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Web Chat Today at Noon
 

 

Web chat logoA reminder: Join us from noon to 1 p.m. to chat live with Andy Skabowski, associate vice president of operations.

Here's your chance to ask one of our top experts about operations and maintenance issues at METRO.

If you can't stay for the whole hour, drop in, ask a question and leave. You still have time to pre-submit questions on this blog before noon.  

Hope to see you soon.

Ray LaHood Visits Shovel-Ready Transit Projects
 

 

White, Wolff, LaHood & Jackson LeeUS Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood called today for all political parties to work together to build America's infrastructure, including light-rail projects in Houston.

"If we really want to get something done, work together," he urged at a news conference at the UH-Downtown business building, where METRO's future North Line rail corridor will run. "Set aside party differences and work together."

LaHood was in Houston on a whirlwind, all-day tour of various Houston shovel-ready construction projects. The tour included a visit to Texas Southern University, a high school of engineering students - and a ride on a METRO train down Main Street.

He was here at the invitation of Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Houston), who is chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Transportation Security and Infrastructure Protection.

LaHood said that of the $750 billion economic stimulus package that was recently passed by Congress, about $40 billion to $50 billion will go to transportation.

"That helps us jumpstart the economy and signal to America that light rail is very important to the transportation system" of the nation, said LaHood. "We're trying to get this money out the door and get it spent in a way that reflects the values of our department."LaHood at news conference

Before the news conference started, Mayor Bill White, METRO Chairman David Wolff and LaHood chatted in the lobby of the UH-Downtown building, a warm retreat from the light rain and chilly temperatures outside where the conference was held.

White told LaHood that METRO's light-rail projects were ready to go, urging that some of the federal dollars from the stimulus package be directed here.

Jackson Lee"Yes, sir. Got it," replied LaHood.

Jackson Lee called today's tour a "visual" for LaHood so he could better understand how transit is a "vibrant energizer of this community."

"New transportation and infrastructure projects in Houston will create new jobs and revitalize our distressed communities. The federal stimulus money is not only important, but essential for the people of Houston in order to rebuild and recover from these difficult economic times that we face," she said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Don't Even Think About Jaywalking the Track
 

 

 

Pedestrian fencing at Downtown Transit stationIf you ride the train regularly, you probably have noticed that METRO has added more pedestrian fencing alongside the rail at most of our stations along Main Street.

The project was completed last month. METRO has installed wire cable that threads through pedestrian poles at the following stations: Fannin South, TMC Transit Center, Dryden, Memorial Hermann, HCC/Ensemble, McGowan, Downtown Transit and Main St. Square.

That's about 85 percent of the Red Line, said Melvyn Henry, METRO's rail safety manager. "The stations that were problem areas - we attacked those first," said Henry. "The remainder is soon to come. We plan to do the entire line as soon as we get some funding for it."

The pedestrian fencing is designed to deter people from jaywalking across the tracks.

"You wouldn't think people would do it but they do. In fact, before we put the ones here in front of 1900 Main, you could stand in the lobby and see it all day long. It was just amazing," said Henry.

Pedestrians in a hurry want to shave a few seconds off their walk to  their destination. But when a 50-ton train is churning down the tracks - no matter how slowly - it's not smart to step in front of it.

Hopefully, this new fencing will encourage people to cross the tracks at the crosswalks.

Next Web Chat Features Operations Expert
 

Web chat logoJoin us for our next Web chat on Tuesday, March 17, from noon to 1 p.m.

It will be hosted by Andy Skabowski, METRO's associate vice president of operations. Skabowski has worked in transit since 1989 and has experience in all facets of bus maintenance and engineering in both the public and private sectors. A nationally recognized engineer, he has developed maintenance protocols and practices which have been adopted nationwide. He's also a skilled business executive who has developed and managed budgets, negotiated contracts and managed large-scale purchases of vehicles. 

A former regional director of maintenance at Coach USA, Skabowski later ran multiple garage maintenance functions at New Jersey Transit. At the age of 28, he became a superintendent at the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority. He worked in fleet support engineering at New York City Transit Authority.  Skabowski holds a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering from the New York Institute of Technology.  

 

Here's your chance to ask our operations guru about anything from buses to brakes.  Wonder why certain buses are scheduled certain times? Or maybe you'd like to know how green METRO is with its fleet - and what our green future looks like. Want to know where our latest Orion hybrids are running these days?  Andy Skabowski, METRO associate vp of operations

Log in and go straight to our operations expert for answers. If you can't make the lunch time chat, we invite you to submit your questions here on this blog. We'll answer live questions first - and do our best to get to your pre-submitted ones during our chat.

 

 

METRO's Oldest Employee Says: Enjoy What You Do
 

Simon Lichenstein wearing his FedoraSimon Lichenstein has been working full-time for the past 68 years - almost 22 of those years here at METRO.

Next Tuesday, the 88-year-old auditor will retire.

Lichenstein, who comes to work daily wearing his trademark Fedora, says the secret to such a long career is enjoying what you do.

"You have to be extremely interested in what you're doing," said Lichenstein, adding he's never bored on the job. "When I came here, I was on the verge of being 67 years old, and I just figured, that's what you do - you worked. And like what you work. Don't think it's drudgery."

Bobby Moon, manager of audit-contracts, has been Lichenstein's boss during his entire career and says he doesn't cut any slack for the octogenarian.

"I expect him to put out just as much as anybody else," says Moon. "He's very predictable, he's pretty consistent. He's got his routine. He's good."

Moon once worked for Lichenstein when both worked as contract auditors for the Defense Contract Audit Agency, part of the Department of Defense.

Later, Moon started working at METRO. When Moon was promoted to manager, he thought of hiring Lichenstein.

"At that time, I said, ‘I've got to train my new staff, and who better to train my new staff than the guy who trained me?' That was a smart decision. He helped me develop my staff, and that has been a big part of my success here," said Moon.

Lichenstein's work here - as with all our auditors - is very specialized. "It's specific for government contracts. We adhere to federal acquisition requirements. It's pretty complicated," explained Moon. "You don't get this type of training in other areas."

What does Lichenstein enjoy most about his career?

"Working on the computer. That involves learning different software and being able to use it," said Lichenstein. "When I first came here, METRO had one portable computer for 15 employees, and you had to sign out for 15 minutes or so."

Lichenstein arises daily at precisely 4:07 a.m. and reports to work by 6:45 a.m. Breakfast is cereal and toast, lunch is purchased and dinner is salad and soup. Eight hours of sleep are de rigueur.

The eclectic reader subscribes to 20 newspapers and magazines - everything from the Wall Street Journal to the National Enquirer.

The lifelong bachelor credits his longevity to good genes, a balanced diet and an active social life. Every year he goes on a cruise with friends. This year he plans on traveling to Istanbul and Sochi, Russia - the site of the 2014 Olympic games.

 

METRO Responds to Chronicle Column
 

 

Raequel RobertsA week ago, Houston Chronicle reporter Rosanna Ruiz wrote a column about her experiment riding the bus at her editor's suggestion. Click here to read it.

Here's a response by Raequel Roberts, METRO's associate vice president of marketing/media and corporate communication, which was published in the Chronicle on March 7. She is pictured here in a photo taken today by Ernest Chou, senior community relations rep at METRO.

"Houston METRO encourages everyone to ride METRO, including Houston Chronicle reporters who occasionally cover METRO.

"To neophytes, riding transit does require some homework and can take some time to master. We have a project underway to straighten out routes that have evolved over the years into zigzag patterns. Any visitor to New York City finds venturing into the subway system a bit daunting, but a day or two of experience leaves many singing the praises of the system.  It's a maturation we often observe with first time riders to METRORail.

"We are glad the reporter noticed METRO's buses are clean. With more than 150,000 riders each day, that's a lot of traffic through one's front door. 

"We were, however, perplexed by her statement that one must input intersections, not addresses, to use our Trip Planner. The trip planner works with addresses, as it does with landmarks. We recently added Google Transit to our site as an added form of assistance.

"On the matter of fares and our operators: Operators monitor fares to look for abuses of the system, but their primary responsibility is to drive buses safely and adhere to schedules. One of the goals of METRO's new METRO Q® Fare Card was to cut down on disputes between operators and customers. We want to keep operators just as safe as our passengers.

"Buses lurching and creaking? Well, they're buses, not limousines. It's too bad the reporter didn't board one of our new hybrid buses. These buses are so quiet, METRO's Orion hybrid buswe've actually had passengers fall asleep and miss their stops. We're putting more and more of these on the streets each day. 

"And, on the matter of travel time in a car vs. bus. In day-to-day street driving, no, a bus probably can't beat a car to your destination. People ride mass transit for many reasons. Some, because they have no car, some because they realize riding a bus is cheaper than driving a car, others because they believe it is the environmentally right thing to do. And then there are times when METRO is quicker, as anyone sitting on a freeway at rush hour can attest to, when our Park & Ride buses zoom past them on the HOV.

"METRO isn't perfect - we've fixed a clogged drain that caused leaking on the bus the reporter rode - but we provide a valuable, clean and safe service for one of the lowest fares in the nation."

 

Public Transit Users Save Thousands Annually
   

 

Exterior of hybrid busToday's bleak economic news of the highest unemployment rate in 24 years with more than 600,000 jobs shed last month is enough to trigger belt-tightening in anyone's household budget.

Using public transit - even if only one or two days a week - will save you money.

If you ride public transit and keep your car in the garage, you can save an average of $8,498 every year, according to the American Public Transportation Association (APTA). That figure is based on March 5, 2009, gas prices.

Here's more good news. Commuters who take public transit to work can now get an increase in the monthly transit benefit offered by their employer. The benefit increases to $230 from $120, part of the economic stimulus package passed by Congress.

Public transit riders save $708 a month, based on the cost of parking and the March 5 gas price of $1.933 as reported by AAA.

Where can you save the most money by using public transit?

Boston takes the top spot with monthly savings of $1,036, followed by New York ($1,032 monthly savings), San Francisco ($960 monthly savings), Chicago ($875 monthly savings) and Philadelphia ($861 monthly savings).

Dallas came in at No. 17 with $681 monthly savings.

To calculate your trip savings in Houston, click our Commute Calculator.

New Trains to be Nation's First Low-Floor Model
 

Esterior of CAF trainYesterday's board approval of our contract to build four-light rail lines includes the purchase of 29 rail cars from CAF USA Inc., a subsidiary of the Spain-based CAF Group, a $7.5 billion company with 34 projects in 20 countries.

 These sleek trains feature one level inside, from front to back, with no steps.

"This is a 100 %, low-floor model. And this is the first time it will be in the United States," said Jitendra S. Tomar, vice president of marketing and business development at CAF USA Inc. "Other cars, you have 70 percent low floor. This one is all one level. You have better mobility from one end to the other."

Scott Grogan, senior director of rail operations, said the 100 percent low-floor feature sets this model apart.

Low-floor trains like this are currently operating in Seville and Malaga, Spain; Edinburg, Scotland; and Antalya, Turkey.

The new trains will also have six doors per side - two double doors and two single doors. METRO's current Siemens trains have four doors.

The new cars will be the same width as the Siemens but slightly longer - 102.5 feet compared to 96 feet for our current cars. Interior of CAF train

"With six doors, it's going to expedite boarding and deboarding," said Scott Grogan, METRO's senior director of rail operations.

"Currently, on the Main Street line, we have a capacity issue. What this new vehicle will allow - when you have 200 people waiting on the platform - it will allow quicker boarding and deboarding."

Inside, the layout of the seats can be changed. They can all flip up for standing room only stadium crowds, for example.

Several of you asked if METRO's Siemens train can be hooked up to a CAF USA train. Yes, but only to use one to tow the other. However, the two cannot be hooked up together to run service.

"They have two separate operating parameters. It's like a Mac communicating to a PC - totally different operating parameters on the software side," explained Grogan.

METRO plans to keep its 18 Siemens trains and may eventually use them on a commuter rail line. 

Several of you have asked if the new trains will be able to accommodate bike racks. "That's being looked into," said Grogan.

The CAF USA trains come with the industry standard of a 30-year lifetime. However, what makes this deal unique is the way the contract is structured.

"The risk elevation is more on the private side. In this case, the onus is on the private side, so risk allocation is shared by all of us. It's good for the taxpayers  - and METRO has the least risk," said CAF's Tomar. "It's not a public-private partnership. It's beyond that. This is a unique approach, and I commend METRO for this approach."

Typically, trains come with a two-year warranty. In this case, the system must function fault-free for five years.

Interior of CAF train "With this process, CAF USA will be responsible for any fleet defects in a five-year window. They will have to redesign or fix whatever the failure is and alleviate that. That's unique," said Grogan.

Our initial "Notice to Proceed" - a notice we give to the train manufacturer indicating we are ready to order - calls for 29 cars. Ten will be used for the East End line, and 19 for the Main Street line.

METRO expects delivery of the trains in April 2012.

 

 

 

METRO Approves Parsons Contract to Build Rail Lines
 

 

New rail car METRO is orderingIn a historic vote today, the METRO board approved a $1.46 billion contract with Parsons Transportation Group to build four light-rail lines in Houston.

"Today is obviously a very significant milestone," said David S. Wolff, METRO's chairman of the board. "Our objective is to improve transit in Houston, beginning with the 2003 referendum. We have now finalized a new contract with Parsons...We are doing our very best to bring first-class transit to this city."

Wolff called the contract "extremely innovative" and said it keeps METRO on budget for building four light-rail lines: North, East End, Southeast and Uptown.

The four lines will total 19.95 miles of light-rail at an average cost of $73 million per mile. At left, is a photo of the new rail cars METRO is ordering from CAF USA.

The initial phase of the contract calls for spending $632 million and is expected to create 25,000 jobs. Overall, 60,000 jobs will be created by the time the nearly 20 miles of rail are completed.

"This is a tremendous economic engine that creates jobs," said Frank J. Wilson, METRO's president and CEO.

The $632 million in the initial phase of the contract includes spending on the following:  

 

  • $90 million in utility work on the North and Southeast Corridors.
  • $390 million in total costs for the East End, including an overpass at Harrisburg for light rail
  • Construction of a Service and Inspection Facility
  • 29 rail cars from CAF USA at a cost of $3.15 million/car. The Main St. Line will get 19 cars; East End, 10 cars.
  • $3 million for final alignment and station configuration on the Uptown Corridor

The contract also specifies that 35 percent of eligible program contracts be directed to local small businesses. That amounts to $335 million of work.

Parsons will be responsible for designing, building, operating and maintaining the four new light-rail lines. Rail map

The contract builds in many innovative features to protect METRO, including:

       

  • The ability to contract out work where the price is disputed.
  • Advancing the work in phases, known as "multiple notices to proceed."

     "It was important to get this capability and still be able to hold the price," explained Wilson in his presentation to the board. "We can change the contract and amend it to reflect the needs of the financial marketplace."

 

  • Off ramps for cause/convenience, so if the worse-case scenario happens with Parsons, METRO can end the contract by paying a modest de-mobilization fee with no profit for Parsons.
  • Incentives ($50 million) to meet certain goals and penalties ($40 million) if those goals aren't met.

"We think that's a good way to keep them focused and get the kind of product we want," said Wilson.

 

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A Trolley that Runs on Used Veggie Oil
 

 

Street scene of Leesburg, Virg.Imagine riding public transit in a vehicle that runs on discarded vegetable oil.

That's what riders are doing in Leesburg, Virginia, according to The Washington Post.  The Town Trolley of Leesburg runs on cooking oil thrown out by local restaurants - a milestone town officials celebrated a few weeks ago as a green initiative.

The man behind the innovative idea is John Larson, a program manager for an information technology contractor,  who runs New Life Energy, a start-up that helps local government agencies and nonprofits discover renewable sources of energy.

Larson convinced town officials to convert the free trolley to using veggie oil by emphasizing the environmental benefits. Vegetable oil burns cleaner than diesel or gas and doesn't produce pollutants.

Virginia Regional Transit, which operates the trolley, paid $10,000 to convert the trolley. Larson charges $2.65 a gallon for the vegetable oil, which he collects and cleans. The trolley engine still needs some diesel to operate until the engine reaches 160 degrees. Then the diesel tank automatically shuts off, and another tank with vegetable oil is activated.

Read more here.

New Orion Hybrid Buses in Service
 

 

 

Orion VII hybrid busSome of our bus aficionados have already noticed and commented about our newest hybrid-electric buses we have recently launched into service.

Made by Daimler Buses, the Orion VII Hybrid Transit bus is equipped with a generator and motor in the back and a power control system mounted on the roof top. It is designed to improve thermal conditions and reliability, according to Daimler.  

Daimler Buses is the world leader in deploying hybrid buses  with 1,300 units already delivered and 1,500 on order. Its clients include three of four of the world's largest fleets.

Here at METRO, we have ordered 56 Orion VII buses. With buses making their METRO debut on the road in early January .

Since then, more Orions have been integrated into our fleet, and more will be coming into service soon, as they must first be modified to meet our specific requirements, explained Bill Peterson, senior operations management analyst.

The narrow seat backs in the Orion VII buses should also give slightly more hip-to-knee room compared to a 40-foot bus with the older-model seats.

Once inside, passengers should hear less noise, according to Daimler.
"Maintenance people have conducted comparative tests to verify this," said Peterson.

The European design and all-glass side windows give the hybrid buses a sleek appearance, while drivers sit in an enhanced compartment.

The Orion Diesel-Electric Hybrid bus was first developed in 1996. Two years later, these buses began daily revenue service. Today, the largest hybrid fleets are in New York, Toronto and San Francisco.

METRO's Orions VII hybrid buses are just one more way we are going green, producing lower levels of exhaust emissions and consuming less fuel.

METRO Wins ADDY Awards
 

Sydney Scardino, copywriter and Rob Fritsche, sr copywriter/produer with ADDY awardsFor actors, winning an Oscar is the pinnacle of their career.

For marketing and advertising guys, it's the ADDY award.

Last Saturday, the American Advertising Association Houston conducted its local awards ceremony - and METRO garnered six local awards. The local competition is the first of three tiers on the way to capturing the coveted national ADDY. Above are two of our staffers who worked on the projects that captured tthe gold: Sydney V. Scardino, copywriter, and Rob Fritsche, senior copywriter/producer.

The ADDY recognizes and rewards creative excellence in advertising. The annual award conferred by the American Advertising Federation is the world's biggest advertising competition with more than 60,000 entries every year.

METRO walked away with a Gold ADDY for a Spanish-language radio spot on METRO police; a Gold ADDY for a direct marketing T-shirt for our employee community fund drive; and four citations of excellence.Airport Direct print ad for student newspaper

The citations of excellence were for our 2007 Annual Report, a radio commercial on a "Go West" route promotion, a radio spot promoting riding METRORail to a Texans game and a series of student ads on Airport Direct.

"It just confirms that METRO's in-house talent can provide quality marketing and advertising as well as, if not better, than anybody in town and save the authority lots of money in marketing costs," said Fritsche. 

Fritsche came up with the award-winning slogan, "Weathering the Storm Together" on the community fund drive T-shirt, while Casey Johnson, graphic designer, created the winning design of the T-shirt.

Scardino wrote the radio spot on METRO police, which we then translated to Spanish; Fritsche produced the spot.

Raequel Roberts, associate vice president of marketing, media, and corporate communications, wrote the 2007 Annual Report, and Casey designed it.

Click the link below to hear the radio spots.

http://www.ridemetro.org/AboutUs/MTTV/MTTV.aspx

 

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.