Chutzpah of the Year

A quick cut/paste job, there hepatitis maximizing the bang for the minimal buck. Enjoy.
In response to my jibe about the urban rail advocates cheering the Red Line, a well-meaning comment was placed asking why I care about what the Red Line did and is doing, given that everybody knows it’s just a spur. Here’s what I just posted in reply:

I will endeavor to be as brief as possible, but it’s frustrating how often I hear talk about beating a dead horse and then hear comments that make it clear I haven’t beaten it enough.
1. Although the part of the Red Line from Lamar to the CC was envisioned as an eventual spur in the 2000 line, and you and I and everybody with a brain knows it SHOULD be just a spur, Capital Metro does not agree – and is not treating it as such – and neither, now, is the city. Both Capital Metro and our city council members on the board are championing increased amounts of money spent on the Red Line as what they consider the backbone for rail service in the region. You’re engaged in wishful thinking on this one.
2. There’s only one strong backbone for rail possible in this city – and the Red Line is squatting on half of it. The city’s plan isn’t a backbone either – it envisions too low speeds; way too much shared guideway; and is unambitious even in the long-range about going far enough out to make much difference. The city’s plan is worth supporting because it’s better than nothing – but it will never be capable of being the backbone that the 2000 plan was (which is why it’s important to point out what the Red Line lost us).
3. The Red Line isn’t just a done deal either – it’s getting bigger and worse. Our city council members on Capital Metro’s board just approved the mid-day expansion in service which is going to increase the operating subsidy on this route from its already monstrously high $30+/ride – and this will result in more cuts to bus service that more Capital Metro taxpayers actually use in favor of serving a few more people from Round Rock and Cedar Park that don’t actually pay taxes.
4. If we’re going to get the city’s urban rail plan done, if it can even get passed, we need some of Capital Metro’s money to do it – and they’re going down a path where they’re spending all of it on the Red Line. (This is why it’s important to point out what the Red Line is currently losing us).
5. Even Dave Dobbs finally figured it out – in the middle of this very long piece on Light Rail Now: http://www.lightrailnow.org/news/n_aus_2010-04a.htm
“• In terms of fulfilling the long-range hope of inner-city rail transit supporters that the rail project could eventually develop into a reincarnation of the 2000 LRT concept, this became increasingly less likely, as CMTA’s management and rail planning team seemed more and more to perceive “urban commuter rail” and “Rapid Bus” as ends in themselves, while any plans for LRT to serve the Lamar-Guadalupe corridor and the Core Area receded further and further from consideration.”
(Dave took me to lunch in 2004 to try to get me not to oppose the Red Line, by the way – it’ll take him a while longer to admit that I was right – that this killed light rail here – but he’s clearly moving in that direction).

(cut/pasted from the facebook)
Those of you who think the Red Line isn’t hurting us now (via cuts to bus service and raises to bus fares) and in the future (via spending down money that is now absolutely essential to having any shot at delivering urban rail if it by some miracle can pass the election in 2012) should read these:
http://www.statesman.com/news/local/transit-board-to-vote-on-raising-bus-cutting-1035915.html

The base fare of $1 for a single bus ride and the $2 bus day pass (for non-express routes) would not change, misbirth according to the agency website. But almost everything else would.
Seniors and people with disabilities would pay 50 cents for a single bus ride. People with disabilities who qualify for MetroAccess, resuscitation the agency’s door-to-door service, capsule would also pay more. A 10-ride pass would go from $12 to $15, and a monthly MetroAccess pass would increase from $35 to $40.
The cost of riding an express bus would increase from $2.50 to $2.75, and an express bus day pass from $5 to $5.50.
Children under 6, public safety workers and military members in uniform, Capital Metro employees and their families, and workers with Capital Metro’s bus and rail contractors would still ride buses and MetroRail for free.
The cost of a two-zone MetroRail ride, meanwhile, will decrease from $3 to $2.75, with a concurrent decrease in the cost of a day pass for rail. And the cost for a shorter, one-zone rail ride will be cut in half, from $2 to $1.
The rail fare decrease would come as Capital Metro looks to increase MetroRail ridership, now between 800 and 900 boardings a day. The agency is adding 13 midday train runs — to date there has been only morning and evening service — and is in the midst of a rail marketing program expected to cost more than $200,000.

http://www.statesman.com/news/local/capital-metro-board-looks-to-increase-metrorail-spending-1032691.html

That added service will increase costs about $350,000 a year between now and 2015, according to agency documents discussed at a board committee meeting Monday.
The $6.8 million includes a $4 million increase in the contract’s contingency, as well as $1 million in anticipated crossing signal work that the Texas Department of Transportation would reimburse to Capital Metro.
The original $4.1 million contingency in the contract approved in December has been depleted to almost nothing, officials said

Certain Capital Metro flacks will tell you this is just the media picking on them. Bear in mind that most of what Wear has written has turned out to be true despite CM’s protests.
Those same flacks will try to tell you that Red Line operating cost overruns have nothing to do with raising fares and cutting service for bus passengers. Draw your own conclusions.

In today’s Chronicle, prosthetic Lee Nichols writes an article about the lack of TOD on the Red Line in which Todd Hemingson, sale Capital Metro exec, order says with a straight face:

The real problem with the Red Line, says Hemingson, is that Cap Metro’s first attempt at rail currently stands alone. Austin needs to build a full and fully multimodal system, he says. The Red Line “can’t work by itself,” says Hemingson. “That’s why we think urban rail is a critical factor.” City Council considered putting an urban rail system on the recent bond measure that passed earlier this month but decided too many unresolved questions remained and punted it for at least another year. “When the Red Line was envisioned in 2004, it was known that within the Downtown and central city you needed some kind of collection/distribution function,” Hemingson says. “Long term, it’s gotta be a network of systems working together, not just one line.”

Looks like I have to get back into History UnReWriting Mode. Here’s the brief summary; links to back story to be filled in if I get any time throughout my day.

  1. Capital Metro switched away from a plan best described as urban rail in 2004 – at the behest of Mike Krusee to be sure, but they willingly played along.
  2. During the run-up to the 2004 election, Capital Metro continued to claim that the commuter rail plan (now the Red Line) would serve Central Austin, despite refutations to the contrary by yours truly.
  3. During that same run-up, they insisted that people would ride the line in droves even though they had to ride shuttle buses at the other end of the trip – going so far as to undermine yours truly as some kind of ranting lunatic for suggesting otherwise.
  4. At the same time, under duress, they shat out an awful circulator plan to replace their idea for circulators: the shuttle buses we have now. Their improved plan, to be funded by other people of course, was streetcars in shared lanes on the same exact routes the stupid shuttles run right now.
  5. Capital Metro’s mismanagement of and overpromising of the Red Line has, in the meantime, prevented the city from going forward with anything resembling urban rail.
  6. Today, they still insist that people would ride (or are riding, depending on which flack you talk to) the line in droves even though they had to ride shuttle buses at the other end of the trip – going so far as to undermine yours truly as some kind of ranting lunatic for suggesting otherwise.
  7. At this point, the city’s down to a fairly crappy urban rail plan (I was going to post on this this morning until this nugget came up) which relies on way too much shared runningway to be of any real use long-term.


In other words, Todd Hemingson is blaming Austin for not developing an urban rail line that Capital Metro actively prevented from happening on more than one occasion.
That’s chutzpah, folks.
(And by the way, folks I’ve been spending a lot of time talking to on twitter? This is why you can’t just push these people in private. Get it?)

  • Todd

    M1EK- While I’d really love to have at it and blast back, I’m going to attempt to use some tact instead. First, while I obviously work at Capital Metro (and am a native Austinite), I was not in Austin or at this agency in 2004. In a perfect world, would things have been done differently? Sure they would have. But this isn’t a perfect world and the voters, who did not approve an “urban rail” plan in 2000, did approve the Red Line as a part of the All Systems Go plan four years later. In contrast to your interpretation that I am “blaming Austin”, in fact I am supporting Austin and our other regional partners like Lone Star Rail in their efforts to develop a more robust regional transit network. And since I’m sure in your use of the word chutzpah, you meant “great fortitude” as per the definition, I say thank you- that’s an attribute we all need in our efforts to make this great city even more successful in the future.

  • M1EK

    Todd, as with the article, you are leaving out some critical details.
    1. In 2004, your agency misled voters into thinking this line would basically be as good as urban rail (with rhetoric about how many stations were in Austin and in Central Austin).
    2. In 2004, your agency vigorously resisted efforts by groups like ConnectAustin to develop an urban rail add-on to the plan.
    3. Your comment did, in fact, blame Austin. “If only Austin had urban rail, our line wouldn’t suck”.
    4. It’s also not true; the Red Line would still suck even if we built the CAMPO TWG plan – which is why the CAMPO TWG plan was designed despite the Red Line – to go pick up riders from East Riverside rather than simply circulate Red Line passengers as Capital Metro’s desultory ASG circulator proposal did. Choice commuters won’t enjoy a transfer from the Red Line to urban rail much more than they do from the Red Line to shuttlebuses. It’s the transfer that’s the problem, not the vehicle.

  • el_longhorn

    I was here when the plan was approved and voted against it. I am a big transit supporter. The Red Line was sold in two ways. It would be very cheap to build ($60M) and CM already had the money ($200M in reserves, if memory serves). And voters could then try transit before approving a larger, more expensive system. Ride before you decide was one of the campaign slogans, I believe.
    We all know what happened. The system has become way more expensive than anticipated and a serious drain on CM resources. And the lack of ridership on the Red Line is a major impediment to voters approving any future rail expansion.
    That is the reality that M1EK is trying to address. I am not sure if CM does not perceive that to be the reality or is just ignoring it.
    If CM believes in the Red Line, run the thing 18 hours a day, 365 days a year. If not, acknowledge it was a mistake and mothball the line. Work toward bringing back the 2000 light rail plan.

  • Tyler

    “If CM believes in the Red Line, run the thing 18 hours a day, 365 days a year.”
    This.
    Every time I circle endlessly for a parking spot downtown so I can enjoy a show at the Alamo Ritz, I exclaim, “Sure would be nice if there was a TRAIN I could take!”
    Seriously!

  • el_longhorn

    Could we sell the Red Line trains to the Austin-San Antonio Rail District? Hell, as a CM taxpayer, I would happily DONATE the cars to the Austin-San Antonio rail effort!

  • Puffy Arizona

    Todd Hemingson, if the Red Line can’t work by itself, as you state, why not just admit it was a mistake to build it in the first place and move on? A transit agency stupid enough to build a starter line that fails so miserably – and ever so predictably – can’t be trusted on transit matters. Your agency is pouring tens of millions of our tax dollars down the drain. Stop the waste!
    Is there an alternate universe where the Red Line could be viewed as a useful and complementary sidekick to TWG? There is absolutely no proof that it could. The Red Line is useless both on its own and as part of a larger system.
    Cap Metro continues to deny reality. F’ing fools are either corrupt or stupid. Although I suppose those aren’t mutually exclusive terms.