Come join the fun on a METRORail train that will be transformed into a little bit of Whoville tomorrow at 11:30 a.m.
Cast members from Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas! TheMusical - along with METRO executives - will be riding the rail and spreading holiday cheer by passing out seed ornaments to passengers.
Theatre Under the Stars cast and crew will board at the Downtown Transit Center and ride to Main Street Square, then board another northbound train to UH-Downtown. You'll find the Grinch in the conductor's seat at that stop.
The Grinch's dog Max and Cindy Lou Who will also be riding the rail. So join us for some holiday cheer....and come meet the Grinch tomorrow.
If you want to catch the show, you'll get a discount of 10 to 30 percent by using the promo code "METRO." The play runs through Dec. 5.
METRO's Terence Fontaine, group vice president, has been selected to serve on the board of the Houston Area Urban League.
Fontaine will be officially installed on Dec. 1 for his four-year term.
"I have a certain affinity for the Houston Area Urban League because I've had an opportunity to work with them on numerous occasions and have seen how beneficial the organization has been to the public," said Fontaine.
Before coming to METRO, Fontaine worked as deputy chief of staff in former Mayor Bill White's office . After Hurricane Katrina and the mass evacuation of neighboring states, he was appointed co-site manager of the city's recovery efforts at the George R. Brown Convention Center. "I got a chance to see how helpful the Urban League was to the people of New Orleans," recalled Fontaine.
As a new board member, Fontaine said he wants to focus on one of the primary missions of the Urban League: education and workforce training.
"The Urban League has a young professional group, and I plan on mentoring some of the young men and young ladies who are in the young professionals," said the native Houstonian. This would not be the first time Fontaine has helped young people. When Ryan Middle School in the Third Ward needed neckties as part of its uniform for 300 boys, Fontaine quietly wrote a check.
Fontaine said he sees himself as a role model for the African-American community. "I feel pressure every day to set an example and a standard for young men in the community by being able to show a consistent record of being productive while maintaining a social life, family life and being community-oriented," said Fontaine, who is married with one daughter.
Fontaine earned his Bachelor of Science degree in aviation management from Southern Illinois University and his MBA from the University of Houston. From 1989 to 2004, he worked at Continental/Continental Express Airlines as a manager of maintenance operations, project engineer, pilot and pilot instructor. He is currently a doctoral candidate at Texas Southern University.
"I have been truly blessed as an individual. My family's been blessed. I take it very seriously when it comes to giving back to the community," said Fontaine. "I believe that being a civic-minded individual who understands where our blessings come from gives you that desire to give back to the people who are in need. The Urban League is a great vehicle to participate in toward that goal of giving back."
Among nonprofits that work with communities, the Urban League sets the gold standard, said Fontaine. When White asked his executive team which groups should be involved with helping victims of Katrina, Rita and Ike, Fontaine said he recommended the Urban League.
The group was chosen to disburse to the community gift cards donated by local grocery stores and an oil company.
"They are trustworthy. You knew you could turn over thousands of cards to them, and they were accountable. They knew how to penetrate the community. With the capable leadership of the new president, Judson Robinson, we will work to do some of the same things," said Fontaine.
As we head out to to Grandma's house or the airport, remember this is the busiest travel day of the year. So stay safe, be patient in traffic - and remember to count your blessings.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!
If you are walking down the street in our nation's capital, be prepared to hear "talking" buses.
The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) is testing a new safety warning device that automatically sounds a voice alert when buses are turning at an intersection. Buses will state, "Pedestrians, bus is turning."
Inside, bus drivers will get a voice alert: "Caution, look both ways."
The warning system's volume will automatically adjust according to ambient sound. So on a quiet night in a quiet neighborhood, the voice commands will be softer than at a busy intersection. Voice messages can also be given in different languages, as well as reprogrammed for custom announcements.
WMATA officials said this voice system is geared to reduce the potential for pedestrian accidents.
"Sometimes a little warning is all it takes to prevent a tragedy," said Jim Dougherty, WMATA's chief safety officer.
The system is being used on buses in Cleveland and being tested in Richmond, Va., New Jersey, Toronto and Nashville.
Watch a video of this talking bus on You Tube. The female voice sounds a bit stilted and mechanical (nothing like the new GPS automated voices). If I were a driver, I'd probably find it annoying to hear this warning every time I turned a corner. But if it saves lives, a little annoyance is worth it.
Today's post was written by guest blogger Margaret O'Brien-Molina, senior media specialist.
METRO staff and their families headed for downtown's Minute Maid Park Saturday morning to lend a hand to nearly 24 million Americans - children and adults - who suffer from diabetes.
The METRO Ambassador blue T-shirts could be seen leading the way in both Step Out/Walk On events featuring a 5K run and a 3K walk. METRO President & CEO George Greanias joined Vice President & Chief Diversity Officer Helen Cavazos and enthusiastic employees in photos, and later shared METRO's mobility and wellness messages with media covering the event.
Greanias walked the entire route and greeted staff, who enjoyed the fine weather and the chance to do something positive for those affected by a disease that is reaching epidemic proportions in the United States.
Among the joggers and walkers were representatives of numerous METRO departments, including Capital Programs' whose staff bought more than 20 T-shirts and collected contributions. Anita Batiste, Esmeralda Vaughn, Margarita Maldonado, Kevin Cronin and Don Pieper were all on hand to support the event. Safety's Bob McElyea brought his own supporters, and some for his children, as he took off jogging with one child at his side, the other in a jogging stroller.
Those gathered had plenty to look at along the way, including the feet of folks like METRO Police's Larry Boggus whose oversized, plastic toes got more attention than he was counting on. Tom Lambert, Andy Skabowski, Joan Lynch and daughter took time to visit the booths and vendors, many featuring food and information about diabetes and how to keep it from getting the upper hand on your health.
METRO board member Carmen Orta's picture could be seen on buttons of METRO employees. Carmen's widower, Roy Orta, was on hand and thanked participants for involvement in a cause his wife had advocated for tirelessly.
Alva Trevino can be seen here cheering on other joggers as she prepared to start the 5K run and George Fotinos took advantage of volunteer's offers of bottled water and bananas to replenish water and potassium expended after finishing his twenty minute stretch.
The American Diabetes Association says participation was excellent for this year's event. The organization will post results of the fundraising by this event at the end of the week since money generated will continue to come in during the next few days.
The NEW METRO has just earned the Gold award in the Texas Comptroller Leadership Circle program, launched by the Comptroller of Public Accounts.
The program, started a year ago, spotlights local government agencies that are open and accountable to the public. To achieve the "gold level," an agency must do at least three things - all of which must be verified by the Texas Comptroller:
- Open its books to the public
- Provide clear, consistent pictures of spending
- Share information in a user-friendly format that lets
taxpayers easily get more details
"Gold" is awarded when an
agency has set the bar with its transparency efforts. "Silver"
encourages those who are making progress, and "bronze" inspires
entities that are just starting out with their transparency efforts. Read
more about Texas Transparency here.
Winning this award shows the NEW
METRO is taking steps toward being a trusted community partner - one of the agency's
"One of the ways to rebuild
trust is by making every effort to be transparent," said Denise Wendler,
vice president of performance improvement, who managed this project as acting
chief information officer. "Putting METRO's check register online
and achieving the state's award for financial transparency is a great example
to the public that METRO takes transparency seriously."
Our website was already compliant in
many categories required to achieve gold status. By implementing the online check
register and tweaking our website navigation, we obtained the Gold award.
We hope by making our financial
information more accessible to you, we're also improving our customer service. So check out our budget,
and examine our checkbook register or credit card purchases.
You'll find such details as $39.97 spent at Home Depot for diggers to install
bus stop poles.
Swifty, the turtle, is working hard to get the attention of city hall.
Swifty is a cartoon turtle, a steady plodder who sometimes might poke his head out of his shell, sometimes not. He's the creation of retired editorial cartoonist Clyde Peterson, formerly of the Houston Chronicle.
Peterson's mission to end distracted driving in Houston with the help of Swifty began when he tried to get signs placed around Longfellow Elementary school. Texting is banned in school zones here in Texas.
"Parents were concerned because drivers were plowing by, completely oblivious to the kids," said Peterson, featured on the official blog of Ray LaHood, the U.S. Secretary of Transportation.
Peterson delved into research on distracted driving. Here's what he found: Houston has the third-largest daily influx of commuters in the nation. That's 403,313 people. Peterson is building awareness among city officials as he and Swifty continue their campaign against distracted driving.
"I'd just like to make sure that fewer than 403,313 of those people are texting while driving. A lot fewer," Peterson said. "The more I learned about it, the more dangerous I realized it was. And the more persuaded I was that signs would be useful, but what we really need is a city ban on texting."
Read more on LaHood's official blog, fast lane.
In the meantime, Swifty is sending e-mail to city council and trying to get as much local media attention as possible.
If you have kids, Dr. Seuss is probably a favorite bedtime read, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas is no exception in our household.
It's a fun, read-aloud book - as well as a heart-warming message, no matter what time of year.
Now you can take the whole family to see the musical, presented by Theatre Under the Stars at the Hobby Center - and get a discount with METRO.
When ordering tickets online, simply write "METRO" in as the promo code and receive a 10 to30 percent discount on tickets, depending on the date and time of the show. Or show your METRO Q® Fare Card at the box office for a discount.
"This is one of the ways we work to support Houston's cultural venues," said Raequel Roberts, vice president of marketing and corporate communications. "This is a way to foster the holiday spirit on METRORail."
Who-ville comes to Houston on Nov. 24 and stays through Dec. 5. Max the Dog narrates as the mean and conniving Mr. Grinch, whose heart is two sizes too small.
Click here to order tickets online and write "METRO" in the promo code box at the top of the page.
Not all of our heroes drive a bus. Sometimes, they drive a patrol car. Meet our latest hero in blue.
Officer Cynthia Pryor was on patrol when she got a call from dispatch on a recent Tuesday night: A disoriented, elderly lady was on a bus and didn't know her address.
Pryor met the bus at the corner of LaBranch and St. Joseph Parkway on Oct. 26 at 8:36 p.m.
"The bus driver brought the lady out to me. I asked her name, she told me her name, she gave me her ID," said Pryor. "But she couldn't remember where she had moved. She had just moved to a new address."
Pryor asked permission to look in Celestine Byas' billfold for a phone number. The officer discovered the phone number of a former neighbor, Crystal Harris. Pryor called the ex-neighbor, who got on the phone with the elderly woman.
Harris assured the police officer she would call their apartment manager to locate the phone number of the elderly lady's daughter.
"I took her in my vehicle to the neighbor's home. Miss Crystal and the manager were happy to see her and they were all hugging her," recalled Pryor. "I was just so happy because I didn't know what else to do. I was going to have to take her to a shelter, and she kept saying, ‘Please don't take me to a shelter.' That's why I asked her to let me look through her billfold for a number."
The neighbor later penned a letter to METRO, praising the officer's actions.
"She is an angel," wrote Harris. "She went above and beyond the call of duty to help Ms. Byas. In fact, had it not been for Ms. Pryor, Ms. Byas may have ended up in some kind of shelter, and no one would know where she was or what happened to her.
"I wanted to let you know that you do have good employees who really care," continued Harris. "Hats off to Ms. Pryor for all of her hard work and dedication."
Acting Police Chief Tim Kelly said Pryor's service represents the commitment of the entire police force to METRO's operating principle of customer service. "We are all here to make sure our customers have a safe and secure experience when riding METRO," said Kelly. "We are proud that Officer Pryor is on our team."
Pryor wasn't the only METRO employee who cared.
Bus Operator Tommy Rodgers was driving his bus on Route 56 when he noticed the elderly Byas sitting alone in the dark at a transit center. When she couldn't tell him where she was going, the driver invited her on the bus and said he would get help.
So hats off to Rodgers, too.
"It was a good day," said Pryor. "This could have been my grandmother."
Those of you traveling early Saturday morning will face a scheduled service interruption on METRORail, due to construction for the Texas Children's Hospital.
On Saturday, Nov. 13 from 5 a.m. to noon, two-car trains will operate only on the southbound track between Smith Lands and Hermann Park/Rice University stations.
You'll be required to board and exit trains on the southbound platforms at these locations. Please pay special attention to the destination signs on the front and sides of the rail car because trains will be traveling in both directions on the same track.
We'll have staffer s standing by to help direct you. Normal service is scheduled to resume by noon. Thanks for your patience.
To the more than 23 million living veterans who have served our country, we salute you on Veterans Day. Thank you for making sacrifices so that we can all live in freedom.
Celebrate at the city's downtown Veterans Day parade honoring veterans. The ceremony just started a few minutes ago at city hall, to be followed by the parade at 11:30 a.m. It will travel down Smith Street between Texas and Lamar.
The AT&T Veterans Job Fair is scheduled from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. today at city hall, where top companies are recruiting. Free parking is available till 12:30 p.m. in the Theatre District.
Happy Veterans Day.
If you're among the 8.1 percent of people unemployed in Texas, here's some good news: Attend a job fair this Saturday, Nov. 13.
The Southeast Community Job Fair is free and open to the public. It will be conducted at Houston Community College Southeast at the Learning Hub, 6815 Rustic.
Companies will be looking for qualified candidates in sales, management, retail, engineering, IT, finance, education, hospitality, health care, government and transportation.
The event is from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
METRO and HCC have partnered in this event, organizing and planning it because "we care about the community," said Roland Manzano, acting vice president of human resources and diversity.
"We had a memorandum of understanding last year with HCC to work with them to create job opportunities and curriculums. This is something we worked on together to help the community and job seekers. We've never had a job fair, to my knowledge, in the southeast part of town," said Manzano.
About 10 reps from METRO will be attending, along with 35 companies looking for employees.
You can take bus routes 40, 36, 5 and 73 to get there.
Job sponsors are Mario Gallegos Jr., State Senator, District 6; James Rodriquez, Houston City Council, District 1; and Mary Ann Perez, HCC Board of Trustees, District 3.
As you search for the perfect match, keep in mind that economists are predicting Texas will lead the nation in economic growth.
Bring your resume, and dress for success.
George Greanias, METRO's president & CEO, asked leaders of the Houston business community to support public transit and to support METRO.
He made those remarks today at a luncheon sponsored by the Greater Houston Partnership, a network of the city's most powerful leaders.
"The question for all of us is: If we build the new METRO...will you join us? Will you help us? We're going to work our hearts out," said Greanias, adding, "One of the down sides of being a local guy is, if I screw this up, I will have to live with it. But I don't intend to screw this up."
Greanias spoke in his trademark blue shirt, shedding coat and rolling up his sleeves in front of the packed crowd, to illustrate his everyday work routine.
He gave a six-month progress report, detailing METRO's strategic challenges. One of the chief challenges facing METRO is to restore faith in the agency. Key actions METRO has taken to do that include:
- Held seven regular and seven special board meetings
- Replaced the CEO
- Reorganized around a core mission
- Adopted strategic priorities and operating principles
- Preserved access to federal funding
- Began restoring the FTA relationship
- Advanced new rail-car procurement per FTA findings
- Significantly reduced the budget to match resources
- Moved the General Mobility Program to a cash basis
- Implemented new records and e-mail retention policy
- Posted board meetings and materials on the Internet
- Posted METRO's check register online
Greanias said he spoke recently with a top official at the Federal Transit Administration, who called public transit in Houston a combat sport. But Greanias remained optimistic about METRO's relationship with the FTA.
"We have been working hard to remedy 15 years of bad blood with the FTA," said Greanias, adding that at a recent breakfast with an FTA administrator, the person acknowledged seeing a difference at METRO.
Greanias cautioned that changing an organization like METRO can't be done overnight. "We have to be persistent and consistent in what we're doing," he said.
What's next for METRO? Getting the three light-rail lines back on a path to a reasonable completion date and figuring out what it takes to make sure that the $900 million in federal grants comes in.
He compared Houston's 7.2 miles of light rail to Dallas' 72 miles, urging the audience to help close the gap in public transit and to support METRO in the next referendum in 2012 or early 2013.
"To win that election, we're going to need strong business support," he said. "You all are our leaders in this community," said Greanias. "People in this room all have a leadership responsibility....this is the challenge we need to address. "
Click here to see the Power Point presentation by Greanias.
Click here to view a video of Greanias’ speech. Runs 28:02.
In the second photo, METRO Chairman Gilbert A. Garcia listens to Greanias speak at the luncheon.
The top executive of the Dallas transit system stood on a San Francisco train platform this morning and crooned to commuters, making good on a bet when the Texas Rangers lost the World Series to the Giants.
Gary C. Thomas, president and executive director of Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART), found himself at dawn's light today on a platform at the Embarcadero Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) Station, belting out I Left My Heart in San Francisco.
"I can't remember singing to commuters before," confessed Thomas, in a phone interview this morning. "I've been on the platform a lot welcoming them and thanking them for riding transit. Typically, if I were to sing to them, that's not helping."
Thomas, who joked he's not a sing-in-the-shower guy because he would scare the water back into the showerhead, said it was a lot of fun to serenade the hundreds of BART commuters to help promote transit.
"We were all a little worried he might turn away some folks, but he had a big Texas smile," said Linton Johnson, BART spokesman. "He knew a verse or two and had some cheat sheets. Of course, the customers helped him along."
Thomas was accompanied by San Francisco Samoan dancers and a group of Chinese school girls who make up the St. Mary's Drum and Bugle Corp. Thomas also distributed "Texas gems" to riders - fortune cookies dipped in the colors of the Giants - orange and black - with the message tucked inside: "BART: a Giant of a system with a Texas sized value. Congratulations Giants and BART."
Despite being the lone Texas Rangers fan on the BART system this morning, Thomas called BART a great transit system.
"BART's been doing this for a long time, so we're always looking for opportunities to learn from another transit system what they're doing well. If we do that collectively, as an industry, we will all be better for it," he said.
The photo above is from Margot Duane Images.
METRO is among the 63 innovative transit agencies nationwide chosen by the Federal Transit Administration to receive money for cutting-edge projects that promote clean-fuel technology and reduces energy consumption.
METRO received $2.23 million to purchase 40-foot hybrid-electric drive buses, replacing transit buses that have exceeded their useful lives.
We are one of two Texas agencies to get a part of the $164.7 million the FTA awarded in a competitive grant program to fund environmentally sustainable transit projects.
Galveston received $1.51 million to buy clean diesel commuter buses.
Read the FTA press release here. Click here to see the complete list of grant recipients.
New York subway riders may be getting their portrait sketched without knowing it.
Eric Molinsky passes the time on his commute by sketching riders on his iPhone. Molinsky told NBC New York he's been sketching people all his life and loves the characters he finds in New York.
Click here to read more.
Nearly two-thirds of Americans recently surveyed said they would definitely or probably use high-speed rail service for business or leisure travel if they had that option.
That's according to a survey released last week by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), which hired Synovate, a leading market research firm, to poll 24,711 adults last spring.
"In most political circles, garnering nearly two-thirds support for a forward-thinking vision like high-speed rail would be considered a landslide," said APTA President William Millar in a statement. "We strongly support the government's commitment to implementing high-speed rail. It will provide more options for travelers, as well as create jobs and be a strong boost for the local economy."
Respondents said convenience and saving money were key factors in their choice of high-speed rail over other modes of transit.
Which factors were most important in choosing high-speed rail? Here's what respondents said:
91% - Shorter travel times compared to driving to my destination
91% - Less expensive than flying to my destination
89% - Less expensive than driving to my destination
85% - Integration with local public transit, so I can avoid rental cars, cabs and parking fees
APTA's survey was released last Thursday, the same day the nation's chief transportation officer, Ray LaHood, announced the distribution of $2.56 billion for high-speed rail projects nationwide.
Today's post was written by Margaret O'Brien-Molina, media relations specialist for the rail expansion program.
Neartown residents gathered at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church on West Alabama Saturday morning to hear about development coming to the Montrose area, and what can be done to make the changes work for their neighborhood. H-E-B's new store design was the big draw, but traffic in the area was also a hot topic, as METRO President & CEO George Greanias and Capital Programs Sr. VP David Couch discussed plans for the 11.4 mile University Light Rail Line that will be coming to the area soon.
Greanias, who once represented the area before city council, shared that while budget cuts have caused METRO to slow construction of light-rail projects, the extra time will allow further collaboration on the University Line. David Robinson, president of the Neartown Association, a collection of 21 Montrose area civic groups and other organizations, welcomed speakers and questions from those gathered.
METRO's partner in this historic project, the city of Houston, had representatives on hand to answer questions that fall under its jurisdiction, such as turns, signals and lane width along the Richmond portion of the alignment.
METRO architects presented renderings of what platforms and stations might look like in this area. Meanwhile, H-E-B showed off three store designs and asked residents to vote on a favorite. The jury is still out on that, along with a start date for the University Line, although the alignment has received a favorable Record of Decision from the FTA. The line will extend from Hillcroft Transit Center to UH Central Campus and the Eastwood Transit Center. Construction for the new H-E-B starts in the spring of 2011, and opening is expected in fall.
H-E-B representatives said Dunlavy between Richmond and Alabama will be widened and at Alabama and Dunlavy, the light will be reconfigured to allow left turns. Deliveries will be made in 28-foot tractor trailers which are more neighborhood-friendly. METRO chief George Greanias said he was pleased with the turnout and the exchange of ideas.
Customers who walked into our RideStore today were in for a treat - no tricks - from staffers donned in Halloween gear.
Friendly witches with bright smiles, a colorful clown and a devil walked around, answering questions. Death himself walked up to customers and tried to make them feel comfortable as riders loaded money on their METRO Q® Fare Cards.
Harrison Johnson, a native Houstonian and lifelong METRO rider, said he enjoyed being helped by the beautiful witch behind the window. He is pictured above in the green shirt.
"I love the way it's working now," he said of METRO."It's more convenient, it's more pleasant. Even though I have a car, I catch the bus."
The 59-year-old retired truck driver came to the RideStore to help a friend obtain a Q Card.
"Ya'll have made some big changes," Johnson said. "The drivers are just real nice and pleasant and helpful."
In addition to the RideStore, you'll find Treasury, the Lost & Found department and METROLift - all in one area. Hours are Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Happy Halloween, everyone. Stay safe this weekend and if you're driving, be extra careful around tiny ghosts and goblins in your neighborhood.
By next year at this time, commuters in the San Francisco Bay Area will be able to bike to their destinations in a regional bike-share program where they can check out a bike and ride to any station in the network.
The $7.9 million pilot project would provide bikes to San Francisco, Redwood City, Mountain View, Palo Alto and San Jose with an initial fleet of 500 bikes in San Francisco, reports the San Francisco Chronicle.
Participants would join the program for a membership fee, then be able to check out a bike by unlocking it electronically with a credit card or prepaid smart card.
Fees would be based on trip length but any trip 30 minutes or shorter would be free.
Officials say the goal is to encourage people to get out of their cars and use bikes, especially if they live and work within a mile of major transit hubs.
Chicago, Denver, Miami Beach and Washington, D.C. have bike-sharing programs. Bay Area officials say this pilot would be the first regional one in the United States.
Worldwide, bike-sharing programs exist in Paris, London, Barcelona and Taipei.
Bixi of Montreal is the company providing the bikes and sees the program as a 24/7 supplement to mass transit, providing an option that helps both the environment and the user.
Do you think a bike-sharing program would work in Houston? Montreal's program runs from May to the end of November, shutting down during the harsh winter months. Maybe a Houston program could run from September to May, closing down during our blazing hot, humid summers.