate with traffic signals and reduce travel times). The capital component of the project is on track to be funded 80% federal, and 20% local, pending approval of the FY 2011 federal budget.

      Service costs will in part be compensated for by replacement (in the case of the #101) and adjustment (in the case of the #1 and #3) of existing services, and the net impact on the service budget will be relatively small- less than 5%. MetroRapid also is consistent with our ServicePlan2020 ten-year service plan approved by the Board earlier this year.

      As noted in some of the other comments on this blog, an argument can be made that transit needs to attract more ‘choice’ riders, and MetroRapid style services have proven to be one of the more effective means of doing so. Kansas City, as one example, saw a 30% ridership gain in the corridor, nearly a quarter of which were new to the system, and LA had even better statistics on their initial Wilshire line, neither of which had dedicated lanes. These lines did improve travel time through signal priority, multi-door boarding, and signal priority similar to what we have planned. That is not to say that we are not interested in dedicated lanes, though, because we are and will continue to pursue dedicated lanes as well as other traffic treatments such as queue jumps at congested intersections to reduce travel times. However, we cannot simply take over a lane, we have to, and are, working with the City of Austin and TxDOT to find ways to prioritize transit as cost-effectively as possible, while recognizing the need to build our case and community support for dedicated lanes, which almost certainly will be contentious.

      To the last question, we expect that the benefits will be substantial for riders and the system. Frequent service, faster travel times, improved stops, new and distinctive vehicles and simplified routing on major corridors all have proven in many other cities to benefit existing riders and grow ridership overall in a cost-effective way. We believe that the same opportunity exists here with the MetroRapid project.

      1. The problem is that in those other cities, rapid bus didn’t (for the most part) replace existing express service like the #101; it replaced/augmented only local service (like the #1).

        Notice how Capital Metro never talks about how much faster Rapid Bus will be compared to the #101? Ask yourself why.

      2. Todd

        One correction to my earlier post: the third element in improving travel time should have read “increased stop spacing” and not “signal priority”, which I accidentally repeated.

        As for the usual criticism from M1EK, the #101 is not an express route, it is a limited stop route, the difference being that express service is usually point-to-point with minimal stops on highways while the #101 and others of its type are overlays of local routes along major arterials. Definitional issues aside, it’d be helpful to read an explanation of what it is that constitutes a “problem”. With regard to some type of head-to-head comparison of MetroRapid against the existing #101, no one will know for sure until it’s up and running. We expect that it will be faster, and that the travel time reduction will benefit customers along with the other components mentioned previously. Will it be as cool, sexy or ridership generating as light rail would have been in the same corridor? Probably not. But then again it does not preclude that in the future and it can be done in the near term for a fraction of the cost.

  13. parker

    I just have a question 1st of all i have been riding since i was 17yrs old very longtime in my world that is i am now 30 and i noticed over the years the north lamar transit center is in much need of a make over is that ever been thought of during this budget meeting instead of building a new center some where else and have ya’ll ever thought about taking the dillo off the 31 day metro pass even though i do miss the dillo i am sure capital metro will regroup and over come this deal and how about a color scheme just odd seeing these diffrent color buses i lived in dallas for a year and always took dart and noticed the buses have a single color for all buses any plans to see that happen

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  15. Can’t reply inline to Todd.

    The #101 functions as an express as most people understand it – meaning limited-stop. Obviously it’s called Limited rather than Express by your agency, but this is merely semantics – it already has the primary time-saving advantage Rapid Bus purports to bring. Express routes in other cities (such as express subways in NY) don’t operate purely point-to-point; they operate by only stopping at more widely-spaced stops along the whole route.

    As for the supposed difficulty estimating time savings; it has not stopped Capital Metro from claiming 20% time advantages over the #1 in numerous public statements, so please take Todd’s comment here with a grain of very potent salt. In fact, we can estimate that Rapid Bus will save almost no time over #1 by simply comparing existing schedules for the #101 to the #1 and looking at how much time it currently saves; and I did so quite a while back:

    http://forum.skyscraperpage.com/showpost.php?p=4687891&postcount=1871

    “I did a quick scan of the current schedules for the #1 and the #101. The morning free-flow times are about 11% different; the morning rush is about 21% different (68 minutes versus 54 minutes at 7:30ish from Tech Ridge to Congress / Cesar Chavez). Afternoon free-flow time was 16% different (57 versus 68); afternoon rush was actually closer at 13% (59 versus 68).”

    As for precluding light rail, it in fact does preclude light rail in this corridor (what little hope of such still persisted after the Red Line disaster). There is zero chance, politically, that either local or federal funds will be available to provide rail transit in this corridor after substantial funds are expended on rapid bus that’s supposed to be a substantial upgrade over current conditions (of course, we know it isn’t).

  16. Typo; relevant section should read:

    In fact, we can estimate that Rapid Bus will save almost no time over #101 by simply comparing existing schedules for the #101 to the #1 and looking at how much time it currently saves; and I did so quite a while back:

  17. Don Dickson

    I’ll tell you what I don’t understand about the 1 and the 101. I’ve recently started taking notes.

    During peak travel times, the 1 runs every 11 minutes, and the 101 every 15 or 20 minutes. Oops, let me rephrase….the 1 is SCHEDULED to run every 11 minutes.

    So why is it that the last 10 times I’ve stood at my northbound 1 stop (which is not a 101 stop) during the morning rush hour, eight times out of ten the 101 has whizzed by before a 1 has arrived? An anomaly, perhaps, but I don’t think so. The frequency with which this occurs is the reason I started keeping track of it in the first place.

    And why in God’s name does the “limited stop” 101 make nine stops between 2nd and 10th Streets? How about 2nd, 6th and 10th?

    In fact, the whole system would be improved — both faster and safer — if EVERY bus that travels along Congress Avenue stopped at alternate blocks instead of at every block. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t see a motorist cut in front of a bus to make a right turn….so how about skipping those stops and stopping only at the left-turn streets? One of these days there’s going to be a bad wreck and someone is going to be seriously hurt. And if you cut out four of these nine stops, every route would run a minimum of four or five minutes faster through the downtown area. The only thing slower than a Capital Metro bus traveling between the Capitol and Cesar Chavez, is a Capital Metro bus traveling between the Capitol and Cesar Chavez behind another Capital Metro bus.

  18. Kelly

    I have experienced the same 101 comes before the 1 drama also, my thought was is that the 101 is always running early and also i think has lower boardings which is why it comes before, also the 1 could be running late which would also possibily explain why the 101 came before.

  19. Erik

    We’ve already experienced an increase in fare cost within the past couple years. Our prices still remain much lower in comparison to other metro markets, but making transit even less accessible to the working class is not the answer. Route frequency reductions would be detrimental as well.

    1) I believe a huge cost burden is the UT buses, both in frequency (for UT shuttles) and in ridership (system-wide). I’d much rather see a marginal increase in subsidization guarantees by the University instead, especially since more students these days are foregoing automobiles vs. the past decade. With respect to shuttle frequency, do we honestly need 20 practically empty Intramural Field buses an hour in the morning for every JJ Pickle Research Center one? It’s absurdly wasteful. Audits are needed on that.

    2) Until fiscal accountability can be proven attainable, let’s enact mandatory executive salary reductions for folks making over 130k. Skimming 10k/year per exec minimum would quite possibly drop these folks into a lower tax bracket anyway. Win-win. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: 300k for the CEO position? That’s almost Presidental level compensation. The governor of Texas makes 115k. That’s a 185k cost savings right there.

  20. Jason

    I agree with Erik that the University of Texas should pay a higher percentage of their cost for the UT shuttle routes (or every shuttle route should be rebranded as a local or limited route to encourage more use by the general public.) I also believe that local fares should be increased to meet the Texas average (including fares for paratransit users, and discount fares for seniors and the disabled). I do not believe that express and MetroRail fares should be raised further, as both of these fares were already raised significantly last year.

    As for the salary of Capital Metro employees, I do not believe that any increase or decrease is warranted as long as the salaries are equivalent to similar wages in the private sector. If Capital Metro is going to be able to improve their service, it is important to have competitive salaries so that they can recruit talented individuals to their organization.

    Lastly, because MetroAccess has the highest subsidy per rider, I believe Capital Metro needs to make the tough decision to reduce this service to match ADA requirements. Paratransit exists to supplement fixed route bus service for passengers that are unable to utilize a fixed route bus. It is not fair to all members of the community to support paratransit service in areas that do not have fixed route service. Also, paratransit fares should be increased to reflect the higher cost of the service to taxpayers.

  21. There seems to be much attention given to the 2% ridership for Metro Access, formerly known as Special Transit Services, and the glaring cost such a diminutive sect demands in operational costs. But if I may remind all of you, there is a reason for such a demand: The Americans with Disabilities Act. Now, if you are a Renaissance man with a disability and have had the good fortune of acclimating yourself to the point of being self-sufficient and hardly needing Metro Access services, I applaud you. However, do not let that success be denied for the many who are also striving for such autonomy– and Metro Access is the means to that end for the rest of the disabled community.

    As with any service industry, there is always an unmet need and a prospective service to satisfy or meet that specific need. This objective is what I consider to be one of the crowning achievements in a democratic society: Being able to provide services for all and not some. With that being said, we still have a long way to go to meet everyone’s transportation needs for the route and service jurisdiction, at present, is not totally comprehensive in scope but it is better than nothing at all. It also deserves to be mentioned that we have just witnessed millions of dollars exacted toward a metro mono-rail service that caters to Leander…and to Leander (I’ll let you connect the dots).

    In sum, if we are not getting what we consider to be the best service for our dollars, then we must remain objective about why we are in service in the first place: To serve others and not ourselves! Metro Access had nothing to do with not meeting budget deadlines, millions of dollars in excess and wasteful spending, capital grants, and golden parachute deals that are toxic to the service and it’s community. In my opinion, it is very incompetent to mismanage funds and jeopardize service to those who really need it, and then ask for everyone’s input! Come on guys, step up to the plate and do what is right. Stop stepping on those less fortunate to meet your own interests. It is blatently obvious noone wants to, nor will they ever, compromise their salaries to meet fiscal responsibilities. And i don’t know about the rest of the Austinites but I for one don’t remember being given an option of voting on what to do about the nominal salaries and budget expenses given the distinguished members of the Capital Metro Board and the management staff.

    Perhaps we can wastefully spend tens of thousands of more of our taxes to hire someone else to tell us what we ought to be doing right in the first place? Having an unmet need is the cornerstone of any service industry and the effectiveness of meeting that need requires character, commitment, and determination; not to self, but to those less fortunate. If there is no discipline, no accountability, no regulation, no oversight committee, etc. there will always be a knee-jerk reaction to cut off the nose to spite the face and we expect more from you Capital Metro. We are counting on you and we are holding you accountable to do what is right.

    1. chrysrobyn

      Derrick,
      Quite an essay there. By the way, it’s not nitpicking to point out that the MetroRail, for all its faults, is not a monorail. Not that there’s anything wrong with monorails, but it’s not.
      Instead of discussing the 2% of riders, let’s discuss the 12-16% of the budget (depending on where you look). You make a point of mentioning the ADA. Is Austin compliant? Is Austin far more than compliant? If they had 80% of the operational budget go to 2% of the riders, would you still defend the expense? I don’t know what the ADA requires, but judging from the number of empty Metro Access vehicles I’ve seen running around, there’s some more room for efficiency. I don’t think it’s right to have all our sales taxes supporting disabled people living wherever they want, spread out in the city, and with service dispatched at their leisure. I don’t know if there should be service tiers based on where people live, or if there should be budget caps to provide additional service to those living close to dispatch centers, but there are ways of sharing the burden of those costs without punishing those served.

  22. Thank you for sharing your comments my friend. Your correction about the mono-rail is duly noted. Though I wish the metro-rail were a mono rail that surrounded the whole city of Austin; it would definitely generate more tax revenues and alleviate traffic congestion on our highways.

    And, you are also correct in that I would not support 80% of operational costs going toward 2% of the metro access ridership for that would be counterproductive for sure. With that being said, my point is we pay people alot of money to solve these types of challenges.

    Often times, they allow their private interests to get in the way and they lose sight of the fact that they are obligated to the taxpayers (disabled and non-disabled). Unfortunately, we as taxpayers and consumers, all too often, learn the truth of these turn of events after the damage has been done and the evidence cleared away.

    In sum, my argument is that the taxpayers (disabled and non-disabled) are being punished more by the monies mismanaged on the metro rail project than the metro access service. To date, I think the evidence will support as much.

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