Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Closer Look at the Downtown Station

See KVUE's story about the completion of the Downtown Station:

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Downtown Station Almost Complete

We're excited to announce the Capital MetroRail Downtown Station is expected to be complete this week. The new station is located next to the Austin Convention Center on 4th Street between Neches and Trinity. It's one of nine stations that will serve Capital Metro's Red Line between Austin and Leander. MetroRail will open March 30, 2009.

The station features steel canopies, lighting, and accessible ramps. Information display units, digital signs with real-time train arrival information and ticket vending machines will be installed closer to the start of service.

Construction began in August and in addition to the station, Capital Metro improved railroad tracks in the area, made considerable improvements to the sidewalk next to the Austin Convention Center and the Brush Square streetscape and built a portion of the new Lance Armstrong Bikeway.

Once rail service begins, dedicated connector buses will offer quick transfers to their final destinations. Many other local bus routes are within walking distance of the station.

Plans are underway to bring the MetroRail train to the Downtown Station in December for public viewing. Stay tuned for more details.
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Monday, November 24, 2008

'Dillo for Sale

Love ‘em or not, the ‘Dillo trolleys that circulate commuters around Downtown Austin get plenty of attention. Capital Metro even receives calls from time to time from people who ask if they can rent a ‘Dillo for private parties or even weddings. Renting a ‘Dillo is not an option. But now’s your chance if you want to buy one.

Currently Capital Metro has six surplus ‘Dillo vehicles up for auction on GovDeals. When a bus has reached its useful life span (about 10 to 12 years depending on the type of bus and how it is used), it may no longer be suitable for our rigorous schedules. But it still has value; so it’s certainly in the best interest of our taxpayers that we capture that value.

The first step is for our Procurement staff to determine the fair market value of each surplus
vehicle. Then we put them up for bid after we’ve established a minimum reserve amount that we’d be willing to accept. Looks like there are only a few bids for the ‘Dillos right now. But the auction will be open until December 8.

There is always someone out there who can put old transit vehicles to good use. Anytime Capital
Metro has vehicles up for auction we try to notify businesses, social service agencies and other entities that might be interested in bidding.

If a surplus bus is not what you need, keep checking back with GovDeals. Sometimes we’ll post other surplus property such as computers and furniture.

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Did you celebrate GIS Day yesterday?

Yesterday was the 10th annual GIS Day. Never heard of GIS Day, you say? Me neither, until yesterday. Capital Metro, of course, uses GIS (Geographic Information Systems) everyday for route planning, safety and risk management, etc. When you use our online trip planner or Google Transit to plan a trip on a Capital Metro bus, GIS is the underlying technology that makes it possible (in addition to the efforts of some smart programmers and planners at Capital Metro).

Meet Capital Metro's Arc Users Group: Ed Easton, Van Sutherland, Meredith Highsmith, Jenn Golech, Thomas Tsang, and James Gamez

GIS Day is about increasing understanding of the real-world applications of GIS technology. The Capital Metro Arc Users Group--a cadre of planners, risk managers, and others who use GIS or are interested in its applications--hosted a GIS Day celebration for all of Capital Metro, highlighting the many ways we depend upon the technology.

Honestly, it wasn't boring, and I'm not a transit nerd or geographer. It was almost fascinating, really. One of the demonstrations was by GIS Coordinator Van Sutherland. Van developed the Capital Metro Transit Stops system geodatabase, which allows you to view all of our 3,000+ bus stops, including a photograph and a list of the stop amenities, as well as what times a bus will be arriving, according to the schedule. You can check it out here.

Van created the interface about three years ago. His work saves our planning team a considerable amount of time, because before, the planners needed to consult many sources of information in order to plot routes and plan stops. Van notes, "Now they can use a single interface."
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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The (Coming) Adventures of Billy and i-Ride Man

This past Saturday members of the Capital Metro Marketing Team got to help out as casting directors for an upcoming series of videos that will be written and directed by one of our riders.

In April of this year some of you may remember that Capital Metro held a contest where we invited our customers to “tell us why you ride”. Our i-Ride Contest entries included songs, videos, original art pieces and lots and lots of stories. Several of the winning entries in the Video category were submitted by a UT Radio-Television-Film student named Alex Diamond. We were so impressed with Alex’s work that we invited him to help us make it easier for first-time Capital Metro riders by having him write and direct a series of short instructional videos that will appear on the Capital Metro website and YouTube early next year. The videos will follow the adventures of his main character Billy and his sidekick i-Ride Man as the navigate their way through first time rider scenarios such as planning a trip, stop etiquette, putting your bike on the rack and paying your fare.

So Saturday was a day of auditions for the series at the Vortex Theatre on Manor Road, who were kind enough to let us use their facilities. Alex and his two Capital Metro assistants auditioned roughly 40 hopeful actors and actresses to find three characters to star in the videos. After putting each through a cold reading of a few pages from one of the scripts we compared notes and had to make some tough decisions. (The complete cast list is posted on the Capital Metro website.) We’d like to thank all that tried out – we met and saw some very talented people and it takes guts to put yourself out there even if it’s only for a set of How to Ride videos. Look for the completed videos on our site sometime in January or February.
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Monday, November 17, 2008

Pass Reimbursement

Capital Metro wants to reimburse customers who couldn't use their active multi-day passes during the transit labor strike (Nov. 5-9). For customers who ride the bus, the replacement value will be in the form of a 5-Day pass. For MetroAccess customers, the replacement value will be in the form of a MetroAccess 10-Ride Ticket Booklet.

How to get it: Customers can redeem their multi-day pass (7-Day or 31-Day pass) for a 5-Day pass or their MetroAccess November 2008 Monthly pass for a 10-Ride Ticket Booklet by mailing in their expired pass to Capital Metro, 2910 E. 5th Street, Austin, Texas, 78702, Attn: Treasury Office, or in person, at the Transit Store, 323 Congress Avenue, beginning today, Nov. 17, 2008.

Customers must obtain the 5-day pass or 10-Ride Ticket Booklet by 12/31/08.

The small print: The start and expiration dates on the back of the pass must be legible. The pass must not be damaged. The MetroAccess (STS) Monthly pass must clearly indicate: NOV 2008 on the front of the pass. Passes not meeting these criteria will be rejected for compensation.
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Friday, November 14, 2008

A Job Well Done

I received a very kind email today commending a bus operator for a job well done. With the author's consent, I want to share it with our blog readers:

I was pleased to see that Capital Metro bus drivers are getting a raise - the driver who takes my daughter to school is just terrific.

Addie, my 13-year-old daughter, catches the regular #20 bus downtown at 7:11 am to get to LBJ High School. (She has gotten to school on time before 8 am every single day, except the first day of the strike, by the way!) That bus picks up many students going to Kealing Middle School and LBJ High, and my daughter has mentioned several times that their regular bus driver is friendly and especially nice with the students, asking them how they're doing in school and so forth.

On Veteran's Day, their usual stop at 10th Street and Congress Ave. was closed, due to the parade - which they didn't anticipate. My daughter and the whole group of students who usually board there were in a panic, sure they would miss the bus, and not knowing what to do. Then they saw a man a half block away waving his arms and calling out to get their attention. It was the bus driver! He had anticipated that these kids wouldn't know to go to the alternate stop, so he went the extra mile to go find them, and make sure they caught their bus to school.

Now if that doesn't merit a raise, I don't know what does!

Katherine Gregor
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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Return to Normalcy

A note from President/CEO Fred Gilliam:

On Monday, Capital Metro restored full service after union employees returned to work. Capital Metro is pleased that StarTran, the contractor that employs most of Capital Metro’s bus and paratransit operators and mechanics, and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1091 reached a tentative agreement. The union is expected to vote on the contract this week.

Thanks to many hard-working employees and our other contracted partners, Capital Metro was able to increase service each day of the strike. Still, we know that many customers waited patiently for their buses and MetroAccess rides to arrive, and others had to find an alternate means to travel around town. We apologize to our customers and the community for the disruption. Capital Metro will be compensating pass holders who had days of paid eligible fares during the strike days (Nov. 5-9, 2008). The details will be released soon.

Last week was a difficult time for everyone involved. Now, we must move forward to rebuild public trust within the community. We remain committed to providing high quality service to meet the needs of central Texas.

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Thursday, November 6, 2008

Capital Metro Plans Major Increase in Routes Tomorrow

Tomorrow Capital Metro will operate on a modified Saturday level of service. Thirty-three routes will run tomorrow between the hours of 6 a.m. and 7:30 p.m., compared to 13 that operated today.

Additionally, MetroAccess for customers with disabilities will operate at its full level of service between the hours of 6 a.m. and 7:30 p.m.

During a strike no fares will be charged.
The following routes will be in service tomorrow, November 7, 2008:

1L/1M North Lamar/South Congress
2 Rosewood
3 Burnet/Manchaca
4 Montopolis
5 Woodrow/South 5th
6 East 12th
7 Duval/Dove Springs
9 Enfield/Travis Heights
10 South First/Red River
17 Cesar Chavez
18 Martin Luther King
19 Bull Creek
20 Manor Road/Riverside
21/22 Exposition/Chicon
23 Johnny Morris
29 Barton Hills
30 Barton Creek
37 Colony Park/Windsor Park
100 Airport Flyer
201 Southpark Meadows
243 Wells Branch
300 Govalle
311 Stassney
320 St. Johns
325 Ohlen
328 Ben White
331 Oltorf
333 Wm. Cannon
338 Lamar/45th
339 Walnut Creek
350 Airport Blvd.
383 Research
392 Braker

There will be no ‘Dillo, E-Bus or Night Owl Service.

The following routes, which are not operated by StarTran, will run as regularly scheduled:

UT Shuttle Routes (open to the general public)
AISD Routes (with the exception of the afternoon Kealing Middle School routes)
142 Metric Flyer
214 Lago Vista Feeder
990 Northwest Express (Manor)
Northwest Dial-a-Ride Service (Monday, Wednesday and Friday only)
Capital Metro urges customers to review the limited service options available and to be prepared with alternate transportation plans such as carpooling. The very latest information on routes is posted on and available by calling (512) 474-1200.
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Creative Commuters in Leander

Some resourceful Leander commuters have taken matters into their own hands. Several long-time Express route riders who normally catch the 986 and 987 from the Leander Park & Ride have formed their own adhoc carpools instead during the transit strike.

According to Capital Metro outreach volunteers who were stationed at Leander Park & Ride yesterday and today to help riders find other ways to work, the carpools formed on site, made up of individuals who have been sharing an Express bus ride with each other for months.

Leander Mayor and Capital Metro Board Member John Cowman volunteered to do outreach this morning, and was heartened by the resourcefulness of Leander residents to make lemonade out of lemons.

In strike news, today Capital Metro was able to add three more bus routes and increase the frequency of buses from 45 to 30 minutes. The complete list of routes operating can be found on the Capital Metro homepage.
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Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Capital Metro Services Today

During the early morning hours this morning, Capital Metro bus operators and mechanics put down their tools and picked up signs instead, picketing outside Capital Metro's headquarters in East Austin.

Nonetheless, Capital Metro got its planned, albeit limited, service out this morning and is operating a network of 10 core routes today from 6 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

At 5:40 a.m. this morning, the first buses queue up to leave the garage.

By 7:10 a.m. this morning, 70 Capital Metro buses had rolled out of the garage to provide today's service. Now the focus is on supplementing those routes to add frequency and alleviate crowding. An additional 19 buses have been added to 1L/1M, 3, 10, and 20. As more people cross the line, we will continue to put additional buses on the street.
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Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Statesman: Transit Strike Will Hurt Riders and Union

The following editorial is running in Wednesday's Austin American-Statesman:

Transit Strike Will Hurt Riders and the Union
Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Union leaders at Capital Metro aren't doing their membership or the city any good by ordering a strike today. A strike is only going to make more people furious at the bus drivers, as riders were after the one-day strike three years ago.

Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1091 has snubbed Capital Metro bargaining agent StarTran's offer of a $1,000 bonus and a 10 percent pay increase over the next three years. The union did grudgingly accept a change in health care coverage that places union workers under a plan similar to the one that covers nonunion workers and top executives.

Thousands of people who depend on Capital Metro to get them to work, the doctor's office and around town can't understand the union's resistance to a good contract offer or its determination to strike. The union wants a retroactive pay increase for last year rather than a one-time bonus payment and is willing to disrupt the city's transportation system to get it.

Austin City Council Member Mike Martinez, also a member of Capital Metro's board of directors, offered a compromise plan late in the negotiations. He proposed a 3 percent raise for last year and a 2.5 percent increase this year. Martinez also suggests an independent audit to provide revenue and expense numbers that both sides agree upon.

StarTran General Manager Terry Garcia Crews said what Martinez proposed for two years would cost as much as the company has budgeted for a four-year contract. And it sends everyone back to the bargaining table in only eight months. "The workforce needs stability," she said.

Like other public entities, Capital Metro has been hit with unexpected expenses in a cataclysmic economic downturn. First came $4 a gallon gasoline, then a collapsing economy that hits the transit company square in the pocket book.

Cap Metro is underpinned by a 1-cent sales tax that provides most of its $185 million annual budget. But the reeling economy has reduced the sales tax by about 3 percent from last year's numbers.

No one doubts that the union has bargained in good faith, but economic reality must be interjected into the contract discussions, too. These are hard times, and Capital Metro, through StarTran, is trying to manage its finances and still offer a good contract.

Capital Metro's drivers and mechanics are among the best-paid in Texas, and their health care plan — even after the changes offered in the contract — is the best of any public entity in the region.

Union members found out in 2005 that a strike can shatter good relations with the public for years. That work stoppage occurred as a hurricane hit Texas and thousands of evacuees descended on Austin. This month is an even worse time to use a strike to gain public sympathy
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