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A Dog, a Video and an Arrest
 

Vigo and his handler, MPD Officer John WigginsDog owners everywhere agree that a dog is man's best friend.

Our four-legged police officers are also best friends to our men and women in blue.

The latest brave act occurred on Nov. 23 when Christopher Sean Burks was arrested and charged with two counts of burglary of a motor vehicle, along with a felony of interfering with a police service animal.   

Our video cameras recorded him smashing a car window and breaking into another vehicle. MPD and Harris County constables surrounded the Kingsland Park & Ride area, searching for the suspect, who had fled the lot.

Vigo, a METRO K-9 officer, tracked Burks hiding along Mason Bayou. Burks attacked Vigo but after a brief struggle with the dog and its police handler, Officer John Wiggins, Burks was taken into custody and treated for dog bites. Suspect Christopher Sean Burks, arrested 11/23/09Vigo and Wiggins are pictured on the left.

MPD say Burks stole items of little value and abandoned them at the lot before running away. Burks is pictured on the right.

Video from our Park & Ride lot cameras is transmitted to TranStar, our region's traffic and emergency management center, where MPD monitor the video on consoles.

 

 
An Electric Car That Plugs in Like a Hairdryer
 

 

The E2 electric car by ApteraImagine driving an electric car that looks more like a spaceship from a sci-fi movie - and doesn't use a drop of fuel.

Instead, you just plug it into a wall outlet like you would a hairdryer - charge it overnight with electricity provided by Reliant - and drive it the next morning.  

It's called the E2, created by start-up company, Aptera Motors. The firm expects the E2 to be on the roads and highways here in Texas and in California by next year. It will travel 100 miles between charges and go up to almost 100 mph.

"It looks like a Jetsons vehicle with wheels," NRG Energy CEO David Crane told KUHF.FM recently. NRG is the parent company of Reliant Energy, which is partnering with Aptera to make this new electric vehicle.

Aptera says it already has 4,000 orders for the E2, which will cost between $20,000 and $40,000.

"We think it's good for the economy," Paul Wilber, president of Aptera, told KUHF. "We think it's good for the environment, and we also think it's good in terms of lowering our dependence on foreign oil."

Would you buy an electric car? If so, would it buy it as your primary vehicle or secondary one?

 

 

Big Brother Keeping Rail Safe
 

 

Woman on platform, waiting for trainThe government is working to make light-rail transit safer than ever.

The Obama administration has proposed that the U.S. Department of Transportation create and enforce regulations on every light-rail system and subway in the country. The proposal comes in the wake of of a deadly crash last June on Washington, D.C.'s Metro Red Line.  

An editorial in today's New York Times is urging Congress to improve safety on light-rail lines and subways by extending federal safety standards that now apply only to the airlines and Amtrak.

The federal regulations would cover more than two dozen regional and city transit systems, some of which are now loosely regulated. "The safety rules and monitoring are shockingly toothless in too many jurisdictions, with the systems averaging less than one overworked safety worker," says the Times.

"Federal money already subsidizes subway and light-rail growth, and it should be cut off to systems that cling to risky standards," the editorial continues.  

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood agrees federal oversight makes sense.

"While transit is one of our nation's safest forms of transportation, we are starting to see danger signs, thanks to the combination of aging transit systems and local cost constraints," writes LaHood on his blog.

Click here to read more.

 

Texans Fans See Giant METRO Commercial
 

 

Photo of life-size cardboard cut-out of woman sitting in bus window

Thousands of Houston Texans fans got to see a first last night if they commuted on the rail at Fannin South.

A METRO New Flyer bus was parked near the rail and became street theatre. Inside the bus, two projectors flashed up on two bus windows a 30-second METRO spot, METRO Urban Transit Blues.

Paying homage to a classic 1960s hit, the piece promotes riding public transit. Two life-sized cardboard figures held up signs, reading: "Look out" and "Going places."  The basic message: METRO provides services that keep Houston moving.

"We were looking for unconventional ways to reach out to our customers and educate them as to what METRO is up to. This was an opportunity for METRO to get in front of hundreds of people," said Raequel Roberts, associate vice president of marketing, media and corporate communications. 

Karl Koch, manager of creative services, said originally his team was thinking of projecting the commercial on the front windows of the bus.

"But there were too many obstacles. So we used two side windows and blacked out the bus," said Koch. "It was very cool. METRO's marketing team continues to find ways to market ridership and promote its image to the public with new, grassroots efforts."

Over at Reliant Stadium, the audio portion was broadcast on the platform loudspeakers while passers-by viewed more life-sized cardboard figures holding up placards with a METRO message.

Roberts said several curious football fans stopped and asked what we were doing.

"There were trainloads and trainloads of passengers waiting to get on. It was fun to watch their reactions," said Roberts.  

This was the perfect venue to capture a crowd's attention. METRO recorded the third highest ridership total for a football game at Reliant Stadium, trailing only Super Bowl XXXVIII in Febraury 2004 (New England Patriots vs. Carolina Panthers). There were 11,159 METRORail boardings associated with the Tennessee Titans-Houston Texans game. At Fannin South, there were 3,939 riders who disembarked at that station yesterday.

Find us on our Facebook page for a short video on the crowd's reaction to METRO's outdoor commercial.

 

 

Lawmakers Consider Higher Fuel Taxes
 

 

Man putting gas in carIf some lawmakers get their way, Texas drivers could be facing higher fuel taxes at the pump.

Members of the Texas Senate Transportation Committee, who met recently in El Paso, said there's not enough money to build new roads.

Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, said that the state is growing - but running out of funds to build new roads, adding that there's "no more debt that we can issue."

The state fuel tax helps pay for new roads. Texas charges 20 cents for every gallon of gasoline purchased. That has remained unchanged since 1991.  The federal government adds another 18 cents a gallon in federal taxes.

If prices increase, that will be one more good reason to leave the driving to METRO.

Breaking Up is Hard to Do
 

 

 

Woman sitting at table having serious conversationAn attractive woman is sitting at a table for two, giving a "this-isn't- going-to-work" speech to a significant other.

The camera changes angle, and it then becomes clear that she's not dumping a boyfriend - but dumping a gas pump.

The video is the first-place winner of the American Public Transportation Association (APTA)'s national video contest calling for videos to illustrate its theme: Dump the pump in favor of public transit.

Click here to watch first place winning video by Bob Richardson of Portland, Ore. Richardson won a year of free public transit.

"The purpose of this contest was to hear from the American public transit rider in a fun and entertaining way about how public transportation is taking us to a better future - economically, environmentally and our overall quality of life," said Rose Sheridan, APTA's vice president of marketing and communications, in a statement.

Second place winner was Judith Keenan of Berkeley, Calif., who won six months of free public transit. Click here to watch her video.

Third place was Miles Clark of Atlanta, Ga., who won three months of free public transit. Click here to watch his winning entry.

 

Airport Direct Celebrates with Dancing, Pizza

Come dance with us as the band Mango Punch plays lively tunes at our Airport Direct open house. Free pizza, bottled water, popcorn and door prizes. And great music. People dancing at Pessenger Plaza, Airport DirectAirport Direct is our direct shuttle from downtown to IAH .  Party is till 3 p.m.

 

 

Telling Rice Students How to Ride METRO
 

 

James Llamas in foreground running trackIf you're from out-of-town and you're going to college here, getting around without a car may seem daunting.

But Rice University student James Llamas has figured out how to use   METRO to go to popular spots - from the movies to the grocery store to both airports - and has even written two guides for Rice students on how to ride METRO. Llamas, who is on the Rice track team, is shown here as the front runner in this photo.

From Glastonbury, Conn., Llamas said he was born in New York City and is used to taking public transit.

"Pretty soon after I got here, I started figuring out METRO," said the 19-year-old sophomore. "I started figuring out bus routes and realized they went to most places I'd want to go to. I didn't need to think about finding a car. I could get around on METRO."

He spread the word to his friends, some of whom decided to leave their cars at home, avoid parking fees and take METRO instead.

Someone suggested he put together a brochure - so he wrote two and then approached Boyd Beckwith, assistant dean/director of Student Center & Campus-wide Programs, asking if he could use these.

"Next week, we'll distribute the brochures to students. We have a Facebook group and in one message I can access 800 students," said Beckwith, who calls Llamas "an avid METRO rider."

The Rice Guide to Getting Around on METRO Buses starts with informing students they can pick up a Q Card at the Rice Cashier's office. It directs students to the METRO Web site to plan trips, as well as Google Transit.

"Buses that don't travel past Rice can usually be caught by transferring from METRORail," he writes, adding that most routes run every 15 to 30 minutes. "Bus drivers are not permitted to run early; a couple of minutes behind schedule is the norm."

And he doesn't skimp on the basics of public transit, explaining in detail how to read the bus signs. "Make sure you are visible to the driver so he or she will stop," he points out to transit novices.

Llamas points out that "the sideways-facing seats at the very front of the bus are reserved for elderly and disable passengers."

So where are the hot spots Llamas is directing other students to?

The Galleria for what he calls "ultimate shopping;" CVS, Walgreens, Value Village, Salvation Army, The Movie Theatre at Edwards Greenway Plaza, Chinatown, Target and Fiesta.

Maps on the back of the brochure indicate bus stops near the Rice campus.

The companion brochure, The Rice Guide to Houston Airports on METRO Buses, explains how to get to both Hobby Airport and Bush Intercontinental.

"In the past, some of the students knew about Airport Direct, but they didn't know they could take the bus to Hobby. It's so easy to get to Hobby using METRO," said Beckwith.

In addition to listing our Web site, phone number and METRO police phone number, Llamas adds his e-mail if students need additional directions.

A civil engineering major, Llamas says one day he hopes to design railroads or transit systems. With brochures like these - accurate, clear and well-written - Llamas already has a great start in public transit.

Fan Us on Facebook
 

 

Facebook logoStarting today, you can now fan us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

If you sign up to follow our tweets, you'll get service changes and emergency notices.

On Facebook, you'll be able to read about some of the things METRO is doing - from the ambitious building of five light-rail lines to funny and award-winning commercials. Twitter logo

For those of you who read this blog regularly, you know this is not our first foray into social media. We launched this blog back in January 2007 - the first transit agency in the nation to have a blog.

You can also find the videos we produce on YouTube. We have METRO Matters, documentaries, Enfoque METRO and commercials on YouTube.

Facebook and Twitter are just two more ways to communicate with you. We hope you'll join the conversation.

Party Time at Airport Direct
 

 

Guy jumping in air 

You're invited to join us at an open house at Passenger Plaza, celebrating Airport Direct - a convenient and fast way to get from downtown to IAH.

The band Mango Punch will provide live salsa music. We'll also have refreshments and giveaways. The event is free and open to the public. Close-up of man playing guitar

It all takes place this Thursday, Nov. 19, from noon to 3 p.m. at 815 Pierce, across the street from the Downtown Transit Center.

As the holidays approach, Airport Direct is a great way to get to and from the airport. For only $15 one way, you will arrive at Terminal C in 30 minutes. Avoid traffic and relax in one of our new hybrid coaches where you can take a cat nap,  read or text without distractions.

 

 

 

Need a Job? Watch METRO Matters TV Show
 

 

METRO MattersWith the unemployment rate climbing to 10.2 percent, you or someone you know may be looking for a job.

METRO has openings for part-time bus operators. If you're a people person, we'll train you and help you get your commercial driver's license.  Never driven anything bigger than a compact car? No worries. We have simulators and hours of training. By the time you're behind the wheel of one of our buses, you'll be a confident and safe driver.

Watch METRO Matters and hear Irene Mingle of our human resources department give you the nuts and bolts of becoming a METRO bus operator.

If you want to apply, please go on-line and click here. If you have a friend who is interested but doesn't have Internet access or isn't computer savvy, drop by our building at 1900 Main St. and tell the security guard you're here to apply for a bus operator position.

You'll be directed to a second-floor office where you can use a computer to apply - and a friendly staff person will give you any needed help.

Click here to watch METRO Matters. Or catch the show on a big screen at home on Comcast's Channel 17, Houston Media Source.

Air times are:

 

Thu      11/12/09         6:15 p.m.

Sat      11/14/09         5:30 p.m.

Mon     11/16/09         7:00 p.m.

Wed    11/18/09         11:00 p.m.

Fri       11/20/09         7:30 p.m.

Mon     11/23/09         8:15 p.m.

Thu      11/26/09         6:00 p.m.

Sat      11/28/09         9:30 p.m.

Tue      12/1/09           6:45 p.m.

Thu      12/3/09           7:45 p.m.

Sat      12/5/09           9:15 p.m.

Mon     12/7/09           8:00 p.m.

Chairman David Wolff Gives Snapshot of METRO

 

David Wolff speaking at the GHP luncheonMETRO Chairman David Wolff told Houston's movers and shakers it was time to restore METRO's full funding - and if that were to happen, the agency could double the amount of work it was doing.

He made those remarks as the guest speaker at the Greater Houston Partnership's luncheon on Nov. 5 at the Hilton Post Oak.

METRO has started construction on three of five light-rail lines - the East End, the North Corridor and the Southeast. It's all part of the ambitious METRO Solutions plan to bring regional transit to the Gulf Coast area. The rail component of the METRO Solutions plan will cost more than $2.5 billion with half of that funded by the federal government and the other half by METRO.

Back when METRO was created in 1979, voters agreed to raise the sales tax by one-cent to fund METRO. "Along the line, one-quarter of this sales tax was diverted from METRO, taken from METRO, diverted to the city and the county and the multi-cities for building of roads. I do not feel this was proper," said Wolff.

"This money was voted by people of this area for transit. And I think that one of the things that we have to work on with the mayor and the county commissioner's court is restoring to METRO this full one-cent sales tax," he continued.

Wolff also offered a snapshot of METRO's current state of affairs: rock solid financials, public and Congressional support for building light-rail lines, new Park & Ride services, and inclusion in President Obama's FY 2010 budget for new-start transit projects (two of the five transit projects were METRO's).

The chairman also gave a glimpse of what lies ahead for METRO - the economic opportunities that come with building light-rail lines and the tools the agency needs to build a first-class regional transit system in the Gulf Coast area.

Click here to watch a video of his presentation.  

Enforcing the Rules on HOV Lanes
 

 

Cars on freeway with one lane of cars in HOV laneSeveral of you have e-mailed me, asking about how we enforce the rules on the HOV lanes.

A person named H.C. writes: "There could be thousands - maybe millions - collected in city revenue, but because there is no patrol, the HOV lanes are packed with single drivers. Why is this? Why should the people abiding by the law have to let these so-called "special people" get to break the law? I say, Give out a few tickets and that will stop the abuse."

The high-occupancy vehicle lanes are designed for carpoolers or vanpoolers or buses - any vehicle with 2 plus, or during some hours, 3 plus people per vehicle.

Click here to read about the rules of the HOV lanes.

So how does METRO enforce the rules? Here's a response from Capt. Michael Raney:

"HOV enforcement on all METRO-operated HOV lanes, excluding the Katy Freeway (HOT Lanes), is assigned to our motorcycle division.  The officers are deployed randomly and work different HOV lanes each day.

"On the North I-45 HOV, the officers may work the downtown exit ramp, the Quitman ramp, Airline and occasionally, the North Shepherd exit ramp.

"We understand there are violators, and our enforcement is not 100 percent coverage during all hours of operations. HOV users may view the violation rate even higher, as they don't see the same things as the officers on the ground actually looking inside the vehicles. 

"There are often babies in car seats, passengers lying down in seats that are reclined and on the North, particularly, they are many on-duty police officers in unmarked police cars that are single occupants, yet are authorized by our operating agreement with TXDOT.

"During the months of July, August, and September, 326 HOV citations were issued by officers assigned to the North HOV lane alone.  The Katy HOV lane again is not enforced by METRO Police. Harris County Constable PCT 5 is contracted to provide enforcement on that corridor."

So the next time you see a car zipping down an HOV lane with only the driver, there may be other reasons that allow him or her to be using the HOV lane without violating the law.

If you see a violation, you can call 713-921-HERO (713-921-4376).

You'll need to report the violator's driver's license plate when you call.

 

 

 

Looking for Smart Ideas, Smart Roads
 

Cars in traffic Want to win $50,000?

The Intelligent Transportation Society of America - along with I.B.M. - is offering an award for ideas for reducing congestion.

The winner could be an individual, a company, or a nonprofit group.

I.B.M. has calculated that traffic jams reduce gross national product worldwide by 1 percent - and that's a lot of money.

The object of the contest is to produce fresh ideas on how to create smart roads that speed up traffic.

Click here to read more.

 

Swine Flu and Public Transit
 

 

Young couple standing up on train, holding poleCommuters who ride public transit are rightfully concerned about catching swine flu.

In New York, a woman who didn't cover her mouth while coughing caught the ire of another woman. The two launched into a screaming match, the cougher spat on the other woman, and she in turn, pulled the hair of the cougher, dragging her to the floor of the train.

Lawrence Delevingne blogged about the incident on The Business Insider, saying he restrained the second woman so the cougher could exit the train. He later caught the flu.

Transit agencies nationwide are reassuring riders that their buses and trains are disinfected - and urging commuters to practice good hygiene.

Here at METRO, we clean the inside of our trains every night, wiping them down with a non-toxic disinfectant. The environmentally-friendly, hospital-grade disinfectant is used to wipe surfaces inside the trains, including door pushbuttons, window surfaces, back-of-seat handles, floor-to-ceiling and seat-to-ceiling poles and overhead grab bars and handles, said Romeo Calderon, director of rail maintenance.

"Our established disinfectant and cleaning practices are consistent with reducing the spread of virus and influenza, whether H1N1 or not," said Calderon.

Bacteria can thrive on surfaces for hours or days, depending on the humidity, Laura Baumgartner, a microbiologist analyzing subways, told Mass Transit magazine. Germs typically live longer on plastics than on metal subway poles and station handrails.

What can riders do to protect themselves? Woman sneezing into tissue

Cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough. If you don't have a tissue, cough or sneeze in the crook of your elbow. Avoid touching your eyes, hands or mouth. Carry hand-sanitizing gel or disinfectant wipes.

Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after sneezing or coughing. Sing "Happy Birthday" twice while your scrub. If you're not near a sink, use an alcohol-based hand gel. Rub your hands until the alcohol dissipates.

If you have flu-like symptoms - a fever, plus a cough or sore throat -  stay home and don't ride the bus or train until you are fever-free for 24 hours. Read more on prevention and treatment of swine flu at WebMD.

The Texas Health and Human Services department has compiled the latest information on swine flu at http://www.texasflu.org/, including the availability and distribution of the swine flu vaccine.

Bike Boardings on Upward Trend
 

Biker in the woodsToday, feels like California.

On a beautiful, sunny, no-humidity day like today, it's a perfect day to try bi-modal commuting. Grab your bike, pedal to a bus stop, load it on a rack and ride METRO to your destination.  

Since we started installing bike racks on our buses in late April 2007, more and more commuters are getting to where they need to go using bikes and buses.

In October, we had 6,728 bike boardings - a 14 percent increase over the same month a year ago.  

"We are constantly increasing bike boardings on a monthly basis, as well as on a year-by-year comparison. I think that's really good," said Bike on bus rackMarie Turner, operations management analyst at METRO who studies the bike numbers. "More bike riders are utilizing the bike racks and bike storage in the bus luggage compartment."

Commuters on Park & Ride buses store their bicycles in the belly of the bus where luggage also goes.

Local buses have racks that can accommodate two bikes simultaneously.  

Total bike boardings since we launched our bikes-on-buses program: 96,992.

Last month, the top ten bike boardings by route were: 20 Canal-Long Point; 44 Acres Home Ltd; 50 Heights-Harrisburg; 52 Hirsch-Scott; 56 Airline Limited; 65 Bissonnet; 77 M.L. King Ltd - Liberty; 81 Westheimer Sharpstown; 88 Hobby Airport; and 137 Northshore Limited.

 

 

 

Rail Service to be Interrupted

 

Train trackThis weekend, rail service will be interrupted so we can perform track maintenance.

There will be no trains running between UH-Downtown and Preston stations during these hours:

Saturday, Nov. 7:  5:40 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Sunday, Nov. 8:    5:40 a.m. to 3 p.m.

We will provide shuttle bus service, operating on Preston Street.

If you are traveling southbound from the Preston Station, you will need to board the train at the southbound Preston platform. Train wheel on track

If you're traveling northbound from the Preston Station to UH-Downtown, you will need to board the shuttle bus service on Preston Street.

Regular rail service will operate between the Preston and Fannin South stations during this interruption.

Distracted Driving and Prison
 

Jennifer Ford at her daughter's grave, killed by a driver texting. When texting while driving kills, Britons land in prison.

That's what happened to 22-year-old Phillipa Curtis, who received 21 months in a high-security women's prison for ramming her car into the rear end of a Fiat driven by Victoria McBride, 24, who had pulled over to the side of the road with a flat tire.

In the hour before the crash, Curtis had exchanged almost 24 messages with at least five friends, according to the New York Times. Read more here. The photo posted here was taken by Hazel Thompson for the NYT.

Britain's new rules state that if a driver uses a hand-held phone and causes a death, the offense will be considered a more serious one and lead to prison time. British judges have ruled that reading or writing texts over a period of time - and not necessarily at the moment of an accident - constitutes "a gross avoidable distraction."

Texting while driving is considered the same as driving while drunk or high on drugs.

Closer to home, a recent poll sponsored by the NYT and CBS News, indicates that 97 percent of respondents support a ban on texting while driving. Eighty percent support outlawing talking on hand-held cells while driving.

Seventy percent of the respondents said it was fine for drivers to use a hands-free phone while driving. But studies have shown that using a cell phone while driving - whether it is hands-free or not - is a serious risk.

Reach the complete survey here.

Here in Texas, drivers caught talking on their cells while driving in school zones can be fined up to $200. At METRO, we have a zero tolerance policy for all employees driving a METRO-owned vehicle. Anyone caught using his or her cell while driving is fired.  

Should texting while driving be banned? What about talking on hands-free phones, using the speaker function or earpiece? When you're on the road, do you worry the driver behind you might be texting?

 

 

 

 

Keeping Halloween Safe
 

 

Scary pumpkinHalloween is not just for young kids, anymore.

This year, Americans will spend $3.3 billion on Halloween costumes, masks and decorations, according to the National Retail Federation and BIGresearch.

That's 5.4 percent more spending on Halloween than in 2004. The engine fueling this growth: Adults buying their own costumes.

"Halloween is no longer considered a children's holiday," Phil Rist of BIGresearch told USA Today. "It's one of those holidays where lots of people escape for a bit and become someone else for a day."

Transit agencies from coast to coast are adjusting schedules to accommodate all this partying.

In Boston, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (the T) is adding extra trains and selling special event round-trip tickets to Salem, MA - a town about an hour's north of Boston which has a museum devoted to the witchcraft hysteria during Colonial times. Salem has town-wide celebrations called Haunted Happenings and is urging partygoers to take the T.

On the West coast, the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) is adding extra cars to their trains to ease the crowds expected from Halloween parties.

Here at METRO, we'd like to encourage you to ride the rail if you plan on celebrating at the restaurants and bars downtown. The last northbound train from Fannin South departs at 1:40 a.m. The last southbound train departs from UH at 2:20 a.m. Click here for the rail schedule.

Man in costumeIf you plan on drinking, the train is a safe way to get home or to your car where we hope you have a designated driver.

Happy Halloween - and stay safe around the ghosts and goblins.

 

 

Chairman Wolff to Address State of METRO
 

 

If you want to find out exactly what's going on at METRO, our current condition and where we're headed, come listen to METRO Chairman David S. Wolff. METRO Chairman David Wolff

He'll be speaking at the Greater Houston Partnership luncheon next Thursday, Nov. 5, at the Hilton Houston Post Oak Hotel at 2001 Post Oak Blvd. The event is from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

Consider METRO's achievements in the past year:

       

But much more lies ahead. What is the current construction timeline in the corridors? What challenges does METRO face in creating a world-class transit system?

Find out at David S. Wolff's presentation, State of METRO: Reshaping the Face of Houston.

You can purchase a ticket at a special non-member rate of $65 by clicking here.