Bus-Only Shoulder Bill to be Heard in Senate Committee Monday; House status

House Bill 2327, the bill that would let Capital Metro operate buses on highway shoulders, was left pending in the House Transportation Committee after it came up late Wednesday afternoon. This has been fairly common practice in most committees for many bills; the committee could act on the bill at their next meeting or subsequent ones.

A big, big thanks to the many organizations and individuals who signed cards or submitted letters in support: the City of Austin, Glenn Gadbois, Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce, Gerald Daugherty, Envision Central Texas, the Downtown Austin Alliance, Alliance for Public Transportation, Real Estate Council of Austin, CARTS, the Texas Transit Association, Sinclair Black, CTRMA, David Richardson, and Lone Star Rail.

On the Senate side, the companion bill filed by Senator Jeff Wentworth, SB 1102, will be heard in the Senate Transportation & Homeland Security Committee this Monday, April 11 at 10:00 AM or upon adjournment/recess of Nominations in Room E1.028 of the Capitol. To learn how you can register your support of this bill, keep reading!

Continue reading “Bus-Only Shoulder Bill to be Heard in Senate Committee Monday; House status”

Bill Authorizing Bus-Only Lane Pilot Program to be Heard in House Transportation Committee Tomorrow Morning

Wouldn't this be awesome, commuters? Imagine this is Mopac at 5 p.m., and the bus you're on could carefully pass up the traffic on the shoulder?

Tomorrow, House Bill 2327, which has been filed by Representative Ruth Jones McClendon of the San Antonio area, is scheduled to be heard in the House Transportation Committee tomorrow morning. Senator Jeff Wentworth has filed the bill on the Senate side; his is Senate Bill 1102. (Keep reading to learn how you can register your support of these bills!)

Rep. McClendon’s bill, HB 2327, would authorize TxDOT to implement a pilot program in Travis, Bexar, Denton and El Paso Counties whereby public transit agencies would be allowed to safely use improved highway shoulders for bus passage on authorized sections approved by TxDOT. For Capital Metro, we believe this could be safely and effectively implemented on IH-35, MoPac, and 183—our region’s most congested corridors.

Continue reading “Bill Authorizing Bus-Only Lane Pilot Program to be Heard in House Transportation Committee Tomorrow Morning”

No buses on shoulders for you

So my last blog post related to the legislative session prematurely said, “Overall, we achieved much of what was in our legislative agenda: bus-only shoulders,” blah, blah, blah among other things. Yippee! Well, so foolish I am. I spoke too soon for I forgot about that last, not-so-little step called consideration by the governor. And unfortunately, one of our bills was vetoed. Yep, V-E-T-O. No buses on shoulders for you!

If you recall, Senate Bill 434, carried by two of our own: Senator Jeff Wentworth and Representative Valinda Bolton, would have created a pilot program under which Capital Metro (and only three other Texas transit agencies) would have been allowed to operate buses on pre-approved sections of highway shoulders in order to bypass traffic congestion.

The bill was very cautious in setting up the program. It would have been established by TxDOT and in conjunction with DPS and the involved transit agencies. The bill required TxDOT to consider safety, travel time reliability, driver and passenger perceptions, level of service and maintenance, and capital improvements.

Additionally, other specific parameters were also spelled out. Buses would only be allowed to travel on sections of highway shoulders that TxDOT approved in advance and the sections would be clearly marked for bus-only use. Speed limits were set based on the experience of several other communities in America, which have already implemented bus-only shoulders safely and effectively for over a decade. Buses would only be allowed to use the designated sections of highway shoulders when overall traffic slowed to 35 miles per hour or less, and the bus could only travel at 15 miles per hour greater than the prevailing traffic, with the maximum bus speed still limited to 35 mph. The bus operator would not be required to use the bus-only shoulder if he/she did not feel it was safe.

Despite a number of independent safety studies attesting to the positive experience in the rest of the country (the State of Minnesota has over 300 miles of bus-only shoulders), Governor Perry was not willing to sign the bill. In his veto statement, he cited a concern that use of the highway shoulders by transit buses “would leave no emergency lane, creating a danger to motorists, emergency personnel and passengers aboard transit buses,” though we assured him that we would work with the City of Austin to ensure that the use of highway shoulders by our buses would not impede emergency vehicle passage. (Many thanks to the City, specifically Karla Villalon and Rob Spillar, for having included this in their legislative agenda and for having written a last-minute letter to the governor asking for his support.)

Though we are very disappointed with the veto—it’s the second time we’ve tried to get this passed—we’ll work with the governor’s office over the next few years to see if we can get it through next session. Perhaps then, the third time will actually be the charm for Capital Metro.

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While the legislative order of things escaped me regarding the bus-only shoulder legislation, the other items I had written about previously actually panned out as I described. Senate Bill 1263, the bill carried by Senator Kirk Watson and Representative Eddie Rodriguez that prescribed a number of changes for Capital Metro, was signed by the governor. That bill, which goes into effect September 1, makes changes to our board composition and our abilities to set our own fares and operate passenger rail, and provides us with some new tools that we’ll need to operate passenger rail. Governor Perry was also willing to sign the bill that lets Capital Metro (and all Texas transit agencies) use the State’s travel discounts when our employees or board members travel for Capital Metro-related duties. (Thank you Senator Duell and Representative Todd Smith!)

If you want more details on the Watson and Rodriguez bill, or any other legislation that I might have written about before, read my previous gobbledygook online at http://capmetroblog.blogspot.com/search/label/legislative%20agenda. (Check out the gobbledygook hotlink! A fun story, which goodness knows we all need more of.)

Calling all policy wonks!

Time for an update on the status of Capital Metro’s legislative agenda.

Where to start? What’s in the hopper? A number of things, all of which are moving along but the clock is ticking with only 35 days left in the session that ends June 1. Most of our bills have had committee hearings in at least one of the chambers and a few have been approved by at least one side of the Legislature but we’re still working to see what will make it out.

For more information about the status of some major bills that could affect Capital Metro, read on…

‘OMNIBUS’ BILLS re: fare enforcement ability, confirmation of contracted peace officer authority, and use of State travel discounts
– Senate Bill 1263 (Watson) and House Bill 2469 (Rodriguez)
– Status: HB 2469 was reported favorably from the Transportation Committee and is now awaiting scheduling by the Calendars Committee for consideration by the full House. On the Senate side, no hearing has been scheduled yet in the Transportation and Homeland Security Committee.

STATE TRAVEL DISCOUNTS FOR ALL PUBLIC TRANSIT AGENCIES
– SB 1264 (Watson), SB 899 (Duell), and HB 2899 (T. Smith)
– Status: Both of the Senate bills have been approved on the floor and SB 899 has been scheduled for consideration by the House Transportation Committee on 04/29/09. On the House side, Smith’s bill has been favorably reported from the Transportation Committee.

BUS-ONLY SHOULDERS
– SB 434 (Wentworth) and HB 1790 (Bolton)
– Status: The Senate has approved SB 434 but at the requests of senators representing these areas, they removed Williamson County and added El Paso. The House Transportation Committee took up the House version of HB 1790 last Thursday. The committee substitute that Rep. Bolton offered also excluded Williamson County but it also excluded El Paso County because of concerns by a legislator representing that area. The House Committee didn’t take a vote on Thursday so we’ll see if they take up the Senate version of the bill this week (or next, etc.) and if they’ll vote out the Senate or House version.

FUNDING BILLS
– There are a number of bills, and related constitutional amendments (the SJRs and the HJRs), that would authorize different means of local-option funding for transportation, including transit, projects. There are also a number of bills that would authorize additional vehicle registration fees to fund the same.

Local-option funding bills, and related constitutional amendments, include
• SB 855 & SJR 24 (Carona)
• SJR 52 (Davis), which is a duplicate of SJR 24
• HB 3448 & HJR 122 (Rodriguez), with HJR 122 identical to Carona’s SJR
• HB 9 & HJR 9 (Truitt), which is the companion to SB 855 and with HJR 9 identical to Carona’s SJR
• HB 1674 (Villareal)
• HB 3341 (Miklos).

Vehicle registration-only bills include
• SB 249, Shapleigh
• SB 294, Hinojosa (identical to HB 1716)
• HB 1716, Gonzales Toureilles (identical to SB 294)

– Status: Since there are so many bills regarding this issue, I’ll give a simple summary and say that Carona’s bill and Davis’ constitutional amendment have been approved by the Senate, and that all of the House local-option funding bills and House constitutional amendments were taken up by the House Transportation Committee last week but were left pending with no action. For the vehicle registration fee bills, both of the Senate versions have been approved on the floor but the House Transportation Committee hasn’t taken up the issue yet.

CAMPO PEER REVIEW-RELATED BILLS

– SB 2015 (Watson) and HB 4432 (Rodriguez).
– Status: Watson’s bill has been approved by the Senate. Rodriguez’s companion is awaiting a scheduled date for consideration by the House Transportation Committee.

I didn’t go into the content of the bills since, if you’re wonky enough to read this, you’re probably already versed in them. If you need a refresher or primer though, info about the content of the bills, save for Watson’s and Rodriguez’s Peer review-related bills, can be found in a previous blog posting. An overview of the Watson and Rodriguez Peer Review-related bills (as written by us, Cap Metro staff) can also be found online here. (Note that Rep. Rodriguez has since publicly stated his intention to move forward with Senator Watson’s bill and not the version that he previously filed.) And if you really want to dig around, find the actual bills and much more detailed information through the Texas Legislature Online. (You can do an easy bill search by entering the bill number in the top right-hand corner of the page. e.g., simply enter “HB 2469.”)

While we track a lot of other bills, those are the big ones that we’re advancing or watching. Here’s hoping that the next time I submit a post, I can tell you that all of the bills we wanted to pass, did! Well, maybe I’ll sneak an update in before June 1. Holler if you have any thoughts or questions.