Tuesday, July 28, 2009

We've Moved!

Capital MetroBlog has moved! Visit our new site at www.capmetroblog.com. Don't forget to update your feeds, too.

We welcome your feedback, but we've disable comments on this blog. Visit the new site to join the conversation: www.capmetroblog.com. And, thanks for reading. Read more

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Capital MetroBlog moving to a new home

Capital MetroBlog is just a wee bit over a year old. It's been a fun year on Blogger, getting our feet wet with a new blog and getting to know a few of you. We're looking forward to bigger and better things on Capital MetroBlog for our second year, and effective Tuesday, July 28, Capital MetroBlog will be moving to a new site.
We're switching to a new host site to improve accessibility and to gain the use of some additional/better tools on the backend. We hope you will make the move with us. We'll post the new link on Monday.

In the meantime, please let me know your suggestions for Capital MetroBlog's second year, and thanks for reading.
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A Tale of Two Cities (cont'd)

I am bilingual by matter of birthright. When I started in kindergarden I only spoke Spanish. Knowing two languages has its advantages. I'm sure you, dear reader, agree. But what does one do when someone needs help and doesn't speak your language? This happened to me while driving the bus in Los Angeles and then also here in Austin.

It was Saturday morning in the spring time and I was driving the 480 route in L.A. I was at the layover point on the west side of downtown, just pass the financial district. An elderly couple, who, as it turned out, were visiting from another country. They became lost and came up to my bus for help. The man started talking to me and all I could think was, "Oh, no. They only speak Italian. The man continued talking to me, friendly, but I could not understand. And then the lady started talking to me. I remember thinking how beautiful their language sounded. Like music, it had melody and rhythm. Suddenly I realized I knew what they were asking me. I also realized I had put up a wall as soon as I heard the foreign language. A lot of the words were so close to Spanish that I could make out what they were saying. I thought to myself, "I bet if I speak Spanish they will understand me." I said something in Spanish and sure enough it worked. They started talking faster and I paid close attention. I spoke Spanish to them and they spoke Italian to me and we were able to have a conversation. I was able to help them find the place they were looking for.

Believe it or don't, three years later that exact event happened again, like a rerun on t.v. Again it was Saturday morning in spring time. Only this time I'm driving the number 1 route in Austin. I stop to pick-up passengers on the drag in front of the co-op. Again an elderly couple come up to me for directions. And they only speak Italian. But this time I just go right into it. I talk to them in Spanish and I see their worried look disappear like magic. "It's a small world after all."
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Monday, July 20, 2009

Texas! Bringing Healthy Back

Capital Metro's healthy cafeteria is featured in a new video campaign from the Texas Department of State Health Services about preventing obesity. Here's the excerpt that highlights Capital Metro.


Capital Metro was selected for the video because of our award-winning workplace wellness program that is fostering healthy lifestyles among our employees. Fox 7 News aired a story about our wellness program in June.

The Texas! Bringing Healthy Back video is part of a new obesity prevention campaign sponsored by the Texas Department of State Health Services. According to the Texas! Bringing Healthy Back Web site, one in three Texans is obese.

Incidentally, riding public transportation can be a part of a healthy routine, since it generally goes hand in hand with walking and bicycling (and makes you feel good about saving money and the environment).
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Saturday, July 18, 2009

First Public MetroRail Ride

Today about 200 people got to ride Capital MetroRail as part of our testing. It was the first ride offered to people outside of Capital Metro, except for the news media, and so it was an especially happy event for us.

Today was the second of two days of passenger simulation testing. The engineers got a feel for how the train handles when it's full, as well as practice boarding and deboarding passengers at the stations.

Yesterday, Capital Metro employees played the part of passengers and got on and off the train at each station along the line. The staff were testing the timings of the stops in relation to the full schedule.
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Friday, July 17, 2009

Capital MetroRail Progress Report

Capital Metro is releasing its July progress report today. It's an anticlimactic report--we're not announcing a date just yet. Still, things are moving along. The full report is behind the jump.

CAPITAL METRORAIL PROGRESS REPORT – JULY 17, 2009

Capital Metro continues readying the MetroRail Red Line for a safe launch into full-service operations. The project is still in the final comprehensive operational testing phase, during which every component is tested in conjunction with the whole to validate the safety and consistent operation of the system. As Capital Metro staff discovers and resolves issues within this phase, we have also completed the detailed documentation work that will ensure smooth operations when MetroRail is in full-service.

Capital Metro staff and partners are also using the additional time to redouble their rail safety education efforts. While Capital Metro is not ready to announce a new opening date yet, the community will appreciate the extra efforts being taken now to ensure their safety both on and off the tracks.

Milestones Completed Since June 19

  • Made adjustments to all crossings as needed to function as designed and improve reliability.

  • Identified resolution to gate timing issue at the following crossings near the Kramer, Crestview and Highland Stations: Kramer, Braker, Lamar, Guadalupe, Denson. Resolution will adjust the amount of time gates are down when trains stop at nearby stations.

  • Traffic signal preemption is complete and operational at these crossings, pending final optimization adjustments as needed:
    o 4th Street & Red River
    o IH-35 SBFR (near 4th Street)
    o IH-35 NBFR (near 4th Street)
    o IH-35 SBFR (near IH-35 lower deck)
    o 45th Street
    o 51st Street
    o 53rd Street
    o Denson Drive
    o Guadalupe Street
    o North Lamar Boulevard
    o Anderson Lane
    o Crystal Falls Parkway
    o FM 2243
    Signal preemption technology provides enhanced safety at crossings adjacent to intersections by turning traffic lights green and allowing traffic to clear before gates are lowered.

  • Completed train engineers’ preliminary comprehensive contingency training.

  • Completed comprehensive software inventory and documentation process for the entire system which will result in easier identification and resolution of any issues that may arise.

Remaining Milestones

  • Complete full-service test runs to adjust and finalize rail service schedules.

  • Complete train engineers’ final comprehensive contingency training, including passenger simulation tests (scheduled for July 17 & 18).

  • Complete final signal technology adjustments and enhancements.

  • Conduct final system validation. This process ensures consistent and reliable operation of all components working together.

When will service begin?

Capital Metro will announce an opening date when the entire rail system is demonstrated to be operating in a consistent, reliable and safe manner. We will report back to the community in mid-August. We will continue rail safety outreach efforts during this time to increase awareness about trains and prepare the community for MetroRail.
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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Shorten your (single occupancy) commute; catch a bus at Tech Ridge Park & Ride

Northeast Travis County residents will have improved access to Tech Ridge Park & Ride when newly constructed segments of Heatherwilde and Wells Branch open this week. Both Travis County roadways will include sidewalks and bike lanes.

Tech Ridge Park & Ride serves as the northern terminus for routes serving the busy North Lamar/South Congress corridor (#1L/1M and #101), East Austin (#135), and UT/Downtown (#935). It also facilitates many transfers as the endpoint for Routes #243 Wells Branch and #392 Braker.

Tech Ridge P&R route map
Community Impact article
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Thursday, July 2, 2009

Ride Capital Metro for 4th of July fun

In just two days, Austinites can enjoy yet another free 4th of July concert by the Austin Symphony, capped off with fireworks. It's happening at Auditorium Shores and the Long Center, beginning at 8:30 p.m. (fireworks at 9:30 p.m.).

Traffic and parking are messy for this event, so think about jumping on Capital Metro--we have a bunch of routes that serve Auditorium Shores.


Routes that serve Auditorium Shores include 1L/1M, 3, 7, 10, 20, 30, 328, 338, and the Night Owls. Most routes operate until around midnight, and the Night Owls run from 12 - 3 a.m.

See ya there!
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Wednesday, July 1, 2009

APD on Board

The next time you're in a hurry to pass a Capital Metro bus, remember there may be an unexpected passenger on board: a police officer. The Austin Police Department is using one of our buses for its Ticketing Aggressive Cars and Trucks (TACT) enforcement program. The goal of TACT is to reduce traffic accidents caused by unsafe driving behavior around large vehicles. KTBC profiled the program this week:

video


Capital Metro has an ongoing partnership with APD to prepare officers to operate buses in the event of an emergency.



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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

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.

*********
*********

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.)
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Customers Picture Themselves on Capital Metro

Last week Capital Metro celebrated National Dump the Pump Day with a couple of fun events to encourage ridership and engage our customers.

Thursday morning (June 18th) Capital Metro staff arrived at both the North Lamar and South Congress Transit Centers by 6am for a Dump the Pump bag exchange, which encouraged people to bring us 5 plastic bags that we would exchange for a reusable cloth one. This morning I dropped off the more than 500 plastic bags we received at Ecology Action for recycling.

Then all throughout Dump the Pump Day we encouraged our customers to “Picture Yourself on Capital Metro” by sending us a photograph of themselves riding on Capital Metro. We received dozens of great pictures of people on the bus ranging from thoughtfully composed to hasty self-portraits.

A complete set of the winning shots -- chosen at random from the entries received -- can be found here. Our Grand Prize winner (a shot of 2-year-old boy named Jake with crackers covering his eyes) received a $200 gift certificate to the EcoShoppe. Runners-up received an i-Ride jacket made from recycled materials. Congratulations to all and thanks to everyone who submitted a photo.
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Friday, June 19, 2009

Capital MetroRail Update

Capital Metro has just released its June progress report on MetroRail.


While there's no date to announce, progress moves along, and there are just a few more milestones to reach before the Red Line can open.
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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Capital Metro's Award-Winning Wellness Program

KTBC Fox 7 News profiled Capital Metro's employee wellness program on Wednesday morning. It's been phenomenally successful: for every $1 that Capital Metro has invested in the program, the agency has enjoyed $2.43 in savings due to decreased health care costs and absenteeism rates.



The Centers for Disease Control recently published a case study on the positive effects of our program. Read more

DUMP THE PUMP!

Today's National Dump the Pump Day, and we're sponsoring a photo contest. Send us a photo of yourself riding Capital Metro today, and we'll put your name in a drawing to win one of 20 Capital Metro eco-friendly windbreakers, and one grand prize--a $200 gift certificate to EcoShoppe. Full rules/details here.

I thought I'd share some of the cool photos we've received today. Note: these aren't winners of the contest (yet)--we'll do a random drawing of all the photos tomorrow. Send yours in!



See some more behind the cut.



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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

National Dump the Pump Day is tomorrow

"If you're serious about being green, you should be riding Capital Metro." That was our message today at the North Lamar Transit Center, where we set up a display to demonstrate just how significant the benefits are to the environment when you take public transportation instead of driving. It's the single greatest action you can take to reduce your carbon footprint.

You'd have to use 100 percent post-consumer waste recycled paper for the next 45-48 years (450,000 - 480,000 sheets of paper!) to make the same positive effect on the environment as riding the bus for a single year.

Bus operator and MetroBlogger Leo Guerrero poses with a Capital Metro hybrid bus and the mountain of paper.

Tomorrow would be a perfect day to make the switch to public transit--it's National Dump the Pump Day, and you can score some environmentally-friendly goodies, too.

BAG EXCHANGE
Come to either the North Lamar Transit Center or the South Congress Transit Center tomorrow morning with at least five plastic grocery bags for recycling, and we'll give you a reusable grocery bag and a 20% off coupon from EcoShoppe. We'll be there at 6:30 a.m. until the bags run out.

PHOTO CONTEST

Take a picture of yourself riding Capital Metro and email the photo to dumpthepump@capmetro.org for a chance to win one of 20 i-Ride eco-friendly windbreakers, or the grand-prize, a $200 gift certificate to EcoShoppe. Read the full details and the small print here.

TWEET
Tweet about your Dump the Pump Day experiences! Use the hashtags #DumpThePump and #CapMetro to be part of both the local and the national movements to ride public transportation to save the planet. Have fun with it!

We have to give some props to IKON Office Solutions and Longhorn Office Products who helped us acquire 480,000 sheets of recycled paper for our demo today, as well as EcoShoppe for partnering with us on the promotion.
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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

It's Smarter to Travel in Groups--Take the Bus

Very clever transit advertising from de Lijn in Belgium.

Here's another from the same campaign, enjoy!

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Friday, June 12, 2009

Let's Hear it for Rail Safety!

For the last two years, Capital Metro has been working on getting a rail safety message out to the community. We use a program called Operation Lifesaver, as well as some cool innovative ways of spreading our message. Capital Metro has presented a rail safety message to over 33,000 (LOTS!) students over the last year. We've shared the message at innumerable events and fairs, and we've even done a couple of contests (you may have seen the earlier blog about our poster competition).

Another of those innovative rail safety strategies is our coordination with the Girl Scouts of Central Texas. They created the first-ever Rail Safety Patch Program (now becoming a national model).



Girl Scouts Troop 2059 decided to earn the patch, so last week I went up to Leander to assist them in completing the final requirements. I gave them our Operation Lifesaver presentation, we watched a rail safety video, and then they showed me the rail safety cheer they wrote. It was TOO CUTE!

Using the acronym ACORN (the message we've been preaching all over Central Texas), they came up with this:
video

A is for Always look both ways
C is for Cross only at crosswalks
O is for Obey all signals
R is for Railroad tracks are for trains only
N is for Never try to outrun a train

I was SO impressed with their creativity and energy! I know they are going to be great rail safety advocates in their neighborhoods, and am so happy that our message is filtering through the area.

Thanks Troop 2059!
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Thursday, June 4, 2009

Rails with Trails

National Bike Month 2009 has officially ended, but for some Austinites it’s a way of life year-round. For others like myself, National Bike Month was a good incentive to try commuting by bicycle for the first time. On National Bike to Work Day, I ventured beyond my own neighborhood and rode my bike to work. It was a good experience, made more so by the fact that I learned I can use the hike and bike trail for about 90 percent of the commute. It’s ridiculous I haven’t been biking to work more often.

One under-publicized aspect of the All Systems Go! long-range transit plan is Rails with Trails, which is a plan to incorporate pedestrian and bicycle paths wherever feasible along the MetroRail right-of-way from Leander to Austin. The pathways would increase accessibility and connectivity to the MetroRail stations and provide cyclists and walkers an expanded network of safe trails. In essence, it provides another viable transportation choice for the community.

Capital Metro completed a feasibility study in 2007 with help from a broad group of stakeholders: members of the cycling community, the city, county, and others. The 32-mile Red Line was divided into 11 segments for the purposes of completing Rails with Trails. The study outlined a plan to create 31 miles of paved trails, 1.7 miles of improved sidewalks, and eight miles of additional on-street bike routes. The feasibility study is available on the Rails with Trails Web page.

Capital Metro is receiving $1.9 million in federal stimulus funding to continue development of segment #3, which extends from Highland Station north along Airport Boulevard to Morrow Street. The proposed trail will provide connectivity to both Highland Station and Crestview Station and will likely include 1.3 miles of trail and 1.6 miles of on-street bikeway. Design work on this segment will begin very soon and we hope to begin construction shortly thereafter.

Segment #1, from the Downtown Station north to Wilshire Blvd. (approx. five miles), is mostly completed, and includes the new Lance Armstrong Bikeway and Boggy Creek Trail. Some work has also been done in segment #11, which extends from Crystal Falls Road north to the Leander Station.

The City of Austin has included Rails with Trails in the revised draft city bicycle plan that will be considered by City Council soon. The bicycle plan includes other objectives to improve the link between cycling and transit--check it out here.

Our friends at the City of Austin are also working on a similar trail project along Cap Metro’s rail right-of-way from downtown Austin to downtown Manor.
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Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Rapid Bus Demo


You may have seen this bus rolling around Austin recently and thought to yourself "what is that?". It's a 2008 Nova LFX demo bus and it's just one of several different models that Capital Metro is considering for MetroRapid. Our transit planners and operators have been testing it out on the streets of Austin the past few days. So far, many are impressed by the way it looks, rides and drives.

The 62-ft articulated bus has 56 seats but it can be manufactured to have up to 62 seats. This particular bus has three wide doors. It's very roomy and quite comfortable. You might think the size limits its turing ability, but that's not the case. The bus can manuever around the same as a 40-ft bus.

This type of bus would be assigned to only the MetroRapid routes. The first two routes will be along North Lamar/South Congress and Burnet/South Lamar. Click here for more info on MetroRapid.


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Tuesday, June 2, 2009

MetroAccess Driver Takes Silver

Capital MetroAccess Van Operator Jeff Mercer brought home a 2nd place trophy from the National Paratransit Roadeo in Providence, Rhode Island, on May 31. Competing against 61 other drivers from throughout the nation, Jeff missed first place by a mere 18 points (out of 1,000 total).

Jeff was a definite underdog in the competition, as this was his first time competing in the national competition.

Also competing from Capital Metro, and the current Texas State Bus Roadeo Champion, was MetroAccess Van Operator Ted Ward, who placed 21st nationally.

Way to go, Capital Metro!
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Bye Bye Legislature, at least for now

June 2, 2009: the legislature is adjourned, at least for now. I am not sure if I am relieved or wish they would stick around longer. It boggles my mind how critical statewide policy is supposed to be made in less than five months. But, it is what it is, right?

So, what happened to Capital Metro? Overall, we achieved much of what was in our legislative agenda: bus-only shoulders, civilian fare enforcement, contracted peace officer authority, and use of the State’s travel discount. Unfortunately though, due to the State's budget constraints, we weren’t able to negotiate an agreement with them so that State employees could benefit from annual transit passes. Also very unfortunately, the Legislature was not willing to grant local entities more funding mechanisms for local transportation projects (the local-option funding measure doggedly and valiantly led by Senator John Carona). I find this to be incredibly disappointing but sadly, I am not surprised.

There were also a lot of other changes that were carried forward in legislation by Senator Kirk Watson and Representative Eddie Rodriguez. (This is probably what most of you are most interested in.) Those affect our board composition; our ability to operate passenger rail and set our own fares; and internal audit, review and reporting requirements of our agency.

If you're interested in what passed that most directly affects Capital Metro, here's a summary.

SENATE BILL 1263 (Senator Watson, Rep. Rodriguez) -- This is the big bill.

Board composition
: Changes the composition of the Capital Metro board, most significantly by increasing the total number of members from seven to eight by adding another CAMPO appointee. Watson’s original proposal had called for more significant changes but negotiations in the past few days resulted in the Legislature essentially maintaining the current board composition with some minor tweaks.

The new board composition is as follows:
  • 3 members appointed by CAMPO -- 1 must be an elected official, 1 must have at least 10 years of experience as a financial or accounting professional, and 1 must have at least 10 years of experience in an executive-level position.
  • 2 members appointed by the City of Austin -- 1 must be an elected official
  • 1 member appointed by Travis County
  • 1 member appointed by Williamson County
  • 1 member, who must be an elected official, appointed by all the small city mayors in Capital Metro's service area (which excludes City of Austin).

This is not much different than today in that the City of Austin currently appoints two reps, Travis County appoints a rep, various Williamson County officials appoint a rep, and the small city mayors in Travis County appoint a rep. The big change is the CAMPO component. Today they appoint two reps and there are no specific requirements of those individuals. The change gives them an additional rep and requires specific types of experience or elected official status for those reps.

Rail referendum requirements: Allows Capital Metro to forgo the highly unique referendum currently required of our agency in order for us to operate passenger rail (and which is required even if we are not needing to ask the voters for any additional funds to build the system, as was the case for our Red Line that was built within existing means) if
  • We are entering into a contract to build, operate or maintain a fixed rail transit system for another entity, or
  • Voters already approved funds for the project at an election called by our agency or another entity.

Fare approval abilities: Allows Capital Metro to set our own fares (like most any other transit agency in the country), except that CAMPO can veto the base fare if they do so within 60 days of the board it (which is unlike most any other transit agency in the country).

Internal auditor: Requires the Capital Metro board to hire an internal auditor who would report directly to the board. (Today our internal auditor reports both to the board and to our staff president.)

Sunset review: Requires Capital Metro to undergo a sunset review by the Sunset Advisory Commission, but without the possibility of being abolished. This would happen once now and/or next year depending on when it starts and how long it lasts, and again in 2016/2017.

Annual reporting requirements: Requires Capital Metro to provide annual reports to other entities to which we have any financial obligations.

Other operational abilities: Specifies that nonpayment of a fare is not a crime of moral turpitude (this is important for aspiring attorneys and other professionals I hear), allows Capital Metro to hire civilian fare enforcement officers, and ensures that peace officers with whom we contract for security can enforce violations against the Capital Metro system while on duty for Capital Metro (because we contract with APD and they may be on the train in Leander as part of their security duties).

SB 899 (Senator Duell, Rep. Smith) allows all Texas transit agencies to use the State’s travel discounts when employees or officers of the agency are traveling for work. (Saves us and thus you money!)

SB 434 (Senator Wentworth, Rep. Bolton) allows Capital Metro, at least in Travis County, (and San Antonio VIA, Denton County Transportation Authority, and Sun Metro in El Paso) to operate buses on highway shoulders during times of heavy traffic congestion in areas pre-approved by TxDOT. Basically, if traffic slows to 35 mph, our buses can use the highway shoulders as a travel lane but there are limits on just how fast they can go compared to the rest of traffic so that buses don't go unsafely whizzing by the other motorists who will be stuck in traffic because they didn't take the bus. (I'm sure I'll be one of those people one day just for being so snide.) There will be signs noting it's only for public bus use.

That's about it. I have a bunch of bills to dig through and see if anything else passed that might have helped or hurt us. Fun, fun, fun. If you're needing some good bedtime reading, let me know. I got a stack of it.
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Saturday, May 30, 2009

On the Air with Fred

Recently Capital Metro's President/CEO Fred Gilliam sat down (over the phone) with KLBJ-AM news director Todd Jeffries to discuss a number of topics, including MetroRail, sales tax revenue, the recently approved line of credit, service changes, roadeo results and more. In a world of 10-second sound bites, it's always a refreshing opportunity to have a long-form conversation about several important issues. You can hear the interview on Todd's blog. Read more

Friday, May 29, 2009

I want to ride my bicycle, I want to ride my bike...

It always seems to start out the same way. I wake up, remember that this is a day that I'm supposed to ride my bike to work, and soon my half-awake brain begins to work to find an excuse for why I can't. Then, after some coffee gets me thinking a bit more lucidly, I recall all the reasons why I do bicycle:
  • good for me physically (love that fact that I can kill two birds with one stone by getting in my exercise while also doing the mandatory commute to work);
  • good for the environment (less than six miles each way isn't much driving but it adds up); and
  • good for me mentally (as the other bloggers have noted the level of interaction with the environment around you is MUCH more engaging on a bike).


So I usually manage to overcome my own mental inertia to do the easy thing (drive) and away I go on the bike. Of course nowadays it's especially good to ride because my kids get to ride too, and we get to enjoy a few minutes of quality time together in the open air rather than in the car before they stop off at school...and they sure seem to fight less when biking than when stuck in the back seat together!

Back to the opening point- every time I ride, without exception, I'm glad I did. So why the heck is it that my brain tries to come up with excuses not to do it? Sure, maybe it takes a little extra prep time to pack my courier bag with my work clothes. I have to be careful to fold my shirt so it doesn't come out all wrinkled and to not forget things like a belt or socks (which I've done and felt goofy all day long without). And yes, it's true that biking burns calories which generate heat which makes me sweat, but I have a place to change clothes and towel off and cool down before putting on my work clothes, so it's not really a big deal. As I like to joke, the side benefit of riding is that my meetings tend to be really short on those days (all the while hoping that I'm not really stinky)! Yes, riding the bike can complicate the situation when I have meetings out of the office, but that can be overcome by riding the bus or catching a ride. And finally, riding does take more time than driving, but in reality the difference is piddling, less than 15 minutes extra time in the worst case and sometimes fewer than ten.

Clearly the benefits far outweigh the costs. So again, why the internal resistance? Perhaps it's a metaphor for a broader phenomenon of the human condition (or at least mine)- the innate desire to go with the known, the easy, the safe, the comfortable, the routine. As I've learned through biking to work and in countless other ways, though, that is not the recipe for a fulfilled life. No, instead it's to push, to challenge, to try new things, and to explore. So, as they say, get on your bike and ride!
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If You Build It...

Austin-based high tech company Valence is interested in building a new production facility in Leander. One of the company's big attractions is the proposed site's proximity to Capital Metro's passenger and freight rail line. Here are a couple of yesterday's TV news stories about it:

video

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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A Tale of Two Cities?

Back in the early '90's I worked as a bus driver in the city of Los Angeles. There were differences and similarities with how the buses in L.A. and buses here in Austin went about doing the same thing, that is, picking up and dropping off passengers.

One of the differences was in how we operated buses in downtown. In L.A. we didn't pick-up passengers at every corner. We pick-upped at every other corner. But there were bus stops at every corner.

Here's how it worked. Let's say, for fun, that you are the bus driver. And your route goes along 1st Street. Your stops would be on Los Angeles, Spring and Hill Streets, but you would skip Main, Broadway and Olive Streets. There are always other buses along your route and the stops you skipped would belong to those. But you, as the operator, would not stay in line behind the bus in front of your bus like we do so here in Austin. After you picked-up passengers, you change lanes and move in front of the other bus, which in turn, will move in front of your bus after boarding people. I always thought of it as playing leapfrog. It worked well.

I have to add that a city block in L.A. is longer than here in Austin. I can walk from 2nd to 3rd Streets while holding my breath. I'll use Austin for an example. If you, as the bus operator, picked-up folks at 11th Street, your next stop would be at Cesar Chavez Street. That is about how far apart the bus stops are in downtown L.A.

I'll end this tale of two cities with a quote from someone I love. "A-du-a-du-a-ta-a-ta-that's all folks."
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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Hidden treasures, as discovered from a bike

I love riding my bike to work. I love it because if nothing good happens at work on a day that I ride, at least riding my bike was one good thing—two if you count the ride there and the ride home. But I also love it because it gives me an opportunity to appreciate so many surprising little things that I might not even have ever noticed had I been driving.

On my way home, I love to poke around and turn left or turn right, wherever I want to go. Even in a car, I’m not one to take the most expedient route but on a bike, the scenic route lures me even more.

So I thought it would be fun to share some of my favorite things I see when I ride. Maybe you can figure out where they are.



This bird. I love this bird. I see him when riding between work and downtown.







And this? This is my tag. "So what," you say, but it’s the perfect example of something I never noticed in my car—and it’s my tag! A friend who rides his bike to work every day pointed it out to me, and not until my pedal-pushing friend told me about it, did I see it. Now I pass by and take such pride in the quick handiwork that someone else did, but which I can jokingly claim as my own. Here’s to you, T.B.


This drawing reminds me of Edward Gorey’s work, which I think is fantastic! This sticker decorates one hip person's mailbox.






Speaking of Gorey, I’ve learned to be OK with cemeteries, at least Oakwood Cemetery, which I ride by on my way home. I used to be really scared of cemeteries when I was a kid but now I love to pass by and look at the names on the tombstones, put them together and make up characters who I think would be perfect for William Faulkner novels. My absolute favorite at Oakwood is a headstone inscribed with the last name of “Numbers.” Can’t you see it? A tragic Faulkner character: Mr. Numbers. (Or I guess a potential nemesis of James Bond.) The first name I have chosen from another headstone goes especially well with Mr. Numbers’ last name but you should ride by there yourself and pick your own first name for Mr. Numbers.

But the absolute best thing about riding a bike is the people. People are a zillion times nicer when you’re on a bike. In a car, you’re just a big, ol’ anonymous hunk of steel that makes noise and stinks. Friendly people are a huge perk, like this gentleman who's always on his porch and who always waves at me and all the bike-riders, as if he's known us all for years. He has the friendliest smile and I always enjoy going home that way. (When I stopped and chatted with him one day, and asked to take his photo for this blog, I learned that his 93rd (!) birthday is next week so I’ll have to take that route home then to say happy birthday.)

Well, here are the last few treasures that I've found on my way home that I'll share. (The Shoe Shine mural is the only image for which I can acknowledge the artist, who is the obviously talented Tonya Engel. The somewhat illegible phrase on the plywood reads, "Wavy Days," which I feel like I have a lot of.)


Even appreciating these little things makes me more able to appreciate everything else in my life. So I encourage you to hop on your bike, or just take a really leisurely stroll, and make a point to look for things that you might not otherwise ever see or pay much attention to. I guarantee it will make your day a much better one. Read more

Friday, May 15, 2009

I Ride

It was a beautiful morning to be out on a bicycle.

Last year I rode my bike to work a handful of times. This year for whatever reason I haven’t gotten into the habit. I don't have a good excuse if the weather's nice -- Capital Metro at 5th and Pleasant Valley is only 6.3 miles from my house in South Austin and I can ride most of it along the Town Lake Trail on Lady Bird Lake. The gravel trail means I have to work a little harder than if I stayed on pavement but the tradeoff of not having to dodge traffic is worth it.

So this morning I pulled the bike out from the back of the garage, dusted off the cobwebs and set off. Pumping up the tires and getting my “Go” bag ready took a little time and I was running late, so I passed within yards of the Bike to Work Day celebration at City Hall without stopping for a free breakfast taco. Sounded like they had a crowd of people out there though.

My favorite part of any run or ride around Town Lake Trail is the section on the north side of the lake, east of I-35. It’s so quiet and peaceful compared to the hustle and bustle of the trail on both sides of the lake from Austin High to the Ann Richards Bridge. This morning I encountered a few other cyclists, a couple of fishermen, one or two people sitting at picnic tables, and a handful of pedestrians and runners along this quieter stretch but very little else except birds and trees. Riding along there is good way to begin the day.

This evening after work my plan is to ride up to the Intramural Fields to join some friends for some pickup soccer. After a couple of hours of soccer at my age I’ll likely have trouble even walking TO my bike – never mind pedaling it home. I’ll walk or pedal over to Lamar and 51st and put my bike and tired self on the # 3 southbound to get me back to the neighborhood. Wake me when we get to Artz Rib House.

National Bike to Work Day is a good reminder to me that with a little bit of planning lots of us could find healthier ways to get to work – healthier for us and healthier for the environment. I wish there were free tacos every day though.


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Thursday, May 14, 2009

Bike to Work Day: Tomorrow

Tomorrow is Bike to Work Day. Wouldn't it be great if tomorrow during morning rush hour, there were more bikes out on our streets than cars?!

I've got my route planned out and hope to bike the whole way, but just in case I get tired, I've also noted where along my route I could catch a bus if needed. All of our buses (except the 'Dillo trolleys) have bike racks, and it's easy to load/unload your bike. If you've never "biked by bus" before, you can check out the easy how-to on our Web site.

I had heard there was a bike shop in town that had a standard bus bike rack in the store so people could practice (without the pressure of traffic zooming by). I thought it was Mellow Johnny's but turns out it's not. Does anyone know which shop, if any, provides that?

But. I did learn that Mellow Johnny's provides bike commuters hot showers, and while you're getting cleaned up, they'll tuneup your bike, provide you a storage locker, and give you a free cup of coffee (on Fridays). All for $1. Pretty cool.

They're also on the list of organizations providing FREE breakfast to cyclists tomorrow. Check out the full list of breakfast locations.

Hope to see you on two wheels tomorrow!
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Good News for MetroRapid

Last week, Capital Metro learned that the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) has recommended $17.39 million in funding for MetroRapid. The funding is a part of President Barack Obama’s FY2010 budget, which must still be approved by Congress.

MetroRapid was one out of 10 new or expanding transit projects that the FTA recommended for funding. This announcement was a welcomed surprise. We submitted the project just nine months ago; and we were not anticipating possible funding this early in the process.

Initial service will operate on two of the busiest corridors: North Lamar/South Congress and Burnet/South Lamar. The project cost for these first two routes is an estimated $47 million. Capital Metro is still pursuing more federal funding, up to $37 million.

Capital Metro plans to start the procurement process for MetroRapid buses later this year. Staff is considering a combination of 40-foot and 60-foot vehicles. The buses will be equipped with signal priority technology to keep traffic lights green as they approach major intersections.

For more on the MetroRapid system, visit our web site.
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MetroRail Media

Here's a sample of some of yesterday's TV news coverage about MetroRail.

video

You can see the complete stories on each station's web site:
KVUE
KEYE
KTBC
N8A



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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Capital MetroRail Progress Report

Capital Metro just released its community report about MetroRail status and next steps. I may post more a bit later--we'll be at Howard Station later this morning to answer questions from the media, and I know you'll have some comments, too. Read more

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Yelpers Discuss Capital Metro

A customer named Michele sent us this link to a rather interesting thread on Yelp about Capital Metro.

The comments touch on everything from what people like and don't like about Capital Metro, to a more philosophical discussion about whether there is a stigma attached to riding the bus. Some of the suggestions posted for us are things we would also like to accomplish for the city, the region, and specifically, our customers. But one thing to keep in mind, and I'm sure people realize this but maybe it's worth mentioning again, with limited resources, we have to prioritize some things. Particularly over the next year or so, which we anticipate to be financially tight, we simply can't meet everyone's needs.

But we always appreciate the feedback and the discussion. Join in!
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Monday, May 11, 2009

Prepping for Bike to Work Day

This week is Bike to Work Week, and I'll be a poseur riding along with Austin's community of bicycle commuters this coming Friday, Bike to Work Day.

I've got an old beater Diamondback hand-me-down whose only frequent tasks have been getting me safely to my favorite neighborhood haunt Polvos and Zilker park, neither of which is more than a mile from home. Still, after reaching my destination, particularly the park, where I tend to travel down Barton Springs Road and have to cross Lamar, my nerves are in hyper-mode. I'm--at best--a bike novice, and frankly cars freak me out. I've never attempted to ride my bike during rush hours before.

So, I have some challenges to overcome to effectively commute to work. Fortunately, there are some great resources I (and anyone else who may be a little tentative) can take advantage of this week.

The downtown REI is hosting a free class tomorrow night, Bike Commuting 101, beginning at 7 p.m.

My main concern is finding the safest route to take (but one that doesn't add a ton of extra miles to the trip), and that is one of the topics covered in the REI class. I've also discovered the city's Bike Route Map which should be helpful.

Staff from the city's Bicycle Program will teach a bicycle handling drills class this Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., at Butler Park (by Palmer Events Center). I don't think I can make that one, but it looks good--basic starting/stopping techniques. See more of the city's Bike Month events from their Web site.

Finally, for a little incentive to get moving, a bunch of organizations will be providing free breakfast for cyclists on Friday morning (7 - 9 a.m.). Check out a mapped list of locations courtesy of the Austin Cycling Association. Incidentally, the ACA teaches a Traffic Skills 101 class that includes a half-day of classroom instruction and then a half-day of on-bike training.
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On the Busy Number 1 Route

Don't call me Ishmael.

In his adventurous novel, "Moby Dick," Herman Melville's protagonist Ishmael tells us why he feels the need to go to sea. He says in part, "Whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul...and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper-hand of me that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street and methodically knocking people's hats off---then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball."

How ghastly. I have never felt an urge, not even an iota of one, to assault people, even when my hypos have had me in a sturdy headlock. And certainly I have never felt a "damp, drizzly November" in any part of my soul. When I do I'll make sure to buy more life insurance.

Poor Ishmael. He would not have made a good bus operator. It would stress him out easily. Especially if he had to work the number 1 route, which I do every weekday after I finish the Leander Express.

The number 1 is our busiest line. I drive the 1L, which goes from Tech Ridge Park & Ride at Howard Lane to Southpark Meadows, at the new shopping center at Slaughter and I-35. On the map in the schedule booklet it looks almost like the Mississippi River.

Because it is so busy and taxing on operators, I had to look at it from another angle and see what it affords me. I found a prize. It is ripe with opportunity to help others. Like assisting a visually-impaired man cross a busy downtown street so he can hop on another bus; helping an elderly lady unload her groceries; helping a young mom carry the stroller on board; helping confused out-of-towners with information; or, helping all my passengers by staying on time so they won't miss their connecting route. These opportunities, as they pop-up, I hit out of the park like a slugger. Because I know if I allow one opportunity to help someone go without my aid, I will never get it back.
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Friday, May 8, 2009

Faster Trains Coming Your Way: "Look, Listen, Live"

As soon as this weekend, Capital MetroRail trains will be traveling more frequently and at higher speeds during testing along the 32-mile line from Leander to Downtown Austin.

MetroRail trains are much quieter and faster than freight trains. The passenger rail trains will soon be operating at speeds up to 60 mph in some areas.


Remember the three "L's" when you approach crossings: Look, Listen, Live. Please, too, remind children that tracks are for trains.

More life-saving tips are listed behind the cut.
When you're in a vehicle...
• Never stop your vehicle on railroad tracks. It is illegal to stop a vehicle on railroad tracks.
• Always obey all traffic signs and signals at grade crossings. The train has the right of way – look both ways before crossing.
• Never drive around lowered gates. It's illegal and deadly. If the gate is down, the road is closed.

When you're walking...
• Always stop, look, and listen for trains before crossing the tracks and be sure to look both ways.
• Never walk down a train track. It's illegal and dangerous. It can take a mile or more to stop a freight train, so by the time an engineer can see a trespasser or a vehicle on the tracks, it is too late.
• Cross tracks ONLY at designated pedestrian or roadway crossings and obey all warning signs and signals. If you cross at any other place, you are trespassing and can be ticketed or fined.

If you have children...
• Talk to them about railroads and teach the importance of crossing the tracks safely. "Stop, look and listen" is an important message for them to understand.
• Know the facts. Make sure that everyone in your family knows all these safety rules.

Visit allsystemsgo.capmetro.org/capital-metrorail-safety.shtml or stayoffthetracks.com for more information on Capital MetroRail safety.
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Thursday, May 7, 2009

A Transit Planner's commute via bike

iRide the bus because it benefits Central Texas, costs me nothing (as a Capital Metro employee), and (hopefully) makes me a better transit planner. I ride my bike because it benefits Central Texas, costs me nothing, and provides a fun challenge. Though I have to admit, it is definitely more enjoyable riding downhill to our East Austin office in the morning than battling the afternoon heat, hills, and traffic.

On days when I’m not up for the full 8-mile trek homeward, I end up biking through the shaded Govalle neighborhood to pick up the #350 Airport Blvd., which works out well unless the bike rack is full. Another preferred multi-modal option consists of the Lance Armstrong Bikeway (East 4th and 5th Streets) to Downtown and boarding whichever northbound bus arrives first. When MetroRail opens this summer, I will be one of many taking advantage of the 15-18 minute travel time from Crestview to Saltillo/Downtown.

Both the City of Austin Bike Program and Capital Metro boast extensive and for the most part, complementary, route networks but as the area continues to expand and densify, it is essential to adjust accordingly. City of Austin is in the process of adopting Austin 2020 Bicycle Plan, and Capital Metro is currently in the early stages of developing ServicePlan2020. Both efforts will identify and recommend which changes need to occur to improve each system and increase ridership.

Enough planning talk. Riding a bike is fun. Pick a day to give up your car this month. Air up the old 18-speed and make your way to that bus stop you claim is beyond walking distance. The environmental and personal benefits easily outweigh the sore legs.
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Wednesday, May 6, 2009

National Bike Month

May is National Bike Month. Next week is Bike to Work Week, and next Friday is Bike to Work Day. At Capital Metro we love cyclists and we support Austin's commitment to a bike-friendly city. Look for posts all month long about bicycling and Capital Metro.

This month we'll revisit the basics of "biking by bus" on Capital Metro, meet some Capital Metro staff who cycle to work, and hear a smattering of other interesting bike tales. Stay tuned!
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Monday, May 4, 2009

The June Jump

Capital Metro was recognized during the opening session of the American Public Transportation Association annual conference in Seattle yesterday. We received a 2009 Bus Safety Awards Certificate of Merit for a bus operator safety program that has been successful in reducing collisions.

Since 2005, Capital Metro has implemented a safety outreach program each May and June to combat what we've called the June Jump. Data for several years prior to 2005 showed that collision accidents spiked every year during June. Other transit agencies in Texas all experienced the same phenomenon. Our safety team, led by Director of Safety & Security Mark Ostertag, researched the factors that may contribute to accidents in June, and developed a tailored bus operator training program to help curb the June Jump. Consequently, in the first two years after implementing the program, June accidents dropped 53 percent from the average of the three years prior.

You may be wondering, like I was, what makes June more hazardous than other months.
1. School is out. A greater number of higher-risk (teen) drivers are out on the road.
2. It starts getting really hot in June, and studies have shown that as temperatures rise, so does aggressive behavior.
3. June has the longest hours of daylight of the entire year, and glare is a significant concern during June.
4. June is the peak of vacation season, and out-of-town vacationers (who may be unfamiliar with our streets, or trying to read a map while they drive) driving around Austin increase by several thousand.
5. June is consistently one of the two highest months for DWI and DUI arrests.
6. Austin receives the second highest amount of rainfall in June, and wet roads make for slippery roads.
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Friday, May 1, 2009

Arthur tries for Four

Capital Metro Bus Operator Arthur Murillo is in Seattle, Washington, to defend his title in the 2009 International Bus Roadeo. Arthur has won the international title in the 35-foot bus competition three times. He'll attempt tomorrow to rack up a fourth title.

Earlier today, Arthur was interviewed by Seattle Public Radio Station KOUW. Listen to the interview below.
video
You may be familiar with Arthur: in recognition of his third championship win last year, Capital Metro designed a bus wrap in his honor. Arthur was also voted "Best Bus Driver" in the Austin Chronicle's readers' poll.
But Arthur isn't the only one representing Capital Metro at the International Bus Roadeo this week. Bus Operator Abdelkader Tenouri is competing in the 40-foot category, and Mechanics Mike Clements, Phillip O’Neal, and Gary Hosea will compete in the Vehicle Maintenance competition.

Good Luck, Capital Metro!
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Thursday, April 30, 2009

Capital Metro's Response to Swine Flu

Recently, more cases of the Swine Flu virus have been identified in Texas. The health and safety of our employees and passengers is a top priority. That is why we're taking steps to minimize the risk associated with the virus. Staff is using a hospital-grade sanitizer when cleaning the facilities and the interior of buses. Capital Metro also is encouraging employees to disinfect their work areas as a way to maintain a healthy work environment. Please be aware that these steps alone cannot fully prevent the spread of flu.

What you can do:

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends the following steps to reduce your chance of catching or spreading Swine Flu:
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hands cleaners are also effective.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread that way.
  • Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
  • The CDC advises that influenza is spread mainly person-to-person through coughing or sneezing of infected people.
  • When you cough or sneeze cover your nose and mouth with a tissue. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it. If you don’t have a tissue, use your upper arm not your hand.
  • If you get sick, the CDC recommends that you stay home from work or school and limit contact with others to keep from infecting them.

For more information about Swine Flu visit their Web site or call 1-800-CDC-INFO.

Capital Metro is working closely with local, state and federal authorities to monitor the Swine Flu outbreak and will take additional steps as needed.
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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Capital MetroRail Update

Yesterday at the Capital Metro Board meeting, Executive Vice President Doug Allen presented an update on MetroRail progress. Capital Metro and Veolia have made significant headway to ready the Red Line for passengers.

* The agency has received the official waiver letter from the Federal Railroad Administration that allows Capital Metro to operate the system when all the components are ready.
* Train engineers have been certified on the operation of MetroRail vehicles, and dispatchers have been certified on the use of the Centralized Traffic Control system.
* Veolia has hired a new safety director, Randy Jamieson, with extensive experience in freight and passenger rail operations.
* Capital Metro has completed a comprehensive inspection of rail system components along the entire 32-mile line.

Doug also outlined the "critical path" to startup, as visualized in this chart.

The agency is working with the city to complete the installation and testing of signal preemption technology that will synchronize rail and traffic signals at several major intersections. In addition, Capital Metro is working to improve shunting, which controls the timing of the crossing arms and the ability of rail dispatchers to monitor trains along the system. Both shunting and signal preemption are key components to the successful operation of Capital MetroRail.
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Don't Leave Me

You step off the bus and walk the short distance to work. You've already had your coffee. Perhaps you were just promoted the day before. Or your kids are doing extremely well in school. Whatever the case may be, you feel good. You reach into your pocket for your wallet and, oh, my gosh, it's not there.

You think you might have left it on the bus. "Yes," you say to yourself. "I remember I pulled out my monthly pass."

What to do if you leave a personal item on the bus? The first thing to do is contact customer service at 474-1200. This number is posted at every bus stop. If you remember the bus number, perfect. This works to your advantage because customer service can contact the driver a lot faster. If you don't know the bus number, don't worry. Tell customer service which route you were on and at what time. Customer service, along with a radio dispatcher, will do some digging for you.

Capital Metro will work quickly to return a lost item left on one of its buses with the owner, be it a valuable item, like a wallet, purse or cell phone, or just lost marbles that someone wants back.

Once customer service has located the right bus, a radio dispatcher will call the operator and ask her or him to search the bus for the lost item. The operator will do so at the next bus stop. The operator then reports back that the item is in his or her possession. This is communicated back to the owner and arrangements are made to return the items to their owner. The owner can wait for the bus to make its return trip; sometimes a street supervisor is sent to retrieve the item; or, the owner can pick-up the item at the downtown office at 4th and Congress.

Here is a friendly reminder. Just before you deboard the bus, look up at the advertisements. Notice the one with a picture of a set of keys, purse, cell phone and other items and these three words: "Don't Leave Me."
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Monday, April 27, 2009

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.
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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Wednesday Morning on the 987

The oblong box cruises south on Mopac. It is 6:22 on a mid-week morning and still dark outside. The interior lights are off. Two individual overhead spotlights are on as two of my passengers read. That means 21 passengers are asleep in the recliner seats. That makes me feel good because my smooth driving lulled them to sleep, which is what they wanted and looked forward to when they boarded at Leander and Lakeline. A 15-minute nap will help them get through the morning. As I drive this particular morning I see a meteor streak down and quickly disappear. It is the end of its million mile journey. I don't mention this to my passengers. It is too early to wake them.

But like almost all good things, this ride, as comfy and cozy as it is, is disturbed at 6:26 when the first passengers deboard from the bus. I go into my routine. "Time to get up. Don't forget anything. Make sure you have what belongs to you. Up and at 'em. Show them what you're made out've." Reminds me of when I was the duty N.C.O. in the Marines and had to call reveille, decades back. I walked the barracks to make sure every marine was up. Job well done.

My passengers know me by my name because this is the third time (or "mark-up," to use transportation lingo) I've had this run, the 987 Leander.

Each of my passengers smiles at me as they walk out and onto work. It's priceless.

They are in a good mood because their morning commute was quiet. Uneventful. Just as they like it. I did my part in making their day start off well. In turn they will make other people's day better. It is a chain reaction made from positive energy. At 6:44 the bus is empty except for me. And I think to myself, "Another job well done."
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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Celebrate Earth Day Everday

Happy Earth Day!

In case you were wondering, Earth Day is a day designed to inspire awareness and appreciation for our environment. According to Wikipedia, Earth Day was founded by U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson as an environmental demonstration in 1970 and is celebrated in many countries every year.

In my opinion we should treat everyday as Earth Day.

There are lots of things you can do to preserve our environment and our quality of life everyday. But if you really want to make a difference, ride the bus. Public transit offers the most effective and immediate method to reduce harmful emissions. It far exceeds the benefits of other energy saving household activities, such as using energy efficient light bulbs or adjusting thermostats.

According to the American Public Transportation Association, a single person, commuting alone by car, who switches a 20-mile round trip commute to existing public transportation, can reduce his or her annual CO2 emissions by 4,800 pounds per year, equal to a 10 percent reduction in all greenhouse gases produced by a typical two-adult, two-car household.

Use Capital Metro's online trip planner and give transit a try.
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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

ServicePlan2020

Capital Metro's bus service is going under the microscope. Capital Metro: ServicePlan2020 is a comprehensive operational analysis of every aspect of Capital Metro's bus service. The resulting recommendations will become our roadmap for growth over the next 10 years.

Most big transit agencies do some kind of major analysis of their services and routes periodically. It's a beneficial process, as routes tend to morph over time into a spaghetti bowl. A relevant example is the 'Dillo routes before they were streamlined last year. Likewise, it's an opportunity to thoroughly examine procedures and generally improve the system.

Capital Metro is way overdue for this type of mid-range planning. Some of the legwork for ServicePlan2020 has already been completed. Last year, Capital Metro completed a market segmentation study that yielded a considerable amount of information about rider demographics, barriers to riding, and what people like and don't like about us. That info is one dimension of the analysis. Other factors to be included are: existing system conditions (what works and what doesn't) and community participation and feedback.

ServicePlan2020 makes progress this week when two stakeholder committees convene and begin their work, analyzing various service aspects and identifying unmet needs. A Technical Advisory Committee (made up of planner types from allied transportation entities) and a Community Advisory Committee (representative of riders and community groups who have a key stake in public transportation) will meet periodically over the course of the year to refine ServicePlan2020. We want your involvement, too, and we'll post updates and open house meeting information here as things go along.
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