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METRO Honors Ride Sponsors and Retailers
 

 

Montage of luncheon

METRO recognized its top-performing Ride Sponsors, and retailers who sell the METRO Q®Fare Cards, at a catered luncheon today, presenting crystal-clear, pyramid-shaped awards to its partners.

George Greanias, METRO president & CEO, said one of our three priorities is to be a trusted community partner.

"We cannot move people around town without partners," he told the group. "There's no way we could do it. We certainly can't give our customers what they need without the support of our sponsors and retailers."

METRO's Ride Sponsors are companies that often subsidize fares for their employees, encouraging them to commute to the office on Park & Ride busesMETRO retailers are shops, grocery stores and gas stations that sell Q Cards to the public and reload money on them.

At today's luncheon, METRO honored the top 10 Ride Sponsors and the top 10 retailers.

Angela Pinina, a marketing employee at El Paso Corp., said about 85 percent of its approximately 1,300 employees  take METRO's Park & Ride buses to the office. "The Q Card is really convenient. It's going great," she said.

Gloria Bray, an auditor at Gerlands, called the Q Card program wonderful. "It's so much easier with the Q Card terminal. It does it so fast. The customers love it. It's fast for us, too. We don't have any issues with it."

Greanias said that part of the fun of the holiday season is to take a deep breath at the end of the year and count your blessings. Revenue team

"Thank you," he told METRO's partners. "We can't say it enough."

In the photo on the right is the revenue team who helped make this event happen (L to R) :  Dwantrina Thomas , sales representative;  Tracy Johnson, client services supervisor;  Stephanie Stephens, client services manager; and Nicole Adler, sales representative.

 

Technology Helps Hard of Hearing in Subways
 

NYC subwayTransit officials in New York City are using decades-old technology in a new way to help the hard of hearing find their way around the subway system.

A device called "the hearing loop" has been placed at 400 MTA New York City subway booths, where it sends out electromagnetic signals that jump to a receiver in most hearing aids or cochlear implants. When that receiver is turned on, it filters out background noise and picks up only what comes through a microphone or loudspeaker, according to NY1.com.

The $13.5 million subway hearing loop project is the biggest one in the nation, and paid for by federal stimulus funds. Click here to read more.

Public Hearing on Service Changes Draws Crowd
 

Audience at public hearing in board roomIn a public hearing on proposed service changes, more than 250 people showed up at 1900 Main to listen to the presentation and to comment.

Before the meeting started at noon, long lines snaked down the hallways as people waited to sign up to speak. About 130 people signed up.

By 3:30 p.m., the meeting was still going on with comments from the public. Riders suggested METRO combine routes rather than cut routes completely. Some suggested smaller vehicles, such as a jitney or shuttle, to transport passengers in neighborhoods.

Many of the speakers called METRO their lifeline - the only transportation they had to get to work, to doctors' appointments, to church and to the grocery store.

METRO is proposing service changes scheduled to take effect on Jan. 29. Click here to read about all the changes.

If you have a comment and missed the meeting, you may call 713-658-0180, or comment online here.

Audience at public hearing in board roomYou can also watch the meeting in our archived video starting tomorrow. We hope to have it posted by end of business on Wednesday. 

Ride the Holiday Spectacular Train
   

If you've ridden on METRORail since yesterday, you may have noticed our newest wrapped Santa train.

The Downtown Holiday Spectacular train is spreading cheer up and down the tracks, courtesy of the Downtown Management District.

"It's part of our partnership within the community to promote ridership and events going on in Houston," said Raequel Roberts, vice president of marketing and corporate communications at METRO.

The holiday train was unveiled yesterday at Main Street Square in front of Macy's, which is offering free parking downtown and free trolleys to other businesses. Carolers dressed in turn-of-the-century costumes serenaded passengers.

The Santa train will be running only during the holiday season, so hop on board and enjoy the festivities. You can also use your METRO Q® Fare Card to obtain holiday discounts, good through New Year's Eve.   

Public Hearing Next Monday
 

Abstract figure at podium speakingNext Monday, you'll have a chance to comment on proposed service changes.

A public hearing is scheduled at noon on Dec. 5 at noon in our board room at 1900 Main. We'll be adjusting our service on Sunday, Jan. 29.

Here are some of the proposed changes:

6 Jensen - Sunday: Change from a 40-foot bus to a smaller vehicle to meet demand.

11 Almeda - Saturday: Change midday frequency from 40 to 30 minutes to match demand.

30 Clinton - 7 days/week: Eliminate route due to low passenger boardings and high subsidy per boarding. Parallel service available via portions of 6 Jensen, 11 Nance and 26/27 Loop.

Read more here.

If you can't make the public hearing, you can call 713-658-0180 or submit comments online here.

 

MPD Officers Honored for Saving a Life

 

George Greanias recognizes Officers John Zepeda and Leonard Wagner for saving a rider's life when he had a heart attack

METRO Police Officer John Zepeda and his K-9 partner were standing at the HCC/Ensemble station on an early fall morning, trying to board a train. It was full.

He waited for the next one - full. Next one - full. Finally, he gave up and returned to his car. Minutes later, a passerby yelled for help, saying a man had suffered a seizure. It was 8:30 a.m. on Oct. 28.

The man had tumbled onto the train tracks and a stranger had lifted him onto the platform.

Zepeda ran over, saw that the fallen man had turned blue, and immediately administered CPR. He called for back-up, and another METRO police officer - Leonard Wagner - only blocks away in his car - rushed over. The two men alternated compressions on the victim, who turned out to be the music editor for the Houston Press.

The quick action by the METRO officers - who happened to be at the right place exactly at the right time - saved the life of 36-year-old Chris Gray.

Today, both Zepeda and Wagner were honored by the METRO Board of Directors and the American Heart Association with framed plaques, commending their actions.

"We're very proud that our two officers were part of the chain of survival," said George Greanias, METRO president & CEO. "We've been talking about great customer service, and this certainly qualifies."

When Gray suffered his massive heart attack, he was fortunate that the "chain of survival" kicked in with the right people, at the right place, at the right time.  Click the video below to see how he collapsed on the tracks, and a Good Samaritan lifts him up on the rail platform, and then calls for help. After Zepeda and Wagner administered CPR for seven to eight minutes, the Houston Fire Department arrived to administer medical aid and transport Gray to Hermann Hospital.

"He was just blessed in all different kinds of ways," said Zepeda, 46, and a 19-year veteran at METRO. "You can call it luck or divine intervention. I believe in God. When the firemen were working on him for 15 minutes, I prayed for him the whole time. There's some reason why Mr. Gray is still here. He has something yet to accomplish."

A hospital official told Zepeda two days after the incident that Gray had passed away. So when Zepeda found out Gray survived, the officer was elated. Officer John Zepeda and his K-9 partner, Vigo

"I felt great. Words can't explain it. We don't do this job for money. I do this job because I want to help people how ever way I can. When you have something like this where it's positive, you cherish it. It's like when you hit a home run, you have a natural high," said Zepeda.

Officer Wagner, 53, said this was the first time in his 21 years at METRO that he saved a life while on duty. "My idea in this job is to help other people. And that's the best thing," he said of the rescue. Wagner's sister-in-law and her husband flew in from San Jose, Calif., for the ceremony this morning.

And what did Wagner's 12-year-old son, Robert, think of his dad, the new hero? "I'm jealous," he said.

Meanwhile, Zepeda's wife, Nina, posted a picture of her husband on Facebook during the board meeting with the words, "My JZ getting a life-saving award from METRO."

"Normally, I would call him honey bunny," said Nina Zepeda. "We're very proud of him."

Added Zepeda's father, Joe Zepeda: "They're always trained to do something like this...I'm glad he was there, and everybody was fine."

 

 

<a href="http://blogs.ridemetro.org/images/write_on/zepeda.wmv"><img src="/Themes/default/images/video.gif" border = "0" width="320" height="240"></a><br /><a href = "http://blogs.ridemetro.org/images/write_on/zepeda.wmv">View Video</a><br />Format: wmv<br />Duration: 4:11

CAF Gets Green Light to Build Our Trains
 

 

 

George Greanias signs CAF contractCAF USA, a division of Spain-based rail manufacturer CAF, was given the official green light today to build 39 light-rail vehicles for METRO, with the first one slated to arrive in 24 months.

CAF - whose full name is Construcciones y Auxiliar de Ferrocarriles - submitted the proposal that provided the best overall value to METRO to build light-rail vehicles. The contract was signed on Nov. 15. Today, one day after METRO received two Full Funding Grant Agreements (FFGA) totaling $900 million, we gave the official "notice to proceed" to CAF.

"It was awesome. It's a great day for both METRO and the city of Houston. There were lots of hurdles to overcome, but we did it. I'm very proud of our team. It was phenomenal. The procurement process was done correctly, and we had a very aggressive schedule, which the team worked very hard to adhere to," said Michael Kyme, associate vice president of procurement & materials.

In September 2010, METRO was forced to scrap its original contract with CAF because the Federal Transit Administration ruled that the agency had violated Buy America rules. METRO resolicited the proposal, and two manufacturers responded - CAF and Siemens. The contract is for $153.12 million.

The shells of the light-rail cars are being manufactured in Spain and shipped to the United States for final assembly.

"We wrote an acquisition plan that was in accordance with FTA guidelines.  It laid out from soup to nuts what the game plan was to move forward," recalled Kyme.

METRO's procurement team not only secured a major light-right contract with CAF, it also simultaneously procured 19 cars from Siemens in a contract that "piggybacks" on a contract the Utah transit agency had for light-rail cars.

"It's a major coup," said Kyme. "The entire team pulled this off. Everybody worked together to make this happen. This is the first time, I think, that any public agency did a piggyback and a procurement for brand-new cars in the same year. At the same time we were arranging to buy 19 cars from Siemens, we were putting specs together for the new procurement of 39 cars."Members of the CAF contract team

The team that pulled this off included: Sue Bailey, chief financial officer, Paul Como, recently retired former vice president of procurement; Terence Fontaine, group vice president of business services; Scott Grogan, senior director of rail operations; Michael Kyme, associate vice president of procurement & materials; Kevin Moore, senior contracts specialist; Michael Tagaras, senior consultant at LTK Engineering Services; Lloyd Welch, project manager; and the legal department and many more.

Virginia Verdeja, vice president of sales at CAF USA, said the company is happy to be back working with METRO.

"We're taking a fresh look with the same capabilities as last time, but with the ability to give the customer and the riding pubic what they need," said Verdeja. "And we're committed to doing it on time and within budget."

LTK Engineering Services worked with METRO with the procurement of the 39 CAF cars. An industry expert, LTK helped us with cost estimate, justification, contract documents and basically worked side-by-side with METRO.

"We worked extremely long hours and really pulled together and made these contracts happen simultaneously. It was unprecedented," said Tagaras, the LTK consultant. "It was direction from the top down that made it happen. It's unusual that all the resources that were needed were given. If we needed an emergency meeting, we had one."

Moore, the contracts specialist, called the process a marathon.

"Both the CAF contract and the piggybacked Utah agreement for 19 Siemens trains represent a win-win for the city of Houston and METRO," said Kyme.

 The first of 19 Siemens cars is expected to arrive in October 2012. The first of 39 CAF cars is scheduled to arrive in November 2013.

In the first photo, METRO President & CEO George Greanias is signing the CAF contract while Virginia Verdeja, vice president of sales at CAF USA, looks on. Opposite her is Chairman Gilbert Garcia. In the second photo is the core team, who worked on the contract (L to R): Michael Kyme, Michael Tagaras, Scott Grogan, and Kevin Moore; seated is Lloyd Welch.

 

 

 

 

                 

               

METRO Signs First Full Funding Grants for Light Rail
 

Ceremonial signing of the FFGA

Under a bright blue sky, brisk winds and cool temperatures, METRO Chairman Gilbert Garcia led a countdown with the audience, who had gathered to witness a milestone in METRO's history: "Five, four, three, two, one...Houston METRO has lift-off."

Today, METRO officials and the top administrator with the Federal Transit Agency signed two Full Funding Grant Agreements (FFGA), giving the transit agency $900 million - with $250 million cash today - to build two light-rail lines. The speeches and signing ceremony took place at 800 Burnett St., overlooking the Houston skyline.

This is the first time METRO has received federal money to build light rail.

From Mayor Annise Parker to U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-Tx) to members of Houston's Congressional delegation, the comments were a series of thank-you's to all those who played a role in reaching this historic day. 

"This feels a lot more like a pep rally than a special board meeting," said Garcia, whom the mayor called a cheerleader for METRO, one who is brilliant and as tenacious as a rat terrier. About 300 people - including  community leaders, neighborhood residents, and METRO staff - sat under a white tent to witness the ceremony. A stand-alone kiosk in the corner with a mock agreement allowed supporters to sign their names, as a supportive and symbolic gesture. Construction workers at the ceremony with skyline

Parker said the new light-rail system will do more than move people in Houston. "It will ultimately be the backbone that connects this entire region," she predicted. "This will provide mass transit opportunities for Houstonians. It will provide jobs for Houstonians. "

METRO's Southeast Line (Purple Line) will be 6.6 miles and will connect downtown with local universities, including Texas Southern University and the University of Houston central campus.

The North Line (Red Line) will extend the current Main Street Line 5.3 miles, starting at University of Houston-Downtown to the Northline Transit Center, Houston Community Center and Northline Commons Mall. Construction workers, who are building our two light-rail lines, also attended the ceremony (see photo on right).

Total construction cost for the two lines is $1.6 billion. Each line is receiving a FFGA of $450 million. The government has already set aside $484.5 million for the two projects as part of the FFGAs, and of that, METRO has received $84.5 million.

The lines are expected to be up and running in 2014.

U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Huchinson said today's ceremony culminated 38 years of hard work, but her goal was to move rail forward even more.

"Today as we mark a great victory for where we are now, know that there is a goal going forward - it's for the future generation of Texans - that there is inter-city passenger rail. I want to us have the goal of connecting Houston, San Antonio, Dallas and Austin - all of these great cities that make up Texas. We need to have good rail that will carry them to their destination and allow them to work and play and where they want to go," said Huchinson.

METRO President & CEO George Greanias acknowledged that a year ago, METRO's relationship with the FTA was "interesting," a veiled reference to the FTA's enforcing compliance with Buy America in the contracts METRO had signed with rail manufacturer CAF. The relationship, today, with the FTA is "professional, open, honest and focused on a new goal - helping us build the transit we need," said Greanias.

Before the ceremony began, FTA Adminstrator Peter Rogoff said that METRO's two projects - the Southeast Line and the North Line extension - are a classic example of a community working together.

"When a community votes to tax itself...the sales tax has made it infinitely easier to partner with Houston METRO because it gives it a financial wherewithal to build projects like this," said Rogoff.

METRO is partially funded by one percent of the local sales tax.

U.S. Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee said just like when we ask for something for Christmas or for a birthday, we may not get it right away. "But isn't it great that we stayed the course. The voters have spoken, and we must not let them down," she said, adding that Houston got a shout-out in President Obama's American Jobs Act speech last September. "Houston, we're on the way. You have come this far, and...you ain't going to go back."

U.S. Congressman Gene Green and Larry Kellner, Greater Houston Partnership chair and former CEO of Continental Airlines, also spoke. After comments by nine officials, a ceremonial signing on a giant, mock FFGA agreement took place behind the podium with signatures by Greanias, Rogoff and Garcia.

Click here to watch the video (62 minutes) of the speeches.  The line-up:  Garcia, Parker, Greanias, Hutchison, Jackson Lee, Gene Green, Al Green and Kellner.

 

 

Holiday Discounts Just in Time
 

Golden holiday bells

As you're out and about shopping and meeting friends to celebrate the holiday season, here are some wonderful new discounts to enjoy.

The METRO Q Star program has added limited-edition discounts good only through the holidays from Nov. 25 through Dec. 31. So grab them while you can - everything from 30 percent off of Theatre Under the Stars (TUTS) performance of Irving Berlin's "White Christmas" to a free dessert or glass of wine with entrée at Massa's Seafood Grill.

For a complete list of holiday discounts, click here.

The Q Star program is free. All you need to do is show your METRO Q® Fare Card to any of the participating merchants to receive your discount or free item.

But act now because the holiday discounts disappear on New Year's Eve.

Sidewalk Art Features METRO
 

Sidewalk chalk drawing of METRO bus going through a rainbow

When Thanh-Minh Pham, METRO manager of transportation programs, strolled through The Street Painting Festival last weekend at Sam Houston Park, she was surprised to see a METRO bus as part of one artist's work.

Pham stopped to talk to the young artist, a teacher at Harmony School of Science .  Asked why she was drawing a METRO bus, Caroline Truong replied, "Houston is a big city, and METRO is part of the culture."

Take a close look at the bus - it starts out looking like our bus, then is elongated and seems to take on the shape of a light-rail train near the end - a perfect symbol of what METRO is all about, transporting people from Point A to B via bus and train. Artist Caroline Truong drawing sidewakl art of a METRO bus

"It caught my eye," said Pham, who photographed the sidewalk art. "The theme was outstanding, especially with the rainbow. It was very positive."

Truong is in the orange T-shirt.

 

Thanksgiving Holiday Schedule & Detours
 

Thanksgiving turkey ready to eat 

The Thanksgiving holidays mean parades, feasts and tree-lighting ceremonies. And that means reduced bus seravie and bus detours.

Here's the holiday schedule:

Wednesday, Nov. 23: Park & Ride routes will operate additional trips from downtown in 15-minute frequencies and 30-minute frequencies. Click here for details.

Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 24: Local bus routes will operate a Sunday schedule. Park & Ride routes will not operate. METRORail will operate a Sunday schedule.

Friday, Nov. 25: Local bus routes will operate a Saturday schedule. Park & Ride routes will not operate. METRORail will operate a Saturday schedule.

Click here to see the eight routes that will operate a weekday schedule.

Here are the holiday detours:

From Wednesday, Nov. 23, at 6:30 p.m. until Thursday, Nov. 24, at 7 p.m., we'll detour bus service to avoid potential delays due to the Thanksgiving Superfeast.

On Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 24, TXU will be sponsoring the TXU Energy Turkey Trot. We'll detour bus service to avoid potential delays from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m.

If you're traveling in and around these areas, please expect minor delays during these events. Thanks for your patience.

Seeing Rail Lines Being Built
 

Stacks of railsWant to see time lapses of our crews constructing the extension of the Red Line, Purple Line and Green Line?

Check out our Facebook page here to see three short videos of rail being built. We're making lots of progress on the three light-rail lines. By 2014, we'll have 14 miles of light-rail added to our current 7.5 miles on the Red Line.

Houston, we're ready for rail.

Update on New Light-rail Lines
 

Pouring concrete

In 12 days, METRO and federal officials will sign a Full Funding Grant Agreement from which METRO will receive $900 million to build the North and Southeast lines. That's the first time we will be getting federal funds for light rail.

David Couch, senior vice president of Capital Programs, explains that by 2014, we'll have 14 miles of new rail. The work is being done in three phases: utilities, then street and sidewalk improvements and then laying down the tracks.

Listen or read the full report on KUHF - Houston Public Radio.

 

Honoring METRO's No. 2 Guy
 

 

John Sedlak and family, with George Greanias, president & CEO; and Judge Dwight Jefferson, board member 

For years, he was the second-ranking official at METRO, offering behind-the-scenes guidance, expert advice and supporting whatever major projects the CEO assigned.

Today, John Sedlak stepped up to the spotlight at City Hall, as Tuesday was declared John Sedlak Day in honor of his 28 years of public service at METRO.

Sedlak was executive vice president and director of strategic partnering at METRO. He joined the agency in 1983 and was responsible for planning and developing the 100-plus network of high occupancy vehicle lanes, the extensive system of Park & Ride lots and METRO's first rail line. He retired last month.

Councilmember Anne Clutterback said at the ceremony that without Sedlak's attention to detail and willingness to meet with the community, "we would not have had the same kind of relationship with the community and support for METRO."

Councilmember Sue Lovell recalled that the day she heard in a meeting that Sedlak was retiring, there was an audible gasp in the room. "Everybody understood what we were going to be losing," she said.

Before joining METRO, Sedlak worked with the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority for nine years on the planning, design, construction and operational start-up of the Atlanta Rapid Rail System. Sedlak earned a Master of Science degree in architecture and urban planning from Pennsylvania State University.

Sedlak's family - including his seven-week-old grandson - attended the ceremony. Catherine Sedlak said when she married her husband 41 years ago, she never imagined there would be a John Sedlak day in Houston, but added "In our house, every day is John Sedlak day. He's a wonderful father and grandfather. It's well-deserving."John Sedlak and his first grandson, John Chris

Eight-year-old Katherine Rhodes said she never expected the city to honor her grandfather with his own day. "I think it's really cool because I think everybody else will think it's cool," she said.

Although Sedlak has retired from METRO, he will remain active in the transit industry. Starting next January, he will be working at the Texas Transportation Institute full-time as manager of passenger rail research and will be the lead researcher for high-speed rail in the state of Texas and the principal spokesperson on high-speed rail to TxDOT, TxDot Commission and the state legislature. He'll be based in the Houston office.

Sedlak said the best part of his 28 years at METRO was serving the public. "It does change their lives and changes the city. It's been a real labor of love," said Sedlak. "It's been an honor to work at METRO."

Congratulations, John! Enjoy your special day.

In the top photo, left to right: George Greanias, METRO president & CEO, daughter Rachel Nicholson holding grandson John Christopher, John Sedlak, wife Catherine Sedlak, daughter Kelly Rhodes, son-in-law Duncan Rhodes, and METRO Board Member Judge Dwight Jefferson. Front row: Grandaughters Rebecca and Katherine Rhodes.

Click below to watch the ceremony.

 

<a href="http://blogs.ridemetro.org/images/write_on/JohnSedlakDay.wmv"><img src="/Themes/default/images/video.gif" border = "0" width="560" height="280"></a><br /><a href = "http://blogs.ridemetro.org/images/write_on/JohnSedlakDay.wmv">View Video</a><br />Format: wmv<br />Duration: 2:06

Beverly Hills Wants to Stop Subway Tunnel

 

Exterior of Beverly Hills High SchoolWhen it comes to Southern California's car culture, it seems like it's an uphill battle for trains - especially underground lines - to make any headway.

Transit planners in Los Angeles want to run a 9-mile subway line into the city's dense neighborhood of Westside - right under the manicured  lawn of Beverly Hills High School. Local officials are protesting, saying the line would damage the high school's French Normandy-style buildings with construction or train vibration, reports the Boston Globe.

Consultants say the tunnel would not pose any danger.

For some, it's a reminder of a battle years ago when Mark Fabiani, former deputy mayor and chief of staff to former Mayor Tom Bradley, supported a subway that would connect downtown Los Angeles to the Pacific coast. That never occurred.

Los Angeles once was home to one of the best public transit systems in the country with 1,000 miles of track across the region. The last one was dismantled in 1961. Read the article here.

A Salute to Veterans and a Detour
 

 

 

American flag waving

Today on Veteran's Day, we honor the men and women who have served and are currently serving our country in the armed forces.

To our veterans, thank you for your courage and your loyalty, defending our country.

Here in Houston, we are recognizing these heroes today with the Houston Salutes America's Heroes - Veterans Day Commemoration & Parade.

If you are attending the parade or traveling in the area, please expect minor delays during this event. From 9:30 am. to2:30 p.m., METRO will detour bus service to avoid potential longer delays due to the parade.

The ceremony begins at 10 a.m. on the steps of City Hall. There's free parking in the Theater District parking garage until noon.

The parade starts at 11:30 a.m. at Smith and Texas, proceeds south on Smith, west on Lamar and finishes at Lamar and Bagby.

Happy Veteran's Day!

Smart Transit...Maybe Even a Yak
 

George Greanias, METRO president & CEO, speaking at the Greater Houston Partnership luncheonMETRO President & CEO George Greanias told business leaders yesterday that Houston needs smart transit - and he's determined to deliver it by bus, train, trolley, tram or even a yak.

At a Greater Houston Partnership  luncheon yesterday on the state of METRO, Greanias outlined METRO's services, summarized the triage that took place a year ago after the battered agency was hammered with lawsuits and ordered to scrap a rail contract due to Buy America violations, then focused on how  the agency is moving  forward to build first-class transit and partnerships in the community.

Greanias said that in fiscal year 2012, which began in October of this year, METRO is focusing on four priorities:  deliver smart service, build rail, right-size the organization and plan for the future.  

"You won't use what's not there," said Greanias. "If we provide transit in this region, people will use that transit. But it's got to be there, it's got to be reliable, it's got to be convenient. Smart service thinks about the entire trip, and it uses whatever works."

Smart service also looks at the entire trip - not just time on a vehicle. That means good sidewalks that offer access to bus stops, and shelters at those stops. Greanias says he tell his staff to be "mode agnostic."

"I do not care what we use to move you. There will be cases when a 40-foot bus will be exactly right. There will be areas when...light-rail would be appropriate. It may be a trolley or a tram," said Greanias, roaming between luncheon tables as he spoke with sleeves rolled up. "METRO is oriented to do whatever works. Whether it's a bus, a train, a taxicab or God forbid, a yak, I will move people across this town."

Greanias said that the federal government is scheduled to give us $900 million to build two light-rail lines - the first time the agency has received federal money. Contracts are expected to be signed on Nov. 28.

METRO's challenge going forward is to build the kind of transit the community wants, adding that citizens in some 30 community meetings told METRO that Houston is way behind.

"At the end of the day, transit is a need, not a want. Transit is a necessity, not a luxury. The challenge for us isn't to decide whether we need transit. The challenge for us is how best can we provide the transit we need for the economic growth, the economic health of the community.

"Our goal at METRO ...is to make sure that as the community works toward those decisions, METRO is the kind of partner that can execute the community's wishes," continued Greanias. "So we can join hands with the community and build the kind of transit system that we believe we need, that we believe we deserve and I believe, that by the end of the day, we will have."

Click here to view Greanias' entire speech (runs 31:11) and the accompanying slide show.

Signing Date for Full Funding Grants
 

 Capitol building in Washington

 In 19 days, METRO is expected to reach a significant milestone.

On Monday, Nov. 28, METRO will be joined by federal officials, along with members of Houston's congressional delegation, to sign the long-awaited Full Funding Grant Agreements (FFGA) for the North and Southwest light-rail lines.

President & CEO George Greanias announced the signing date earlier today at the Greater Houston Partnership's luncheon.

This is the first time rail projects in Houston have received FFGAs. These are matching federal funds that help us leverage local dollars to complete the construction of the North Line (extension of the Main St. Red Line) and the Southeast Line (Purple Line).

The  approximately six-mile Southeast Line will start in downtown Houston and run along Capitol and Rusk southeast to the vicinity of Palm Center at MLK and Griggs. The last portion of the track will be shared with the East End Line.

The North Line extends the existing Red Line by about 5.3 miles, running through the heart of the historic  North Side. Starting at the University of Houston /Downtown station, it runs north on North Main and proceeds north on Fulton to the Northline Transit Center and the Houston Community College and Northline Mall Center.

We'll post details of the historic FFGA ceremony closer to the signing date.

Greanias to Give State of METRO Address
 

 

George Greanias, METRO president & CEOMETRO President & CEO George Greanias is scheduled to speak tomorrow on the State of METRO at the Greater Houston Partnership's luncheon.

Greanias told KUHF/Houston Public Radio today that METRO has some ambitious goals it wants to meet. It expects to sign agreements soon to receive $900 million in federal money to build light-rail. Right now, we expect the North Line (Red Line) and Southeast Line (Purple Line) to be completed in early 2014.

The agency also plans to focus on creating a long-term regional transit plan.

"We're going to be looking at our route structure for buses," Greanias told KUHF. "For a long time, people have been concerned that we're not efficiently using our bus system."

Click here to listen to or read the report. Click here for luncheon details.

If you miss the luncheon, we'll have Greanias' speech posted on our web site.

Earning the Gold for Second Consecutive Year
 

Gold Leadership Circle Award graphicOn Nov. 5, METRO wrote a check to Transport Workers for $14,849.25.

That's shown  on our website, and it's that level of detailed reporting that helped garner METRO the Gold Leadership Circle Award from the Texas State Comptroller.

The Texas Comptroller says since constituents pay for their government, they deserve to know how government spends citizens' money.  Opening an agency's books allows citizens to comment on spending decisions and become involved in the decision-making process.

To achieve financial transparency, local governments are encouraged to post three key financial documents online: the annual budget, the annual financial report  and the check register.

METRO has been posting all three for two consecutive years now, earning kudos in the Comptroller Leadership Circle. The Comptroller upgraded its rating criteria - and gave METRO 18 of 20 points (compared to 13 of 15 last year).

"We know we're making progress towards the openness and transparency that will make us a trusted community partner, but it still means a lot when someone outside the Authority recognizes that fact," said George Greanias, METRO president & CEO, in a statement.

Check out our web page that consolidates check registers, three years of budgets and financial reports, bond disclosure documents and instructions on filing an open records request.

METRO's Leadership Circle Award is valid for one year, after which METRO can reapply for the award. As a Comptroller Leadership Circle member, METRO is listed on the state comptroller's Texas Transparency website.