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All-Electric Cars Require New Business Model
 

 

When the price of gas soared to $4 a gallon, you probably started noticing more hybrids on the road.

But what about all-electric vehicles?  Do they have much of a future?

Back in 1900, 25 percent of all cars made in the United States ran exclusively on electricity. But Henry Ford's Model T quickly muscled its way out front - and gas-powered cars became the norm.

Shai AgassiEntrepreneur Shai Agassi, the 40-year-old former president of software company SAP, says electric cars have a future.  He's started a company called Better Place, and his plans are grand: to ignite the electric-auto industry by developing the infrastructure from ground zero - cars, recharging stations and more.

"We looked at it from the perspective of how to run an entire country without oil. You've got to put the infrastructure ahead of the cars. In our case, the infrastructure is a combination of a massive amount of charge spots and the ability to switch batteries in less time than it takes to fill up with gasoline," he told Newsweek recently.

Agassi says a new business model is needed to make the all-electric car work. Drivers would buy a commute by miles, signing a contract that rewards discounts based on the length of the contract.

"The car and the battery - ownership-wise, have to be separated...We say, you never buy the battery. What you buy is the car. You buy the commute by miles, and commute miles include the battery, the electricity, access to the network and battery-switching," he explains.

He hopes to have mass-market access in Israel and Denmark by 2011. But even in widespread areas in this country - such as the Midwest or California or Texas - Agassi isn't daunted.

He says to imagine a 100-mile circle around San Francisco, Sacramento, Los Angeles and San Diego. Three freeways connect those northern and southern cities.

"On those cities, if you put switch stations at a distance of about 30 miles from one another, you would have full coverage across the entire state, which is effectively the most prolific car state in the nation," says Agassi.

As far as mass transit, there are two types of electric buses: the trolley bus powered by two overhead electric wires; and the on-board, stored-electricity bus. Skyline of Shanghai

China is developing a new form of electric bus, using power stored in large on-board electric double-layer capacitors. These are rapidly recharged when the electric bus stops at a bus stop and fully charged in the terminus. In 2006, two commercial bus routes using electric double-layer capacitor buses were launched, one of them in Shanghai, pictured on the right.

Electric Fuel Corporation is working on a 40-foot, totally electric bus, using pre-commercial battery technology.

Adelaide, Australia, boosts the Tindo, an all-electric bus whose electricity comes from a solar PV system on Adelaide's central bus station.

 

 

Smart Growth Includes Transit-friendly Neighborhoods

 

Suburban sprawl is out. Smart growth is in.

Consider these facts: By building "smart growth"neighborhoods - those that are compact, walkable and transit-oriented - we can cut our national fuel expenses by $24 billion in the year 2030 and reduce fuel costs by $250 billion in the next 22 years, according to a study by the Urban Land Institute.

Strategies on how to develop communities so that they reflect smart growth will be the focus of the 8th annual New Partners for Smart Growth conference next week in Albuquerque.

The average family in this country spent 32 percent of its income on housing and 25 percent on transportation, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. But those who live in walkable communities where transit is easily accessible only spent 9 percent of their income on transportation.

So what exactly is smart growth?

It varies from community to community. Generally, it means an investment of time, attention and resources to revitalize old suburbs and city centers. "New smart growth is more town-centered, and has a greater mix of housing, commercial and retail uses. It also preserves open space and many other environmental amenities," according to the Web site of Smart Growth Online.

The conference, sponsored by The Local Government Commission, a nonprofit organization of locally elected officials, city and county staff and other interested individuals, will also explore two areas where local dollars are spent overseas, rather than in local economies: transportation and heating and cooling homes.

"The New Partners conference will focus on local and state policies that will plug these two sources of lost revenue so that more dollars can be spent locally, leading to healthier local businesses and more local jobs," reports Mass Transit magazine. 

Heroes on Wheels: Driver Rescues Lost Toddler
 

Heroes on Wheels logoMeet our next "Hero on Wheels."

Sean Hill has been driving a bus for METRO for almost a decade. Last fall, Hill became an instant hero to a young boy in crisis.

The single father of three girls - ages 17, 15 and 2 - was driving the 80 Dowling/Lyons route when he noticed a three-year-old boy walking alone around a bus stop on Tierwester St. in front of Cuney Homes, the city's biggest public housing property.

Hill drove to the end of the line, and when he returned, he saw the same little boy - this time sitting at the bus stop alone. It was 11:10 a.m.

"I stopped and asked, ‘Are you sitting for the bus?' and he started crying. He said he was lost. I still had five passengers on the bus. They didn't mind and said to find who he was," recalled Hill, who works out of our Kashmere facility.

Hill knocked on five apartment doors at the sprawling complex with 18 buildings and 118 units. Someone suggested he take the child to the community building, where he turned the child over to Diane M. Sheffield, president of the Cuney Homes Resident Council. Sean Hill in front of METRO bus

Sheffield called the police and started asking residents at the community center if they recognized the child. Finally, a young woman thought she knew a relative with whom the child was living. The child was escorted to the relative, who was playing Dominoes outside and hadn't realized the boy had wandered away.

Sheffield said she's glad our METRO driver brought the boy to the community building - the heart of the complex.

"It was a very, very good thing," said Sheffield of the bus operator's action. "I'm glad the bus driver stopped and rendered aid to the little boy. And I'm glad we have METRO buses around the area of Cuney Homes."

Hill said observing the crying youngster was simply part of his job.

"I actually watch everything around me. That's what we're trained to be - to be observant...and to get the big picture. I knew it from my years of driving," said Hill, who also trains new drivers.

But to a frightened three-year-old boy, Hill had just become a new hero.

To Wrap or Not to Wrap Light-Rail Trains
 

 

Every day the headlines bring more grim economic news. Transit agencies nationwide are struggling with budget deficits.

In this economic climate, should transit agencies boost their revenues by wrapping their light-rail trains in advertising?

METRO train wrapped in Museum of Natural Science ad of "Lucy" exhibitHere at METRO, we wrapped some of our trains twice - once for the Lucy exhibit at the Museum of Natural History, and another time during our "I Ride" campaign featuring heavyweight boxing champion George Foreman, fashion designer Chloe Dao and Astros Outfielder Carlos Lee.

Of course, these wraps were not advertising products but were more educational/informative ads for non-profits. METRO did not bring in additional revenue from them.

Last fall, The Metropolitan Transportation Authority in New York unveiled its first ad-wrapped subway train, wrapped inside and outside, advertising The History Channel. The MTA, which has a projected $900 million budget deficit this year, said 2008 advertising revenues totaled more than $125 million.

An architectural and environmental design professor argues that trains wrapped in ads degrade the value and integrity of the rail system.

"Placing the light-rail travelers in a mobile billboard is a disastrous idea, as it neither honors nor respects them. Nor will it make them proud of their choice of transport," says John Meunier of Arizona State University.

But other transit experts disagree, pointing to the need to bring in desperately needed revenue.

A survey by TransitTalent.com, which calls itself the career hub for public transportation, found that 57 percent of respondents "strongly disagree" or "disagree" with Meunier's position.

But 40 percent agreed, citing safety reasons for not wrapping light-rail trains. One respondent said it might make it hard for the visually impaired to find their stops, although most systems have recordings, announcing each stop.  

What do you think? Do budget shortfalls and a deteriorating economy justify advertisements wrapped around light-rail trains?

Happy Anniversary to the Blog
 

Bouquet of balloonsTwo years ago today, we did something no other transit agency in the nation had ever done: We started a blog.

It was an attempt to put a human face on a huge agency, to be more responsive to the public, to start a dialogue and build a community.  It was also an attempt to be more transparent and open with you.

I think on many levels we have succeeded. Over the past year, we have covered topics from serious to light. They include ride sharing via an iPhone, customer complaints, funding for public transit, electric cars and finding love at a METRO bus stop.

We have had heated discussions and strident criticism. Many of you have offered useful suggestions and exchanged interesting ideas.  

Mainly, we have provided a forum for both supporters and critics to speak their mind. Some of you have made comments that a corporate blog would have never posted.  We did, in the interest of openness.

Our goal going forward is that this blog will continue to inform you about all things METRO and about transit issues. Keep your comments coming. I haven't been really good at answering all the e-mail promptly. It's just me here, and I have other assignments besides this blog. But I will make it one of my New Year's goals to respond faster.   

Social media experts say a good corporate blog needs to engage with constituents about topical matters and be prepared to go out on a limb a bit.

"I believe 2009 will see the beginnings of a new approach to corporate blogging that is more genuine and open. Corporate Blogs 2.0 will admit that fallibility is not a sin and will trust their customers to help them make their business better," writes Paul Gillin, author of "The New Influencers: A Marketer's Guide to the New Social Media" (Quill Driver Books)  in a recent social media report to marketers and executives.  "The few businesses that have taken a risk and bared their souls have found that transparency engenders sympathy, trust and support."

We will strive for that goal in our third year. It helps when we hear from readers like David, who e-mailed us on Dec. 14: "Thank you for continuing with the blog. Communication is the key to so many things. Please keep it up."

Thank you, readers, for helping to make this blog work, and thanks for your comments.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mass Transit Helps Households Save Money

 

Despite the fall in fuel prices, people who commute still save hundreds of dollars a year versus those who drive. 

That's according to a report released today by the American PublicTransportation Association (APTA), which stated that a person can obtain an average  savings of $8,368 a year by taking public transit instead of driving.

That figure is based on today's gas prices and the average unreserved parking rate.  APTA calculated the monthly savings for public transit users at $697 a month based on a gas price of $1.727, reported by AAA.The national average for a monthly unreserved parking rate in a downtown business district is $143, according to the 2008 Colliers International Parking Rate Study.   

APTA's analysis shows that the average annual savings represents almost a third more than the average amount a household spends on food every year - $6,111, according to the Food Institute.

Gas prices are $1.378 lower than last year, yet public transit riders still see dramatic economic gains over drivers.

Here's a sampling of how much money residents in the top 10 transit ridership cities can save:

 

Boston             $12.285

New York         $12,258

San Franciso    $11,325

Chicago           $10,456

Philadelphia     $10,171

Seattle            $10,123

Honolulu         $9,933

Wash. DC       $9,371

Minneapolis    $9,135

Cleveland       $9,072

 

In Dallas, which comes in 17th among cities with the most riders, commuters see an average annual savings of  $8,019.

Here in Houston, click here to calculate how much you can save if you ride METRO.

 

 

Hey, Kids: Stop on our Web Site and Meet Fred
 

Fred the Safety Tread 

Calling all kids - and their parents - to log on to our Web site and meet Fred the Safety Tread.

He's our new safety mascot who will be teaching kids all about bus and rail safety and how to ride METRO. Riding transit is an adventure, and Fred wants kids to learn to do it safely.

At Kids' Stop, you'll find bus safety tips, a fun activity book on rail safety and learn about student discounts.

Plus, there's a video featuring a talking squirrel and a section on being green and all the ways METRO is helping to take care of the environment.

"The Kids' Stop page was created because we have an increasing interest from parents, teachers and caregivers to get more information on METRO. And this helps create a transit ethic at an early age," said Karen Marshall, METRO's director of community outreach. "We're very excited about the opportunity to leverage technology to bring information and resources to young people."Kids' Stop logo

Carolina Mendoza, media relations specialist, conceived the safety mascot, Fred the Safety Tread, and said she hopes he will become every kid's new safety BFF.

"We wanted to create a character the kids would find fun and entertaining," said Mendoza. "I didn't want to use a bus, so I started thinking of bus parts. Clearly, an essential part of a bus is a wheel. Visually and aesthetically, it was exciting to work with."

And of course, every kid is familiar with the song, "The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round." Now, when they see Fred the Safety Tread, hopefully, they will keep in mind the safest way to ride a bus.

Log on and meet Fred.

 

 



 

METROLift Patrons Can Now Book Trips Online
 

 

 

Computer mouse with "MACS-WEB" written across it   

METRO has just made it easier for METROLift riders to book their trips. Now, METROLift riders can go online and book their trips using a client ID and password.

Called MACS-WEB, (METROLift Automated Computer System on the Web), the computerized system mirrors the automated phone system we have had since last January, said Mary Ann Dendor, METRO's Americans with Disabilities Act administrator.

The computerized system was introduced last month, and as of today, we have had 45 users. METROLift riders can go online and book trips from 5 a.m. to 5 p.m. Or they can go online to review trips and cancel any unwanted trips 24/7.

"The feedback we're getting from people is that it's quick and easy for them to use," said Dendor. Mary Ann Dendor, METRO's ADA administrator

Online users must choose a destination from a previously used address because all addresses must be geocoded with a longitude and latitude so that the scheduling system can locate the address.

"What I'm hoping this will do is that when people go to our Web site, they will also look at our bus & rail schedules. Maybe they can ride the bus or rail because it is easier and more convenient," explained Dendor. "This will be a help to them. They will understand that METRO has accessible service for everybody, and that they have transportation choices."

For example, a patron might use METROLIft to get picked up from his house and taken to the Veteran's Hospital. Then, if that person had another appointment at the Texas Medical Center, he could take a regular, fixed-route METRO bus, which runs about every 15 minutes to the TMC.

All our buses and rail are wheelchair accessible with automated stop announcements of major intersections.

So far, MACS-WEB has been a smooth rollout, said Dendor.

"I think mainly because we've tried to make it as user-friendly as possible. We hope that many people will enjoy it. What about those without computers? They can go to places with computers - their doctors' office, community organizations. Or family members can check for them," said Dendor.  

And don't forget we still have MACS. (METROLift's Automated Calling System).  With MACS, customers can schedule their rides, verify trip times and cancel trips over the telephone without a computer.  

"We're trying to help make it easier for METROLift riders to make their trips, know what times their trips are and then cancel any unwanted trips," she said.

And now with a click away, we hope it's easier for you

Any Which Way You Go

 

 

This Sunday, bring the kids to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston for some fun, interactive ways to learn about transportation in a special, one-day exhibit entitled, "Any Which Way You Go."

METRO will have a Kids' Stop booth in the museum's Law Lobby where you'll hear a storyteller give tips on rail safety. And of course, we'll have lots of giveaways.

It's all part of the museum's Target Free First Sunday. This time, METRO is one of the partners since the theme is transportation.

"We always look for opportunities to partner with other organizations," said Karen Marshall, director of community outreach. "Not only will they have our exhibit, which will talk about transit and rail, but they will feature transportation with art."

The family day activities will take place in the Beck building, the Porte-Cochere at the outside entrance, South Lawn and the Law building.  The event is from 1 to 5p.m. and the entire day is free of charge.

In addition to the fine arts paintings that will be on display, over in the Beck Building, kids will be able to get an up-close look at decorated cars from the Art Car Museum, see boat making with a 3-D paper sculpture, enjoy drinks from a lemonade stand, listen to Opera in the Heights, ride an original trolley and take story-time tours.

At the Law Building, kids can participate in an origami airplane workshop, saddle up and sketch, watch a performance from Mildred's Umbrella Theatre Co., and view some family flicks in the Brown Auditorium.

Of course, we encourage you to stop at Houston METRO Kids'Stop.

"We are fortunate to be front and center as a sponsor to highlight METRO's services, particularly what we can do for families and young people, especially making sure families are aware of the half-price student Q Card discount that we provide, " said Monique Ward, a senior community outreach representative at METRO.

In addition to the storytelling at our booth, we'll have a spinning wheel, similar to the "Wheel of Fortune" wheel, where we can spin the wheel, hear facts about METRO and win a prize.

"It's a great opportunity to reach audiences that we might not normally interact with," said Ward, who spearheaded this partnership. "The museum happens to be along our Main Street line, and it's a great way to highlight our services and share information in a very creative way."

New Year's Eve Schedule
 

 

Close-up of clockCelebrate the arrival of 2009 safely by taking METRO.

We are extending hours on three of our busiest routes, as well as on METRORail. Hours are being extended one to two hours beyond our normal operating schedule.

Buses on the following routes will run every 30 minutes on New Year's Eve until 2 a.m.:

 

  • 25 Richmond
  • 81 Westheimer-Sharpstown
  • 82 Westheimer-West OaksNew Year's Eve celebration with fireworks

The final northbound train will depart the Fannin South station at 2 a.m. The last southbound train will depart the UH-Downtown station at 2:40 a.m.

 

 

The Ultimate Bus Shelter Volunteer
 

 

John Branch, Adopt-a-Stop volunteer, stands in front of a METRO bus stop he adopted.Just call him volunteer extraordinaire.

John Branch is the type of guy any organization seeking volunteers would want.

At METRO, he's our No. One adopter in our Adopt-a-Stop/Adopt a Shelter program.

Ssince last June, Branch has adopted 55 METRO bus stop/shelters in his neighborhood of Independence Heights.  After his full-time day job at his remodeling business, he drives a pick-up truck, monitoring METRO bus stops and shelters, picking up trash. His mere presence has deterred crime and discouraged loitering.

Click here to read the recent Houston Chronicle story of a man who's made a difference in his neighborhood. And he's not through yet. He told us in an earlier post on this blog that he wants to adopt even more bus shelters.

If you want to adopt a METRO bus stop or shelter, click here for details. We'll thank you with a certificate, a sign recognizing your organization and five round-trip bus tickets a month.

And you'll get a cleaner, safer neighborhood.

Fewer Customers Complaining
 

 

Colorful balloon bouquetFor the first time in four years, the number of customer complaints we received dropped from year to year.

Fewer customer complaints were logged in fiscal year 2008 compared to the previous year.

That's good news for the hard-working folks in operations who are trying hard to offer reliable and courteous service. In FY08, we logged 23,162 complaints compared to 24,361 complaints in FY07. That's a 4.9 percent decrease.

METRO's fiscal year starts Oct. 1 and ends Sept. 30.

The complaints logged included issues about reliability of buses and rail, crowded vehicles or enforcement of HOV lanes.

Our biggest decline in complaints occurred from April to September, when complaints dropped by about 19 percent compared to the same period, previous year.

"We are ecstatic that the joint efforts between management and the operators have resulted in such a significant drop in complaints in the last two quarters of FY2008," said Tangee Mobley, senior director of transportation.

And our bus operators also received high marks.

Among operator-related complaints, the largest decrease was complaints about rude bus drivers. Complaints about discourteous operators declined by 25 percent in FY08, compared to the year before.

Complaints about driver safety also dipped by 13 percent; and complaints about the behavior of operators fell by almost 14 percent.

Those bus operators who did not have any verified customer complaints against them were rewarded for their spotless records last fiscal year. The operations department launched its Top Customer Service Ambassador program, honoring these top-performing drivers.

"We believe that the combination of incentive packages that we gave to our top customer service ambassadors, coupled with looking at operators who received a high number of complaints, has really netted a behavior change that can only benefit our riding customers," said Mobley.

Ridesharing with a Little Help from iPhone
 

 

Screen shot of Carticipate with founder Steffen Frost's profileA new application on iPhone matches drivers with riders in a twist on old-fashioned hitchhiking.

Think of it as computerized hitchhiking.

Carticipate, a free ride-sharing application became available for the iPhone in October. It's already had more than 10,000 downloads, said Steffen Frost, chief executive officer of San Francisco-based Carticipate.

Calling itself an experiment in social transportation, Carticipate says it's the first and only rideshare application on a location aware mobile platform - in other words, a cell phone.

Carticipate says on its Web site that drivers can simply indicate destination and time of departure and post their ride. The company will match drivers up with other "carticipants" going the same way.

Meanwhile, in Kinsale, Ireland, a company called Avego is using a different application to coordinate drivers and riders. Drivers who want to share their car will download the application on their iPhone, then record their route of choice, reports the NYT.

Drivers place the iPhone on their dashboard. It records the trip, and sends the route to Avego's network. That route is then stored on Avego's system where it adds the route to a menu of paths and pick-up points,  then offers the ride to interested commuters.

Avego says it will charge 30 cents a mile with 85 percent going to the driver to help recoup costs and 15 percent to Avego. Riders do not need an iPhone to participate and can search for a ride by logging on the Avego Web site or texting. METRO's Star van

Would that work here in the United States? Americans historically enjoy driving alone, mainly because many engage in so-called "trip chaining" - when you run errands to and from work. About 75 percent of American workers drive alone to work, according to the Population Reference Bureau in Washington.

Here at METRO, we offer ridesharing through Star, our vanpool program.  Eligible riders can also receive a $35 month incentive to share a ride. We also have a free matching program, METROMatch, that will search our extensive eight-county data base to help you find a ride from home to work.  

Click here to see our Vanpool Finder, which will tell you if there are existing vanpools you could join.

 

Cheer for the Holidays: Easing the Parking Problems
 

 

Aerial view of crowded parking lotThis is the season for shopping and good will - and circling around and around, stalking shoppers to grab their parking space if you're at the mall.

For commuters who use our Park & Ride lots at Kingsland and South Point, you are familiar with the pain of trying to find a parking space. In fact, dozens of you have been parking illegally - on medians, on the side of the road, in parking aisles.

Here's some good news to celebrate this holiday season: METRO has added 130 spaces at our Kingsland Park & Ride and 120 spaces at our South Point Park & Ride.

"We really hit the ground running on this one," said Vince Obregon, associate vice president of infrastructure service development.

Obregon, our go-to guy for the design and construction of our Park & Ride lots, said METRO has been monitoring the situation and started implementing a solution to the overcrowded lots on Nov. 1. 

"We re-engineered the parking spaces and driving aisles at Kingsland, and by doing that, we were able to reconfigure the geometric parking spaces to 130 extra spaces," said Obregon, "We took out an aisle. This was the most responsive way to get some parking relief out there."

At South Point, which serves the Texas Medical Center, more than 150 cars were parked illegally, according to an October report. METRO has a long-term operating agreement to operate that lot, which is owned by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDot).

TxDOT had some vacant land to the west of South Point Park & Ride, so METRO used that to create more spaces.

"We simply knocked down some curb and put down some all-weather, crushed limestone material to park on. This is going to be a temporary scenario. We are Close-up of car side mirrorcurrently negotiating with TxDOT to do a full build-out of the remaining property,' said Obregon.

The completed build-out will offer more than 300 new spaces when completed by the end of 2009.

The two parking projects cost $300,000. "For a cost per space, it was very economical," said Obregon. "The cost benefit is very high."

The construction of both projects was completed in six to eight weeks.

"We were able to respond quickly," said Frank J. Wilson, METRO's president and chief executive officer at yesterday's board meeting. "Even with fuel prices going down and even with our prices going up, there's still latent demand for transit."

 

 

Train Accidents Decline in Pilot Program
 

Assistant Police Chief Tim KellyIn the past 30 days, there have been no car/rail accidents caused by cars turning left downtown in front of a train.

That safety record is the result of a pilot program that ends this week and is a result of three factors, says Assistant Police Chief Tim Kelly of MPD.

"Education - the media attention to this effort helped to educate the driving public. Engineering - the signal timing changes implemented by the city of Houston. Enforcement - the dedicated police officers at six downtown intersections," explained Kelly. "It is a combination of these three, and no one factor can be attributed solely to this accident reduction."

Earlier, we wrote about how the city has worked closely with MPD to adjust the timing of traffic signals along the Red Line. The six test locations along Main Street are: St. Joseph, Franklin, Texas, Prairie, Preston and Congress.

The re-signaling has meant that METRORail gets a green light first, a few seconds before drivers get a green light to proceed. This permits the train to travel ahead of regular traffic at these intersections. Westbound and eastbound traffic has not been affected.

So far, this three-pronged approach is working.

By the end of this week, the police officers who have been deployed at the six downtown intersections will be reassigned, but "there will be continue to be dedicated police enforcement along Main Street to reinforce the positive changes we have made," said Kelly.

The new signal timing will stay in place. The city and METRO will work closely together to determine if more traffic lights need to be adjusted to benefit the rest of the Red Line.

"All in all, this has been a very successful joint effort between the city and METRO to enhance public safety along the Red Line corridor," said Kelly.

Renting Cars by the Hours

 

 

Now the powerhouse of rental cars had jumped into the market of car rentals by the hour.

 The Hertz Corp., which bills itself as "the world's largest general use car rental brand," is launching a service, "Connect by Hertz." Customers who pay an annual fee will be able to rent cars by the hour, minus some of the hidden contract fees.

The service is strikingly similar to Zipcar, which has about 5,500 cars in 13 cities, including 1,400 cars in the New York area. Hertz will have rent-by-the-hour cars available in New York and Park Ridge, N.J., where Hertz headquarters is located. It will also be available in London and Paris.

Trying to appeal to young drivers, Hertz will be renting the Toyota Prius and the Mini Cooper among its first 35 cars that will be parked at 10 lots in midtown Manhattan.

"There's a market for car-sharing, and it's larger than has been developed to date," said Mike Senackerib, the Hertz senior vice president of marketing, to the NYT. Hertz said it is starting in New York because of the many residents who don't own cars but may need a car only for a few hours.

The company said it expects to expand the service next year to 20 cities in the United States and 20 cities abroad.

The new service by Hertz will offer some extra luxuries: a button to call customer service, Bluetooth, iPod docking stations, a GPS system and E-Zpass.

Zipcar says it's not worried about the competition from the 800-pound gorilla. "We're certainly sitting up and noticing what other competitors are doing," Zipcar chief executive Scott Griffith told the NYT. "But this is Hertz car sharing 1.0, and we're at Zipcar 8.0."

 

 

A Free Ride to Safety
 

 

Man striking womanAn innovative program in Louisville, KY, is helping victims of domestic violence.

Dubbed Ride to Safety, the program gives free rides to all women who need one.

"All a woman needs to do is step on a TARC bus and say, ‘I need a ride to safety.' Her travel is free, and the bus operator will radio to TARC's Central Command Center to let the dispatcher know that there is a ‘ride to safety' request," said J. Barry Barker, executive director of the Transit Authority of River City (TARC) to Passenger Transport, an industry publication of the American Public Transportation Association.

Once the transit agency receives that call, it sends out a special truck to meet the bus enroute and pick up the woman passenger. It then drives her to the closest shelter for battered women.

The masterminds behind the program were the Center for Women and Families of Louisville, KY, and the Transit Authority of River City.

The Center for Women and Families conducts regular domestic violence training for all new transit agency drivers. For current staff, a one-time training was conducted.

One of the myths dispelled for bus drivers is that not all victims will appear frightened. Many have become so accustomed to violence that they are quite calm. By the time they board the bus and ask for a ride to safety, they may have been contemplating this step for year.

While officials said they were initially concerned that bus drivers might be subjecting themselves to more violence by participating in this program, the agency says drivers have been supportive.

Since the program started in early 2007, the Center for Women and Families reports that about 3 percent of its walk-in clients have used the ride-to-safety program.

"I think the beauty of the program is that it's so simple," said Corissa Philips, the Center's director of communications, to Passenger Transport. "It has two ingredients: a shelter facility and a transit authority."

Domestic violence is not just an issue in Kentucky. Nationwide, one in four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime. About 1.3 million women are victims of physical assault by an intimate partner every year.

In Texas, there were 187, 811 incidents of family violence in 2005, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.  There were 12,356 adults living in domestic violence shelters in 2006.

 

 

China's Electric Car Beats Competition
 

 

China's hybrid carA Chinese battery company which has reinvented itself as a car manufacturer is skipping ahead of the competition by about two years with its new electric car.

BYD Co. of Shenzhen, China, began selling the world's first mass-produced, plug-in hybrid car, the F3 DM, reports American Public Media's Marketplace show today. Click here to listen to the story.

Resembling a Corolla, the F3 DM goes longer between charges and charges faster than the cars General Motors and the Japanese are developing now.

The Chinese car can run 62 miles using only batteries. The battery can be charged in seven hours at a power point, or it can be rapidly charged at 50 percent power at a specialist station in 10 minutes, according to the company. It also has a gas engine as a secondary power source, says Bloomberg.com.

So how reliable is a Chinese hybrid car? BYD was impressive enough for Warren Buffet, who invested $230 million in the company earlier this year, endorsing the firm's innovative battery technology.

BYD still makes rechargeable batteries for cell phones and laptops.

Right now, you can only buy the F3 DM in China. Next year, you can buy it in Scandinavia. BYD said it hopes to export the hybrid to the U.S. in 2011. The car costs about $22,000 USD.

Toyota said in August it plans to start testing plug-ins which would be rechargeable from household power points, while GM said it plans to sell the Volt plug-in late 2010.

The pricey cost of hybrids and lack of charging stations in China have kept demand down, but the Chinese government is encouraging domestic automakers' foray into alternative energy. It has stated it wants 60,000 hybrids on the roads in 10 cities by 2012. The government reportedly is considering a plan to eliminate sales tax on vehicles with engines less than 1.6 liters.

The Shenzhen local government and China Construction Bank signed contracts to buy 50 hybrids from BYD today, reports Bloomberg.

I'm Certified - What's Next?
   

Cynthia DUdley, METRO's small business devel. & assistance officerAbout 55 small business owners filed into our board room this morning to learn tips on how to do business with a giant agency like METRO.

With construction already underway on one of our five light-rail lines and plans to complete these lines by 2012, small businesses will have plenty of opportunity to do business with us. Our goal is to award 35 percent of our contracts to Small Business Enterprises/Disadvantaged Business Enterprises (SBE/DBE), exceeding the federal mandate.

"The purpose of the seminar was to inform the certified small businesses on how to actually do business with METRO after they become certified - the ins and outs of the procurement process as well as the benefits of procurement," said Cynthia Dudley, METRO's small business development and assistance officer, pictured above. 

Nadeem Ainuddin, METRO's senior contract specialist in procurement, had the audience laughing as he encouraged them to "bug" him and call him with questions, telling them that he, too, was once an entrepreneur and understood their issues.

At the seminar, the business owners learned the benefits of being certified:

       

  • Can be listed in METRO's directory as a program participant
  • Can list the cost of bonds as a line item in the bid and be reimbursed by METRO
  • Can invoice METRO every 15 calendar days.
  • Can invoice METRO for mobilization costs and be paid within 15 calendar days
  • Can register for college-level and specific industry technical courses, seminars and workshops. METRO may pay a portion of the cost of the courses Shurronda Murray, METRO's small biz project specialist who certifies small businesses

Not yet certified? Click here to learn more. Shurronda Murray, METRO's small business project specialist, pictured on the right, is the one who certifies small businesses.

Business owners also learned tips on getting in the door at METRO, including the following:

 

  • Aggressively and professionally market your company.
  • Register at http://www.ridemetro.org/ for automatic e-mail notices of new solicitations, updates and contract awards.
  • Attend METRO pre-bid and pre-proposal conferences.
  • Complete bid proposals as instructed, including all requested documents.

Dudley said METRO started offering these "I'm Certified - What's Next?" seminars on a monthly basis when our fiscal year started in October because we were getting so many questions from newly- certified business owners.

Business owners at today's METRO seminar"A lot of these businesses want to see you and hear you talk," said Dudley.

Evaluation forms were distributed immediately following the event, and Dudley read one: "The staff was engaged and very helpful."

That's exactly what METRO wants to hear.

"These events are well-received," said Dudley. "It motivates the small businesses to want to do business with METRO because they know we care. And we want them to succeed."

 

 

METRO Matters: Keeping Kids Safe During Construction
 

Logo of METRO Matters TV show Construction is underway on the East End line - one of five light-rail lines we are building.

And during this construction, we want to make sure we keep kids safe.

We have been conducting an innovative school safety program at the HISD schools that uses everything from songs to cartoon characters to teach students about rail safety.

Mike Martinez, METRO's manager of stakeholder affairs of corporate programs, explains more on our latest edition of METRO Matters.

Click below to see the show.

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

Or watch it on Comcast's Channel 17 at the following times:

 

Sat.  12/13/08  3:45 p.m.

Mon. 12/15/08  8:20 p.m.

Wed. 12/17/08  8:30 p.m.

Fri.    12/19/08  8:30 p.m.

Sat.   12/20/08  3:00 p.m.

Tue.   12/23/08  6:30 p.m.

Thur.  12/25/08 7:30 p.m.

Sat.    12/27/08 9:00 p.m.

Wed.  12/31/08 8:30 p.m.