A month before METRO begins its new fiscal year, Acting President & CEO George Greanias outlined his strategy for building a new METRO - one that includes using the agency's assets wisely and controlling - not necessarily cutting - costs.
Greanias made his presentation at a special board meeting yesterday, discussing mission and vision, strategic priorities, operating principles, organizational structure, and an operating and capital budget review plan.
METRO has three strategic priorities: first-class transit services; great transit infrastructure; and trusted community partner.
"Everything METRO does is meaningless unless we're providing first-class transit services," said Greanias, adding that great transit services can't be sustained unless we're also maintaining a great infrastructure.
Greanias said the agency should consider creative alternatives to providing transit.
"It's very important going forward that METRO gets away from the Henry Ford model," he said, explaining that Ford offered one color - black - as its options for the Model-T.
Alternative service modes could be a taxi voucher instead of a 40-foot bus.
Greanias said in FY2011, which starts Oct. 1, METRO would be operating under seven principles: customer service, partnering, cost control, asset utilization, sustainability, safety and people.
"Cost control is not cost-cutting," he said. "Cost control is where you have great respect for the people who have earned the money that keeps you going, and you treat their money as your own. And you spend the money in the wisest possible way, and you do it with the kind of foresight where it doesn't put you in the position that you suddenly have to cut expenses."
Under asset utilization, Greanias said we have two floors of vacant space at 1900 Main, and we should consider leasing the space.
"We want to right-size the assets to our needs," he said.
Greanias said by year end, everyone in the agency would get an operating principles scorecard to keep all accountable. Only when everyone gets marching orders in the same direction can this agency achieve its mission and vision of providing the safest, highest-quality mobility solutions, he said.
Click here to see the Power Point presentation by Greanias.
Walk into Amazon's building in Seattle and you'll see a one-of-a-kind touch-screen kiosk that offers real-time info on transit services and amenities.
Touch the screen and you'll be able to see real-time arrivals of city buses, its routes, find streetcar stops and arrival times, as well as see neighborhood restaurants and shops, according to the Seattle Transit Blog.
The electronic kiosk is a public-private partnership among Vulcan Real Estate, Seattle Metro and the city of Seattle.
The kiosk features a basic map and a main menu for "transportation" and "amenities." Under "transportation," a commuter can then choose links for biking/walking, ferries and generic info about various modes and routes.
Press the icon for "amenities" and you'll see six categories: shopping, services, arts and entertainment, hotels and schools and churches. There's a list on a scrolling sidebar, as well as a map that pinpoints each entity.
Watch a demonstration on You Tube.
A back-to-school blitz by METRO has resulted in hundreds of students getting their METRO Q® Fare Cards renewed on campus or getting processed for new ones.
"The students were very, very appreciative," said Nicole Adler, revenue marketing specialist. "Students were glad to see METRO on campus. It was very well-organized.The staff at Baylor got the word out to the incoming students about METRO's on-site services."
All student Q Cards expire on Sept. 30. If you missed our Q team on campus, you can renew your Q Card at our RideStore at 1900 Main.
Regular hours are Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. If you can't make it during the week, we'll be open on one Saturday next month, so mark your calendar: Saturday, Sept. 18, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Hundreds of students at Baylor College of Medicine renewed or applied for new Q Cards on July 28 and 29 during the student orientation.
METRO's Q team - from our community outreach, IT and revenue departments - set up a table in the DeBakey building, issuing Q Cards to students and extending the contracts of those who already had a Q Card.
Those who were obtaining a Q Card for the first time came with applications already filled out and had their picture taken. Three days later, METRO delivered Q Cards with photo ID to the Baylor.
"It was really busy," said Joe Garcia, community outreach rep. "They came in groups of 15 people. They were so excited because they are new medical students. So they have a certain kind of energy. They are excited about being in a great city, in a great school - and now they have easy access to METRO's rail system and bus routes."
Last week, the Q team went to UH-Downtown and the School of Health Professions at M.D. Anderson. Pictured on the right at Baylor are (left to right): Virlee Jackson, Joe Garcia, Melanie Shepard, Nicole Adler and Steve Dubach.
Tomorrow, the Q team goes to Texas Woman's University on Fannin. On Sept 8 & 9, the team will be at UH-Central main campus; on Sept 16, at TSU and on Sept. 22, HCC-Northeast.
"Students are excited about us being out there," said Adler. "We're helping them save money."
The Q team consisted of Ernest Chou, Joe Garcia and Monique Ward from community outreach; Steve Dubach from IT; and Nicole Adler, Virlee Jackson, Anglia Jermany, Melanie Shepard and Trina Thomas from revenue.
I am tired of saying, "Excuse me."
For the past two days, as I was getting off the Red Line, anxious, in-a-hurry riders were standing inches away from the doors, ready to step on the train.
I was trying to disembark, but there were always one or two people right in my face, ready to embark. I had to say, "Excuse me" as I maneuvered my way past them.
I know Houston has only had rail for six years and transit culture hasn't seeped into our mindset yet, but it's time to review a few courteous rules of the road.
1. Let people get off the train before you get on the train.
In cities where rail has been around 100 years or so, residents know this. No matter how crowded the stations, people who want to board always wait - and not in the space where the trains doors will open. Disembarking passengers have a clear opening to get off and walk.
I noticed this in Boston when I was there recently. Now Boston has really rude drivers, but that's another story. At least, they know how to ride the T.
2. Don't be a seat hog.
This is the person who sits in a two-person bench but sits diagonally with one leg casually draped across the second seat. If the train is empty, that might be fine. But when people start boarding, or it's rush hour, occupy one seat, not two.
Another variation is the riders who plop briefcase, tote bag, laptop or shopping bags on the seat next to them.
To be fair, there are also a lot of Southern gentlemen on the train. Many times men have offered me their seat - and it's not just the suits but the baggy pants/plugged-into-iPods young men. Politeness comes in all sizes, shapes and colors.
3. The platform is not a laundry line.
Today, coming back from lunch, I saw clothes draped over the safety rail. Someone was drying their socks, pants, and shirt.
I also saw someone smoking. There's no smoking on the platform or train.
What has been your experience riding the train - and would you suggest more rules of the road?
Big crowds are expected at this weekend's first home pre-season game between rivals the Texans and the Cowboys - and now we're making it easier for you to ride the rail to get to and from that game.
Instead of waiting to tap your Q Card to get on-board, simply buy a wristband for just $2.50. That gives you a round-trip ticket on METRORail.
The wristbands will be on sale on Saturday, Aug. 28 from 3:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at Main Street Square Station and Fannin South Station.
Avoid the lines and slip on a wristband. And if you're wondering why the wristbands are bubblegum pink, I hear we got them at a bargain price - cheaper than steel blue or silver.
A new job-training program that will teach construction skills was launched today at a news conference led by Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee at the Latino Learning Center on Polk Street.
Called Workready Houston, the comprehensive program was inspired by Jackson Lee. The program will offer job readiness and occupational training for Houstonians who want to expand their skills and learn new construction-related ones.
The series of free classes begins on Sept. 8 with a general laborer class, covering basic safety, construction math, hand tools, power tools and blueprints.
"I am proud to announce the launching of Workready Houston, a comprehensive program I have worked hard to establish with Houston METRO since the referendum to expand the light-rail system passed in 2003," said Jackson Lee.
METRO's Acting President & CEO George Greanias also attended, along with Larry Green, HoustonWorks USA CEO; Judson W. Robinson III of the Houston Area Urban League; the Rev. S. J. Gilbert Sr. of Mt. Sinai Baptist Church; the Rev. Max Miller Jr. of Mt. Hebron Baptist Church; the Rev. Terrance Grant-Malone of St. John's Missionary Baptist Church.
This initiative supports Houston Rapid Transit and its subcontractors as construction progresses on the METRORail expansion project.
"Parsons is excited to be a part of Workready Houston," said Lyn Harris, Small Business Enterprise and Community Outreach manager. "We've demonstrated our strong commitment to Houston small businesses, and this program now gives us a chance to provide Houstonians with skills and job opportunities that will serve them, not only on this historic project, but well into the future."
Applications for the new classes were being accepted immediately after the 1:00 p.m. news conference until 4 p.m. All of METRORail's corridor offices will also be accepting applications on Thursday and Friday.
In addition to the general labor class, there will be future classes for concrete finishers, equipment operators, truck drivers, rebar installers and surveyors.
Partners in this program include:
You think Houston's traffic jams are brutal?
Be grateful you're not stuck in Beijing traffic where the world's second biggest economy is in the midst of a 10-day traffic jam. Yes, you read that right - 10 days.
The giant tie-up stretches 60 miles from China's capital to Inner Mongolia, reports NPR. Officials blame road construction and predict it may last another three weeks.
Click here to read the story.
Occasionally, this blog publishes guest posts. Today is a post from Dominick Mazoch, a frequent commentator on this blog and a transit buff. The native Houstonian works full-time as a paramedic. He served on the Transportation Advisory Group in the late 1970s, which later became the core of METRO.
I came to downtown Houston to attend the METRO Board of Directors meeting on August 19. I took the 79 from North Shepherd P&R lot. I spoke to the board about the Q Star program: comments are like those I placed in blog topic Q STAR PROGRAM SHINES BRIGHTER.
After the meeting, I thought I would go to some of the Q Star stores near Holy Rosary church near Main and Alabama. I got onto the LRT at the DTC Station, after tapping my Q Card. The car I boarded was one modified for bikes. To me, not only can bikes travel there, but baby carriages and wheelchairs.
I got off at Ensemble/HCC; walked first to Burning Heart Store. Interesting, had some interesting western style woman's clothing.
My throat was dry, so I walked to Tacos A Go-Go. As I was walking to the café, the blog manager Mary Sit was walking from the LRT station. She was going to the same place I was. Noticed on their menu, the restaurant advertised they were on the LRT. Purchased a nice, ice-cold fountain Coke. I was not hungry at the time, so I did not eat. Mary got her order, and got back on the LRT to METRO HQ. I stayed and checked out some other places. Next door was Julia's. This was the second business to offer some sort of transit discount; the Houston Zoo was the first. Both were "in" BEFORE the Q Star program.
Still, I was not hungry, but the restaurants looked inviting enough for a formal meal.
Then I walked west up Alabama, and turned the corner at Travis, and past the Breakfast Klub. THERE WAS A LINE WATING TO GET IN! Still, I was not in meal mode. Going east on Travis, I turned right onto the next street, and walked into Sig's Lagoon. They have older rock disks there: CD, and 33 1/3. If you know what a 33 1/3 is, you are showing your age.
Next, I tapped, and got onto the LRT NB. Got off the LRT at McGowen, and walked to the Art Supply Store. For those who need paints, watercolors, or calligraphy supplies, they have it. And they do framing; all of them custom built. It is in an old office building, and they rent out the office spaces to artists. I have some things I need framing, so next time I come down, I'm bringing them down for a quote.
I told the above merchants that the only reason I came was because they were in the Q Star program. I would have NEVER had known about them without METRO's help.
It was time for me to go northbound. Got off at the DTC, and walked over to Joe Lee's Barbershop, in the same block and just west of the METRO Airport Direct terminal at Pierce and Travis. These guys cut hair the old-fashioned way, with scissors and razors. Plus, they cut your hair the way YOU want it! Now I used this place before, from an earlier posting on the Q Star site.
Now, I needed to go home via the 108.
Enjoyable day. I got to see some enterprising small businesses. Now, this needs to grow on some bus lines.....the 81/82 has some interesting places of their own.
This Sunday, METRO is changing some of its bus service to improve reliability and efficiency.
These changes include adjusting trip times, adding service or eliminating trips to match ridership. No entire route will be discontinued.
On the 82 Westheimer-West Oaks, we're adding service to ease overcrowding and on the 86 FM 1960 route, we're adding a westbound trip from the Lone Star College - North Harris campus to the HP Campus to accommodate late-night classes.
We'll be eliminating some trip times on key routes because of low ridership. These routes include: 1 Hospital, 2 Bellaire, 25 Richmond and several Park & Ride routes.
We conduct three service changes a year to make sure we're providing efficient service, and those changes happen in January, May/June and August/September.
Click here to see all the service changes.
Back in April, the METRO board voted to hire the law firm Fulbright & Jaworski to analyze our policies and procedures to see if they are conforming to Texas law.
The 26-page report was presented to the board today at the monthly board meeting by Fulbright & Jaworski partner Neil Thomas, who said the firm's review was not a forensics review but a management one.
The report examined four areas: meetings and records; financial management; ethical management; and business management.
Thomas said the board's reliance on subcommittees and the committee as a whole was not a bad management tool, but the firm was concerned that decisions were being made at that level and not being documented.
"A decision may have been made at the committee level, but there was no record of it. That lack of transparency bothered us," said Thomas.
The report recommends that METRO clarifiy the adoption of resolutions, record committee meetings and provide details of subjects that are of public interest in the postings of open meetings.
Under financial management, the report recommends the board reviews and accepts the annual financial reports, including a review of quarterly investment reports.
Following Thomas' presentation, Chairman Gilbert Garcia said, "We want to make sure we're following the rules."
Read the entire report here.
More restaurants, shops and now a theatre are joining our Q Star discount program.
The next time you shop or eat near the Red Line - remember to flash your Q Card for a discount. Here are the latest additions:
Art Supply on Main - 20 percent off supplies and framing.
Bangkok Chef - 10 percent off purchase.
Byrd's Market and Café - free dessert with entrée.
Cava Bistro - half-price dessert with purchase of entrée.
Cielo Mexican Bistro - half off appetizers with purchase of entrée.
Ensemble Theatre - buy one, get one free.
Express Grocery & Deli - free 16-oz soda with purchase of burger and fries.
Kim Tai Restaurant - free eggroll with purchase.
Korma Sutra - free dessert or mint lemonade with purchase.
Lemond Café - $2 off any entrée.
My Flaming Heart - 10 percent off.
Murphy's Deli - 15 percent off any combo.
Salata - $1 off any salad or wrap.
Sig's Lagoon - 10 percent off.
Tacos A Go-Go - 10 percent off food.
Ziggy's Bar & Grill - 10 percent off.
Zydeco Louisiana Diner - half-price drinks.
Lemond Café is the first vendor to come to METRO and ask to participate.
So we're excited about how more vendors are joining the discount club.
If you have a fave restaurant or shop along the rail, encourage the owner or manager to contact us and be part of Houston's newest discount program. Vendors can e-mail us at: email@example.com.
If you rode the train today, you may have hopped on one of the 11 cars that was modified over the weekend to accommodate bicycles.
Four seats (two benches) were removed on the "A" end of the car and four seats on the "B" end - for a total of eight seats. Hanging straps were also added in that area.
This configuration was chosen after collaboration with BikeHouston last Saturday, and is part of the new METRO's effort to make its system even more accessible to bikers. The group brought bikes on-board to see what storage and movement would be like and unanimously chose the configuration METRO proceeded with.
This is a 30-day trial to see how both bikers and non-biking commuters like it.
"If everybody is happy with it after the 30-day trial, we'll modify the remaining seven vehicles," said Scott Grogan, senior director of rail maintenance/operations. "I was on the train today, and there were two strollers in the modified section. Then a bicycle and a wheelchair came on-board, all on one half of the car. And there was still room to maneuver."
The only expense to METRO was the cost of adding hand straps. To convert METRO's entire fleet would cost $4,300 - but we would also be able to use the 144 removed seats as spares - thus, saving the agency money.
"I think everybody's going to love it," said Grogan. "It opens up more space for more standees, and it helps accessible issues on the vehicle with bike strollers and wheelchairs."
METRO's new administration wants to build on a recent run of good news.
Click here to read yesterday's editorial in the Houston Chronicle.
When the Extreme Makeover television crew descended on Houston's Third Ward to give one very lucky family a rebuilt house, the weather here was typical for summers in this city built on a former swamp: torrential afternoon rains, humidity to rival a Finnish steam bath and fierce mosquitoes.
So when crews and volunteers trooped in and out of the Johnson family home on Goodhope Street to demolish the 750 square-foot bungalow and build a 4,500-square-foot Mediterranean house, METRO offered real relief: luxurious, air-conditioned, hybrid buses to shuttle crews from a nearby remote parking lot to the building site; and a bus that was specifically assigned to be a "cooling bus" where folks could climb on-board to cool off.
"More than 3,000 volunteers were assigned to shifts to come out and do anything from tear-down to foundation to building, landscaping, painting," said Gwen Johnson, METRO's special projects manager in operations. "Our role was to shuttle people from remote parking into the site. There was no parking."
METRO donated two buses - one to shuttle volunteers and crews, the other as a "cooling bus."
"We ran one bus during the middle of the night every 30 minutes because crews worked round-the-clock. That bus was also used if they wanted to cool off or dry off," said Johnson.
Starting July 26, METRO ran shuttles 24 hours a day. The Extreme Makeover show rotated crews every hour to ensure their safety.
"We watched our resources," said Johnson. "If we didn't need more than one bus, we'd send the other back. People were constantly coming over to thank us for being part of the show. They'd get off the bus, excited and laughing and smiling. Later, you would see them filthy and sweating, and they would say, ‘We'll be back tomorrow.' "
Johnson said many folks told her, "The schedule keeps changing, the weather keeps changing, but we know the bus will always be there, and it will be cold."
"They so appreciated knowing they could come over and cool down," said Johnson.
Heat stroke was an issue, and medics stayed on the scene to help in case of emergencies. Three elderly ladies dressed in red hats and dresses came by to watch. One of the ladies, in her 80s, started to feel faint from the extreme heat.
A METRO employee, Gregory Scott, was also on the scene and had come to watch "the reveal," a moment on the show when a huge bus moves to unveil the new made-over house.
Scott, who works in METRO's storeroom at the West Operating Facility, noticed the lady feeing weak and rushed to her side, catching her just as she fainted.
METRO's 10 bus operators - all from Hiram Clarke Bus Operating Facility, the closest one to Third Ward - were chosen to work on Extreme Makeover because of their customer skills and professionalism.
Gerald Griffith was service supervisor, coordinating the drivers' schedules and Jack Oviatt was manager quality assurance, overseeing servicing, cleaning and fueling the buses overnight.
"We knew we needed ops who could be focused on their service. We needed top operators who could focus on driving the bus safely," said Johnson. "We knew it was an opportunity to capture new riders, and we did. They were really impressed."
The operators were: Delano Brewer, Carlos Brown, Sammie Davis, Gladys Davison, Carline Henry, Jerome Joseph, Fitzgerald Ortiz-Luis, Malcolm Price, Omar Richardson and Amanda Sam.
METRO got involved at the request of the mayor's office, which was coordinating permits from code enforcement to neighborhood protection, and METRO wanted to be part of this community initiative, said Johnson.
"It was a very gratifying feeling to be a part of the effort and to be a part of witnessing thousands of volunteers come out from all walks of life, all ages. These folks weren't there to be filmed; they were there to actually help the community," said Johnson. "It was really neat to see that side of it, knowing that we played a role in getting them there and in giving them a cool place to come back to."
U.S. Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee is always looking for ways to make sure our roads, buses and rail are safe - and today, she toured METRO with the top administrator from the Transportation Security Administration for a briefing.
Jackson Lee is chair of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Transportation Security and Infrastructure Protection.
Read more on our Facebook page.
Our region's population has outpaced the dollars used to build and maintain our roadways.
And now, the Houston-Galveston Area Council wants your opinion on what should be done next.
Should we find new funding sources? Change or cut the number of planned transit projects? Or both?
Make your voice heard by taking this brief survey. Your response will be used to analyze what the public would support.
Click here to take the survey.
The METRO Police Department (MPD) has just been awarded "Flagship Agency" status, along with being re-accredited after passing a rigorous review by its credentialing agency.
That makes MPD one of only five transit agencies in the nation that is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies Inc. (CALEA).
That means all of us who ride METRO should feel safer, knowing that MPD's force of 200 - including its K-9 officers - is meeting high standards and doing best practices.
The prestigious "Flagship Agency" designation means MPD has achieved a continuing level of excellence.
"It is recognition of our people and their commitment to be the best that they can be, in not only meeting, but exceeding these national standards of performance for public safety agencies," said Chief Tom Lambert, who is also senior vice president of METRO's Department of Public Safety. "Meeting these standards has now become a part of our organizational culture."
In fact, "flagship" status means the department can now train other agencies and serve as a model.
MPD seeks re-accreditation every three years. It is one of 30 accredited agencies in Texas.
"Accreditation is a very involved process and forces organizations to challenge themselves and how they provide services to the community and conduct their overall responsibilities," said Lambert. "This is not easy and requires all levels of the organization to buy in to the process. We believe accreditation is worth the cost and effort."
MPD received its re-accreditation for the years 2007 to 2009 on July 31 at the CALEA conference in Las Vegas. It will retain "Flagship Agency" status until the spring of 2013.
The City of Lights has plans to launch the world's largest electric car-sharing system in an effort to cut down on traffic, pollution and car ownership.
It's an ambitious plan, but officials in Paris say it's a natural follow-up to its decade of pro-green policies, reports National Public Radio. The car-sharing program will echo many aspects of the city's bike rental program, which recently celebrated its third anniversary.
Next September, Autolib, which stands for auto liberte, will allow Parisians to rent an electric vehicle whenever they need one, and drop it off anywhere in the city.
A fleet of 3,000 cars and 1,000 charging stations are planned around the city. Cars will be parked in garages and on streets. As in the bike program, people will be able to go to their neighborhood where cars are parked, leave a deposit, register at a computer terminal - and drive away.
Read the full story here.
The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) has given final approval of the environmental review process on METRO's University light-rail line.
Called a Record of Decision, this milestone on this 11.3-mile project means that METRO can continue to work on the design, engineering, utility coordination, pre-construction planning work and continuous FTA coordination needed to go forward.
METRO will continue its community outreach efforts to ensure the public stays engaged in this process.
The University Line is part of a regional transit plan serving the area with 19 stations between the Hillcroft and Eastwood Transit Centers. Stops will be near Greenway Plaza, the University of St. Thomas, Texas Southern University and University of Houston Central campus.
This is part of a five light-rail plan that includes the East End, North, Uptown and Southeast Lines.
"The environmental approval on the University Line puts us one big step forward in the federal funding process," said Gilbert Garcia, METRO chairman of the board.
George Greanias, acting president and CEO of METRO, said the agency is committed to responsible stewardship of public transit money.
"We appreciate all the work required to win federal funding - from congressional and community leaders to the METRO staff. Houston clearly needs the University Line as an east-west transit artery. We're extremely gratified the FTA has taken a big step in advancing this important project," said Greanias.
What makes a good leader?
Ask Kimberly Williams.
The chief administrative officer for METRO Solutions recently won the prestigious industry award, Emerging Leader of the Year, from the Conference of Minority Transportation Officials (COMTO). She was honored in July at COMTO's national conference in Cleveland, Ohio.
"I find myself learning every day what it takes to be a leader...I think patience, the ability to make decisions even when the decisions are not easy ones, and I think the ability to listen" are important qualities, says Williams, who holds a law degree.
The award is given to outstanding professionals who have been in the transportation industry for five years or less and who have demonstrated leadership and commitment to the industry. Williams is the new Houston chapter president of COMTO.
Click here to watch a one-minute video of Williams talking about what this award means to her.