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October 9th, 2010:

Saturday video break: Happy birthday, John Lennon

He would have been 70 today. Feel old now?

We all do shine on indeed.

Metro’s Airport Direct service

The good news is that the people who use Metro’s Airport Direct service from downtown to IAH really like it. The bad news is that not nearly enough people use it.

The scarcity of passengers on the Airport Direct service has prompted Metropolitan Transit Authority leaders to consider changes such as limiting the service to peak hours, reducing trip frequency and picking up passengers at multiple downtown locations, officials said.

“We think this is a service that is valuable,” said George Greanias, Metro’s president and chief executive officer. “We just need to figure out a more cost-effective way to do it.”

Airport Direct, launched in August 2008, costs Metro $1.9 million a year and yields about $452,000 in fare revenue, for a net cost of just under $1.5 million, according to figures provided by the transit agency. Fare for the service is $15 each way, or $10 with a Continental Airlines boarding pass or other proof of travel.

The buses depart daily every half-hour from 815 Pierce to the airport’s terminal C and back — a total of 60 daily, one-way trips. The first bus leaves downtown at 5:30 a.m. and the last leaves the airport at 8:40 p.m.

In the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, an average of 114 riders per day, or 1.9 per departure, used the service. The buses seat 52.

Doing the math, if 114 people take it daily and that generated $452K in fares, then the average fare is $10.86; in other words, nearly everyone gets the discount. Assuming that same average fare, Metro would need 479 riders per day to cover the $1.9 million annual cost. That’s eight riders per bus, which ought to be achievable. Even if everyone paid the lower $10 fare, only 520 riders per day – less than nine per bus – is needed to cover the nut. I don’t know how much of getting that is marketing and how much is tweaking the service, perhaps so that it has more points of departure, but it really ought to be doable.

Chron overview of the County Treasurer race

With this story, the Chron has overviewed all of the countywide races. The main issue to discuss, of course, is just what exactly is it that the Treasurer does.

Four years ago, [incumbent Treausrer Orlando] Sanchez’s Democratic opponent advocated eliminating the office, which would require a statewide vote on a constitutional amendment. This year’s Democratic challenger, Billy Briscoe, said that, if elected, he intends to commission an independent audit of the office to determine whether it still is needed. If the answer is no, he said, he will support that conclusion. However, he also wants the audit to look for ways to improve the office, not scrap it.

“I believe the scope and function of this office ought to be reviewed and possibly expanded,” Briscoe said. Whatever the duties assigned to the office, Briscoe said, he plans to go beyond them, driven by the question, “Is there more that we can be doing?”

Briscoe said he envisions using the treasurer’s post as one that would make him part of a pitch team to sell businesses on expanding or relocating to Harris County. Briscoe’s background as a lawyer, lobbyist, businessman and political aide have prepared him, he said, to present the county’s virtues to business groups and Austin policy makers who control the state’s enterprise fund.

“We don’t have a clearly definable county-wide elected person who’s talking about this as a cornerstone of their administration,” Briscoe said.

You know where I stand on this, and you can listen to my interview with Briscoe to hear him discuss it. If there is something to this job, he’s the guy for it.

Sanchez, too, would like to see the office’s duties expanded. For example, he said, his office has the expertise to oversee the county’s investments, debt payments and cash flow.

“All of the duties that are now given to the Office of Financial Services could be, if the (Commissioners) Court wanted to, be brought back to the treasurer’s office,” he said.

Yo, Orlando. You’ve had this job since 2006. Name one concrete step you’ve taken to make this thing you say you want to do happen. Have you even mentioned this idea to Commissioners Court, and if so what was their response? If this is such a good idea – I’m not passing any judgment on that one way or the other – why are we just hearing about it now?

The Houston Politics blog has more, specifically about the issue of immigration, which briefly surfaced in the 2006 GOP primary for Treasurer when Sanchez promised to be a fighting force of extraordinary magnitude against it, then dropped it like a bad habit after he was appointed to the job following Jack Cato’s death. Not that I mind that he dropped the subject – Lord knows, there’s more than enough hot air and hatred on this to last us all a lifetime or two; not following through on that is the single best thing Orlando Sanchez has done as an elected official – it just fits a pattern with Sanchez of all talk and no action. See here for some background.

Some Prop 3 action

Campos observed last week that there hasn’t been any action on Prop 3, which is the red light camera referendum. That’s about to change.

The Houston Professional Firefighters Association, a group that represents more than 4,000 firefighters, said it supports red-light cameras.

President Jeff Caynon is urging Houstonians to vote for Proposition 3 on Election Day.

He said red-light cameras are a safety tool that change behaviors and save lives.

Caynon is also featured in a new television commercial in support of red-light cameras. The ad began airing in Houston on Monday.

The endorsement follows the show of support for red-light cameras by another public safety group — the Houston Police Officers’ Association.

Video of the story is here. Has anyone seen one of these ads yet? I wonder if the anti-camera forces will have the resources to put up ads or send out mailers or something.

One thing to note:

Proposition 3 on the November ballot asks voters if red-light cameras should stay up or be removed.

Note the wording on that. Even though Prop 3 is on the ballot because of the efforts of those who want to remove the cameras, a vote FOR Prop 3 is a vote to retain the cameras. A vote AGAINST Prop 3 is a vote to take them down. I had assumed that the ballot language would be correlated to the effort of its petitioners, and that led to me being initially confused when I saw that the Houston GLBT Political Caucus is recommending a FOR vote on Prop 3, since I didn’t think of them as being anti-camera, but I inquired and got the matter cleared up. In another sense, this is more logical – if you want the cameras, vote FOR them; if you don’t, vote AGAINST them. I just wanted to point this out in case anyone else was operating under the same assumption I had been. And just to make things interesting, note that if you live in Baytown, it’s the exact opposite – a FOR vote there is to dump the cameras, an AGAINST vote is to keep them. Isn’t this fun?

From the “If at first you don’t succeed, lower your standards” department

Too many bowl games, (maybe) not enough bowl-eligible teams.

The NCAA’s football postseason licensing subcommittee might have to alter eligibility rules for playing in the postseason depending on how the season plays out.

There are 35 bowl games this year, and there’s a chance not enough teams will meet the current criteria. One option being explored is letting teams with losing records into the postseason.

“The committee has begun to discuss the situation and has a host of options if the circumstances arise,” committee chair Nick Carparelli, Jr., an associate commissioner of the Big East Conference, said this week.

In April, the NCAA added another bowl game, bringing the total to 35. That means 70 teams will have to meet the current qualifications to participate, which include six wins, including five against teams from Division I’s top level, the Football Bowl Subdivision.

Last year, 71 eligible teams emerged to fill 68 slots for 34 bowl games. This year, with Southern Cal ineligible because of sanctions imposed in the Reggie Bush case, it’s not certain that the NCAA would have 70 eligible teams.

Would someone please explain to me again why a playoff system would be bad for college football? I seem to have forgotten the reason. Thanks.