Austin’s transit agency shows how to do transparency

From the Austin American-Statesman editorial page:

Austin’s transit agency shows how to do transparency

EDITORIAL BOARD

Words you never thought you’d see strung together in a sentence: Other governmental agencies can take a lesson from Capital Metro.

That’s right, the well-intended people at our local transportation agency — the very same people who at times can look like a gang that can’t shoot straight — are 
pacesetters in a very important slice of governance. And it’s caught the eye of Texas Comptroller Susan Combs, who has awarded Cap Metro a “gold” designation for governmental transparency.

What Cap Metro did to earn the recognition is both simple and valuable. The agency’s capmetro.org website now includes a treasure trove of data about the movement of money, including past and current financial information, audits and executive salaries.

You also can find federal reviews of Cap Metro, as well as next year’s proposed budget and comprehensive financial reports dating back to 2005.

This is valuable because the information tracks the movement of public money, and the public has an inherent right to know as much as possible about how its money moves through the government grinder.

The decision to post the Cap Metro data for all to surf was sparked by a recommendation in a Texas Sunset Advisory Commission’s report issued earlier this year. Combs’ staff came up with the gold designation as part of its “leadership circle” program that encourages governmental transparency by offering gold, silver or bronze designations based on how much information is posted online.

As in the Olympics, gold is the best, and Cap Metro is the first Texas transit agency to earn it. The Austin school district also has earned gold. Other local governments should strive for it. The City of Austin has yet to earn gold, silver or bronze. Hey, City Hall, how about it?

Obviously, all of this information is only information until somebody turns it into something more valuable. As state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, told the American-Statesman’s Ben Wear, with this kind of access to this kind of information “problems become clearer earlier, allowing officials to fix them when it’s easier and cheaper to do so.”

All of us (especially those of us who have been critical of Cap Metro) have a potentially vital role in this. If you care how your tax money is spent, browse through the Cap Metro records and see what you find. We are particularly intrigued by the inclusion of Cap Metro’s check register.

Much as you do with your checkbook, you can look back and see exactly how the agency spends your money. It’s fun, it’s simple and the more eyes that look at it the better off we all are.

So get to work. Do your job. Scrutinize those records. Take a look at Cap Metro’s check register and see where $1,601.728.70 went last week, ranging from $749,201.72 to Herzog Transit Services Inc. in rail-related expenses down to $9.42 to Capitol Bearing of Austin.

We encourage your participation. Transparency is worthless if nobody is looking at what it reveals.

And thanks, Cap Metro.

2 thoughts on “Austin’s transit agency shows how to do transparency

  1. Bob

    Good job! But don’t stop there. Be brave and report more than just what has been asked. Report timely, selected business drivers and other performance measures.

    I hesitate to list what to report because then someone is asking and you are reacting. You have to be proactive and anticipate what your stakeholders want to see.

    1. Adam

      Thanks, Bob. That’s good feedback. Part of our goal in putting the info online was to go above and beyond what was recommended by Sunset. And more importantly, I think the best reason to provide this data is because it’s the right thing to do.

      We also track and report performance measures each month. Since our new Board started in January, staff has been working with them on the best possible way to evaluate and report this data. The presentation of this report has varied each month while we find the most effective format. And I’m sure our new CEO will have some good input on how this data is presented in the future. Typically the monthly performance reports include financials, ridership, on-time performance, vehicle accidents, passenger accidents, miles between road calls, customer satisfaction and more.

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