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METRO's Share of Economic Stimulus Package
 

 

President Barack Obabma signing economic stimulus billMETRO's portion of the federal economic stimulus package is expected to be $92 million.

METRO has identified a list of priority projects that may be advanced to spend that money. We are working with the Houston-Galveston Area Council to finalize the list of qualified projects. 

Frank J. Wilson, METRO's president & CEO, said last Thursday after METRO's board meeting that the agency also expects to get an undetermined amount of discretionary funds from the Federal Transit Administration. METRO will have to compete against other projects across the country for these additional FTA funds.

In December 2008, METRO submitted five "Letters of No Prejudice" (LONPs) to the FTA, requesting permission to proceed with early construction activities on the North and Southeast rail lines. The LONPs guarantee that the FTA will reimburse METRO for monies spent on these activities, if and when Full Funding Grant Agreements are approved.

In January 2009, the FTA approved the first LONP for the procurement of rail vehicles. The second LONP for the advanced design work is expected to be approved this week.

Click here to find out preliminary numbers from the FTA on how money will be distributed for transit projects. There are also helpful links related to transit and the stimulus package. Click here to register for regular FTA updates on the AARA.

If you want the administration's official Web site created to track stimulus spending, click http://www.whitehouse.gov/. However, there's not much solid information up right now.

 

 

Most Riders Satisfied with METRO
 

 

Happy bus ridersThe first customer satisfaction survey in a decade shows that overall, most of our riders are completely or mostly satisfied with METRO.

The survey was presented to METRO's board of directors today.

Representative sampling of 827 interviews were conducted last fall with passengers who were interviewed on board buses on weekday local routes, local weekend routes, Park & Ride routes and at the rail stations.   

"The overall satisfaction score - the fact that 94 percent of our riders are satisfied with METRO - was a happy validation of a lot of hard work that is going on," said Darla Bell, manager of strategic analysis.

The top seven factors METRO scored highest on were: ease of use, driver's knowledge of route, knowing where to go if rider has a complaint, driver's driving skills, courtesy of driver, agency doing a good job of telling riders about route/schedule changes, and METRO being a good value for the money.

Satisfaction was measured in 13 service areas, including our Web site, transit centers and transfers. Happy train riders

The survey, conducted in both English and Spanish, concluded that:

    

  • 94 percent of riders are completely (40%) or mostly (54%) satisfied with METRO overall.
  • 98 percent of riders would recommend METRO to a friend.
  • 96 percent of riders say our service has improved over the past year.
  • 95 percent of riders say they can rely on METRO to get them where they want to go.

"This customer satisfaction survey will form a baseline for annual surveys so we can keep getting report cards," said Bell.

Survey results will be given to top management in all our departments, and we hope to use this information to improve our service.

 

METRO Extends Hours for Rodeo Crowd
 

 

Kids running with calf in calf scrambleIt's almost time to don boots, spurs and cowboy hats and have fun enjoying the annual Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo where you can see everything from calf scrambles to champion llamas and bulls.

The rodeo will be held from March 3 to 22 at Reliant Park. METRO will be extending its existing Park & Ride service to make it easier for you to get there.  We will also offer these extended hours during the rodeo's cook-off event on Feb. 27 and 28.

The service will run from the West Loop Park & Ride lot, located at 4675 S. Braeswood @ the South Loop at these hours:   

Weekdays: 5 p.m. to midnight

Weekends: 11 a.m. to midnight

The fare is $4, round trip.

If it's more convenient to drive to our Fannin South Park & Ride lot at Fannin and West Belfort ($8 event parking), you can then catch the rail and ride the Red Line to Reliant Park station, within easy walking distance of the stadium. The one-way train fare is $1.25.

So whether you're going to the rodeo to chow down on pit-smoked barbeque or tap your toes to country stars Clay Walker or Rascal Flatts, METRO gives you two easy options to get there.

Billions Set Aside for Public Transit Projects
 

 

Workers constructing rail lineWhen President Obama signs the economic stimulus package tomorrow, it will release $787 billion in federal funding to cities and states already scrambling for their share of the money.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act passed by Congress last week provides $8.4 billion for investments in public transportation projects. Of that $8.4 billion, $6.9 billion will be given to public transit systems through the Federal Transit Administration's current formulas and processes, according to the American Public Transportation Association (APTA).  The balance of $1.5 billion will be set aside for grants for major new projects and for modernizing the urban rail system in this country.

That's good news for all transit agencies.

"Setting the course for years to come, this legislation will begin to craft a greater Intermodal transportation system that our nation desperately needs," said William W. Millar, APTA president, in a statement.

Here at METRO, we have asked for $410 million to jumpstart work on the North and Southeast lines - two of the five light-rail lines we expect to complete by 2012. Eleven days ago, Frank J. Wilson, METRO's president & CEO, three METRO board members - along with locally elected officials -  met with federal leaders, including Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.), who promised to work with Houston officials and the FTA to push the project along.

In the House version of the bill, METRO stands to gain as much as $180 million over the next 12 months to launch construction on the North and Southeast lines. While there were no guarantees, Oberstar called this "a project in very good standing."

Transit projects mentioned in the economic stimulus bill include:

           

  • $8 billion for high-speed rail corridors.
  • $1.3 billion for Amtrak.
  • $1.5 billion for a new, intermodal discretionary program that can be used for public transportation, highways, bridges, freight rail and ports.

Separately, APTA reports, an additional $150 million for rail and transit security grants is provided in the bill.

The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials says it has identified 5,000 "shovel-ready" projects nationwide.

Meanwhile, state officials are poring through the 1,000-page federal bill, to see if they qualify for immediate funds or not.

 

 

METRO Matters: Booking METROLift Trips on the Web
 

 

METRO Matters logoMETRO schedules about 5,000 trips every day for people with disabilities.

And we have just made it easier for people with disabilities to book their trips by going on-line.

Our latest edition of METRO Matters features Art Jackson, director of transportation programs, who explains how this works, along with all the other features of our METROLift service.

Click the link below to watch a preview.

http://www.ridemetro.org/News/Broadcast/METROMatters.aspx

Starting next week, you can watch it on Comcast's Channel 17 and on

HCCTV/Channel 19.

Here are show times for Channel 17:

 

Mon.    2/16/09           8:20 p.m.

Wed.   2/18/09           9:45 p.m.

Fri.      2/20/09           7:45 p.m.

Sun.    2/22/09           1:15 p.m.

Tues.   2/24/09           6:45 p.m.

Thu.     2/26/09           7:30 p.m.

Sat.     2/28/09           12:30 p.m.

Mon.    3/2/09             12:30 p.m.

Wed.   3/4/09             9:30 p.m.

Fri.      3/6/09             8:30 p.m.

Sat.     3/7/09             7:30 p.m.

Sun.    3/8/09             10:45 p.m.

 

Cypress Park & Ride Wins Industry Award
 

 

Canopy at Cypress Park & RideWhen our first Park & Ride garage opened in Cypress in 2007, many of you living in Cypress were excited to have convenient, covered parking that would soon be surrounded by restaurants and retail shops.

Today, those shops include Divine Wine Bar, Davina Chocolates, Schlotzsky's Deli, Cypress Dance Studio, Heritage Texas Properties, Stuart Title, Tuscan Sun Coffee, The Family Cajun Restaurant, Alpine Engineering, Quiltworks, plus a dental office and nail salon.

The metal industry has taken note of the Cypress Park & Ride facility now with a design award presented by the Metal Construction Association.

At its 2009 annual meeting in Palm Springs, Calif., the group honored its 2008  winners in five categories: overall excellence, commercial-industrial, municipal-institutional, roofing and residential.

In the roofing category, Cypress Village Station in Houston took top honors.

The station canopy and parking garage feature 16-inch wide, 24-guage Galvalume panels in a sandstone metallic color.

The roof was installed by PRC Roofing Co. Inc. of Houston. Architects were CDA Architects and New Quest Properties. The metal panels were chosen to help the project meet certification requirements of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), a nonprofit group that helps builders make green buildings. The metal panels were also chosen to provide a maintenance-free facility.

"Thanks for inviting CDA to be a part of this job," wrote Ray A. Duerer, president of CDA Architects, in an e-mail to METRO. "We look forward to working on future METRO projects, as well as creating architectural solutions to these challenging retail/transit projects."

Click here to read more about the award.

Move Over or Slow Down
 

Logo of "Move Over" campaignWhat do you do when you pass a police car with flashing lights on the shoulder  lane, giving a motorist a ticket?

If you're in the lane next to the officer, you need to vacate that lane, if possible. If you can't move, you need to slow to a speed 20 miles below the posted speed limit.

That's the law - but few drivers are probably familiar with it. I wasn't until I started blogging about this.

Today, peace officers in Harris and Fort Bend Counties will be launching a public awareness campaign about this little-known section of the law called, "Passing Authorized Emergency Vehicle," also known as the "Move Over or Slow Down" law. METRO Police will also be participating in this.

From Feb. 16 through 20, law enforcement officers will be writing tickets to violators.  A citation carries a fine of $1 to $200. But if property damage occurs during the violation, the fine is $500. The Class C violation becomes a Class B violation if bodily injury occurs.

And unfortunately, too many fatalities occur when the men and women in blue stop to give drivers traffic citations. Last October while on a traffic stop, Precinct 5 Deputy Constable Jason Norling was hit and killed when a sports utility vehicle swerved onto the shoulder of the Westpark Toll Road.

Consider these sobering stats:

 

  • 83 law enforcement officers died as a result of accidents that occurred in the line of duty in 2007, according to the FBI.
  • Of the 12 officers struck by vehicles, seven were involved in traffic stops or roadblocks; five were directing traffic and helping drivers.

 

So the next time you see a police cruiser with flashing lights stopped on the side of the road, remember: Move over, or slow down. It's the law.

METRO Adds Routes to Google Transit

 

Google Maps logoIf you've logged onto our Web since last Friday, you may have noticed an addition to our Trip Planner icon on the right side of our home page: Google Transit.

We have just joined some 70 other transit agencies partnering with Google Transit to embed our routes with Google's maps. So now if you log on to Google Maps and select Houston as the city where you want directions, you'll have an option to choose "public transit" and find METRO's routes.

For those of you who have used Google Maps, you know some of the really cool features offered: Access to local traffic, aerial maps, restaurant info, three-dimensional street views, and travel info on maps and in text.

The newest feature is Google mobile which allows you to get your trip plan sent to your cell phone.

How does Google Transit differ from METRO's TripPlanner?

No trip planner can provide perfect information. But METRO'sTrip Planner uses a very sophisticated search criteria and has parameters built in which take into account such factors as walking distance. The end result? We can offer you customized, door-to-door trip planning, while Google Transit provides good baseline travel solutions for the typical rider.

Our Trip Planner also gives our call center detailed information that enables our agents to then give you specific routes that can only be produced in a customized product. Both are good products - they are simply different ways of giving you trip planning information.

When we have service changes, we will provide that data to Google in advance, so that those changes will be reflected in Google Transit as quickly as possible.

The real estate blog, Swamplot, loves this merger of METRO routes with Google Transit, saying it's much easier now to decipher getting around this city using METRO.

We're very excited about this new partnership with Google and hope we'll attract new riders who log on to Google Maps. I know some of you have been asking on Web chats and on this blog when we would do this. Click here to try it out, and let us know what you think about this new feature. 

BART Commuters to Enjoy High-Speed Wi-Fi
 

Couple standing at BART stationImagine pulling out your laptop and writing e-mail or surfing the Web - all while you are commuting on a system of 104 miles of track.

San Francisco area commuters will be able to do just that in the near future, going on-line while riding the rail or waiting in one of the 43 stations of Bay Area Rapid Transit. (BART).  

The high-speed Wi-Fi project will expand from a pilot to the entire system by the end of 2011, said Cooper Lee, CEO of Wi-Fi Rail Inc., to MassTransit, an industry publication, last week.

But this cyberspace access will come with a price. During the pilot project, 16,000 commuters signed on - for free. Once the next phase of the project is completed, riders will be charged for Internet use at discounted prices until the system is fully up and running.

When the Wi-Fi is completely installed, subscribers will be charged about $30 a month, $9 a day, $6 for two hours - or $300 for a year's subscription.

Unlike other systems that rely on satellite or cellular service, BART's system uses fiber-optic equipment, which can handle heavier loads at faster speeds.

Would you be willing to pay these rates to write e-mail or conduct a  videoconference while commuting? Or would you prefer to use your computer for other functions that don't require Internet access?

 

 

 

 

How Businesses Can Benefit From Southeast Light-Rail Line
 

Communities in Motion graphicIf you're a local business owner in southeast Houston, you'll want to join METRO for an informational luncheon on how you can benefit from the Southeast light-rail line construction.

METRO Solutions Communities in Motion and the Greater Southeast Management District's Business and Economic Development Committee have joined together to present a series of workshops for southeast Houston businesses.

If you're wondering how to become a certified "small/disadvantage business enterprise" (SBE/DBE) and what comes after certification, you'll find out at this event.

Nathelyne Kennedy, president & CEO of Nathelyne Kennedy & Associates, will be the featured speaker, sharing her business experiences and giving her tips on how to work with huge government agencies.

Kennedy was the first woman to graduate with an engineering degree from Prairie View A&M University and has achieved many awards running her successful, certified minority-owned, women-operated civil/structural consulting firm. Nathelyne Kennedy at her desk

Kennedy designed our Southeast Transit Center and was honored as METRO's "2001 Business Development Success Story."  She also won the prestigious Small Business Administration's "Minority Business Woman of the Year Award."

The luncheon is scheduled from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 12, at the Latino Learning Center on Polk at Scott Street. The event is open to area businesses and the community. If interested, please RSVP by today.  E-mail Linda.brown@metrosolutions.org or call (713) 343-4350.

 

 

METRO's K-9 Teams Win Top Awards
 

 

 

Off. Ted Armstrong and his dog, MissyMETRO's K-9 dog teams captured top honors at a recent regional competition that showcased the dogs' drug and bomb-detecting abilities, along with their obedience skills.

For the first time since METRO started its K-9 unit in 1998, METRO won two first-place awards and the highest honor, The Top Dog Team Award. Sponsored by the National Narcotic Detector Dog Association (NNDA), the competition last Friday pitted 70 dog teams from around the region, including Louisiana.

Officer Ted Armstrong and his dog Missy, a Belgium Malinois, captured three awards: First Place in Patrol, First Place in Explosives, and Top Dog Team Award. They are pictured on the left.

Officer Chris Obenland and his dog Shadow, a Belgium Malinois, won Third Place in Patrol.

"It just happened to be mine and Missy's day that day," said Armstrong.  "We just happened to be on. She was very quick, very fluid searching all the boxes and desk drawers. She was on the money."

A specialist in detecting explosives, Missy was off her leash when she and her handler walked into a large entertainment hall, cluttered with columns of boxes, suitcases, filing cabinets and desk drawers.  Metal-legged chairs were stacked up, newspapers scattered around.

"They hide explosives out there. They give you five minutes to find as many explosives as you can," said Armstong. If the dog makes a false alert, the dog team is disqualified.

"There's so much stuff. We as humans can't tell what the dog is picking up on. Dogs could be overwhelmed," said Armstrong.

Missy wasn't. She detected five explosives - and then performed flawlessly in the Patrol competition, which tests obedience skills, off leash.

Armstrong and Missy made history by winning two First Place awards - the first time in the contest's history that a team has done that. By scoring high in two categories, Armstrong and Missy also received a trophy for the Top Dog Team Award.

Obenland and his dog, Shadow, won Third Place in Patrol after completing a five-minute routine - off the leash - that included Shadow walking right next to his handler,Off. Chris Obenland & his dog, Shadow staying in a "down" position for two minutes, and apprehending a robbery suspect - along with a second, hidden suspect the team knew nothing about. Judges analyzed the handler's strategy in using his dog to help apprehend both suspects.

When a stray, black cat strutted by Shadow during the obedience competition, the well-trained canine didn't move a muscle.

"I just wanted to hug him and give him a pack of hot dogs. That was a very, very rewarding thing," said Obenland. "He normally likes to run after cats. It's natural for the dog to want to chase after them." Obenland and Shadow are pictured on the right.

Both Armstrong and Obenland pointed out that METRO's entire K-9 unit is highly trained and skilled, and officers are always trading tips on how to best train their dogs.

"Our whole dog team could have won," said Armstrong.

Added Obenland: "Our dogs are phenomenal. We constantly get compliments by the instructors about how sharp our dogs are and how good they are each year. They improve each year."



 

 

 

 

 

Turn to METRO Responds for Helpful Resource

 

 

Icon of METRORespondsOn a beautiful, sunny day like today, a hurricane is most likely the farthest thing from most people's minds. 

But, like the dreaded tax due date,  hurricane season is around the corner.The season starts 16 weeks and three days from today - June 1 and runs throughNov. 30.

If you didn't click on METRO Responds during Hurricane Ike last year, now is a good time to get acquainted with a Web site that is chockfull of useful phone numbers and solid advice on everything from assembling emergency kits to deciding whether to go or stay during a hurricane.

Click here to explore METRO Responds. You can also find the red and yellow icon at the bottom of our home Web page.

"We hit a record high of 546, 569 hits in September during Ike," said Jesse Quintanilla, METRO's Web designer, who worked with our IT and PIER (Public Information Emergency Response) Systems to design this.  "The goal was initially how to get information to METRO employees. Then it became how do you get information to METRO employees and the public all at once?"

Here are examples of helpful hints. Under "Preparation/Planning," you'll find recommended items for an emergency kit, including a can opener for food and a whistle to signal for help. Under "Additional items to consider adding," you'll find the following listed: petfood and water, a sleeping bag or blanket, complete change of clothing and household chlorine bleach and medicine dropper. You can treat water with 16 drops of bleach to one gallon of water.

Under "Emergency Numbers," you'll discover agencies you may not know exist but which can help during an emergency, such as the Harris County Housing Resource Center or the City of Houston's Office of EmergencyManagement.

"Special Needs" walks you through the steps to pre-register on-line for emergency evacuations. And "Helpful Links" gives you a one-stop page for a variety of government agencies or  non-profits that help in emergencies, such as the American Red Cross or FEMA. 

METRO Responds is a valuable resource that we keep current. Just recently, we added a new link, "Ready America," that guides you to helpful, downloadable files, such as a family emergency plan. Files are in English and Spanish. 

And if you ever have technical difficulties logging onto our Web site during an emergency, you can log on directly to www.metroresponds.org.

 

Transcript of Today's Web Chat Hosted by John Sedlak
 

 

Web chat logoToday at noon, we conducted a lunchtime Web chat with John Sedlak, executive vice president at METRO and our No. 2 guy here. Frank J. Wilson, our president & CEO, was scheduled to host the chat. He had to fly to Washington today for an unexpected trip to meet with Congressional leaders on METRO's funding needs, as part of the proposed economic stimulus package.

We had 33 participants in a lively conversation that covered everything from our light-rail lines to Airport Direct service. Here's a transcript.

 

 

      Q: When can we expect the next groundbreaking?

      And, at what point might METRO admit that start-up won't be until 2013?

      The sooner they announce it, the more time we have for the disappointment

      to wear off.

 

      A: METRO has been working closely with the Federal Transit Administration

      to complete all of the required new starts processes for the North and

      Southeast lines.  We have also requested letters of no prejudice to allow

      us to undertake early action utility relocation in both the North and

      Southeast Corridors. We are hopeful of receiving positive results from the

      FTA that would allow us to begin construction activity in both corridors

      quickly.

 

       We have received positive response from the federal government

      regarding a letter of no prejudice for additional light-rail cars so we

      can formally begin the procurement process for additional vehicles.

 

      Q: Where else will METRO deploy future Quickline service at?

 

      A: Along with the Bellaire and Palm Center routes that will provide

      access to the Texas Medical Center, we have considerations for Quickline

      service on Westheimer, Gessner and Tidwell serving Acres Homes to the

      Northline Transit Center.

 

     Q: When will METRO be receiving more LRVs?

      Even before new lines open, we could use all 2-car trains at rush hour.

 

      A: See previous answer. We've begun the procurement process. We don't

      have a contract yet that would finalize a delivery date.

 

     Q: Is METRO considering any changes to Airport

      Direct? My two suggestions are: low the fare down to $5.00 (the number of

      passengers should triple) and extend the service to the Greenway

      Plaza/Galleria (or even Westchase) and Hobby Airport (obviously a

      different branch).

 

      A: Thanks for your comment regarding the Airport Direct service. We

      believe the fare of $15 is more than competitive with available

      alternatives, and by going to other destinations, it would reduce the

      ability to make this trip in the 30 minutes one-way that we can achieve

      today, leaving from the downtown terminal.

 

   Q: Will the public be able to see preliminary engineering for the light-rail lines that did not go through the federal process?

 

      A: We've been meeting with community stakeholders on our five lines and

      have reviewed preliminary engineering plans with all interested parties.

 

      Q: Mr. Sedlak, is Metro's current financial operating condition good or bad?

 

      A: METRO's financial operating condition is good. METRO's proud that over

      the last five years, our operating expenses have been brought in at or

      below budget, in the face of some rapidly rising costs, such as fuel. And

      we're pleased so far that sales tax revenues have remained strong.

 

     Q: Mr. Sedlak --if federal law prohibits light rail from crossing light rail in a grade level manner --how will Metro cross Main Street at Rusk on Main at Capitol Street downtown?

 

      A: Federal law does not prohibit an at-grade crossing of one light-rail

      track over another. We currently plan to cross the Main Street line

      at-grade with the Southeast line.

 

     Q: With all the commercial rail lines that exist and cross Harrisburg, how will METRO cross these lines? Are drawings available to show the Harrisburg line crossing the existing rail lines and how will this will managed?

 

      A: On the East End Corridor, there are two freight rail lines that must

      be crossed by the light-rail system. Both of these crossings will be

      elevated over the freight railroad.

 

      Preliminary engineering drawings have been prepared for the crossing near the east side of downtown and conceptual engineering drawings have been prepared for the crossing west of the Magnolia Transit Center. Information concerning these plans is available at our community storefront office on Harrisburg. That address is available on our Web site.

 

     Q: I have read in the LA Times that Transit  Authorities across the nation have had to cut bus service due to cuts in federal money. Is the same true for Houston?

 

      A: Regarding bus service cuts in Los Angeles, I am unaware of changes to

      its current system. METRO continues to monitor the performance of its

      bus routes so that we can provide cost-effective service to the greatest

      number of passengers in our region. Federal funding support that METRO

      receives is only applicable to capital project assistance. They are not

      available for support of daily operations.

 

      Q: How is the Airport Direct coming along?

 

      A: Daily ridership is steadily growing but it's not where it needs to be

      to sustain it for the long term. If you've tried the service, you know how

      good it is. Please encourage your friends and coworkers to use it.

 

     

 

     Q: What type of future buses will METRO want to look at in regards to future Quickline services?

 

      A: On all Quickline routes, METRO will be using our newest buses, these

      being low-floor, hybrid diesel-electric, 40-ft. coaches. The buses are

      equipped with enhanced interior treatments, and are electronically

      connected to transit stops along the Quickline route to provide next-time

      bus arrival to passengers. We've begun complete wraps of the vehicle to

      make it more distinctive. Let us know what you think on the next chat.

 

     Q: How much is Metro seeking from the federal

      stimulus package?

 

      A: Our highest priority projects are the North and Southeast light-rail

      lines, amounting to $410 million in our request.

 

      Q: Mr. Wilson stated last week on TV that

      Metro was in the real estate business. Do you feel like the 2003

      Referendum gave Metro the right to change their transit "mission"?

 

      A: Our mission remains the same. Our interest in acquisition of real

      estate is to improve use of and access to the transit system. Our recent

      new Park & Ride facility off the 290 freeway at Cypress has been a huge

      success and an example of how METRO can work with the private sector to

      provide a transit facility integrated with a residential and commercial

      development.

 

      Q: Back to the Airport Direct. If you think

      it's not a good idea to extend the service due to on-time performance

      concerns, please make sure there is easy way to transfer to all P&R and

      other express routes (no more than one block of walking, coordinated

      schedules, etc...). On the fare subject: I still insist it is overpriced

      (it is more expensive than riding a cab; 4 people taking a cab from

      downtown to Bush IAH will pay less than $60).

 

      A: The approximate fare on a taxi from downtown to IAH is $50. This is

      considerably more than the $15 one-way fare on METRO's Airport Direct.

      Please try it, you'll like it.

 

      Time's out. Thanks for your great comments and

      questions. It's my pleasure to join you, and please tune in at our next

      Web chat.

 

 

 

Casinos Build & Operate Private Trains to Lure Customers
 

 

Exterior of Atlantic City Express ServiceCall it the "if you build it, they will come" mentality.

Three Atlantic City casinos want more trains to bring New Yorkers to their tables, so they purchased their own trains and worked out a deal with New Jersey Transit and the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority (CRDA).

Borgata, Caesars and Harrah's have signed a joint venture with NJ Transit and CRDA to run an eight, two-level passenger car for three years on a trial basis, according to the Press of Atlantic City. The new train service is called the Atlantic City Express Service. Interior of Atlantic City Express Service with leather seats

The three casinos paid $15 million for the passenger trains. CRDA is adding $4.8 million to lease locomotives from Amtrak, while the Atlantic City Express and CRDA are providing a combined $4 million for operating costs.

Tickets cost $50 one-way and $75, first class, for the two-hour, 40-minute trip. Passengers can recline in leather seats, buy sandwiches and salads for $7, beer for $6.

Trips will run on weekends, beginning next weekend, running between the Atlantic City Rail Terminal and New York Penn Station, with a stop at Newark Penn Station.

Although casinos have operated bus and air shuttles, this is the first time they have ventured into rail.

 

Shaping Our Future with Transit, Zoning & Development
 

 

Houston skylineEvery decade, Houston grows by one million people.

Houston PBS/Channel 8 has been focusing on this growth and the basic issues that accompany that with a series of community forums, entitled, "Houston, Have Your Say...Shaping Our Future Growth."

Last night's live town hall forum focused on the future of public transit in Houston, zoning and development. The meeting included live phone calls from viewers at home and a blog where viewers could post comments during or after the discussion.

METRO's Frank J. Wilson, president & CEO, weighed in with several comments, pointing out that METRO was, indeed, a developer that is building infrastructure - 30 miles of light rail to connect five light-rail lines.

Almost everyone agreed we need more mass transit to handle Houston's expected growth and to help unclog our freeways.

Some participants expressed concern that Houston's lack of zoning was deterring developers from building their best projects here, afraid that an eyesore would pop up next to their well-designed building.

Others argued that we don't need zoning but overall guidelines that help manage growth. Several people in the audience summed up their impressions of the evening's discussion: Houston needs to have a strategic plan for growth, instead of a hodgepodge project-by-project mentality.

Click here to watch the video.

A Ticket to Ride to State's Biggest Cities
 

Amtrak's Acela Express that runs Boston/NY/Washington.No matter how much sleep I get - or how vigorous the workout - when I slip behind the wheel and start the long trek to San Antonio or Austin, I start nodding off after about an hour of driving.

The rhythm of the car on the road puts me to sleep. I've often thought: Wouldn't it be great if we had trains that connect Houston-San Antonio-Austin-Dallas?

Well, now it seems like the concept of the so-called Texas T-Bone corridor is back.  Yesterday, at a transportation briefing before the state legislature, Robert Eckels, former Harris  County judge and chairman of the Texas High Speed Rail and Transportation Corp.  proposed a high-speed rail linking Dallas-Fort Worth through Austin to San Antonio, branching off in Temple and going on to Houston.

Proponents this time have build a coalition that includes elected officials and two airlines, according to today's Houston Chronicle. The $12 billion to $18 billion project would be completed by 2020. High-speed trains would average 200 miles per hour.

Why would the proposal work this time when it failed about 15 years ago?

"In the past, high-speed rail was not completed in Texas primarily because it was a top-down model driven by lobbyists out of Austin," Eckels told the Chronicle.

This time, supporters have convinced former foes to jump on board. Southwest Airlines, which opposed the last high-speed rail project, now says the airline is neutral. The high-speed trains would connect to airports.

This public-private partnership is seeking state help, including tax exemptions for companies that construct the project. More than 70 percent of Texas residents live in the cities that would be connected by this high-speed rail.

High-speed rail - with trains that can run up to 125 miles per hour - exists in the Boston-New York-Washington, D.C. corridor with Amtrak's Acela Express. (pictured above). Worldwide, 16 other countries enjoy high-speed rail, including Taiwan, Russia, France and Finland.

 

 

 

 

Students Go Green with METRO

 

Students registering for Q Card at UH campusUniversity of Houston students are going green with METRO, as hundreds signed up for student Q Cards.

It was all part of the University of Houston's 10-week "green campaign." This week,  the university staged its first "Green Commuting Fair," encouraging students to go green by commuting.

Yesterday,10 METRO staffers from our revenue and community outreach departments attended the event, bringing with them special machines that would take the students' photos - needed for a student Q Card - and machines that would reload money on any existing Q Cards. Students get to ride METRO for half price - about 62 cents per ride.

The fair continued today until 3 p.m. at three locations on the main campus: UC Satellite, PGH Breezeway and Moody Towers.

"The operation went very smoothly," said Nicole Adler, METRO's revenue marketing associate. Students were processed in about two minutes. On Monday, they will be able to pick up their Q Cards at the parking services desk in the Welcome Center.   Yesterday, METRO processed 360 students.

The "Green Commuter Fair" is part of UH's campaign to promote public transit. Carl Carlucci, UH System vice chancellor for administration and finance, said his goal UH's executive vp Carl Carlucci helps pass out Q Card info to studentswas to increase public transit use by students. With the growing student population, parking spaces have become scarcer, and public transit is a great alternative. Carlucci, who was on hand yesterday helping METRO pass out Q Card information, said he wanted to get 20,000 students using public transit. The photo on the right is Carlucci talking with a student.

Frank J. Wilson, METRO's president & CEO, said in a statement that he wants to thank UH for recognizing the important role public transportation plays in our daily lives.

"By focusing your efforts to expand public transportation on your campus and among your students, you are setting a valuable example for other organizations to follow. We at METRO are looking forward to working with you on this initiative," he said.

In addition to obtaining new Q Cards, students with expired cards could get reactivated at the "Green Commuting Fair."

Students who attended the green fair were grateful METRO was on campus to make it convenient for them.  "They were really glad to see us there and appreciated that we were offering the service on location and that they didn't have to come down to the RideStore," Adler said.

Students getting Q Card on campusShe credited Landis Wyatt, a METRO sales associate whose client is UH, for the successful fair. "He suggested that we go on location to issue Q Cards," said Adler. "He was in charge of all the planning and servicing the whole project."

"We are looking forward to continuing our relationship with the University of Houston and increasing our ridership," said Adler, adding that we may revisit the campus to sign up more students six months from now. 

If any UH students are reading this, we'd love to hear about your experience becoming a green commuter. The photos on this post were taken by Maria Honey, a UH employee.

 


 

Transit Talk: Lunchtime Web Chat Planned with CEO
 

Frank Wilson with employees behind him

Here's your chance to ask all things METRO to the man in charge: President & CEO Frank J. Wilson.

Our next Web chat is scheduled for next Tuesday, February 3, from noon to 1 p.m.

Are you wondering what's going on with construction on the East End? How has the economy affected funding for the light-rail lines? When will Signature Bus service start?

Find out what's ahead this year at METRO - the programs we're planning, the corridors we're building and how we're forging ahead to change the face of transit in Houston.

Next week's Web chat will be a rare opportunity to ask your questions directly to our CEO - please join us for some straight talk from the top.

If you can't make it during the entire lunch hour, log on and ask a question, then leave the chat room. We'll still try to answer your question. Or, you may comment in the section below and submit your questions ahead of time.

Join the conversation - we're looking forward to a lively dialogue.

 

 

METRO Arts in Transit
 

 

Logo of Art in Transit brochureThis week, you'll have a chance to make a mark on your community with your ideas for public art.

METRO is launching the process of choosing artists to create artwork for the University Corridor light-rail stations, and we want to make sure your ideas are heard for art that highlights the community's image, identity and architectural heritage.

Public art is both challenging and rewarding for artists who must collaborate with contractors, city officials and the community to bring art that's both beautiful and meaningful to neighborhoods.

We want to hear from you on how artists can incorporate traditions, objects and physical landmarks to create art that will become part of your landscape once we build light-rail in your neighborhood.

Attend one or both of these workshops:

Date: Thursday, Jan. 29, 2009

Time: 6 to 8 p.m. (Remarks at 7 p.m.)

Place: Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church, Fellowship Hall

            3826 Wheeler Ave.

   

Date: Saturday, Jan. 31, 2009

Time: 9 to 11 a.m. (Remarks at 10 a.m.)

Place: Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral

           3511 Yoakum Blvd.

On Jan. 29, we'll be discussing art for the following stations: Almeda, Hutchins, TSU, Tierwester, Scott, UH and Eastwood Tarnsit Center.

On Jan. 31, we'll be focusing on these stations: Hillcroft Transit Station, Gulfton, Bellaire, Newcastle, Weslayan, Cummins, Edloe, Kirby, Shepherd, Menil, Montrose and Wheeler.

Click here for more details.

 

 

 

 

METRO Transit Cops Rescue Fire Victims
 

Apartment building in flamesThe day after saving a 68-year-old tourist who fell on a Washington, D.C. train track on Inauguration Day, our hero Officer Eliot Swainson - along with METRO Capt. Tim Kelly and a D.C. transit cop - saved residents from a burning apartment building.

Swainson, who has been the media darling from coast to coast this week and has appeared in more than 20 news outlets, had just completed an early-morning  interview on the Mall in Washington for KTRK-Channel 13 in Houston.

Officer C. Dorrity of The Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority  was driving Swainson and Kelly back to their housing when the three men saw a fire blazing at a row house.

"The row houses were on North Capital Drive. As we drove down the street, we saw the smoke coming from the building," said Kelly. "There was no one on the scene and no residents outside the building."

The three transit officers were the first responders on the scene."I just turned to the transit guy and said, ‘It's your turn to be a hero,'" Swainson told CNN.

They called firefighters and began pounding on doors to arouse residents and help them out of the building. Apartment building engulfed in smoke

"We couldn't get into the unit that was actually burned. There was just too much smoke coming out of there," recalled the 46-year-old Swainson, who snapped the photo above.

Firefighters rescued a teenage boy from the burning unit. A woman in that unit was killed before firefighters arrived. The photo on the right was taken by Kelly.

Only 22 hours earlier, Swainson had saved a Nashville woman who had fallen on a subway track in Washington, where record crowds surged through the Metro system to attend the inauguration. More than 1.1 million riders made more than 1.5 million trips on Tuesday.

Read about that rescue here.

Swainson was modest about his week's heroic deeds. "It's what we're trained to do," he said.

Photos of the fire

When a CNN reporter asked if he wears a shirt with an S on it, Swainson teased back, "Well, it's Swainson. So, it's always there."

Kelly called Swainson a very talented and well-trained officer. "He is the consummate professional in all that he does. I would expect no less from the performance he has shown over the last several days," said Kelly."He is a good representative of all the men and women of the METRO Police Department."

Above are more pictures of the fire. The first two were photographed by Swainson, the next four by Kelly. The last photo shows nine of the 10 MPD officers who helped the Washingotn transit agency with crowds on the subway. The photo was taken on Jan. 19 at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial at Judiciary Square.