The METRO Police Department will be hiring eight officers and buying two - two four-legged officers, that is - thanks to federal stimulus funds it was awarded last week.
MPD was one of 15 transit agencies nationwide selected to receive money from a $78 million pot. The funding is part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) Transit Security Grant Program (TSGP). The 15 agencies will hire about 240 law enforcement officers to help the nation guard against acts of terrorism.
"This Recovery Act money will create critical law enforcement jobs that will help our nation prevent terrorist attacks," said Janet Napolitano, Department of Homeland Security secretary, in a statement
METRO will receive $3 million to hire additional officers, beefing up the current force of 185 officers and eight K-9 officers.
"Any additional resources will help us to make the system safer," said METRO's Assistant Chief of Police Tim Kelly. "Police officers are the backbone of what we do. This money will help us get more officers on the force to help with our day-to-day operations, such as conducting random patrols which help deter terrorism and reduce crime."
The two police dogs will be trained to detect explosives. Currently, METRO's K-9 force includes five dogs trained to detect explosives and three dogs trained to track narcotics.
"I love it - I'm totally excited about expanding the force. I love training dogs," said John Ivey, MPD's canine trainer. "It will definitely be beneficial to METRO to have seven explosive dogs. They're effective because they can help pinpoint the area for bomb technicians and eliminate the concern if there's a device or suspicious package. We run the dog first to see if we get any response and then the bomb technicians come in and disarm it."
The New York Metropolitan Transit Agency received about $35 million for 25 new officers, making it the largest award among the 15 agencies. Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) was the only other Texas transit agency to get some of this funding - $1.4 million.
The Recovery Act was signed into law by President Obama in February, committing more than $3 billion for homeland security projects.
If you're one of the hundreds of commuters who rides METRO, you probably climb on-board, settle in your seat and never think twice about what keeps the buses and trains running.
And that's the way it should be - a seamless, safe ride for you.
But what happens to the buses at night when they complete their runs?
Watch METRO Moves tonight on HCCTV, Channel 19 on Comcast at 6 p.m. You'll find out that our six bus operating facilities, known as BOFs, are open daily to clean and maintain our fleet of buses. Three of the BOFs are open 24/7.
The buses are refueled at the BOFs every night with dripless, fast-fuel equipment. Each bus can hold 125 gallons of diesel fuel.
We replace 100 buses a year - using hybrid-electric buses - making our fleet one of the youngest in the nation. Buses are parked facing in or facing out in their assigned spots, indicating to the repair crew which buses need work.
Before any bus pulls out for the day, the driver uses a handheld computer to check numerous safety points in a detailed pre-trip inspection.
On the train, inspectors ride the rail daily and walk around each train to inspect it with a hand-held computer.
You'll also meet some of the men and women who plan the routes, analyze the ridership and make changes that bring service to where it's needed - without increasing costs.
Watch all this tonight at 6 p.m. It will be repeated every night through Friday. If you don't get Comcast, you'll be able to view it on our Web site after 5 p.m. Click here.
You may have seen the story and editorial in the Houston Chronicle this week about METRO's practice of posting our working committee sessions in our lobby at 1900 Main St. and at the Harris County Civil Courthouse, but not on the Web. Below is METRO's response.
We are thankful to the Houston Chronicle for focusing our attention on this matter. However, the Chronicle has covered METRO for years, and it has never been its practice to attend these working sessions. It has a right to change its past practices, and we have a right to reexamine ours.
To avoid confusion, we need to distinguish between the formal monthly committee meetings of the METRO Board of Directors (held on the mornings of the monthly Board meeting) from the working sessions.
First, these working sessions are not attended by a quorum of the Board, which means under state statute we are not required to post their schedules.
Second, unlike the formal committee meetings, the working sessions are conducted on an as-needed basis. They follow no set schedule - sometimes changing times and dates with very little notice. Depending on the schedule of the committee chair, working sessions may even be cancelled the morning of the scheduled day.
So, while we have been diligent about posting the working session notices, it has been almost impossible to manage the process beyond that.
Going forward, if we anticipate a quorum at a Board working session, that meeting will be posted 72 hours in advance. These notices, along with our monthly committee and Board meeting notices will be posted at the Harris County Civil Courthouse (4th floor), in METRO's Ridestore lobby and on METRO's Web site.
Establishing light rail in Houston has been a long and rocky road - but with the recent celebrations of the North and Southeast groundbreakings, we are one step closer to achieving real choices for commuters.
Our documentary this week traces the path to rail - and how voters came to the pivotal decision that the nation's fourth largest city needed light rail.
The referendum - known as METRO Solutions - passed in November 2003 - and Houston was its way to becoming a transit-friendly city.
Watch The Path to Rail on HCCTV, Comcast Channel 19 tonight at 6 p.m. It will be repeated every night through Friday this week.
You will also be able to see in on our Web site tomorrow.
Fast forward to 2012.
Step on a METRO train, and you should be boarding a new CAF USA train with six doors on one side and one level from front to back.
Find out more cool features of these new trains - including the so-called Jacuzzi seat - from METRO's President & CEO, Frank J. Wilson.
In this episode of METRO Matters, Wilson tells why rodeo and football fans will find it easier to ride the rail.
Also, learn how METRO's unprecedented way of ordering these trains surprised the industry - and saved the agency time and money.
Click here for a preview of the show.
You can also catch the program on Comcast's Channel 17, Houston Media Source, at these times:
Tue 7/28/09 3:15 p.m.
Fri 7/31/09 7:30 p.m.
Mon 8/3/09 9:30 p.m.
Thu 8/6/09 7:30 p.m.
Sat 8/8/09 8:00 p.m.
Wed 8/12/09 8:30 p.m.
Sat 8/15/09 12:30 p.m.
Tue 8/18/09 12:30 p.m.
Thu 8/20/09 7:30 p.m.
Sat 8/22/09 8:00 p.m.
Tue 8/25/09 6:45 p.m.
Fri 8/28/09 7:30 p.m.
Step on a train, and you may meet an ancient Chinese warrior.
Three of our trains now sport a huge decal wrapped on the front, showcasing one of the terra cotta warriors now on display at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.
The trains were wrapped over the weekend, and it's part of METRO's partnership with the museum, helping to promote what Time magazine has called one of the top five "must-see" museum exhibitions this year.
"It's a great way to bring attention to the exhibit and the fact that you can get to the exhibit on METRORail," said JoAnne Lingenfelter, manager of marketing.
Terra Cotta Warriors: Guardians of China's First Emperor features more than 100 artifacts, including 14 life-size soldiers. The warriors were built to protect the emperor on his journey to the afterlife.
Houston is one of five national stops of this exhibit - and it's easy to visit by riding the Red Line. Be sure to pick up a brochure on the train for a coupon worth $10 off an adult-priced ticket.
Texas is ready for its T-Bone, and it's not a steak.
It's the corridor of a proposed high-speed rail that would connect Houston - via College Station - to Temple, with that branch linking to Dallas-Ft. Worth, Austin and San Antonio.
And Texas is standing in line - along with 39 other states - hoping for money from Uncle Sam to build that rail.
July 10 was the deadline to submit pre-applications for High-Speed and Inter-City Passenger Rail funds from the Federal Railroad Administration.
Competition is fierce. The states are asking for $102 billion in funding - far more that the $8 billion the Obama administration has set aside for high-speed rail in the Recovery and Reinvestment Act for this.
The Texas Department of Transportation is asking that $1.7 billion of the $1.9 billion it is seeking to receive be devoted to the Texas T-Bone.
Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood says he's pleased at the flood of pre-applications.
"It shows that not only does this country want high-speed rail, but also that this country is ready for high-speed rail," he writes in his blog. "The overwhelming responses show that the planners who pre-applied for these grants are way ahead of where everyone thought they'd be in terms of their ability to conceive of and plan these rail lines."
Click here to read more in his blog.
Does Texas have a chance at these funds?
Not much preliminary work has been done yet on these bullet trains - such as environmental studies, feasibility reviews and right-of-way acquisition - but TxDot says it never hurts to ask, according to the Dallas Morning News.
Final applications are due Aug. 24.
Would you leave your car at home and travel on a 200-mile-per-hour train to get to Austin, San Antonio or Dallas? We'd like to hear your thoughts on high-speed rail.
If you missed METRO's gala celebration last Monday of the two groundbreaking ceremonies (Southeast and North corridors) and the finale at Minute Maid Park's Union Station, check out our documentary.
Highlights of all three celebrations are featured in a 30-minute documentary, airing every night this week through Friday. It's on HCCTV, Comcast's Channel 19 at 6 p.m. and again at 6:30 p.m.
If you don't subscribe to Comcast, you can view it here on our Web site.
Notable speakers include Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison and Congressman Gene Green, Congressman Al Green, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee and Mayor Bill White.
METRO Chairman David Wolff emcees the event - and tells what we need to do if we're going to build a transit system as extensive as the light-rail system in Dallas.
Plus, you'll get to see a life-size model of our new CAF train.
A life-sized model of METRO's new train took center stage at Minute Maid Park's Union Station on Monday as officials celebrated the groundbreaking of the Southeast and North Corridors.
METRO Chairman David S. Wolff emceed the grand celebration, speaking to a crowd of about 350, including state and local officials who played a role in bringing light rail to this city.
"These light rail lines will connect our communities in ways they have never been connected before. They will provide improved access to jobs, to health care and to the educational institutions which are so important to our city," said Wolff.
The new light-rail lines will connect the North, East End and Southeast corridors. Officials pointed out that the two light-rail lines were given $150 million in President Obama's 2010 budget - making them two of the five transit projects mentioned in the administration's budget.
The light-rail system will be one of the biggest infrastructure project in Houston's history and is expected to bring 60,000 jobs to the city.
Earlier Monday, separate but simultaneous celebrations occurred at the North and Southeast corridors with a ceremonial hammering of railroad spikes.
We'll bring you highlights in a documentary on Monday. Stay tuned.
Summertime is beach time, and if you've trekked to Galveston wishing you didn't have to fight traffic on I-45, regional transit is the answer.
Just how we can most effectively connect Harris County to its surrounding seven counties with regional transit is an issue that affects all of us.
The documentary that airs tonight on HCCTV, Comcast Channel 19, takes an in-depth look at the various aspects of regional transit: what communities should be connected, what modes of transportation, and who should pay for it.
The panel of experts are: Dr. Carol Lewis of Texas Southern University, Robert Muhammad of NTE Planning Consultants and Christof Spieler of Citizens' Transportation Coalition.
Should one newly created umbrella agency run regional transit? What role should METRO play? And do riders really care who runs and operates these trips, as long as they get from Point A to Point B seamlessly with one fare card?
Hear more about these critical questions in this lively and engaging discussion moderated by anchorman Mike Barajas of Fox 26 News.
You can also view this roundtable discussion on our Web site by clicking here.
Look around your bus or train, and you'll see warriors - terra cotta soldiers from ancient China.
Starting today, you'll find a $10-off coupon in brochures on the buses and trains for the Houston Museum of Natural Science's exhibit, "Terra Cotta Warriors: Guardians of China's First Emperor."
We also have images of warriors displayed along the rail platforms.
Tagged as one of five must-see exhibits by Time magazine, this exhibit features more than 100 amazing artifacts, including 14 life-size terra cotta soldiers.
Ride the rail or bus - and get $10 off a $28 adult admission. If you have kids, it's cheaper to buy them an adult ticket, using a METRO coupon. And if you're a senior, you'll save money, too, by buying a regular adult ticket with a METRO coupon instead of a senior ticket.
METRO has identified the cause of a derailment that occurred on June 16.
The incident occurred 27 minutes past midnight during a training exercise with only an instructor and two trainees on board. There were no injuries.
An independent investigation concluded that excessive speed around the curve at Braeswood and Greenwood caused the two-car train to derail. The train was traveling 22 mph in a 15 mph-zone.
METRO asked the consulting firm, ARUP North America, to make independent recommendations to enhance METRORail safety. The international and design firm's recommendations include the following:
- Establish uniform speed of 15 mph in this location instead of the three current speed limits of 15, 30 and 20 mph.
- Review and augment training of METRORail instructors
- Ultrasonically test the rail to verify its structural integrity (METRO conducts these tests annually).
- Analyze and assess tight curves in the five, new lines METRO is building
METRO has adopted these recommendations and is implementing them.
If you are one of the 400,000 commuters who ride our transit system every day, you will be happy to know the METRO Police Department is ready to respond to any emergency that may occur.
That's the subject of the METRO documentary that airs tonight on HCCTV, Comcast Channel 19, at 6 p.m. tonight. You can also watch it here on our Web site.
A nationally accredited transit police department, METRO's police department works with multiple police agencies to keep patrons safe on the bus and on the rail.
The heart of the response system is Houston TranStar, which coordinates all METRO's emergency responses.
The documentary details how METRO responds to natural disasters, such as storms. A boat rescue squad practices regularly on how to rescue in debris-filled water, including buoy rescues and tethered rescues.
METRO's Motorist Assistance Program, along with the city of Houston's Safe Clear program, aids drivers who break down on the freeways. Cars are cleared quickly, flat tires are fixed, gas given if needed. So far, thousands of motorists have been helped.
METRO's Special Operations Response Team (SORT) is trained to respond to potentially deadly and dangerous situations. This elite group of certified SWAT officers consists of 10 officers who can respond to such emergencies as a barricaded suspect or hostage.
You'll also learn about METRO's successful bus marshal program, where officers ride undercover as a passenger - and by doing so, have made key arrests involving drug dealers and gangs.
You'll meet our award-winning four-legged officers - the K9 unit where dogs are trained to detect explosives or drugs.
See all this tonight on METRO: Ready to Respond and find out why this is one of the safest transit systems in the nation. The documentary will repeat Tuesday through Friday this week at 6 p.m.
Ride the rail to visit one of the nation's top five "must see" museum exhibits, as rated by Time magazine.
It's the Houston Museum of Natural Science exhibit, Terra Cotta Warriors: Guardians of China's First Emperor.
Often considered one of the eight wonders of the world, these life-sized terra cotta replicas were built to protect China's first emperor throughout eternity.
Qin Shi Huang was only 13 years old when he commissioned the army of 8,000 soldiers, built to stand guard over him in a vast necropolis. This exhibit of 14 life-sized soldiers is the biggest display of warriors and tomb artifacts to travel to the United States.
METRO has teamed up with the Houston Museum of Natural Science to offer a $10 discount off an adult ticket. Brochures with a coupon will be distributed on buses, trains and our RideStore in the next few weeks.
The exhibit is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and continues until Oct. 18.
Tune in to HCCTV, Comcast Channel 19 tonight at 6 p.m., and you'll hear real stories from riders who love taking METRO to get them where they need to go.
From a young man who says a METRO bus is like a party bus when he and his buddies go to football games, to an executive who hasn't stepped aboard a bus in 30 years but tries it for the first time, meet commuters who prefer to leave the driving to someone else.
Bottom line: Taking METRO is convenient, cost-effective and easy.
You'll also discover some jewels you can visit within walking distance of the Red Line, such as The Menil Collection or The Contemporary Arts Houston.
Watch the I Ride documentary tonight and every weeknight this week at 6 p.m.
If you don't have Comcast, click here to view it on our Web site. We'll have it up by 5 p.m. tonight.
METRO promised a Signature bus service that would be quick-as-a-bunny, and so far, in its first 16 days of operation, it's delivering.
The 402 Quickline Bellaire has an average of 97 percent on-time performance.
"It's doing really well," said Pat Porzillo, associate vice president of commuter rail at METRO, and the go-to guy for Quickline operations. "Our on-time performance has been really great."
The 402 Quickline has 53 scheduled trips a day - and only one or two buses a day have been late. "The single biggest cause is the freight track," explained Porzillo. "There's a UP freight train that comes and blocks the crossing."
If you're at any of the Quickline transit stations, you can see next-bus arrival times for northbound and southbound buses. You can also check it out from your smart phone by accessing http://www.ridemetro.org/.
Click on "services, then "bus," then "402 Quickline Bellaire." Then go down to the lower two-thirds of the page to "Click here for next bus service." Both Airport Direct and the 402 Quickline offer next-bus arrival information.
Our ridership goal is 1,000 riders a day after one year of service - and in the first two weeks, we've passed the halfway mark, averaging 600 commuters a day. We expect those numbers to increase once summer break is over and students return to school.
Porzillo says he's heard positive reaction from our riders. They like saving 20 minutes of travel time, enjoy sleeping later in the mornings, and appreciate the fact that the local $1.25 fare remains the same on the Quickline.
"If they miss the bus, they can jump on a Quickline at the medical center, jump off at any station and switch to the local bus they missed - and it counts as a free transfer with a Q card," said Porzillo.
The Quickline makes eight stops, but METRO is planning to add a ninth stop - the Stella Link station - by late December, said Porzillo.
"We're coordinating it with road construction at Southside Place. Right now, the road is split and we can't access the site," said Porzillo.
If you haven't ridden one of the distinctive blue, bunny buses, hop on for a quick ride down Bellaire.
"One of the things we've always thought was that this was the type of service that will prove itself. If we operate it reliably, if we run on time, people would move over to this service," said Porzillo. "We're pleased, and we're excited about moving the program forward with an integrated Quickline system."
Tune in tonight to HCCTV, Comcast's Channel 19 to hear how buses are the backbone of METRO's system.
In this documentary, meet the men and women who work hard behind-the-scenes to make sure METRO's buses are safe, clean and reliable.
Called "Precious Cargo," this documentary showcases the transformation of METRO's fleet over the decades to one of the youngest fleets in the nation, with 100 hybrid-electric buses added every year.
Learn about METRO's commitment to making the buses accessible to the disabled and its initiatives to making the system safer.
You'll hear from employees who have worked here for 25 or 30 years - and are still passionate about what they do.
If you don't have cable, you can watch the documentary on our Web site at http://www.ridemetro.org/. Click the yellow button that says, "We're ready for our close-up."
If you're a marketing professional, winning a Crystal Award is a big deal - almost as enviable as capturing an Oscar in the movie industry.
Well, METRO's marketing department recently won the American Marketing Association's 2009 AMA Crystal Award for its "I Ride" campaign.
The "I Ride" campaign hit the airwaves and print last year and featured local celebrities encouraging Houstonians to ride METRO. The celebrities were heavyweight boxing champion George Foreman, fashion designer Chloe Dao and Carlos Lee, outfielder for the Astros.
The ad appeared on broadcast, print, bus cards and train wraps and trumped a Bank of America ad, two Wal-Mart ads and a Centerpoint Energy ad.
"It's not like regular advertising awards in which it's a beauty contest, and the coolest spot wins," said Rob Fritsche Jr., senior writer/producer who wrote and produced the ad. "In this competition not only were you judged on the quality of the ad, but the results from the campaign counted for twice as much as the aesthetics."
METRO met or exceeded nearly all of its proposed campaign goals. If you missed the commercials, you can watch them on YouTube. George Foreman starred in two spots for us - "Battles" and "Dreams."
Chloe Dao, fashion designer who won the Bravo Channel's "Project Runway" (season two), features her designs on METRO's rail platform. Carlos Lee urges Houstonians to get on board while on the playing field.
Brian Rogers, the graphic designer responsible for the print aspect of the campaign, says the image campaign tried to show "everybody and anybody can ride and should ride public transit when they need it. George Foreman himself rode METRO as a child to get to the gym and work out. It was a good testimonial to see how public transit played a role in his life."
And of course, beating out major firms was icing on the cake. "It's huge to show we can run with the big dogs," said Rogers.
In the photo above, Fritsche (left) displays the Crystal Award with Rogers (right).
If you subscribe to Comcast, check out HCCTV, Channel 19 tonight at 6 p.m.
"Houston: The Road Ahead" is a documentary that traces METRO's humble beginnings, its rocky middle years before the 2003 referendum was passed and its current state of affairs - from its modern, hybrid-electric bus fleet to its plans on building five light-rail lines.
Learn how METRO inherited a dilapidated bus system where buses could barely pull out of the garages. When the air conditioning broke down, windows in the front and back were removed to create an air flow.
Hear METRO's first chairman of the board, Howard Horne, talk about the early days. Dr. Carol Lewis of Texas Southern University describes the energetic opponents to the METRO Solutions referendum and analyzes how METRO has carried out that mandate.
Dr. Stephen Klineberg of Rice University discusses his 28th annual survey, highlighting what respondents said about mass transit and how important rail should be in a mass transit system.
The documentary will repeat every week night this week at 6 p.m., Monday to Friday.
METRO's vanpool program has a whole new look - it's been rebranded as STAR vanpool.
David McMaster, director of customer service, says it's a convenient and cost-effective way to get to and from work.
Click the link below to hear his interview on METRO Matters.
You can also watch it at on Comcast's Channel 17 at these times:
Sun 6/14/09 10:40 p.m.
Tue. 6/16/09 12:30 p.m.
Thu 6/18/09 5:30 p.m.
Sat 6/20/09 8:00 p.m.
Tue 6/23/09 4:30 p.m.
Thu 6/25/09 10:00 p.m.
Sat 6/27/90 9:30 p.m.
Tue 6/30/09 6:15 p.m.