It's a Metro Sunday!

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Today’s Chronicle has two stories and three opinion pieces on Mayor White’s new and improved Metro expansion plan.

First I’ll highlight the story summarizing yesterday’s town hall meeting organized by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee:

The news caused an “upheaval” in minority neighborhoods, with “calls from our constituents and phones ringing off the hook,” she said.


Two of the Metro board members who attended are black: Vice Chairman Gerald Smith, a fund management executive, and Bishop James Dixon of Community of Faith Church. Auto dealer George DeMontrond also took part.

Smith told the audience of about 100, including several City Council members and legislators, that after Metro’s board meeting Thursday several prominent residents — whom he described as “fully engaged” and “rather upset” — met with him and Metro staff.

“It’s kind of awkward to be in this position. There were some things that probably could have been communicated better,” Smith said.


Dixon apologized on behalf of Metro “that this community was not informed early on.”

“This was a mistake,” he said.

It will be interesting to see how much groveling Metro will be required to do, because this was a huge error on its part. And what I thought especially curious was the HUGE fanfare Mayor White initiated when he announced the new plan, but I don’t see him mentioned in this story. Was Mayor White too busy to attend the meeting and defend his plan? (He did find the time to pen an op-ed for today’s Chronicle, which I will tackle in a separate post.)

The second news story is about BRT, Bus Rapid Transit. What is amusing is to what lengths proponents will go to avoid the B-word:

But transit officials say image, not technology, is what sells BRT. Las Vegas transit officials repeat the industry mantra that people view buses as a second-class alternative, but find rail glamorous.

“We refer to it as rubber tire rail service,” said June DeVoll, transit operations administrator for the Regional Transit Commission of Southern Nevada.

“The B-word (bus) should not be in here anywhere,” she said, flipping through a stack of marketing material for MAX — which stands for Metropolitan Area Express.

“If it looks like a rail, and acts like a rail, what difference does it make if it has rubber tires?’ DeVoll asked.

There you have Metro’s problem in a nutshell — style over substance. Metro officials and rail proponents want to have the latest (20th century) technology even if it means reducing transit flexibility. In the battle between shiny trains vs. buses, shiny trains win out.

We have a couple of questions: why is Metro going to waste so much money laying down rails only to pave them over, in the hopes that someday ridership will warrant uncovering the rails for light rail? We are talking a MASSIVE expenditure of taxpayer dollars. If the rails are never needed, that money is lost. If Metro decides it has enough ridership (undoubtedly we should trust Metro’s ridership numbers) to convert to light rail, the tracks would have to be uncovered, the power source would have to be built and the rail cars would have to be bought.

All of this to move…what? Two percent of Houston-area residents? Billions of dollars surely could be better spent on mobility solutions.

The other question is, will the (don’t say Bus) Rapid Transit also use an honor system for fare payment like downtown light rail currently does? If the answer is yes, yikes. If the answer is no, how come downtown light rail riders get off so easily?

Next, Rick Casey has a column on the new plan and predictably he blames Chron Bad Guys, Reps. Culberson and DeLay for Metro’s woes, because they had the temerity to question Metro’s light rail yearnings. Yawn.

However, he does write three little paragraphs that should prompt further examination:

And is the new plan better than or at least as good as the one approved by voters a year and a half ago?

The answer to the second is, we don’t know.

As one mass-transit advocate said, the devil is in the details and we don’t have any details.

That’s the MO of Mayor White and Metro. Don’t release details, just summarize for the dumb voters. After all, this is such complex stuff that common folks probably wouldn’t understand it — Trust Us!

And then the Chronicle‘s editorial board complains because there is no transit plan between downtown and Bush Intercontinental:

The need for the service has grown more acute in recent years, with the demise of express public shuttles to the airport from downtown hotels and the cancellation of Metro bus routes that provided service between Greenspoint and Kingwood and route 101 linking Bush Intercontinental and Hobby. Taxis cost $37.50 plus tip one way. The Express Shuttle USA Van, a private shuttle operation, costs $19 plus tip and is not a point-to-point service.

While the remaining Route 102 carries passengers from downtown to the airport for only $1.50, a Chronicle reporter testing the service late last year rated it “torturously slow, with a large number of stops along the way.”

Cancelled bus routes? Why doesn’t the editorial board write about that? Why doesn’t Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee hold a townhall meeting about cancelled bus routes?

As for the Chronicle reporter who tested the Route 102 service and found it “torturously slow,” that has to be Ken Hoffman who wrote what is still one of the funniest columns ever:

I knew I was in trouble when the bus left the airport and didn’t turn onto Interstate 45. Instead, it started hitting side streets and feeder roads.

And stopping. And stopping. And stopping. And stopping.

Stop with the stopping already!

I wasn’t counting, but I swear the bus stopped 20-plus times before we reached Gallery Furniture “on I-45 between Tidwell and Parker.”

Along Greens Road, we stopped every two blocks. Then we made some weird turns on small streets. I thought I saw Hansel and Gretel dropping bread crumbs so they’d remember how to get back.

That’s our Metro — clueless and tone deaf, with access to gobs and gobs of taxpayer dollars.

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About Anne Linehan 2323 Articles
Anne Linehan is a co-founder of blogHOUSTON.