Note from Linda S. Watson

A note from Capital Metro President and CEO Linda S. Watson:

I am very excited to be back in Texas, especially in Austin, the greatest city in the state!  In the first few weeks on the job as Capital Metro’s president and chief executive officer, I have already learned a great deal about the transit authority. I understand Capital Metro has been through a lot in the past years but I’m ready to push the bar higher, so the agency can achieve great things for our community.

I’ve developed seven key objectives for Capital Metro. They’re not secrets—they’re the same major goals the agency has been working on for months.

1) Work in partnership with the Board of Directors – When I was at LYNX in Orlando, I worked hard to rebuild trust in the community and stability within the organization. I am happy to say that we had great success and made good, constructive changes but it would have not been possible without the support and partnership I developed with the board.  I will do the same here; we have a great group of board members who are respected leaders in our community and care about transit.

2) Implement Sunset Review Recommendations – As Chairman and Mayor Pro Tem Mike Martinez has stated, these report recommendations are our marching orders for improving our agency. They address many of the issues that I will be focused on: increasing transparency and improving financial sustainability and labor relations.

Staff has already done a great job of implementing many of these recommendations and I look forward to sharing our progress with the community later this month. Also this month, many of the finance recommendations will be addressed with the adoption of the budget.

3) Increase Transparency – In order to rebuild trust in our community, we must be open in how we conduct our business and use taxpayer dollars. I am committed to transparency and accountability in the way we operate day to day.  I will focus on building an organizational culture that builds on teamwork and openness.

4) Improve Financial Sustainability – We all must look for opportunities to reduce costs and increase revenues. The FY 2011 budget to be adopted next month will include new procedures for managing our finances more efficiently. The proposed budget includes a five year Capital Improvement Plan that prioritizes projects and shows the sources of funding and a reserve policy to govern the collection, maintenance and use of our accumulated reserves. In the future we’ll also have a clear fares policy as well.

5) Improve Labor Relations – Our labor structure was a main topic in the Sunset Review. The Capital Metro Board Labor Committee will be considering and evaluating all options to make sure we are making the best decisions for providing quality transit services. There are significant legal and financial matters that must be fully evaluated in order to ensure we take the most appropriate approach. This will be one of the main issues that we’ll be working on over the next year.

6) Build MetroRail Ridership – Now that MetroRail is in full operation, we need to work on building ridership to maximize this initial rail investment.

We are developing a comprehensive MetroRail ridership enhancement plan that includes: service schedule modifications, an awareness and educational campaign about connecting and riding the system; and a grassroots business community outreach plan.

7) Continue providing great service – It is encouraging to see in the first few weeks that this organization has many talented employees dedicated to providing the best service to our community. I’ve already had the pleasure of riding the bus and experiencing first hand the quality of service that our customers enjoy everyday. And, we will continue to raise the bar to exceed their expectations.

My philosophy is to build a constructive network of relationships with two-way communication to exchange feedback, advice and support. I want to be in touch with community members and our customers in order to understand how Capital Metro fits within the social values of this community (and how we can match those values better).

In the coming weeks, I will be out in the community asking for input and ideas from customers, stakeholders and local leaders.  I invite you to meet me and share your thoughts at a community event on Monday, September 20 hosted by several civic organizations at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum from 5:30 – 7:30 p.m.

Thanks for riding Capital Metro!

Linda S. Watson

17 thoughts on “Note from Linda S. Watson

  1. ky

    Here is the first thought;

    Star Tran is the biggest bloated, antiquated element of this organization that costs Metro more than any other element. While the Sunset report has mandated this change, Metro has repeatedly balked and waffled about making any real change at all, or doing due diligence by performance contracting and competitive bidding all of this work.

    Secondly, each year we see budgets from Metro, knowing that the final ‘approved’ budget bears little resemblance to practical reality, or what will actually happen. In many cases these budgets are made with idealized dreamy best case scenarios that will never happen, (recall the 2000 riders a day promise about Metro Rail!) These numbers about Metro access cannot possibly make logical sense, so the financial side cannot make sense either. It is not possible to increase miles and reduce hours at the same time. Below are the stats reported in the Chronicle this past week:

    A slight increase in bus and rail is more than offset by a big reduction in MetroAccess (the paratransit service for customers with disabilities unable to use fixed-route service): a drop of 32,928 hours – more than 10%.

    . MetroAccess will gain 311,259 miles, increasing from 3.7 million to 4.1 million.

    Can anyone in the real world explain how the Metro Access department can ADD 311,259 miles and yet reduce hours by 10%? This is just not logical.

  2. Jason

    I agree that changes to StarTran are necessary; however, I understand that Capital Metro needs time to make an educated decision in order to prevent lawsuits and other unnecessary expenditures.

    As an unrelated question about the 5 year capital improvement plan, why is there $30k budgeted for installing a master clock at the North Operations Facility in 2014. A single atomic clock on can be purchased for about $30 from most office supply stores. At that price, Capital Metro could install 1000 atomic clocks at the North Operations Facility for the cost of the proposed master clock. I am not sure how many employees work at that facility, but I would guess that is enough money to buy EVERY employee at that office their own personal atomic clock which they could carry with them when they are driving the bus (plus extras in case one of the drivers looses their clock!)

    1. Misty

      Jason,
      The plan for a master clock at North Ops is a low priority. However, we have master clocks at our HQ and the other facilities we operate from. North Ops includes office space, a bus maintenance facility, a bus wash and a rail maintenance facility. A master clock provides a uniform time for all employees and contractors in every work area. ^MW

  3. Tom

    Get the drunks and urinators out of the bus stops. People aren’t going to use CapMetro if they have to stand at a bus stop while a guy is laid, passed out, on the bench. Improved image and securtiy will be worth the investment.

  4. Gerry

    Welcome and best wishes for future success Director Watson. I hope your team can increase train ridership without sacrificing other successful bus services. The train saves me time and money every day. There is no way I can drive from Leander to downtown after 7:15 or 7:30 AM in an hour without spending a fortune on tolls every day. Plus I get two hours a day to read, relax or surf the web instead of sitting in hot frustrating traffic. Hopefully more suburban professionals will find the train schedule and connections to downtown locations more accomodating in the future. As far as I’m concerned the government is either going to take my money for trains or for tolls and if that’s the choice then I would rather have someone else do the driving.

  5. Stuart

    Here is some advice for long-term success of Cap Metro:

    Operating a bus or train is more than just driving.

    Helpful operators with a good attitude, who are knowledgeable about the Cap Metro transit system, and familiar with any route they are assigned, are the most direct way to improve the Cap Metro rider experience.

    Give the operators decent compensation, treat and train them well. Doing so will entice more riders, especially those who have other commuting options such as a personal automobile. It will also reduce costly turnover and encourage good drivers to stay with Cap Metro.

    Please don’t repeat the mistake of the previous two CEOs who looked at the drivers as a line item in the budget to pinch while increasing the number and compensation of senior staff.

  6. Paul McKelvey

    Welcome to Austin!
    Access is the most pressing issue. Discontinuing door-to-door services to the blind and mobility impaired will further marginalize these people. Although blind people can usually walk, the problem is with encountering temporary, dynamic hazards: bicyclists, childen playing, dogs, construction. The focus should be on more efficient ways to provide service rather than cutting.
    MetroRail can be a major contributor to CapMetro’s success. More advertisement and marketing of the Leander line is in order. Adding free WiFi as the buses have would help. The 183a toll road is an unexpected help. I believe it is the most expensive toll road in Texas. Drivers continue to endure traffic jams in Leander and Cedar Park rather than pay the toll. CapMetro could be capturing commuter traffic from beyond Liberty Hill to the north.
    I wish you well as you lift this agency to its feet. If there is anything I can do to help, please let me know.

  7. Don Dickson

    Ms. Watson, I was chatting today with Erica McKewen and happened to ask her about the status of the Leander TOD. She said that there wasn’t yet much there except the HEB.

    This prompted me to google “Leander TOD,” and I was shocked to be reminded that the local powers-that-be pulled the trigger on that project way back in 2005, and here we are five years later and there’s not so much as a shovel in the ground; meanwhile, Capital Metro stakeholders squeal about the cost of the Red Line and the disappointing ridership numbers.

    What is going on with the Leander TOD? Or to put it another way, why is nothing going on with the Leander TOD? And from whom should we be demanding the answers to these questions? Seems to me that if the developer delivered the promised 5,000 residential units within walking distance of the Leander train station, you’d need to add more cars to your Red Line runs.

    1. Don, you’re putting the cart before the horse (or the train before the cows) – TOD is a reaction to a great transit line, not the cause of one. Just like in South Florida, the market is proving resistant to claims that a commuter rail line plus shuttle bus transfer is attractive enough to get homebuyers to pay more (or accept perceived ‘less’) compared to the market baseline.

      You sometimes get TOD on good light rail lines – but the other end of the train trip has to be a walk for this to work. IE, for somebody to really get interested in TOD, they want their trip to be walk-train-walk, period.

    2. Erica

      Hi, Don. Here’s what our TOD planners say about Leander:

      Breaking ground on the Leander TOD has been slowed by the global economic downturn. While waiting for financial markets to settle down, developers and Capital Metro have been busy in and around the Leander TOD. Capital Metro and the adjoining land owners, Leander Transit Development, LLC., hired Torti Gallas & Partners, a nationally recognized design team, to design the Village at Leander Station in 2007. This plan involves 65 acres of land at Leander Station, and was approved by the City in 2008. The Capital Metro TOD will have 600-1000 residences, retail, office and live/work space, with public squares and a park. Torti Gallas and Partners have completed the Form Based Code (FBC) for the area, and we have been working with the City of Leander to meet and exceed all of the requirements of the Leander Smart Code. The FBC defines the tree-lined streets, block sizes, parking areas, public areas, and building design. We have been completing the civil engineering work on grading and utility plans for the entire 65 acres so that construction can be phased flawlessly between properties so the village will function well.

      While we have been working during this time on the Village at Leander TOD, the City of Leander has been working in cooperation with area landowners, the CTRMA, TxDOT, and Williamson County on the design and construction of Hero Way to connect 183A to US183, and the design and construction of Mel Mathis Blvd and San Gabriel Parkway. Hero Way will be under construction soon; the others are still moving forward. These streets are instrumental in providing a large scale street grid to support the development planned there so that the area can have access to it by rail, bus, car, or bike.

      Substantial development was and is planned, and having people living near Leander Station will make a huge difference in ridership. The Leander TOD at the MetroRail Station is on only 65 acres of the 2,500 acres designated as TOD by the Leander Smart Code. Austin Community College just bought a 100 acre future campus site next door; this area will develop, as markets allow, to be a model TOD.

      For further info, email tod@capmetro.org

      1. Please view Capital Metro’s pronouncements on this with a skeptical eye. TOD needs greater density than baseline and superior access to high-quality transit to really qualify; developments like Crestview Station obviously fail the first metric and pretty much anything on the Red Line that isn’t also on the #1 corridor fails the second.

        As for conditions elsewhere, the Lakeline TOD entered the news again just this week:

        http://www.statesman.com/business/owner-reclaims-lakeline-station-land-916510.html

        “A 326-acre patch of Williamson County land, once slated for a large development with housing and retail, has been reclaimed by its owner, who plans to keep it as a working cattle ranch, according to brokers involved in the acquisition.”

        As with most other aspects of the Red Line, the failure to see much activity from true TOD (rather than things desperately labelled as TOD) matches precisely the results shown by Tri-Rail in South Florida over the years.

      2. Adam

        I like Tri-Rail. My favorite station will always be the one in West Palm Beach since it brings back childhood memories of when we used to pick up my grandmother at that same location every Christmas since she didn’t like flying.

  8. Don Dickson

    I have this mental image of stomping on the accelerator in a car that’s up on blocks. The wheels go 100 mph but the car doesn’t go anywhere even though it’s using a lot of gas.

    It’s discouraging to hear the delayed activity on the Leander TOD attributed to the “economic downturn.” Construction finance interest rates have never been lower, and the “economic downturn” is most evident in the demand for high-end homes, and least evident in the demand for rental units.

    Sounds to me as though what we have here are developers who hoped to hit a grand slam, and if all they can hit is a two-run homer, then they just won’t play until they can hit a grand slam.

    The reclamation of the Savage properties is more sad news that bodes ill for the ultimate success of the Red Line. Not a lot of uses for a commuter train to a cattle ranch.

    1. You don’t get TOD on a bad rail line – this is what I’ve been saying for years and years and years. TOD can’t bring riders to a rail line that isn’t already getting a ton of riders on its own merits; it can only add riders to an already successful line.

      Or as Christof said here: http://www.ctchouston.org/intermodality/2007/08/01/down-the-future-line/

      “Absent other options (and local bus is not an option) they will drive. That’s where rail comes in. We can build it, as some have suggested, in places where people don’t want to live right now in hopes that people will want to live there. Or we can build it where people already are, and where more people are coming, to take some of that load. We’ve learned from Main that people will ride rail if it goes where they want to go. We’ve also learned that dense development is most likely to occur in places that are already dense. Rail isn’t causing density — the density is coming anyway. Rail, done right, is a way to deal with the traffic that density brings.”

  9. Pingback: Austin Capital Metro transit ridership | Gonzalo Camacho, P.E.

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