This 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.
The 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.
"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.
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.
The next time you board our bus, the person you sit next to may not be who you think he or she is.
METRO has a bus marshal program, similar to the federal government's air marshal program launched after 9/11.
MPD officers, dressed in every day clothes - from surgical scrubs to blue jeans to a repairman's uniform - board our buses and watch for suspicious activity.
So far, this program has helped reduce crime on buses. In fact, in Fiscal Year 2008 (Oct. 1, 2007 - Sept. 30, 2008), on-board bus crime dropped by 33 percent from from the year before.
Click the link below to hear Captain Mike Raney explain more. Starting this month, you can watch METRO Matters on HCCTV Channel 19, in addition to Houston Media Source's Channel 17 on Comcast.
Here's the schedule on Channel 17, if you prefer to watch the show on a big screen:
Th. 1/22/09 7:30 p.m.
Sat. 1/24/09 7:30 p.m.
Mon 1/26/09 5:45 p.m.
Wed. 1/28/09 8:30 p.m.
Fri. 1/30/09 8:30 p.m.
Sun. 2/1/09 11:30 a.m.
Tues 2/3/09 9:30 p.m.
Th. 2/5/09 7:30 p.m.
Sat. 2/7/09 9:00 p.m
Tues 2/10/09 9:30 p.m.
Th. 2/12/09 7:30 p.m.
His day started at 4 a.m. working a train platform in Washington, but by the end of the day, he was on the national news.
Eliot Swainson, a 46-year-old METRO police officer, was among 100 officers from 18 transit agencies nationwide who were in Washington yesterday to help manage the crowds surging into the city for the Inauguration ceremonies.
Six-and-half hours later, Swainson's quick-thinking saved a Nashville woman who had fallen onto the track.
By 9:30 a.m., the large crowds had come and gone. There was a lull at the station, The Gallery Place, when Swainson said he suddenly heard screaming and hollering.
"A lady fell on the track. I had a clear sight and could see she was on the track. I ran over to her location - about 30 feet away," recalled Swainson today in a phone interview, while waiting to board his flight back to Houston. "She was standing up. Another patron was standing there and pulling her on the arms and trying to lift her up. It was dead weight trying to pull her. The train had entered the platform. We could hear it...and could see the headlight coming through the tunnel."
Swainson, dropped to his knees on the platform to pull the woman up, but gave up after several tugs. Quickly he remembered what he had been taught at the training class the day before by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. (WMATA)
There was a two-and-half to three-foot wide ledge tucked under the platform, which ran the length of the platform. It was invisible to anyone standing on the platform.
Swainson pushed the woman's upraised arms down and wedged her onto the narrow cove.
"All the time I had was to tell her, ‘Stay down, stay down,' and I pushed her and got my arm away. There was a 3-inch gap from the side of the platform to the side of the train as it rolled by. Any overt movement on her part would have had her bump the train. It was very confining," said Swainson.
When the train rolled by, Swainson said he could barely see if the woman remained tucked safely on that cove.
The woman, 68, was taken to a local hospital with a dislocated shoulder and released two hours later.
Swainson said this was the first time in his 15-year career at METRO that he saved someone's life.
"I'm happy that she was alive. I'm glad to hear she was getting transported with minor injuries," said Swainson, pictured on the right giving directions to a Washington commuter yesterday.
Click here to see Swainson's interview with WMATA on You Tube.
This Sunday, the Chevron Houston Marathon will attract thousands of runners who will be sprinting through much of downtown.
That means METRO's service will be affected.
From 6 a.m. to 8 a.m., the majority of downtown streets will be closed, north of Lamar Avenue.
METRO will be unable to offer bus service during those two hours in that downtown area.
After 8 a.m., we will resume detour service on the north side of downtown, using Franklin and Congress Streets. South of Lamar Avenue, major detour streets will be Pierce and St. Joseph Parkway.
We will also have no rail service between the northbound platform at Main Street Square and the southbound platform at Preston Station until 2 p.m.
Regular rail service will operate between Fannin South and Main Street Square Stations; and Preston and UH Downtown Stations. Trains will run at our normal Sunday frequency of every 18 minutes.
All buses and trains will resume normal service by 2 p.m.
The following bus routes will be affected by the marathon with detours: 1Hospital ; 3 W. Gray; 3 Langley; 5 Southmore; 5 Kashmere; 6 Jensen; 9 N. Main; 11 Almeda; 11 Nance; 15 Fulton; 20 Canal; 20 Long Point; 24 Northline; 25 Richmond; 26 Outer Loop; 27 Inner Loop; 30 Cullen; 30 Clinton; 33 Post Oak; 36 Lawndale; 40 Pecore; 40 Telephone; 44 Acres Homes; 48 Navigation; 50 Harrisburg; 50 Heights; 52 Scott; 52 Hirsch; 53 Westheimer; 56 Airline; 60 MacGregor.; 66 Yale; 77 MLK; 77 Liberty; 78 Alabama; 78 Irvington; 80 Dowling; 80 Lyons; 81 Westheimer; 82 Westheimer; 163 Fondren.
If you're visiting from out of town for the marathon, there are some wonderful places to visit along our 7.5-mile rail line: The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the Houston Museum of Natural Science; Hermann Park with paddle boats, train and a zoo; and the famed Texas Medical Center - a sprawling campus the size of Akron, Ohio, and home of heart surgeon pioneers, the late Dr. Michael DeBakey and Dr. Denton Cooley.
When the price of gas soared to $4 a gallon, you probably started noticing more hybrids on the road.
But what about all-electric vehicles? Do they have much of a future?
Back in 1900, 25 percent of all cars made in the United States ran exclusively on electricity. But Henry Ford's Model T quickly muscled its way out front - and gas-powered cars became the norm.
Entrepreneur Shai Agassi, the 40-year-old former president of software company SAP, says electric cars have a future. He's started a company called Better Place, and his plans are grand: to ignite the electric-auto industry by developing the infrastructure from ground zero - cars, recharging stations and more.
"We looked at it from the perspective of how to run an entire country without oil. You've got to put the infrastructure ahead of the cars. In our case, the infrastructure is a combination of a massive amount of charge spots and the ability to switch batteries in less time than it takes to fill up with gasoline," he told Newsweek recently.
Agassi says a new business model is needed to make the all-electric car work. Drivers would buy a commute by miles, signing a contract that rewards discounts based on the length of the contract.
"The car and the battery - ownership-wise, have to be separated...We say, you never buy the battery. What you buy is the car. You buy the commute by miles, and commute miles include the battery, the electricity, access to the network and battery-switching," he explains.
He hopes to have mass-market access in Israel and Denmark by 2011. But even in widespread areas in this country - such as the Midwest or California or Texas - Agassi isn't daunted.
He says to imagine a 100-mile circle around San Francisco, Sacramento, Los Angeles and San Diego. Three freeways connect those northern and southern cities.
"On those cities, if you put switch stations at a distance of about 30 miles from one another, you would have full coverage across the entire state, which is effectively the most prolific car state in the nation," says Agassi.
As far as mass transit, there are two types of electric buses: the trolley bus powered by two overhead electric wires; and the on-board, stored-electricity bus.
China is developing a new form of electric bus, using power stored in large on-board electric double-layer capacitors. These are rapidly recharged when the electric bus stops at a bus stop and fully charged in the terminus. In 2006, two commercial bus routes using electric double-layer capacitor buses were launched, one of them in Shanghai, pictured on the right.
Electric Fuel Corporation is working on a 40-foot, totally electric bus, using pre-commercial battery technology.
Adelaide, Australia, boosts the Tindo, an all-electric bus whose electricity comes from a solar PV system on Adelaide's central bus station.
Suburban sprawl is out. Smart growth is in.
Consider these facts: By building "smart growth"neighborhoods - those that are compact, walkable and transit-oriented - we can cut our national fuel expenses by $24 billion in the year 2030 and reduce fuel costs by $250 billion in the next 22 years, according to a study by the Urban Land Institute.
Strategies on how to develop communities so that they reflect smart growth will be the focus of the 8th annual New Partners for Smart Growth conference next week in Albuquerque.
The average family in this country spent 32 percent of its income on housing and 25 percent on transportation, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. But those who live in walkable communities where transit is easily accessible only spent 9 percent of their income on transportation.
So what exactly is smart growth?
It varies from community to community. Generally, it means an investment of time, attention and resources to revitalize old suburbs and city centers. "New smart growth is more town-centered, and has a greater mix of housing, commercial and retail uses. It also preserves open space and many other environmental amenities," according to the Web site of Smart Growth Online.
The conference, sponsored by The Local Government Commission, a nonprofit organization of locally elected officials, city and county staff and other interested individuals, will also explore two areas where local dollars are spent overseas, rather than in local economies: transportation and heating and cooling homes.
"The New Partners conference will focus on local and state policies that will plug these two sources of lost revenue so that more dollars can be spent locally, leading to healthier local businesses and more local jobs," reports Mass Transit magazine.
Meet our next "Hero on Wheels."
Sean Hill has been driving a bus for METRO for almost a decade. Last fall, Hill became an instant hero to a young boy in crisis.
The single father of three girls - ages 17, 15 and 2 - was driving the 80 Dowling/Lyons route when he noticed a three-year-old boy walking alone around a bus stop on Tierwester St. in front of Cuney Homes, the city's biggest public housing property.
Hill drove to the end of the line, and when he returned, he saw the same little boy - this time sitting at the bus stop alone. It was 11:10 a.m.
"I stopped and asked, ‘Are you sitting for the bus?' and he started crying. He said he was lost. I still had five passengers on the bus. They didn't mind and said to find who he was," recalled Hill, who works out of our Kashmere facility.
Hill knocked on five apartment doors at the sprawling complex with 18 buildings and 118 units. Someone suggested he take the child to the community building, where he turned the child over to Diane M. Sheffield, president of the Cuney Homes Resident Council.
Sheffield called the police and started asking residents at the community center if they recognized the child. Finally, a young woman thought she knew a relative with whom the child was living. The child was escorted to the relative, who was playing Dominoes outside and hadn't realized the boy had wandered away.
Sheffield said she's glad our METRO driver brought the boy to the community building - the heart of the complex.
"It was a very, very good thing," said Sheffield of the bus operator's action. "I'm glad the bus driver stopped and rendered aid to the little boy. And I'm glad we have METRO buses around the area of Cuney Homes."
Hill said observing the crying youngster was simply part of his job.
"I actually watch everything around me. That's what we're trained to be - to be observant...and to get the big picture. I knew it from my years of driving," said Hill, who also trains new drivers.
But to a frightened three-year-old boy, Hill had just become a new hero.
Every day the headlines bring more grim economic news. Transit agencies nationwide are struggling with budget deficits.
In this economic climate, should transit agencies boost their revenues by wrapping their light-rail trains in advertising?
Here at METRO, we wrapped some of our trains twice - once for the Lucy exhibit at the Museum of Natural History, and another time during our "I Ride" campaign featuring heavyweight boxing champion George Foreman, fashion designer Chloe Dao and Astros Outfielder Carlos Lee.
Of course, these wraps were not advertising products but were more educational/informative ads for non-profits. METRO did not bring in additional revenue from them.
Last fall, The Metropolitan Transportation Authority in New York unveiled its first ad-wrapped subway train, wrapped inside and outside, advertising The History Channel. The MTA, which has a projected $900 million budget deficit this year, said 2008 advertising revenues totaled more than $125 million.
An architectural and environmental design professor argues that trains wrapped in ads degrade the value and integrity of the rail system.
"Placing the light-rail travelers in a mobile billboard is a disastrous idea, as it neither honors nor respects them. Nor will it make them proud of their choice of transport," says John Meunier of Arizona State University.
But other transit experts disagree, pointing to the need to bring in desperately needed revenue.
A survey by TransitTalent.com, which calls itself the career hub for public transportation, found that 57 percent of respondents "strongly disagree" or "disagree" with Meunier's position.
But 40 percent agreed, citing safety reasons for not wrapping light-rail trains. One respondent said it might make it hard for the visually impaired to find their stops, although most systems have recordings, announcing each stop.
What do you think? Do budget shortfalls and a deteriorating economy justify advertisements wrapped around light-rail trains?
Two years ago today, we did something no other transit agency in the nation had ever done: We started a blog.
It was an attempt to put a human face on a huge agency, to be more responsive to the public, to start a dialogue and build a community. It was also an attempt to be more transparent and open with you.
I think on many levels we have succeeded. Over the past year, we have covered topics from serious to light. They include ride sharing via an iPhone, customer complaints, funding for public transit, electric cars and finding love at a METRO bus stop.
We have had heated discussions and strident criticism. Many of you have offered useful suggestions and exchanged interesting ideas.
Mainly, we have provided a forum for both supporters and critics to speak their mind. Some of you have made comments that a corporate blog would have never posted. We did, in the interest of openness.
Our goal going forward is that this blog will continue to inform you about all things METRO and about transit issues. Keep your comments coming. I haven't been really good at answering all the e-mail promptly. It's just me here, and I have other assignments besides this blog. But I will make it one of my New Year's goals to respond faster.
Social media experts say a good corporate blog needs to engage with constituents about topical matters and be prepared to go out on a limb a bit.
"I believe 2009 will see the beginnings of a new approach to corporate blogging that is more genuine and open. Corporate Blogs 2.0 will admit that fallibility is not a sin and will trust their customers to help them make their business better," writes Paul Gillin, author of "The New Influencers: A Marketer's Guide to the New Social Media" (Quill Driver Books) in a recent social media report to marketers and executives. "The few businesses that have taken a risk and bared their souls have found that transparency engenders sympathy, trust and support."
We will strive for that goal in our third year. It helps when we hear from readers like David, who e-mailed us on Dec. 14: "Thank you for continuing with the blog. Communication is the key to so many things. Please keep it up."
Thank you, readers, for helping to make this blog work, and thanks for your comments.
Despite the fall in fuel prices, people who commute still save hundreds of dollars a year versus those who drive.
That's according to a report released today by the American PublicTransportation Association (APTA), which stated that a person can obtain an average savings of $8,368 a year by taking public transit instead of driving.
That figure is based on today's gas prices and the average unreserved parking rate. APTA calculated the monthly savings for public transit users at $697 a month based on a gas price of $1.727, reported by AAA.The national average for a monthly unreserved parking rate in a downtown business district is $143, according to the 2008 Colliers International Parking Rate Study.
APTA's analysis shows that the average annual savings represents almost a third more than the average amount a household spends on food every year - $6,111, according to the Food Institute.
Gas prices are $1.378 lower than last year, yet public transit riders still see dramatic economic gains over drivers.
Here's a sampling of how much money residents in the top 10 transit ridership cities can save:
New York $12,258
San Franciso $11,325
Wash. DC $9,371
In Dallas, which comes in 17th among cities with the most riders, commuters see an average annual savings of $8,019.
Here in Houston, click here to calculate how much you can save if you ride METRO.
Calling all kids - and their parents - to log on to our Web site and meet Fred the Safety Tread.
He's our new safety mascot who will be teaching kids all about bus and rail safety and how to ride METRO. Riding transit is an adventure, and Fred wants kids to learn to do it safely.
At Kids' Stop, you'll find bus safety tips, a fun activity book on rail safety and learn about student discounts.
Plus, there's a video featuring a talking squirrel and a section on being green and all the ways METRO is helping to take care of the environment.
"The Kids' Stop page was created because we have an increasing interest from parents, teachers and caregivers to get more information on METRO. And this helps create a transit ethic at an early age," said Karen Marshall, METRO's director of community outreach. "We're very excited about the opportunity to leverage technology to bring information and resources to young people."
Carolina Mendoza, media relations specialist, conceived the safety mascot, Fred the Safety Tread, and said she hopes he will become every kid's new safety BFF.
"We wanted to create a character the kids would find fun and entertaining," said Mendoza. "I didn't want to use a bus, so I started thinking of bus parts. Clearly, an essential part of a bus is a wheel. Visually and aesthetically, it was exciting to work with."
And of course, every kid is familiar with the song, "The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round." Now, when they see Fred the Safety Tread, hopefully, they will keep in mind the safest way to ride a bus.
Log on and meet Fred.
METRO has just made it easier for METROLift riders to book their trips. Now, METROLift riders can go online and book their trips using a client ID and password.
Called MACS-WEB, (METROLift Automated Computer System on the Web), the computerized system mirrors the automated phone system we have had since last January, said Mary Ann Dendor, METRO's Americans with Disabilities Act administrator.
The computerized system was introduced last month, and as of today, we have had 45 users. METROLift riders can go online and book trips from 5 a.m. to 5 p.m. Or they can go online to review trips and cancel any unwanted trips 24/7.
"The feedback we're getting from people is that it's quick and easy for them to use," said Dendor.
Online users must choose a destination from a previously used address because all addresses must be geocoded with a longitude and latitude so that the scheduling system can locate the address.
"What I'm hoping this will do is that when people go to our Web site, they will also look at our bus & rail schedules. Maybe they can ride the bus or rail because it is easier and more convenient," explained Dendor. "This will be a help to them. They will understand that METRO has accessible service for everybody, and that they have transportation choices."
For example, a patron might use METROLIft to get picked up from his house and taken to the Veteran's Hospital. Then, if that person had another appointment at the Texas Medical Center, he could take a regular, fixed-route METRO bus, which runs about every 15 minutes to the TMC.
All our buses and rail are wheelchair accessible with automated stop announcements of major intersections.
So far, MACS-WEB has been a smooth rollout, said Dendor.
"I think mainly because we've tried to make it as user-friendly as possible. We hope that many people will enjoy it. What about those without computers? They can go to places with computers - their doctors' office, community organizations. Or family members can check for them," said Dendor.
And don't forget we still have MACS. (METROLift's Automated Calling System). With MACS, customers can schedule their rides, verify trip times and cancel trips over the telephone without a computer.
"We're trying to help make it easier for METROLift riders to make their trips, know what times their trips are and then cancel any unwanted trips," she said.
And now with a click away, we hope it's easier for you
This Sunday, bring the kids to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston for some fun, interactive ways to learn about transportation in a special, one-day exhibit entitled, "Any Which Way You Go."
METRO will have a Kids' Stop booth in the museum's Law Lobby where you'll hear a storyteller give tips on rail safety. And of course, we'll have lots of giveaways.
It's all part of the museum's Target Free First Sunday. This time, METRO is one of the partners since the theme is transportation.
"We always look for opportunities to partner with other organizations," said Karen Marshall, director of community outreach. "Not only will they have our exhibit, which will talk about transit and rail, but they will feature transportation with art."
The family day activities will take place in the Beck building, the Porte-Cochere at the outside entrance, South Lawn and the Law building. The event is from 1 to 5p.m. and the entire day is free of charge.
In addition to the fine arts paintings that will be on display, over in the Beck Building, kids will be able to get an up-close look at decorated cars from the Art Car Museum, see boat making with a 3-D paper sculpture, enjoy drinks from a lemonade stand, listen to Opera in the Heights, ride an original trolley and take story-time tours.
At the Law Building, kids can participate in an origami airplane workshop, saddle up and sketch, watch a performance from Mildred's Umbrella Theatre Co., and view some family flicks in the Brown Auditorium.
Of course, we encourage you to stop at Houston METRO Kids'Stop.
"We are fortunate to be front and center as a sponsor to highlight METRO's services, particularly what we can do for families and young people, especially making sure families are aware of the half-price student Q Card discount that we provide, " said Monique Ward, a senior community outreach representative at METRO.
In addition to the storytelling at our booth, we'll have a spinning wheel, similar to the "Wheel of Fortune" wheel, where we can spin the wheel, hear facts about METRO and win a prize.
"It's a great opportunity to reach audiences that we might not normally interact with," said Ward, who spearheaded this partnership. "The museum happens to be along our Main Street line, and it's a great way to highlight our services and share information in a very creative way."
Celebrate the arrival of 2009 safely by taking METRO.
We are extending hours on three of our busiest routes, as well as on METRORail. Hours are being extended one to two hours beyond our normal operating schedule.
Buses on the following routes will run every 30 minutes on New Year's Eve until 2 a.m.:
- 25 Richmond
- 81 Westheimer-Sharpstown
- 82 Westheimer-West Oaks
The final northbound train will depart the Fannin South station at 2 a.m. The last southbound train will depart the UH-Downtown station at 2:40 a.m.
Just call him volunteer extraordinaire.
John Branch is the type of guy any organization seeking volunteers would want.
At METRO, he's our No. One adopter in our Adopt-a-Stop/Adopt a Shelter program.
Ssince last June, Branch has adopted 55 METRO bus stop/shelters in his neighborhood of Independence Heights. After his full-time day job at his remodeling business, he drives a pick-up truck, monitoring METRO bus stops and shelters, picking up trash. His mere presence has deterred crime and discouraged loitering.
Click here to read the recent Houston Chronicle story of a man who's made a difference in his neighborhood. And he's not through yet. He told us in an earlier post on this blog that he wants to adopt even more bus shelters.
If you want to adopt a METRO bus stop or shelter, click here for details. We'll thank you with a certificate, a sign recognizing your organization and five round-trip bus tickets a month.
And you'll get a cleaner, safer neighborhood.
For the first time in four years, the number of customer complaints we received dropped from year to year.
Fewer customer complaints were logged in fiscal year 2008 compared to the previous year.
That's good news for the hard-working folks in operations who are trying hard to offer reliable and courteous service. In FY08, we logged 23,162 complaints compared to 24,361 complaints in FY07. That's a 4.9 percent decrease.
METRO's fiscal year starts Oct. 1 and ends Sept. 30.
The complaints logged included issues about reliability of buses and rail, crowded vehicles or enforcement of HOV lanes.
Our biggest decline in complaints occurred from April to September, when complaints dropped by about 19 percent compared to the same period, previous year.
"We are ecstatic that the joint efforts between management and the operators have resulted in such a significant drop in complaints in the last two quarters of FY2008," said Tangee Mobley, senior director of transportation.
And our bus operators also received high marks.
Among operator-related complaints, the largest decrease was complaints about rude bus drivers. Complaints about discourteous operators declined by 25 percent in FY08, compared to the year before.
Complaints about driver safety also dipped by 13 percent; and complaints about the behavior of operators fell by almost 14 percent.
Those bus operators who did not have any verified customer complaints against them were rewarded for their spotless records last fiscal year. The operations department launched its Top Customer Service Ambassador program, honoring these top-performing drivers.
"We believe that the combination of incentive packages that we gave to our top customer service ambassadors, coupled with looking at operators who received a high number of complaints, has really netted a behavior change that can only benefit our riding customers," said Mobley.
A new application on iPhone matches drivers with riders in a twist on old-fashioned hitchhiking.
Think of it as computerized hitchhiking.
Carticipate, a free ride-sharing application became available for the iPhone in October. It's already had more than 10,000 downloads, said Steffen Frost, chief executive officer of San Francisco-based Carticipate.
Calling itself an experiment in social transportation, Carticipate says it's the first and only rideshare application on a location aware mobile platform - in other words, a cell phone.
Carticipate says on its Web site that drivers can simply indicate destination and time of departure and post their ride. The company will match drivers up with other "carticipants" going the same way.
Meanwhile, in Kinsale, Ireland, a company called Avego is using a different application to coordinate drivers and riders. Drivers who want to share their car will download the application on their iPhone, then record their route of choice, reports the NYT.
Drivers place the iPhone on their dashboard. It records the trip, and sends the route to Avego's network. That route is then stored on Avego's system where it adds the route to a menu of paths and pick-up points, then offers the ride to interested commuters.
Avego says it will charge 30 cents a mile with 85 percent going to the driver to help recoup costs and 15 percent to Avego. Riders do not need an iPhone to participate and can search for a ride by logging on the Avego Web site or texting.
Would that work here in the United States? Americans historically enjoy driving alone, mainly because many engage in so-called "trip chaining" - when you run errands to and from work. About 75 percent of American workers drive alone to work, according to the Population Reference Bureau in Washington.
Here at METRO, we offer ridesharing through Star, our vanpool program. Eligible riders can also receive a $35 month incentive to share a ride. We also have a free matching program, METROMatch, that will search our extensive eight-county data base to help you find a ride from home to work.
Click here to see our Vanpool Finder, which will tell you if there are existing vanpools you could join.
This is the season for shopping and good will - and circling around and around, stalking shoppers to grab their parking space if you're at the mall.
For commuters who use our Park & Ride lots at Kingsland and South Point, you are familiar with the pain of trying to find a parking space. In fact, dozens of you have been parking illegally - on medians, on the side of the road, in parking aisles.
Here's some good news to celebrate this holiday season: METRO has added 130 spaces at our Kingsland Park & Ride and 120 spaces at our South Point Park & Ride.
"We really hit the ground running on this one," said Vince Obregon, associate vice president of infrastructure service development.
Obregon, our go-to guy for the design and construction of our Park & Ride lots, said METRO has been monitoring the situation and started implementing a solution to the overcrowded lots on Nov. 1.
"We re-engineered the parking spaces and driving aisles at Kingsland, and by doing that, we were able to reconfigure the geometric parking spaces to 130 extra spaces," said Obregon, "We took out an aisle. This was the most responsive way to get some parking relief out there."
At South Point, which serves the Texas Medical Center, more than 150 cars were parked illegally, according to an October report. METRO has a long-term operating agreement to operate that lot, which is owned by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDot).
TxDOT had some vacant land to the west of South Point Park & Ride, so METRO used that to create more spaces.
"We simply knocked down some curb and put down some all-weather, crushed limestone material to park on. This is going to be a temporary scenario. We are currently negotiating with TxDOT to do a full build-out of the remaining property,' said Obregon.
The completed build-out will offer more than 300 new spaces when completed by the end of 2009.
The two parking projects cost $300,000. "For a cost per space, it was very economical," said Obregon. "The cost benefit is very high."
The construction of both projects was completed in six to eight weeks.
"We were able to respond quickly," said Frank J. Wilson, METRO's president and chief executive officer at yesterday's board meeting. "Even with fuel prices going down and even with our prices going up, there's still latent demand for transit."
In the past 30 days, there have been no car/rail accidents caused by cars turning left downtown in front of a train.
That safety record is the result of a pilot program that ends this week and is a result of three factors, says Assistant Police Chief Tim Kelly of MPD.
"Education - the media attention to this effort helped to educate the driving public. Engineering - the signal timing changes implemented by the city of Houston. Enforcement - the dedicated police officers at six downtown intersections," explained Kelly. "It is a combination of these three, and no one factor can be attributed solely to this accident reduction."
Earlier, we wrote about how the city has worked closely with MPD to adjust the timing of traffic signals along the Red Line. The six test locations along Main Street are: St. Joseph, Franklin, Texas, Prairie, Preston and Congress.
The re-signaling has meant that METRORail gets a green light first, a few seconds before drivers get a green light to proceed. This permits the train to travel ahead of regular traffic at these intersections. Westbound and eastbound traffic has not been affected.
So far, this three-pronged approach is working.
By the end of this week, the police officers who have been deployed at the six downtown intersections will be reassigned, but "there will be continue to be dedicated police enforcement along Main Street to reinforce the positive changes we have made," said Kelly.
The new signal timing will stay in place. The city and METRO will work closely together to determine if more traffic lights need to be adjusted to benefit the rest of the Red Line.
"All in all, this has been a very successful joint effort between the city and METRO to enhance public safety along the Red Line corridor," said Kelly.