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David Wolff’s farewell message

Outgoing Metro chair David Wolff takes to the op-ed pages to present a more positive view of his agency and his tenure.

While much had been accomplished by previous hard working boards, we inherited an aging bus fleet, a very confusing fare system that had not been adjusted during a time when inflation had increased costs by 40 percent, an inefficient route structure (11 percent of our vehicle miles were carrying only 3 percent of our passengers), and a new light-rail line besieged by accidents because motorists weren’t accustomed to it.

We also faced financial constraints because Metro’s previous administration had been forced to use $325 million of local funds to build the Main Street line since (rather unbelievably) two Republican congressmen had prohibited METRO from obtaining any federal funds.

Despite these and other challenges, an objective review of Metro’s progress during this board’s tenure would conclude that we accomplished a great deal (I like to say that we moved Metro “from last to first” at the FTA) and have positioned the organization for a bright future.

Here are some facts:

First, contrary to critics, our tenure wasn’t just about building new light rail lines. We made our bus system more user-friendly and sensible, very much appreciating the needs of people who depend on Metro as their primary mode of transportation.

Indeed, during the past five fiscal years we’ve spent $518 million improving bus service.

He goes on to list a bunch of ways in which bus service has improved, and later tots up the accomplishments for light rail as well. Much of what he says here was covered in the interview I did with him a couple of weeks ago, so if you never got around to listening to that interview, you can get the gist of it here. I generally agree that Metro has done a lot of good things over the past six years, and that they don’t get nearly the credit they should for them – though let’s be honest, a big part of that is the result of their own fault, due mostly to their well-documented communications problems – but I feel compelled to point out one place where Wolff is clearly overselling:

A new nonstop service from the Downtown Transit Center to George Bush Intercontinental Airport in 30 minutes for $15.

That is a new service Metro has created. Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear to be doing so well, at least according to the transition team. If you read the report of the Basic Services Committee and scroll down to slide #10, you’ll see what I mean. Reading through that, I’d say there’s a stronger case to be made for eliminating that service than for trying to make it work, but for now at least the recommendation is the latter, and perhaps they’ll prove to be correct. But I would call that a nice idea that doesn’t seem to have panned out rather than a success.

One more thing:

FTA has granted Metro’s entry into preliminary engineering on the University Line, which should ultimately lead to another $700 million in federal funding.

For all the talk about what Metro can and can’t afford to do, until such time as Mayor Parker instructs Metro to not apply for these funds, I consider the University line to still be on the agenda. Slide 12 of the transition team report on light rail says the following:

The University Line is in FEIS phase of federal process, with multiple steps to full funding commitment, which is not guaranteed and dependent on congressional transportation reauthorization. METRO best case estimate for completion is 2014.

(Note: FEIS = Final Environmental Impact Statement) It’s not clear to me if they mean that the best case scenario for completion of the FEIS phase and securing funding is 2014, or for finishing construction. I suspect it’s the latter, but in either event, we’re a ways away from this particular go/no-go decision. The FEIS was filed in January, two and a half years after the draft EIS. These things don’t move very quickly.

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2 Comments

  1. Michael says:

    I have found that while METRO has a LOT of room to improve the way it handles itself, about 70-80% of the negative opinions I read about are steeped in ignorance and hysterics. It almost resembles the health care debate where crazy people have taken what started out as legitimate gripes about something, and turned them into illogical and sometimes psychotic rants.

  2. Christof Spieler says:

    2014 is a construction completion date. That’s from the FEIS.