Tag Archives: paid PR

Why shouldn’t we just say we’ll play along if they come clean about Rapid Bus?

This meme has been floating around the tworterverse. The words below were sent by me over Thanksgiving in response to an email from a CCAG member who sought insight from us (a selection of pro-Lamar/Guadalupe people) on why we thought we should pursue this corridor despite the implied conflict with Rapid Bus (a post on which I owe the community but am less motivated to do so every day – suffice to say it’s not a major improvement, and certainly not worth delaying good rail over).

The meme I refer to above is this: Project Connect is now halfheartedly threatening that if we keep pushing Lamar, who knows what might happen with the FTA? Some have responded with “prove that the FTA would punish us severely and we’ll simply give up and move on”. To that I point you to some key parts of the email below - a lot of people (myself included but by no means the most) spent a lot of time on the word of certain staff members involved in this process that urban rail on Lamar/Guadalupe was IN NO WAY precluded by Rapid Bus, so we should join the team and play along and it would definitely get a fair shake. I don’t know about the rest of the gang, but now that I know my time was spent under false pretenses in order to lend some political capital to Project Connect, it’s going to take a lot to get me to not reflexively oppose whatever variant of Highlandmueller they end up crapping out.

Huge, effusive, public apologies, preceded by humble admissions of wrong behavior, would be the bare minimum it would take to even open that conversation.

The email (most of it, anyways), responding to the question “Could you please share with me your opinion of what would happen with regard to the upcoming 801 and 803 routes & resources if we try to add rail to Lamar or Burnet, and how that would affect Austin’s relationship with the FTA regarding funding the rail and other future projects?”

(CCAG member),

The simplest answer is that we don’t know – the future is hard to see.

The next simplest answer is that we were never able to get anybody who could get a reliable answer to be willing to ask the question. This is an important point; I myself spent many years arguing that we couldn’t put our first rail investment on L/G because the FTA would put the kibosh; but this becomes less of an issue as the years pass, and nobody’s willing to get a real answer. (No, this is not an answer a guy like me or even (pal) can get with any certainty, but people at the city and at Capital Metro certainly could). Why haven’t they?

(Other pal) makes a lot of compelling points, but the lack of a real desire to get a real answer from the actual people with that actual responsibility speaks volumes to me. I was a skeptic about this process at the beginning, and became somewhat less skeptical as we went along thanks to the incredible hard work of (list of pals). Those people invested a hundred times my effort, which was still substantial enough to cause me some degree of friction at home and at work. Importantly, at the beginning of this process, they were told by (staffer mentioned by name) and other PC staff that Lamar was not off the table; that Rapid Bus did not preclude urban rail there.

The problem is that they then invested that incredible time and effort, granting PC a degree of legitimacy through their own efforts and hard-earned political capital. If that contention turned out to be false, as I now believe it to be, then Rapid Bus got some free time without opposition (remember in 2006, then council members Leffingwell and McCracken voted against it precisely because they were told it would preclude urban rail!). And Project Connect got a bunch of people involved in a process which was never legitimate to begin with.

IF rapid bus factually precludes urban rail at the FTA, that last paragraph or two are not opinion; they are fact. Sad facts; facts I moved away from believing at one point, which is one reason why I found myself surprisingly ticked when the ridiculous Highlandmueller recommendation came out (unlike our mutual acuaintance (other pal) who never wavered from the cynicism and skepticism many thought I shared in equal or greater degree).

IF rapid bus factually precludes urban rail at the FTA, PC owes a lot of people a lot of apologies, and I don’t know if we can get behind whatever rail recommendation ends up happening after being used to this degree to support a process which was never open to our preferred route to begin with.

Now if rapid bus DOESN’T preclude urban rail at the FTA, then we still have some degree of working relationship to preserve. At that point we have to give Lamar/Guadalupe a fair reading, unlike the ridiculous nonsense it’s gotten so far.

So go back to why nobody wants to ask. Two possible reasons come to mind:

1. They know the FTA will say it precludes urban rail, and they don’t want to have had that answer because of what I said above.

2. They suspect the FTA might say it does NOT preclude urban rail, and they don’t want to get that answer. Why not? I’ve believed for many years that many people in the establishment here don’t want to admit what a pig in the poke we got with Rapid Bus. I still believe that now; I think this is the most likely answer.

Regards,

Mike

Summary of yesterday

Update: The video’s already up; you can see my speech here (click on Citizens Communications to jump to me).

I spoke in citizens’ communication yesterday to the CCAG. Gave up a half day to do so (had to be there to sign up at 1:15; limited slots; ended up getting there shortly after noon to make sure I got my spot). Found out as the meeting started that citizen communication is the LAST thing. Uh-oh.

My original speech was going to be about why Rapid Bus should not preclude rail in the Lamar ‘subcorridor’. Since I ended up giving my speech AFTER the ridiculous announcement that it’s going to be Highland ‘and ERC’; I ended up rewriting my speech into an indictment of the process, which has been gradually revealed to have been designed to generate the predestined conclusion that Mueller (i.e. Not Lamar) should be the initial route. (Note that Highland is, as I’m calling it, “Mueller in drag”; Kyle Keahy made sure to mention many times that it takes you right to the edge of Mueller).

Amazingly, Scott Gross had the gall to put up a slide showing an overwhelming citizen preference for Lamar over the next closest two alternatives; and then proceeded to argue it meant nothing; that their made-up or mangled data which led to misleading conclusions was somehow more valid than the opinion of the transiterati in this town. Well, he just implied that; they never went back and mentioned the overwhelming vote for Lamar again.

My thoughts on the reason for this choice largely mirror Chris Bradford, aka the Austin Contrarian, who made this excellent comment in response to Julio’s blog post:

I don’t agree with B-.

We all agree that ERC should be part of a fully built-out urban rail system. It is highly unlikely that it will be built first, though. The obstacles are just too high. Building another bridge over LBL is very tricky, and very expensive. Then they will have to lay a mile of track and get across I-35 just get to East Riverside’s western edge. Given that any initial starter line will (and should) connect downtown and UT, the next logical phase is to keep heading north. Heading across the lake and then down East Riverside for the first phase will require a really high initial bond amount, giving voters sticker shock.

If ERC isn’t a genuine first-phase option, then why was it named? I believe it is being dangled out there to prevent the Highland opponents from mobilizing for a fight. It will be pulled back as a true first-phase option at the last possible moment.

And we shouldn’t lose sight of this: Highland will be first. Going up to Highland Mall through UT’s eastern edge and Red River (or some route even further east) is a bad route. It’s a waste of money. And, yes, it will foreclose rail on Guadalupe/Lamar indefinitely. It will do so for a couple of reasons: (1) it will have relatively low ridership, which will dampen public support for further investments; and (2) although it is too far from Guad/Lamar to serve the dense neighborhoods on that route, it is too close to justify another investment on Guad/Lamar until other parts of town have been served.

I see their announcement of Highland/ERC as a cynical political strategy to dampen opposition until it’s too late. That deserves an “F,” not a B-.

If they put forward a plan to build ERC first, I’ll switch to B. But I don’t think that will happen.

WTB a new Cap Metro.

ERC is not going to be built in the first phase; this is the city staff being aware enough to group it with Highland so people will say “well, at least they hit SOME density (in ERC)”. It’s going to be Highland, which takes you right to the edge of Mueller, and then, oops, we’re right back to that predetermined conclusion that we should do exactly what the plan was in 2010.

These look so very very different.
These look so very very different. (Image courtesy @jacedeloney)

The meeting will go up soon on the city channel 6 site. I’m told I was viewed as “intense”.

Tried to make my 3 minutes at 3:00 count, but there was no reaction from the CCAG; except that afterwards I was cornered by a UT VP and lectured for not having provided them much data. Sorry, ma’am, I got a job and a family; it ought to be the job of the people you PAY TO DO THIS to provide honest data. Oh, and Dave Sullivan got mad because I didn’t mention the GPS stuff in Rapid Bus as an improvement. Dave, it was in the earlier draft. Trust me.

The Rapid Bus post will have to wait. The time I was going to spend at this chess tournament writing it up turned out to be burned up by running around after my 4 year old, although I did get to talk to Councilmember Spelman for ten minutes before Sophie insisted that enough was enough.

How do I feel? Despite popular conception, I’m apparently not completely cynical as I was surprised at how embarassingly shameless this con-job ended up being. Thrown for enough of a loop that I ended up throwing bile all over twitter last night of a caliber that the world hasn’t seen in many years. Worrying-the-coworkers level, here.

I’m most upset, though, I think, at the fact that the AURA people were conned by people like friend-of-the-blog JMVC into thinking that Rapid Bus did not, in fact, preclude urban rail. Those folks then proceeded to invest a huge amount of their time in this process, when the fix had been in since the very beginning; and they ended up giving Project Connect relevance and respect it didn’t deserve in the process. Had people been honest from the beginning, we might have been able to have an adult conversation about “why aren’t we doing more for Guadalupe than this shitty bus service that makes things worse for most people north of the river anyways?”. Now we never will. I wasted a couple of days of vacation time. The AURA executive committee spent ten times as much, each.

As for where we go from here? I will see what the AURA guys end up doing. If they continue to be suckered into believing, or even just acting like JMVC and his pals driving Project Connect are their friends rather than the obstacles they really are, then we’ll be parting ways. I said at the beginning of this process that if a non-Guadalupe route was recommended through an honest process using legitimate data and reasonable assumptions that I’d support it. THAT’S NOT EVEN CLOSE TO WHAT WE GOT.

And I don’t agree with Julio that we’ve made incredible progress. ‘We’ forced Project Connect to come up with bad data, bad analysis, and bad conclusions to justify their predetermined route, sure; but the route is still bad – it’s the same goddamn route as before – with the same 0% chance of being full-enough-of-riders to lead to a full system of urban rail instead of another RedLine-esque generation-losing one-and-done.

I definitely won’t be voting for a Highland/”ERC but really no just Mueller” alignment the way things stand now, nor should you.

Project Connect’s “response”

Doing this quickly at the car dealer to get it out. Thus, this is going to be a lot of screencaps ‘n’ paste action and poorly formatted. You are forewarned.

First, some background, via cheap and dirty screencaps of some twitter conversations; click to embiggen:

Screen shot 2013-10-24 at 7.55.28 AM

Screen shot 2013-10-24 at 7.55.48 AM

 

Screen shot 2013-10-24 at 7.56.09 AM

 

Screen shot 2013-10-24 at 7.56.21 AM

 

Screen shot 2013-10-24 at 7.56.45 AM

 

Screen shot 2013-10-24 at 7.56.55 AM

Notice how many people immediately saw the problem with this map (as soon as they looked).

Then, Project Connect finally issues an initial response; more than 24 hours later. Note that these four are in reverse order (oldest at the bottom).

Screen shot 2013-10-24 at 7.58.17 AM

Realizing right about now I should have done this in storify, but pressing onward. The first point to see here is that Project Connect is more than happy to send out updates on everything via twitter where everybody can see, but they don’t seem happy to engage with people giving feedback on that mechanism. While I understand at this point whomever’s behind the account (JMVC used to be, don’t know if he is now) is feeling a bit set upon, the fact of the matter is that if you ask for more feedback via email you’re not being transparent. People need to see both the question AND the answer for it to qualify as transparency and as Austin CDC noted earlier, previous feedback via email had been ignored.

Over the weekend and early the next week, the incredibly busy people at Project Connect who were treating this issue with the seriousness it deserved spent all their time fixing the data. Or did they?

No, they didn’t. They presented at, with the previous map book:

  1. University Area Partners
  2. Planning Commission
  3. Barton Hills NA
  4. Oak Hill Parkway Open House
  5. Mueller Neighborhood Association (link may require registration there)

About halfway through this schedule they noted:

Screen shot 2013-10-24 at 8.07.37 AM

Here’s what that release said:

It was brought to the attention of the Project Connect Central Corridor team that there was a potential
issue with the Central Corridor Map Book. The team reviewed versions 1 through 4, confirmed an error
and has made the necessary corrections.
After further review of the Bus Ridership Map featured on page 36 of Map Book version 4, we
discovered that the map had been populated using the wrong data field (bus stop rankings instead of
stop boardings). The source data set posted to ProjectConnect.com was not incorrect or incomplete, but
the map in the Central Corridor Map Book displayed the wrong data field.
The project team will publish version 5 of the Map Book online in the Central Corridor Resources, on
Wednesday Oct. 23, 2013. It will include the corrected map with fall 2011 Ridership Data as well as a
new map with spring 2013 Ridership Data. Both data sets are populated using boardings (or “ons”) at
each stop; data by route is not specified on the map.
The Central Corridor Map Book is a working document that is subject to frequent updates. We
appreciate interested community members taking a vested interest in the project and providing
feedback. The Central Corridor team reviews every comment, critique and compliment received by
members of the public, regional leaders and interested parties as part of our inclusive, deliberative
process. The Project Connect Twitter and Facebook accounts continue to be great resources for
community input but if your feedback exceeds 140 characters, please email info@projectconnect.com

The map was indeed released on Wednesday, five days after initial feedback was given. Many many people were misinformed by the previous map during that period; many more people missed the opportunity to be correctly informed by the actual data during that period; and Project Connect thinks this is no big deal.

Do you think it’s a big deal? Here’s the original map:

Screen shot 2013-10-24 at 8.10.24 AM

 

If you saw this map, your likely reaction (if you took it for the truth) might be: “Why are those Guadalupe/Lamar guys asking for rail when there’s so much existing transit demand out towards Mueller?”

Here’s the corrected map:

Screen shot 2013-10-24 at 8.12.11 AM

If you were a resident of Mueller and saw this map, you might even be honest and say “we don’t deserve rail over the obvious high-demand corridor here”. If you were on the Planning Commission, you’d definitely say so. But Project Connect robbed you of the opportunity to form that opinion with correct data.

Was it a simple accident? Well, it’s conceivable. But is that any better?

Let me make an analogy for you.

Suppose you’re a college student back in the day when we turned in physical papers instead of via email. You got an assignment to write a 500 word paper on why the Federal Transit Administration views existing bus ridership as the most key metric in determining the viability of rail service.

You write your paper. You print it out, and hand it in.

The professor returns it a day later with an F, indicating that you didn’t write enough words.

“I did,” you insist; “I remember writing for hours!”

The professor shows you the paper you turned in. It looks like this:

Screen shot 2013-10-24 at 8.15.57 AM

 

Your initial response is “that looks like my term paper, but I’ll look into it!”.

You take five days to look into it.

You finally come back to the professor and say “It looks like I only handed in the third page of my paper by accident. Here’s the next iteration of the paper” and hand the full 3 pages in.

Any professor worth their salt is going to say “Did this look like 500 words when you handed it to me? Did you even check? If this is how seriously you take my class, I’m going to explore whether I can issue a grade lower than F”.

Project Connect, if they cared at all about the data that’s theoretically informing opinions in this process, would never have let the old map go out. It was SO OBVIOUSLY WRONG that it was immediately spotted by everybody who knows anything about transit in Austin as soon as they looked at it. It’s the equivalent, for instance, of putting out a road map with Cedar Park labelled as Austin and vice-versa. There’s only two reasons this would have gone out that way – and again, the most positive one to PC is that they don’t care that peoples’ data is crap, because they don’t care about the opinions generated by those data, because they don’t intend to actually take those opinions into account.

Yeah, that’s the BETTER interpretation. The worse is that, like many other modifications to maps many of us have found, they’re messing with the data on purpose to try to get the public to actually support a lesser rail route.

Obviously I’m not among those who have, either as a political calculation, or otherwise, just politely thanked Project Connect for their corrections on this matter. As I noted above, this is not nearly enough. What would it have taken to get me not to open up on these guys?

1. An immediate and strongly worded apology last Friday for the obviously wrong map. There is no way that anybody who knows anything about transit in Austin would look at that map and say “looks fine to us!”, but that’s what they did.

2. A loud and large public relations campaign with the corrected map – show everybody who you misinformed with the old map the new map and explain the error and what it signified, instead of burying it in a PDF press release issued only from your web site. Remember, for instance, lots of people at the Mueller NA now actually think they have more bus riders going there than up Guadalupe! And they’re talking to their friends about it as we speak.

3. An immediate and serious commitment to handle all future issues of this type in a truly transparent fashion – for starters, show Austin CDC’s questions and provide answers in PUBLIC. Don’t let them go down the e-mail hole. If you feel like you can use twitter to advertise your meetings and maps, then reasonable people expect you to answer issues about them in the same forum in a timely fashion – indicating that you’d prefer such feedback via email is not acceptable.

My car’s almost done, so this is going to have to be it for now. Suffice to say these guys have not learned their lesson at ALL, and thus have not earned my trust, and they should not have earned yours either. Continue to take every thing these guys do with a hefty dose of skepticism.

 

 

 

 

Quick response to spin session

I’m really swamped but did not want to let this one go.

Watch this video and go to item 4B (zoom forward to when JMVC talks Red Line and Rapid [sic] Bus).

JMVC tells the Rapid Bus tale to the UTC
JMVC tells the Rapid Bus tale to the UTC

Note the following points are made:

1. Red Line ridership is up (true!)

2. MetroRapid is coming. This is important because it’s the thing that connects the best parts of Austin; where the most travel demand exists (their words, but true!)

Then go ahead to the city’s MetroRapid presentation (4C) and see Jace Deloney and Richard Mackinnon ask JMVC some questions about Rapid [sic] Bus precluding light rail on this corridor.

Note that, despite claiming for years that yours truly was lying when I said Rapid Bus meant no light rail here, JMVC now says:

1. There will be no light rail here

2. I can’t comment specifically on why, but

3. You’re crazy to want light rail here because Rapid [sic] Bus is all this corridor demands and Capital Metro would never want to provide more than the corridor demanded in transit service (others may have other reasons for doing so, again, their words).

 

Now, UTC? Here’s where you dropped the ball after doing a decent job up to this point:

Nobody followed up and asked JMVC why they provided rail on the Red Line corridor – why that corridor somehow ‘demands rail’ and a corridor with 5-10x as much existing transit ridership and far more density along it now and in the foreseeable future doesn’t.

Paris_Tuileries_Garden_Facepalm_statue

Yeah, he’ll say “well, the voters told us to”, which is where you can say “The voters didn’t make that proposal; you did, with Mike Krusee but without any input from the City of Austin, who were caught completely flatfooted”. That might be too much past history for you. Let me know, and I can be your bad guy there who can’t let go of the past if you need me to. I’m a friggin’ hero that way.

Anyways, back to the point.

Hint: JMVC is spinning his ass off here to avoid getting caught in his own lie, told for many years; that Rapid [sic] Bus is an OK interim step; that it won’t get in the way of rail later. If he can now convince people that rail’s not needed there, he doesn’t have to admit that his previous claim was a lie. Spinning like this is his job. I wish he wasn’t a disingenuous dick about it everywhere and pretended like he was just a truth-teller, but fundamentally his job is to make Capital Metro look as good as possible. However: It’s the responsibility of those serving the public interest, like the UTC, to catch people like this out when they lie.

Guess what I would have done, back in my day on the UTC? Well, letting a paid spin artist get away with a lie that hurts the long-term public interest is not on the list. It’s uncomfortable to confront people. You will seem like, and people will call you, an asshole. Tough; it’s important to remember who you serve – you serve the citizens of Austin, not Capital Metro, and in this case Capital Metro has screwed the citizens of Austin and is about to get away with it.

JMVC got away with it
JMVC got away with it

Are Austin’s suburbs getting a sweet deal on transit or what?

First assumption: JMVC (Capital Metro PR guy) knows that when people talk about the suburbs vs. the city, we’re talking mostly about the Red Line. This is reasonable because the operating subsidies on the Red Line are gargantuan compared to bus service; and the Red Line thus consumes a hugely disproportionate share of Capital Metro’s operating and capital budgets. Although the video to which he links tries to muddy the issue by showing bus routes all over Austin as if they’re somehow as costly (and as attractive) as rail service, we know better, don’t we?

So, let’s just talk about rail for right now, then.

Let’s consult the archives:

First, in Who Is Riding The Red Line, Part One?, I showed that the overwhelming majority of Red Line passengers are boarding at the three park and rides on the northern end of the line; NOT from the stations most people would think of as “in Austin”.

In Who Is Riding The Red Line, Part Two?, I showed that it was expected that most riders at the Lakeline and Howard stations would not be from the City of Austin due to simple geography (i.e. of the people for whom it would make sense to drive a reasonable distance in the correct direction to the station, the overwhelming majority would be outside the Capital Metro service area and the city of Austin).

In Who Is Riding The Red Line, Part Three?, a rider from up north verified that most passengers getting on board at the Lakeline Station (within Austin city limits, but just barely) are actually from Cedar Park, and pay zero Capital Metro taxes when in their home jurisdictions (no, the one or two lunches a week they might do in Austin don’t amount to a hill of beans).

Conclusion? As usual, please don’t mistake JMVC’s paid spin for a responsible, reasonable, take on reality. In fact, the suburbs receive transit service far in excess of what would be fair given their contributions in tax dollars (remember, most of the areas served by the Red Line are attracting riders who pay ZERO Capital Metro taxes from their home jurisdictions). The suburbs that receive 0 transit service are getting their due; many of the northern suburbs that are getting non-zero service pay zero in taxes and are thus getting far more than their due; and a cursory examination of Leander would show that they’re getting back service worth more than what they pay in, so they’re getting off well too, even though unlike the rest of our suburban friends, they’re not complete freeloaders.

 

Oh, and JMVC’s statements are misleading at best.