While firecrackers are crackling and the celebration of our nation's independence is sizzling, stay cool - and dry - on two METRO cooling buses.
Houston's official 4th of July party at Eleanor Tinsley Park on Allen Parkway is the location of food, fun and fireworks - and METRO will be there to help you celebrate.
So board one of our buses on-site and we'll give you some goodies as you fill out a short survey.
Texas singer/songwriter Pat Green will be the headline act, with an opening by top-tapping musical groups Little Big Town and Cowboy Mouth. There also will be military artifacts and vehicles from all five military branches on exhibit at KBR Liberty Park.
So look for two of our buses and hop onboard. Happy 4th,everyone. Enjoy - and stay safe.
Vigo, our K9 officer who underwent knee surgery a few months ago, is back on the job fighting crime. Here's a report from his handler, MPD Officer John Wiggins:
"Officer Vigo is doing fantastic. Vigo has returned to full duty with no limitations or restrictions. Since his return, he has participated in at least two explosive call-outs and one patrol call-out.
"Each and every morning Vigo endures his original agility exercises of 10 40-yard sprints in which he pursues his Kong (a rubber dog toy) with periodic recalls in full stride.
" Additionally, he performs multiple obedience drills where he: heels, sits, downs, walks in reverse, crawls, returns to/from the patrol vehicle, sits/downs while balancing on a chair to assist in strengthening the hip/thigh/back muscles.
"More importantly, Vigo has returned to the rotation for our Wednesday trainings for high intensity patrol "manwork," where he must search independently from the handler, locate the decoy and alert without assistance.
"I must note, at no time have I noticed any favoring of either joint, as a result of his strenuous exercises or activities; during or post the exercise. As you can tell, thus far, his surgery has been a total success."
Pity the poor motorists who sit stuck in traffic in Beijing, Mexico City or Johannesburg. Houston drivers, you don't have it as bad as those cities - but we did make it to the list of top 20 cities with the worse commutes, reports wired.com.
A survey released today, commissioned by IBM and conducted by Survey Sampling International, compiled a "Commuter Pain Index," which ranks the emotional and economic stress of commuting.
While our nation's population grew almost 20 percent between 1982 and 2001, traffic outpaced that growth, jumping 236 percent.
Beijing's traffic is growing 10 percent every year, making 69 percent of the respondents say they've given up and gone home after sitting snarled in traffic. The photo posted here is of traffic in Moscow.
Drivers in 20 cities were surveyed in 2008 and 2009. More than half blamed traffic for adversely affecting their physical or mental health. In New Delhi, 96 percent of the respondents said their commute harms their health.
Los Angeles came in No. 14 on the pain index, followed by Berlin, Montreal, New York and then Houston.
American respondents said traffic has grown worse in the past three years - yet more than 8 in 10 Americans drive to work alone.
Read the IBM research here.
Now, more than ever, Houston clearly needs the five light-rail lines METRO is building to connect our neighborhoods and work centers.
Two more merchants have joined our Q Star program, offering discounts if you show your Q Fare Card or a METRO rail ticket.
Cliff's Grill, a hamburger shop at 6605 Main St., is giving away a free cookie with the purchase of a combo. Disembark at the Dryden/TMC station to find Cliff's Grill, a Houston staple of 30 years that cooks with trans fat-free oils and never uses frozen meats.
Joe Lee's Barbershop, established in 1960, is offering $3 off a haircut. It's located at 1925 Milam - right off the Downtown Transit Center station.
Stay tuned to this blog - we'll be highlighting more vendors as they join the Q Star program. If you have a favorite shop or restaurant you patronize, please ask the manager to be a part of the Q Star. If you're an entrepreneur with a shop, restaurant or attraction along the Red Line, join the Q Star program by e-mailing: email@example.com.
George Greanias, METRO's acting president & CEO, stood before a group of bright high school seniors this morning and joked that he looked like a rock star wearing a wireless headset and microphone.
Then he gave a brief overview of how METRO works - admitting he was a "newbie" at running the agency with only seven weeks on the job - and then fielded questions from our nation's future executives, all members of Management Leadership for Tomorrow-Houston, a national nonprofit designed to give minority kids leadership skills.
Later, Mayor Annise Parker spoke before these young people, all identified as high-potential, ambitious kids who are eager to learn what makes great leadership.
Here are some edited excerpts from Greanias:
Q: How often do you ride the METRO?
A: Once or twice a week. I find different places to park and ride the train from different stations. I like to see who's on, who's riding.
Q: What are your major goals for METRO this year?
A: No. 1: We have to rebuild trust. I served as the chair of the transition team (in transportation when the Mayor took office), and we interviewed 400 individuals and organizations. What we heard over and over: ‘We don't trust METRO. We don't have any confidence in what they're telling us will actually happen.'
No. 2: Building the rail program. A big part of this is getting this federal grant. The issue is whether we violated the "Buy America" rules. We don't believe we have.
No. 3: We have to run an absolutely first-class bus system.
Q: What is your typical day like?
A: I get up early, and I try to answer e-mails from 5 to 6:30 a.m. Then I'll grab breakfast and get cleaned up. I try to get down here at 8:30 a.m. Then I'll deal with a press crisis. I enjoy what I do, and I like to keep things moving along. I hope as I learn more...I can parcel out more.
Q: How has being a lawyer helped in this job?
A: I didn't think at the end of the year, I'd be doing this now. I think I got asked nine weeks ago. All the things I've done in my position have come together in this job. The key is to do something you enjoy and what you think is worthwhile. And don't worry so much about the money. If you're doing something worthwhile, that's probably going to get you noticed.
After Greanias spoke, Mayor Parker gave a snapshot of leading the city, saying it hasn't changed since people started living in caves. The same basic needs apply: source of fresh water, latrines, trash disposal, power source and protection.
Instead of giving a prepared speech, she gave the students a chance to ask questions - and hands shot up constantly. She told them the hardest thing she's had to do so far is inform the wife of a police officer that her husband had died in the line of duty.
Asked how her 20 years in the oil and gas industry influences what she does today, Parker said she learned from her boss of 18 years, Robert Mosbacher.
"He was a walk-around manager. When he wanted something, it happened," said Parker, adding that working in government was a slower process.
What are the attributes of a good leader?
"Always tell the truth," Parker told the group. "Don't put off the hard stuff. Do the hard stuff first. And as a leader in this context, I think the better you communicate, the more you communicate. Citizens don't like to be surprised," she said.
Afterwards, students said they learned about METRO - for many, the day included their first ride on the train.
"I'm really impressed. I rode the train from Rice to here. It's organized, clean and fast," said Diego Rodriquez.
Krista McBrien supported building five light-rail lines. "I like how METRO is expanding the rail to the community and bringing the community together."
"It was very informative," added Marc Drew. "It was nice meeting the CEO, the person who keeps the city moving."
Despite being 30 percent of the population, minorities only make up three percent of top leaders at corporations, nonprofits and entrepreneurial ventures.
But there's a national group out to change that and bring diversity into the corner suites. Management Leadership for Tomorrow (MLT) is a nonprofit group that develops the next generation of African American, Hispanic and Native American leaders.
And next Monday, METRO is partnering with the group, giving about 60 high school students an inside glimpse into public transportation and why it's crucial for more liveable cities.
"These are our future leaders who need to learn how to make things happen," said Connie Roebuck, community outreach rep, who is helping organize the event.
Mayor Annise Parker will be speaking, along with Acting President & CEO George Greanias.
The MLT group is the nation's primary source of minority talent for the top business schools, including Harvard Business School and Wharton. MLT has also been featured in CNN's Black America 2: Tomorrow's Leaders.
Our latest annual report has just been posted today. The 2009 annual report covers the period from Oct. 1, 2008 to Sept. 30, 2009.
Our comprehensive annual financial report gives snapshots of FY09, along with accomplishments of the past five years.
For the year ahead, METRO's goals are to restore public trust and confidence, complete five new light-rail lines and enhance our bus service, says George Greanias, acting president & CEO.
"In recent years, too many members of our community have perceived that METRO was not really listening to them or responding to their concerns in good faith," writes Greanias in the report. "The new board members and I know that perceptions are ultimately reality. Going forward, we will work in a way that gives citizens confidence that they know what METRO says and does is genuine and bankable."
Greanias invites you to keep an eye on us and hold us accountable.
Check out the latest issue of Southwest Village News.
An article on METRO details new ways METRO is becoming more transparent and customer-friendly. At the last board meeting, George Greanias, METRO's acting president & CEO, told how one woman lost her handbag on the bus. METRO found the purse - despite being given an incorrect bus number - and delivered it to her.
"We exist to serve people," Greanias said. "If METRO is going to be customer-focused, we need to go where they are, not expect them to come to us."
Read the article here. In photo, L to R: George Greanias and board members Burt Ballanfant, Dwight Jefferson and Chairman Gilbert Garcia.
The Houston Zoo's long-standing discount of $1 has just doubled to $2 for adults. And kids now qualify for a $1 discount if you show a METRO fare item.
That adds up. For a family with two youngsters, you can save $6 simply by showing each member's Q Card or fare item.
So check out the mighty T-Rex exhibit where you can touch dino eggs and dino poop. Or take a walk through the new African forest, where you can see chimpanzees, rhinos and giraffes. Be sure to say hi to Baylor, the baby elephant.
You can avoid traffic by hopping on the Red Line, then disembark at the Memorial Hermann Hospital/Houston Zoo station.
A PBS documentary that examines how America's investment in autos and highways shaped our cities at the cost of public transit was recently viewed at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, followed by a panel discussion on how to foster mass transit here.
Beyond the Motor City highlighted historic decisions and lessons learned with our love affair with the automobile, reports CultureMap, Houston's daily digital magazine.
Among the panelists who spoke following the viewing was METRO board member Christof Spieler, director of technology and innovation at Morris Architects, and lecturer at Rice University. He pointed out that many important policy decisions are wrapped around the notion of car dependency.
"The decisions we make now will last for a long time. This light rail we're building will influence how our city grows and is built for the next 50, 100, years," said Spieler. "So I think another one of the lessons I want to drive home is that it matters how we do this. It matters if we do it well."
Read the entire article here.
If you step on a bus and it smells like a new bus, you are probably on one of our new Orion 40-foot, low-floor hybrid buses.
METRO is in the midst of receiving 80 new Orions. So far, 33 buses have been delivered. Of those, 20 will operate out of our Hiram Clarke bus operating facility while 13 are being prepared for service. Ten of those will go to Hiram Clarke and three to our Fallbrook facility. Ten of these hybrids are expected to hit the streets this week.
"Once they're delivered, we do a receiving inspection to make sure everything is put together properly and functioning OK," explained Charles Berkshire, senior director of bus maintenance. "Then we install the bus for service - we install the fare collection system, the radio for the operators, and the GPS system."
It usually takes three to four weeks to process the buses and install all the systems before the buses are ready to pick up customers.
On these new Orion hybrids, you'll notice bigger windows, ergonomically-designed seats and the latest climate-control technology. So hopefully, you'll have a more comfortable ride.
Orion will deliver the remaining 47 buses sometime in August and September, with 17 slated for Fallbrook and 30 to West BOF.
Earlier this year, we received 20 new MCI hybrid buses, the commuter buses that go to our Park & Ride lots. The 80 Orions are for local transit and fulfill our goal of buying 100 new hybrids per year.
Everybody likes a good deal - and now we have one more reason why you shouldn't leave home without your METRO Q Fare Card.
We've just started the Q Star program in which you can get discounts and freebies - but only if you show your Q Card. Click here to see our rail map and the vendors who are participating.
Some examples: Buy lunch at Julia's Bistro and receive the chef's choice of a complimentary dessert. Or take your shoes to Ambassador's and get 10 percent off your repair bill. In the mood for theatre? Save money on that date - when you show your Q Card, it's buy one, get one free.
If you're a vendor along the Main Street rail, please e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and let us know you'd like to participate. This free Web-based, interactive program is designed to drive customers to your restaurant, club, shop or attraction. Research indicates METRO's home page gets almost 20,000 hits a day.
Tony Hawley, advertising account executive, said vendors he's contacted have been eager to join.
"The lady from the Breakfast Klub said, ‘Where have you been all my life?' in terms of the advertising opportunity at virtually no cost. The response has been overwhelmingly positive. Vendors have bought into this sight unseen," said Hawley. "Businesses get free advertising, and customers ride METRO to them."
For our riders, we hope the Q Card will become more valuable to you as you get discounts and freebies. I ate at Julia's the other day, and couldn't refuse the melt-in-your-mouth Tota de Coco 7, Julia's original coconut tres leche.
If you have favorite merchants you patronize, please tell them to join our Q Star program.
If you're traveling this summer, check out PlanetEye Traveler, an online travel magazine.
It recently touted Houston's METRORail as a great way to see the sights - from museums to clubs to theatre.
Read more here.
Check out today’s Houston Chronicle about METRO leaders working hard to rebrand the agency's image. The mantra around the agency: transparency, openness, customer service.
Read more here.
With the Deepwater
Horizon rig gushing tens of thousands of oil everyday into the Gulf of
Mexico, it is a graphic reminder of how we need to wean ourselves from our
dependence on oil.
Today is national Dump the Pump Day - a day in which transit
agencies nationwide are encouraging commuters to ditch their cars and ride
public transit. The fifth annual Dump the Pump Day is sponsored by the American Public Transportation
Association (APTA), a trade group of transit agencies.
"This year offers more than an opportunity for people to
save money by using public transit. Given the Gulf oil spill crisis, Americans
can also make a statement in support of public transit and its ability to help
our country reduce its reliance on oil," said William Millar, APTA president,
in a statement.
Public transit saves 4.2 billion gallons of gas every year,
according to APTA.
Taking transit will also help your bank balance. The average
household spends 18 cents of every dollar on transportation. The national
average savings per year is more than $9,000 for a person in a two-person
household that uses one car.
here to learn more ways you can save money and help the environment by
dumping the pump.
The sounds of jazz alternated with rock & roll at a recent gala event recognizing the top small-business contractors doing business on METRO's light-rail projects.
About 100 small-business owners last Thursday attended the dinner at Kim Son, where entrepreneurs got to meet and greet other small-business owners.
"It was a chance for them to network with one another and to know who else was doing business on the rail," said Raynese Edwards, program advisor and senior outreach project manager. "Moreover, it was a way for us to say, ‘We're here for you, we're advocates for you.' We gave them a notebook that had all of our contact information in it and billing information."
Small-business owners - defined by a certain amount of assets determined by the Small Business Administration - were recognized in four categories:
Supplier Excellence (based on quality of product timeliness, price and customer service); Project Manager (based on corridor with highest SBE/DE participation); Contractor Excellence (based on quality, project management, safety, SBE compliance, customer service); and Safety (based on safety audits, injuries and customer service).
Some winning contractors worked with Parsons Transportation Group, METRO's facility provider who oversees all the light-rail contracts; and others with Houston Rapid Transit Joint Venture (HRT) - an umbrella group that includes Granite Construction Co., Kiewit Texas Construction L.P. Stacy and Witbeck Inc. and Parsons.
The winners were:
Winner HRT - Sunrise Delivery
Winner Facility Provider - GoGo Business Communications.
Project Manager: Gary Brown for the East Line
Winner HRT East Line - NEC Construction LTD
Winner HRT Southeast Line - Assured Environmental Quality
Winner HRT North Line - Reytec
Winner Facility Provider - Arnold & Langrand
Safety Excellence: Gold Star Construction
"All of the small businesses had not been in a room together. This gave them an opportunity to see there are a lot of small businesses doing business with METRORail," said Edwards, adding that more than 150 SBEs are working on our light-rail lines.
Edwards said Parsons will be hosting more events like this in the corridors as the work progresses.
When's the last time you received a report card?
This week, if you find a flyer under your windshield wiper, don't throw it away. The METRO police are issuing report cards at various Park & Ride lots, letting you know if you've passed the test in keeping your car safe while parked in a Park & Ride lot.
Car doors locked? Cell phones and iPods stashed out of sight? Shopping bags in trunk?
Then you'll rate an A-plus.
Other safety tips when your car's parked - whether it's in a garage, P & R lot, or shopping mall lot:
- Walk toward your car with keys in hand, so you're not fumbling for them in front of your car.
- Look in front of the car and under it to make sure no one is hiding there.
- Save your costliest purchases for the end of the day so you can head straight home with them.
- Don't be so distracted talking on your phone or listening to your iPod that you're not fully aware of your surroundings.
- Park in a lot that's well-lit.
- Close all windows and sunroof.
- Don't park next to vans, campers or vehicles with tinted windows.
- Once you're inside, drive off. Don't sit there and chat, do your makeup or text. Criminals tend to go after shoppers who dawdle in their cars.
If you're headed to Washington this summer and plan to ride the train, it should soon be much safer.
Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority said it is launching a sophisticated safety tracking system next month that will eliminate its old manual system of spread sheets and paper reports. Now the next technology will be able to track dangerous trends in real time and help prevent accidents.
The technology development and testing will cost about $600,000. Afer a fatal accident last June that killed nine and injured 80 passengers, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) asked for system-wide improvements in the agency's safety procedures, including an incident-tracking system.
Read more here.
The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) had a list of questions in requests dated May 27, 2010, and June 3, 2010, asking about our compliance with the "Buy America" provisions concerning rail car purchases.
Click here to read METRO's answers in a 19-page document.
Tune in to National Geographic's TV show, World's Toughest Fixes tonight, and you'll be able to see how the nation's fifth biggest transit system works round-the-clock to keep its tracks running smoothly.
The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority - known as SEPTA - is featured tonight at 7 p.m. on World's Toughest Fixes. Host Sean Riley watches as a work team replaces a three-mile section of high-voltage wire that's 80 years old. Live wires dangle, making it a risky operation.
There are scenes in the middle of the night with the track maintenance crew, cutting and laying new rail by hand. The hour-long show appears as if all the action takes place in two days, but the video crews spent more than a month taping SEPTA.
There's plenty of drama in this episode, including an incident when an automatic train control system develops a problem. Watch what happens 24/7 on 2,200 miles of track.