A Mapnificent Tool

There’s no shortage of creative geniuses out there looking for ways to take raw transit data and turn it into something useful (or at least fun to play with). Here’s one to try. It’s called Mapnificent. Using Google Maps, it’ll show you how far you can travel using transit, cycling and walking from any given address within the time parameter of your choice.

I tried it by asking it to show me how far I can go within 15 minutes from the lovely Capital Metro headquarters building at 5th/Pleasant Valley at around 6 a.m. on a weekday. Here’s what it came up with:

Looks like a ghost hovering next to a microphone; Hermann Rorschach may have had a different interpretation.

Continue reading “A Mapnificent Tool”

100 Days with Linda

“Raising the bar within the organization and improving trust and credibility out in the community.”  That’s been the mantra of Linda Watson since her arrival as our president/CEO about 100 days ago. And let me tell you, things are definitely different around here; good things are happening.

Check out KXAN’s story from last night:

A lesson in financial transparency

From the OpEd page of the Austin American-Statesman:

Keener: Capital Metro takes a road less traveled
By Justin Keener, Local Contributor

Capital Metro has proved critics wrong including me by embracing financial transparency. Recently, Austin’s transit agency became a flagship by posting its financial records and transactions on its websites for all taxpayers to see.

It is courageous to be so open to scrutiny, and any agency that decides to follow in Capital Metro’s footsteps must be aware that the road is indeed less traveled. Capital Metro certainly has seen its share of difficulties over the past several years, being widely labeled as secretive and bureaucratic.

Continue reading “A lesson in financial transparency”

Bridge magic

Get ready to see an amazing transformation before your eyes. Here’s what the Gilleland Creek railroad bridge in Manor looked like in February 2010:

Here’s what it looks like today (actually in late August):

Amazing, huh? Don’t let the Lincoln Log look in the “before” photo fool you.  We did everything necessary to maintain it in safe condition for our freight rail operations.  But it had definitely reached the end of its useful life span.  How old was it?  Let me put it to you this way:  I’ll be shocked if anyone reading this blog was alive when this 400-foot long bridge was first constructed (but comments from centenarians are always welcome).

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Tough decisions, in their own words

Have you seen the agenda for Friday’s board meeting?  It’s packed!  Every board vote is important, but the three that have understandably generated the most feedback are the FY2011 budget, MetroAccess policy changes, and the January 2010 service changes.

Many people spoke very passionately at public hearings for all three issues in the last few days.  People expressed their worries about how these proposed changes and budget decisions will affect them.

Originally I was going to blog about how these are difficult decisions, etc.  But I think our board chair, Mayor Pro Tem Mike Martinez, summed it up really well at the end of yesterday’s budget public hearing, with an additional comment from Vice Chair John Langmore.  So here it is in their own words (with transcript pasted below the video clip along with additional comments from today’s Finance/Audit Committee meeting):

Continue reading “Tough decisions, in their own words”

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


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. Continue reading “Austin’s transit agency shows how to do transparency”

Back on track

Notice the missing ballast and tie in the foreground and the big dip in the rails in the background

Three cheers for Capital Metro’s rail department and our rail contractor, Herzog Transit Services, for their incredible work getting things back up and running after this week’s flooding.  Parts of our track and bridges were covered by raging creeks, leaving a big mess and lots of damage behind.

Let me tell you, we’re extremely fortunate we only had to stop all rail service for one day.  Herzog’s maintenance crews worked their magic in the Robinson Ranch area near Howard Station, replacing ballast (little rocks that provide stability under the ties) that had been washed away.  By the next day we were up and running again from Lakeline Station southward.

The damage in the Block House Creek area south of Leander Station was more serious. The team rebuilt and repaired about 150 feet of track bed. This required the removal of all debris, re-grating of the area, placement of new track bed aggregate, rebuilding the embankments, tamping the line (compaction) and polishing the rail to remove build up that formed because no trains were running.  The work continued into the wee hours, but in plenty of time for us to resume service in Leander right on schedule Friday morning.

We appreciate the patience and understanding of our customers, and we’re grateful for the amazing work of our staff and contractors.

A moooooving first day for Linda Watson

Knowing that our new boss was on the way, early yesterday morning I tweeted @capmetronews that it was going to be an exciting day at Capital Metro.  Boy, was I right!  Soon after that tweet, the Cow Tongue on the Tracks incident took place.  The good news is, we’re told it wasn’t directed at us.  But it certainly made for an interesting way for president/CEO Linda Watson to start her first day.

Later that morning we invited the local media to meet Linda.  Of course, everyone wanted to know if she’d ever had a first day quite like this before.  But she also had a chance to discuss some of her priorities.  Here’s a sample from some of last night’s TV news coverage:

Linda Watson Q&A

Great profile of our new boss in Sunday’s Austin American-Statesman:


New chief taking the helm at area’s transit agency hopes to schedule an image U-turn

tatesman transportation writer Ben Wear: Let’s start with commuter rail. Why do you think ridership has been so low so far?

Watson: First of all, you have bus and rail competing against each other. Second, people don’t understand what it is or how to use it. I’ve had so many people in just the few days I’ve been here ask me, ‘What brings you to Austin?’ And when I tell what I’m going to do, their reaction is somewhere between being impressed and being horrified. ‘You’re going to do what?’ And the second thing they say is, ‘Are you going to run that monorail? Or, that light rail?’ (Light rail, unlike the MetroRail commuter line, generally runs on city streets and has more stops.) People don’t know what it is. So part of it is an educational process. Finally, I think that if light rail had been built first, it would have been a phenomenal success. Commuter rail service is basically just catering to work trips. And you really need both to be successful. It’s kind of like building a freeway with no feeder roads into it. Continue reading “Linda Watson Q&A”