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Fare Evasions on the Rail
 

Person tapping Q Card on the railEver see people board the train without tapping their METRO Q®Fare Card?

One frequent blog reader recently asked us why we couldn't use private security to enforce fare compliance on the rail. This is what the Phoenix Citizens Transit Commission recently authorized for its 19-mile, light-rail system.

The short answer: We can't do that.


Here's why. METRO assesses a civil penalty of $75 for fare evasion citations, in accordance with the Texas Transportation Code (Section 456.0611). When a violator gets a citation, he can pay METRO the penalty of $75 before his court date. The citation will not be forwarded to the city of Houston municipal courts, where it would otherwise follow procedures similar to a traffic citation, explained MPD Chief Victor Rodriguez.

"The citation can only be issued by a police officer at this time," said Rodriguez. "METRO cannot currently use civilian (private security) fare inspectors because the law which governs enforcement of fares limits civilian fare inspectors to those counties in which the principal municipality is less than 750,000 population."

However, we are exploring the possibility of modifying the Texas Transportation Code to allow us to hire civilian fare inspectors. The earliest this could happen would be the 2013 Legislative session.

"Adding civilian fare inspectors could not only increase fare inspections but also permit better utilization of law enforcement resources with additional safety and security personnel," said Rodriguez. "As the METRO rail lines expand in the coming years, we will certainly explore all avenues to effectively and efficiently provide for the safety and security of those lines. A hybrid approach using both police officers and private security is worth a look."

 

Mayor Rides Museum Train
 

Montage of Mayor Parker's ride on museum-wrapped train and press conference

Mayor Annise Parker rode METRORail this morning in a newly wrapped, green "Houston Loves Museums" train.

At a news conference on the Museum District platform, she urged Houstonians to attend this Saturday's 15th Annual Museum District Day and to ride the rail to get there.  

After taking the train to the museum district, you can hop on a free shuttle bus that will ferry you to your choice of 17 museums, where there will be free admission for the day. The event runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

"We're blessed in the city of Houston with a wealth of museums," said Parker. "We're also blessed in the city of Houston with having a first-class transit system...so ride the rail and enjoy Museum Day."

George Greanias, METRO president & CEO, said the  green museum train was an example of being a trusted community partner. "It underscores the relationship between METRO and the museums," he said of the wrapped train. "Take the train to the museums...it's a way to relax and enjoy the arts."

The Museum District paid for the wrapped train.

Also attending the news conference were: Gilbert Garcia, METRO chairman; Josef Helfenstein, director of The Menil Collection and chairman of the Houston Museum District Association; Laurette Canizares, executive director, the Houston Museum District Association and Jonathon Glus, president & CEO of Houston Arts Alliance.

In the group shot above, left to right are: Glus, Helfenstein, Canizares, Parker, Greanias and Garcia.

 

 

 

Gilbert Garcia Speaks on His First Year in Office
 

Chairman Gilbert Garcia being interviewed in his office for "METRO Matters" TV showIn a special edition of METRO Matters, Chairman Gilbert Garcia talks about how he unexpectedly became the chairman of METRO, an agency that he admits was off his radar screen before Mayor Annise Parker asked him to serve.

Garcia tells why he's branded the agency the NEW METRO, and shares what he considers his major accomplishments are since he arrived here.

"We focus on transparency, every meeting is broadcast live on the Internet...you can see our check registry on the Internet. And so the public can feel good about what's happening at METRO," said Garcia.

Listen to more here. If you prefer to watch it on your big screen TV at home, here are air times on HMS TV, Channel 17 on Comcast.  The first air time is tonight at 10:15.   You won't want to miss this show.

Mon      9/12/11     10:15 p

Wed      9/14/11     3:45 p

Sat       9/17/11    3:00 p

Mon      9/19/11   10:45 p

Wed     9/21/11     6:15 p                                                                                                                            

Fri        9/23/11    12:30 p

Mon     9/26/11   7:00 p

Thu        9/29/11   9:00 p

Sat       10/1/11   12:30 p

Mon       10/3/11      9:00 p

Thu        10/6/11     10:30 p

Mon      10/10/11  7:00 p

 

 

 

A Time to Remember
 

Bus/train decal: 9/11...a time to remember, a time never forgotten 

 

METRO is commemorating the tenth anniversary of 9/11 with 60 seconds of silence this Sunday at 12 noon.

All buses will pull to the side of the road and the trains will stop, as we pause to honor the heroes who died on the day that shook the world and  recognize the courage of all those who responded to help.

METRO is joining hundreds of transit agencies nationwide that are stopping service to honor the victims, their families and the heroes. Passengers will hear an announcement explaining why their bus or train is stopping. Buses will pull to safe spots along their routes and trains will stop at the nearest station or platform to observe this minute of silence.

We prepared 1,300 decals to display on our buses, trains and METROLift vehicles, a commemorative black-and-white decal, which is posted above.

In addition to this, we've doubled our weekend police force, increasing vigilance throughout our system.

"I've got extra bomb-detecting canines, a special operations response team (S.O.R.T.) the anti-terrorism unit, extra patrols," said Victor Rodriguez, MPD chief. "We have a significantly increased presence. You should see our officers throughout the system. We'll be more saturated in our prime target areas - around the Medical Center and rail system."

We began this increased staffing on Sept. 8 and will continue it through Sept. 12.

MPD officers are also participating in the 911 Heroes Run on Sept. 11. Rodriguez will be in full uniform participating in the pre-race ceremonies at 8:30 a.m.

"Certainly, it's a time for us to come together and remember those heroes who died as a result of that terrorist act -  the civilians who died working in the Twin Towers, the Pentagon and passengers on United Airlines Flight 93, flying over Pennsylvania, along with the first responders and other rescuers who died in the rescue attempt," said Rodriguez. "I think we need to always carry that memory in our hearts and minds, so that we don't ever let down our vigilance."

Rodriguez said others may view this tenth anniversary differently, choosing "to take advantage of the symbolism to wreak more havoc." Although there have been reports of increased chatter and credible threats focused on  New York and Washington, there is no information suggesting Houston is a target.

But he added, "That does not mean that we relax our vigilance."

Obama Supports Houston Transit
 

Video of President ObamaIn President Obama's speech yesterday on his proposed American Jobs Act, Houston got a mention.

About seven minutes into his speech, Obama said, "Building a world-class transportation system is part of what made us an economic super power....There are private construction companies all across America just waiting to get to work. There's a bridge that needs repair between Ohio and Kentucky. It's on one of the busiest trucking routes in North America. A  public transit project in Houston that will help clear up one of the worst areas of transit in the country."

We believe Obama was referring to our light-rail projects in Houston.

"Obviously, we are very pleased to hear the President talk about public transit projects.  370,000 times a day people rely on various METRO services, and the need for public transportation will be crucial as our region continues to grow," said Jerome Gray, METRO vice president and senior press officer.

Watch the video here.

 

 

Laying Rail for East End Line
   

 

 

Map of East End Line from downtown to Magnolia Transit CenterA call for celebration: We laid the first rail on the East End Line two days ago. It was a 160-foot section along Harrisburg, from Estelle to Sidney.

The crew used standard gauge, the distance between the two rails on one track. That distance is 4 feet, 8.5 inches - and workers measured to one-eighth of one inch of that as they poured cement.

The East End Line (which will be called the Green Line) will be 3.3 miles long and run from downtown Houston to Magnolia Transit Center. We expect it to be completed in the fall of 2014.

Watch the video on our Facebook page (scroll to Sept. 6 post).  Runs: 1:21.

 

Walkable Downtown Neighborhood
 


METRO Board Member Christof SpielerCan Houston ever create a neighborhood where you can eat, work, play and live - and walk to all those places?

Some say yes - in a mixed-use neighborhood around the Ensemble/HCC light-rail station. Listen to what Christof Spieler, METRO board member, says about the Midtown Livable Centers Plan to create a walkable neighborhood.

Spieler is scheduled to speak tomorrow at an event sponsored by Houston Tomorrow. "My Houston 2040" will be held at Rudyard's Upstairs, 2010 Waugh Drive from 5 p.m. to 6:45 p.m.

What makes a walkable neighborhood? A center  - whether it's a main street or plaza; enough people for businesses to prosper and transit to run often; mixed income and mixed use; parks and public space; a pedestrian design of buildings close to the street and parking lots in back; schools and workplaces close  to homes and complete streets that accommodate bicyclists, pedestrians and transit.

Along with Spieler, Robin Holzer will present her "My Houston 2040 vision," based on the vision of the Citizens' Transportation Coalition, a grassroots, nonprofit advocacy group promoting transit solutions.

The event is free and open to the public. Food and drinks will be available.

 

High-Speed Rail from Houston to Dallas
 

Railroad tracksFor all those who have driven the four-hour trek to Dallas, or driven to the airport and waited an hour to fly there, here's good news: High-speed rail is coming.

On Sept. 1, Ray LaHood, the Department of Transportation secretary, announced a $15 million high-speed rail grant for Texas that will jumpstart engineering and environmental work on a high-speed rail corridor connecting Houston to Dallas-Fort Worth.

The state of Texas is one of 32 states currently laying the foundation for future high-speed rail service that will connect major cities quickly and efficiently, said the DOT.

"These projects are part of President Obama's bold vision for investing in freight and passenger rail projects that will create jobs and grow our economy over the long term, by moving people and goods more quickly and efficiently than ever before," said LaHood in a written statement.

In addition to this grant, Texas was the recipient of a $34 million TIGER II grant that will pay for major rail improvements on the Tower 55 project in Fort Worth. This project is designed to alleviate congestion at one of the busiest intersections in the nation, where 10 freight and passenger rail routes converge and carry more than 100 trains a day. The project is expected to reduce traffic delays by 100,000 hours a year.

Read more here.

Once high-speed rail between Houston and Dallas/Fort Worth is up and running, would you take it? Or would you still prefer the freedom of driving your own car?

 

Museum District Goes Green on METRO
 

Museum District wrapped train 

Starting today, if you ride the rail, you may spot another one of our fully-wrapped trains. The newest one that makes its debut today is the Houston Museum District train wrapped in green with purple trim.

The wrapped train is designed to promote the Museum District and the 15th Annual Museum District Day on Sept 17, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The train runs 7.5 miles on our Red Line, with a stop, "Museum District," right in front of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. (MFAH). From there, you can board a free bus shuttle to any of the 17 participating museums to explore exhibits and view demonstrations. Admission is free to all those museums on Sept. 17.

Train fare is $1.25 one way. You can use cash or a credit card to buy a ticket on the platform from a ticket vending machine.  So ride the train and avoid traffic hassels.

If you show your Q Fare® Card to participating museums, you'll get discounts on general admissions or store purchases.

This green-wrapped train was done in partnership with the Museum District, which designed and paid for the wrap.

Our first fully-wrapped train was the fire-engine red train, sporting the message, "Stop. Think."

That train recently won first place in the category of print media - illustrated vehicle in the 2011 Annual AdWheel Awards competition sponsored by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA).  


MFA Features METRO Artwork
 

 

Artwork of Dixie Friend Gay

Starting tomorrow, you'll be able to see the original artwork that will grace the future rail train stations METRO is building.

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH) will display the final designs of our Arts in Transit program, which created the art for the three light-rail lines under construction - the East End, North Line and Southeast Line.

The 22 artists selected to create the artwork designed pieces to reflect the character and ambience of each neighborhood. METRO's collaboration with the artists and communities began with a call for artists and design submissions.

"This has been an enormously gratifying partnership. The artists have worked with METRO and the community to find the right public face for neighborhoods we serve via their station designs," said Kimberly Williams, chief administrative officer for METRO's Capital Programs department.

The display includes works by Jesse Sifuentes, Carroll Parrott Blue and Dixie Friend Gay. Artwork will be exhibited until Oct. 10 during the museum's regular business hours.

The artwork posted here is the creation of  Dixie Friend Gay. This is scheduled to appear at the Boundary station on the North Line.

Extreme Heat Buckles Freeway
 

Cracked asphalt roadOur record triple-digit temperatures have caused several of our freeways to buckle and crack.

You can do your part to ease traffic on the roads by riding METRO, if you aren't already.  If you're new to METRO, try riding at least one day a week. Click here for our Trip Planner.

Read more on our Facebook page. And be sure to "like" us when you get there.

 

METRO Conserves Water in Drought
 

Bus going through METRO bus washWhile many Houstonians are ignoring the city's mandatory watering restrictions, METRO has started voluntary water conservation measures.

On Aug. 16, Mayor Annise Parker enacted restrictions that limit lawn watering to twice a week. Three days after the restrictions, the city recorded the highest number of gallons pumped - 660 gallons.

Here at METRO, we initiated voluntary water restrictions on Aug. 15. Now, at  three of our bus operating facilities, we are washing our buses three times per week, instead of seven.

At the other three operating facilities, we are washing buses two times a week instead of five.

By following these measures, we have reduced the number of bus washes to 2,859 per week from 5,915 per week - a 51.7 percent reduction. It takes 40 gallons of water per bus wash, so we are now saving 122,240 gallons of water per week.

For years, we have been using recycled water to wash our buses, and we are continuing that.

An unintended benefit: We've also reduced labor costs by $1,833 per week. That's good news in this tight budget season.

Bus interiors will continue to be cleaned daily.

 

DOT's New Rules Ensure More People Enjoy Their Flight
 

Passengers in airplaneHas an airline ever lost one of your check-in bags - a bag you had to pay $25 for the airline to carry?
That's not going to happen, anymore. Now, if your bag is lost, you are entitled to a refund of any bag check-in fee.

That's just one of the passenger protections implemented yesterday under new consumer protection rules by the U.S. Department of Transportation. The DOT says it hopes to make flying more convenient and hassle-free with these new rules.

 "The Department of Transportation's new passenger protections will help ensure that air travelers receive the respect they deserve before, during and after their flight," wrote Ray LaHood, the nation's top transportation official, on his blog.

The new rules require that airlines prominently disclose all optional fees on their websites, including fees for baggage, meals, canceling or changing reservations and advanced or upgraded seating.

Here are some other aspects of the new rules:

*You will get double the amount of money you are eligible for, if you are involuntarily bumped from an oversold flight.

* All taxes and fees will be included in advertised fares.

* No price increases will be allowed after you buy a ticket.

* You will be able to hold a reservation without payment, or cancel without penalty, for 24 hours after the reservation is made, if the reservation is made at least one week before departure date.

* The three-hour tarmac delay limit extends beyond large and medium-hub airports and now includes flights at small-hub and non-hub airports. It also now covers all international flights at U.S. airports with a four-hour limit. Airlines must give food and water after two hours, as well as access to working lavatories and medical treatment, if necessary.

Read more here.

Hopefully, the next time we fasten our seatbelt, adjust our seats to an upright position and turn off all electronic devices - our flights will be more enjoyable. Tell us if your experience flying improves.

 

 

 

Heat Wave Triggers More Road Trash
 

Thermometer reaching 100 degrees

If you're noticing more debris on our freeways, you're not alone.

The city's Safe Clear program says there's about a 20 percent increase in debris on the roads because of our heat wave. When temperatures climb to 100 degrees, flat tires and mechanical breakdowns increase. And the heat on the pavement can cause tires to blow out.

The area with the most litter on the roads is central Houston at connections between I-45, US-59, 610, I-10 and some parts of Highway 288.

Read and/or listen to this report from KUHF.

 

New Missouri Park & Ride Opens
 

 

Residents in Missouri City now have another commuting option to the Texas Medical Center or downtown Houston. Officials at ribbon-cutting ceremony

Today, 44 customers boarded 10 morning bus trips from a new, interim Park & Ride lot located at State Highway 6 at Knight Road in the Kroger shopping center. Of the 44 boardings, 18 were new riders - or 41 percent.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony last Friday attended by METRO and Missouri City officials celebrated the launch of this service extension, supplementing Route 170.

Officials attending the ceremony included: George Greanias, president & CEO; Allen Watson, METRO board vice chair; Allen Owen, Missouri City mayor; Jay Spears, principal at NewQuest Properties; Randall Carle, Kroger store manager; and Fort Bend County Commissioners Grady Prestage and James  Patterson.

"This is especially good news to the hundreds of TMC employees who live in Missouri City and are looking for a stress-free commute that is also easy on the wallet," said Greanias in a statement. "Our partners in this - Missouri City, Fort Bend County, the TMC, NewQuest and Kroger - champion our mission of providing better service to the community, and the new lot is an example of how we're taking steps to improve mobility."

Commuters who board from the new Park and Ride lot - known as the Missouri City/Highway 6 Park & Ride - will be charged a Zone 2 fare of $3.25 per ride. If you don't have a METRO Q® Fare Card, you can pick one up at Kroger.

Aerial map of new Missouri City/Hwy 6 Park & RideThis service extension from our new P&R lot gives Route 170 three stops on its schedule. The first bus rolls out at 5:06 a.m. from the new location at Highway 6 and Knight Road, then drives to the Missouri City Park & Ride lot at Fondren and Beltway 8 - then to its final destination at the Medical Center with a connection to the Red Line.

"It's serving a great need. It connects to more than 18 other routes. It's a huge connector for people who are commuting not only to the Medical Center, but to downtown and midtown," said Karen Marshall, director of Community Outreach, who planned last Friday's event.  "When we were planning the ceremony, cars would pull up and ask us, ‘When does it start? We can't wait to get it.' Kroger is excited and supportive. NewQuest is excited to have us. We're hoping this new Park & Ride lot will help alleviate parking pressure at the Medical Center."

290 Diamond Lane Is Open
 

US 290 Diamond Lane It was opening day at 5:00 this morning, as drivers accessed the newly constructed US 290 eastbound diamond lane.

The long-anticipated diamond lane runs from Skinner Road to the high occupancy vehicle lane (HOV) entrance at Eldridge Parkway.

This diamond lane resulted from a partnership between the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDot) and METRO. It's designed to bring relief to hundreds of eastbound commuters by offering better access for multi-passenger vehicles entering the barrier-separated HOV lane.

The diamond lane will operate around-the-clock and be open to motorists carrying two or more passengers, easing the flow of traffic to the US 290 HOV lane during the peak travel period.

My colleague, who commutes daily on 290, said he noticed traffic was a little lighter this morning on his way to downtown. Let us know if the new diamond lane is making a difference in your commute.

 

Relief to Arrive at Highway 290
 

Cars on freeway with diamond laneHighway 290 commuters, rejoice!

Starting next week, eastbound diamond lanes on Highway 290 are scheduled to be opened to traffic. The diamond lanes will extend from Skinner Road to the HOV entrance at Eldridge Parkway.

The westbound lanes are scheduled to be completed by the end of September.

Diamond lanes are lanes exclusively open for carpools, vanpools, buses and motorcycles - just like the high-occupancy lanes or HOV lanes.

The 290 diamond lanes are a joint project between METRO and the Texas Department of Transportation. We designed and engineered the lanes; TxDOT is constructing and maintaining the lanes.

So while traffic may be slightly heavier on the first day of school next Monday, these diamond lanes should help ease the congestion. Click here to see METRO's Pablo Valle, senior project manager, explain more about diamond lanes on the latest episode of METRO Matters.

 

RideStore Offers Back-to-School Hours
 

 

School supplies, apple, ruler

The RideStore is extending its hours to make it easier for students and parents to get a discounted METRO Q ® Fare Card.

The temporary extended hours are:

Saturday, Aug. 20: 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Monday - Friday, Aug. 22-26: 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Saturday, Aug. 27: 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.

To get the 50 percent student discount, you must bring with you the following:

For K-12 students, bring one of the following:

  • Current school ID
  • Class schedule
  • Enrollment form
  • Report card on school letterhead

 Only the student's name is required on the Q Card - no photo. The card must also be registered. If registered cards are lost or stolen, the balance can be transferred to a new card.

For college students:

  • A fee receipt with a current class schedule showing credit hours, or a letter from the college verifying current, full-time status.
  • A government-issued photo ID

 

Spotting Suspicious Behavior
 

Travelers at Boston's Logan AirportTravelers who fly in and out of Boston's Logan International Airport will be the first in the nation to undergo a "chat-down" rather than the usual security pat-down. It's called behavioral profiling.

Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officials will quickly interview every traveler, looking for suspicious micro-expressions on people's faces, says a recent report on NPR.   

The interview will start with a friendly, "Hi, how are you?" and then proceed to basic questions such as where are you going, and how long will you be there.  TSA officials have been trained to pick up 35 cues they're listening for and looking for on one's face - including the movement of the eyes or the Adam's apple.

Click here to read or listen to the story.

Would such behavioral profiling work here in Houston at METRO?

"For the TSA checking people at an airport in a controlled kind of situation, it has possibilities. Versions of it have been successful in Israel," said George Greanias, METRO's president & CEO. "The key is the quality of training that people are given. We want to be very careful that people think they can understand behavior, and they really don't and then do things that are offensive to our customers. It's important if we are going to use these skills, people really do have them."

Greanias added it would be more difficult to implement in the open rail and bus environment we have.

METRO Police Department has an anti-terrorism unit trained to respond to terrorist threats.

 

 

Watch METRO Matters on Diamond Lanes
   

Mary Sit interviews Pablo Valle on "METRO Matters" TV showSome relief is coming soon to Highway 290 commuters. METRO and the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) are working together to build diamond lanes that should ease some of that gridlock from location to location.

Click here to listen to Pablo Valle, METRO's senior project manager, tell us what we can expect.  

You can also catch the show at home on Comcast's HMS TV, Channel 17 at these times:

Wed., 8/17/11   6:15 p.m.

Fri., 8/19/11        3:45 p.m.

Tue. 8/23/11      6:45 p.m.

Thu. 8/25/11      11:30 p.m.

Sat., 8/27/11      12:30 p.m.

Mon., 8/29/11   7:00 p.m.

Wed,. 8/31/11   6:15 p.m.

Fri., 9/2/11          12:30 p.m.