What's Up With Capital Metro?
Forestalling the yet-to-happen-but-eventually-inevitable question "what does this all mean":
0. (Update): About an hour after I wrote this post, I see that Veolia and Capital Metro are now in even more hot water and the party is canceled; rail service delayed until at least May 15. While Martinez' oversight now is welcome, it would have been nice for McCracken, Martinez, Leffingwell, and others to display that same interest back when CM was making decisions that depleted their reserves beyond their ability to fund commitments to the city of Austin (see #2).
WHEREAS the City of Austin does not receive adequate mobility benefits from the currently proposed Long Range Transit Plan due to its reliance on "rapid bus" transit without separate right-of-way
WHEREAS a "rapid bus" line does not and cannot provide the necessary permanent infrastructure to encourage mixed-use pedestrian-oriented densification along its corridor
WHEREAS the vast majority of Capital Metro funds come from residents of the City of Austin
WHEREAS the commuter rail plan proposed as the centerpiece of this plan delivers most of its benefits to residents of areas which are not within the Capital Metro service area while ignoring the urban core which provides most Capital Metro monies
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Urban Transportation Commission recommends that the City Council immediately reject Capital Metro's Long-Range Transit Plan and begin working towards a plan which:
A. delivers more reliable and high-performance transit into and through the urban core, including but not limited to the University of Texas, Capitol Complex, and downtown
B. requires additional user fees from passengers using Capital Metro rail services who reside in areas which are not part of the Capital Metro service area
C. provides permanent infrastructure to provide impetus for pedestrian-oriented mixed-use redevelopment of the Lamar/Guadalupe corridor
IF CAPITAL METRO will not work with the City of Austin on all items above, THEREFORE BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the UTC advises the City Council to begin preparations to withdraw from the Capital Metro service area and provide its own transit system in order to provide true mobility benefits to the taxpayers of Austin.
It died for lack of a second. Where would we be today if we had forced greater oversight on Capital Metro back then?
(now for the original post, all of 1.5 hours old by the time I wrote the above):
1. Capital Metro's training problems that have got them in hot water may or may not have something to do with the fact that Veolia (the agency they hired to run the trains) isn't StarTran. StarTran is where the union gets most of their members; and they don't like the increased use of Veolia for a variety of reasons. Keep your eye on this one.
2. The more recent debacle shows another way commuter rail screwed us: The plan was so bad; so unlikely to carry as many riders as even a half-assed light rail line; that Capital Metro reneged on their promises to seek Federal funding for half of the cost. This, combined with the fact that the cost predictably crept up some, is where most of our money went. The original cost of $90M would have originally taken $45M out of Capital Metro reserves; now with the running total somewhere around $120M depending on how you account for things, CM had to take an additional $75M out of reserves. See item #3.
There's not a lot to say about this from My Preferred Angles, though. Would Capital Metro have tried to hire Veolia to run the light rail line too, still opening themselves up to charges of union-busting? Probably. Would Capital Metro have been dumb enough to not seek federal funding for a 2004 LRT line? No; they'd probably have gotten 50%, but the costs would have been higher. The only difference in that scenario is that the city of Austin wouldn't have counted on 4 more years of 1/4-cent rebates - they'd have known up-front it was being spent on rail, which would have been OK, because that rail proposal would have actually helped many residents of Austin, unlike this commuter rail disaster, which will actually make service worse for Austin overall.
3. Would the board have overseen Capital Metro any better in the alternate universe where we didn't let Mike Krusee screw Austin over for decades? Sadly, I don't think so; I think it's unconscionable for Leffingwell, Martinez, and McCracken to not have been on top of this. I wrote the city council way back when Capital Metro decided not to seek federal funding and alerted them to some of the implications (focusing, I'll admit, more on the "do you realize they aren't seeking this money because they know the Feds won't give it to them because the plan sucks so bad" angle).
So there you go. M1EK's stoopid take on the news. Too depressing to be even worth much bile.