Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

July 30th, 2014:

YouGov: Abbott 50, Davis 34

Whatever.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

With just under 100 days to go until the gubernatorial election, an overwhelming majority of voters have made up their minds and favor Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott over Democratic state Sen. Wendy Davis by double digits, according to a poll released this weekend.

The survey, done by polling firm YouGov in collaboration with CBS and The New York Times, shows 34 percent supporting Davis and 3 percent leaning toward voting for her, while the same numbers split 50-4 for Abbott. Perhaps the worst news from the poll for the Davis campaign is that only 2 percent aren’t sure for whom they’re going to vote, leaving a very small slice of a red-state electorate to vie for over the next three months.

The poll relies on a somewhat new and unusual method — an online panel as opposed to live or automated calling. It is seen as a response to the kind of surveys that were criticized following the 2012 presidential race, when President Barack Obama’s margin of victory beat most pollsters’ expectations. The New York Times’ Upshot site Sunday provided a more detailed explanation of the method.

The Davis campaign pushed back on the poll as flawed because it didn’t reach voters who don’t have an Internet connection, people who tend to be less wealthy and vote for Democrats.

For what it’s worth, even in the disaster of 2010, nearly every Democrat received at least 34% of the vote. That’s been the issue all along with these polls, including the UT/Trib polls that operate under a similar model. If the pollsters are assuming an electorate similar to the one we had in 2010, then of course we’re going to get poll results like these. As we know, Democrats – specifically, the Davis campaign and Battleground Texas – are trying to change the turnout dynamic. Maybe they’ll succeed, and maybe they won’t. Maybe even if they succeed it only moves the needle a few points. Maybe Republicans will get the kind of turnout boost they got in 2010 and maybe they won’t. Maybe these pollsters are assuming something other than a 2010 scenario, though I doubt they’re very far off from that. After all this time I still don’t feel like we know what’s really happening in this race. dKos, which has a broader critique of the YouGov methodology, PDiddie, who has his own thoughts about the YouGov way, and Texpatriate have more.

Abbott’s appellate brief on same sex marriage is a complete loser

How weak does your case have to be to have to rely on this?

RedEquality

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott filed an appeal with the U.S. 5th Circuit Monday regarding the state’s same-sex marriage ban, which was ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge in February.

According to the brief, Abbott said Texas can ban same-sex marriage based on the State’s interest in procreation.

The State contends that marriage between a man and a woman “increases the likelihood” that they will produce and raise their children in “stable, lasting relationships.”

“Because same-sex relationships do not naturally produce children, recognizing same-sex marriage does not further these goals to the same extent that recognizing opposite-sex marriage does,” the brief reads. “That is enough to supply a rational basis for Texas’s marriage laws.”

You can see the brief at the Trail Blazers link above. I mean, seriously, they needed how many delays to come up with that? I guess after nearly 30 courts in a row have ruled against you there are only so many arguments one can reach for, but seriously? Procreation? As many people have been snarking on Facebook and elsewhere, lots of procreation takes place outside of marriage, and lots of marriages do not include procreation. Some people choose not to have children, others are unable to for whatever the reason. Some people get married after having had a vasectomy, or a hysterectomy, or some other permanent form of contraception (often, it should be noted, for reasons having nothing to do with procreation). Some people get married after reaching an age where having children is no longer possible. And on the flip side, not to put too fine a point on it but plenty of same-sex couples, including two of the litigants in the Texas case, are raising children. Some are their own biological children, which as we know has way more obstacles for them to overcome than we straight folks have to deal with, some have adopted, and some have children from previous relationships and marriages. There’s nothing about Abbott’s argument that wouldn’t deserve to be laughed out of a first-year mock trial court.

And hey, if the state of Texas really did care about “furthering the goals” of reproduction, I can think of plenty of far more effective ways for them to do it. Let’s start with expanding Medicaid, since a significant number of births in Texas are already paid for by Medicaid. Expanding Medicaid would also provide health care for more children and their parents. You could raise the minimum wage, which would make having children more affordable for many people, and you could implement sensible and meaningful family leave policies. Did you know that in the absence of a comprehensive non-discrimination law you can get fired for being pregnant? Did you know that workplaces are not required to make any accommodations to pregnant workers? I’ll bet a law that made those accommodations mandatory would have a salutary effect on our state’s fertility rate. Truly universal pre-K would also be a boon for people who have or want to have children. Oh, and then there are all those obstacles I mentioned earlier for same-sex couples that want to have children. We could maybe do something about those, too. In fact, I’m pretty sure that losing this appeal and having our state’s hurtful and discriminatory ban on same-sex marriage struck down would do more to improve the lives of families in Texas than any bullet point in Greg Abbott’s gubernatorial platform. Lord knows, he doesn’t support any of the things I’ve highlighted here.

Which suggests the conclusion that maybe Abbott tanked the appellate brief because he came to these conclusions himself, but of course can’t bring himself to say any of this out loud. That’s would be a better and more sensible rationale for filing this idiotic brief than sincerely believing it’s a winning argument, even for the sucky Fifth Circuit. Even I have a hard time believing they’d buy something that stupid. It’s also possible that he’s making this argument because there are no other arguments he can make. In which case, too bad for him. The Trib, Lone Star Q, and LGBTQ Insider have more.

Checking in on Uber and Lyft in San Antonio

San Antonio City Council will soon be taking up with vehicles for hire issue, and so far things have gone about as smoothly as you’d expect.

Lyft

A proposal from City staff to integrate rideshare companies into the existing Vehicle for Hire Ordinance, and therefore legalizing rideshare operations in San Antonio, was met with unanimous opposition from the Transportation Advisory Board (TAB) Monday evening. It seems arguments from all sides of the issue remain unresolved – and just as heated.

The TAB is made up of citizens, representatives from transportation, tourism, and hospitality industries. The board’s vote to reject the proposal that would legalize rideshare was not surprising.

The traditional vehicle for hire (taxi, limo, shuttle, carriage) industry claims that the transportation network companies are unfairly and unsafely circumventing regulation under the guise of mobile technology. The TNC’s, and San Antonio Police Department Assistant Director Steven Baum, claim that regulations need to be changed to accommodate for an evolving industry – including its technology.

Uber

“The (proposed) system’s a little different, the system for the transportation network companies puts responsibility on the companies to vet the drivers (and vehicles) according to city standards,” Baum said. Traditional companies go through a testing and verification process through the City.

“The way we validate (those standards) is we do random, unannounced inspections,” he said, compared to the regularly scheduled inspections granted to traditional vehicles for hire and their drivers. Baum assured TAB members that neither public safety nor the city’s economy would be put at risk.

“I can’t believe you’re shoving this ordinance down our throat,” said TAB member George Alva during one of the most heated exchanges between a board member and Baum. “From the very beginning your mind was made up.”

Three months ago Baum was tasked by the City Council Public Safety Committee to see if there was a way to integrate rideshare into the current ordinance (Chapter 33 of City Code) and present his findings at the committee’s Aug. 6 meeting. From there, the committee can decide if further research is required or if the proposal should proceed to a City Council vote.

See here and here for the background. The Council committee will have both the committee report and the TAB’s rejection of it to take into consideration. Good luck with that, y’all.

On a tangential note, Joshua Sanders, one of the people that has been representing Lyft in Houston, sent me this update to Lyft’s insurance policy. The point of this is that once a ride has been accepted, Lyft’s commercial policy is the primary policy in all instances now. As we know, there have been questions about how insurance works with TNCs like Uber and Lyft, and recent stories have indicated that representatives of Texas’ insurance industry see gaps in the coverage. I would be interested to know what they think about this.

Finally, there’s a provocative op-ed in the Chron from Michael Zoorob, who is an intern working as a research assistant at the Southwest ADA Center, a nonprofit disability organization in Houston. He takes Uber and Lyft to task for their lack of accessibility for disabled folks.

So why can’t the disabled community just use other modes of transportation? For one thing, the rapid entrance of Uber and Lyft – following a pattern of “break the rules and ask questions later” – has eroded the supply of accessible taxis, as seen in some cities. In San Francisco, a quarter of the wheelchair-accessible taxi fleet is unused as taxi drivers have flocked to ride-sharing companies.

For all the complaints about ride-share companies, you’d have a tough time finding a best-practices model among traditional taxi services. In Houston, there are only 50 accessible taxis on the market covering more than 600 square miles. They make up about one-fiftieth of all taxis. So if you use a wheelchair, good luck hailing a cab.

As a society, we have decided that people with disabilities deserve equal opportunity to participate in public life. This logic compelled Congress in 1990 to pass the Americans with Disabilities Act. In his signing remarks, analogizing the ADA with the fall of the Berlin Wall, President George H. W. Bush declared: “We will not accept, we will not excuse, we will not tolerate discrimination in America. … I now lift my pen to sign this Americans with Disabilities Act and say: Let the shameful wall of exclusion finally come tumbling down.”

It is precisely this “shameful wall of exclusion” that Uber, Lyft and other transportation providers seek, however unwittingly, to maintain with their standards of service to the disabled community. And it is wrong.

It is wrong to relegate citizens with disabilities to a separate, segregated system of transportation, just as it is wrong to deny them access to City Hall or to a grocery store because accommodating them is costly. It is a fact of American history that when marginalized groups are allowed access only to segregated services, these services tend to be inferior. This is the reality for many people with disabilities who must rely on state-provided paratransit services.

Uber and Lyft must play by the same rules as everyone else in the taxi marketplace, including providing service to everyone – a standard that also bears improving among taxi companies. Being innovative does not excuse trampling on the rights of people with disabilities.

As Zoorob notes, there was a lawsuit filed recently against Uber and Lyft by disability rights activists. I’ve said before that I’m not sure how their business model, which relies on the personal vehicles of their drivers, can handle making these accommodations. Zoorob makes a compelling case that they need to figure it out, or else.

UPDATE: Meanwhile, the Chron opines again in favor of Uber and Lyft, while CM Stephen Costello and Texpatriate’s Noah Horwitz, who is working for Cindy Clifford’s firm, have dueling op-eds in TribTalk about it.

Please watch out for the trains

Seriously, people.

Three MetroRail collisions this week highlight persistent safety concerns that arise when trains share the road with cars – a problem that Metro officials hope to control as they prepare to open two new rail lines.

The Metropolitan Transit Authority has experienced a relatively high number of accidents in its decade running light rail along Main Street. The agency has made adjustments to improve safety, but this week’s accidents show the problem is far from solved.
Raw Video: Car swerves into path of Houston…

A car veered into the path of an oncoming Metro train headed north. The Tuesday morning crash…

The collisions occurred Tuesday and Wednesday over a period of less than 36 hours. The Tuesday crash occurred along Fannin in the Texas Medical Center, where cars can cross onto the tracks to make left turns. The Wednesday incidents were in the Medical Center and along Harrisburg, where Metro is testing trains in advance of a December opening of its Green Line.

Preliminary analysis indicates the train operator was at fault in one of the Med Center crashes, and motorists likely caused the other incidents. Two of the accidents led to reported injuries.

Metro officials said Thursday that they don’t see the need for any immediate changes to address problems at the crash locations, but they are always looking for ideas to improve safety. Many Metro critics have cited an at-grade system’s potential for accidents in arguing that Metro should have built its lines above or below street level.

Of course, it costs a lot more money to elevate or build below street level. These same critics would have been first to declare that Metro couldn’t afford to build any lines if that had been the plan. I’m just saying.

From October 2013 until the end of June, Metro reported 47 light rail collisions. None of the months has exceeded Metro’s goal of no more than six collisions per month.

Regardless of cause, Metro has seen far more collisions than other light rail systems when the system’s size is factored in.

The eight serious collisions Metro reported last year were the same number as Portland, Ore., where the light rail system travels five times as many miles. Dallas Area Rapid Transit, which also travels five times as many miles as Metro, had one fewer accident. Both cities have at-grade systems, but most of Dallas’ system is separated from auto traffic.

Based on Metro’s analysis, 22 of the accidents in the past decade – an average of about two per year – were deemed preventable by the train’s operator.

“In a large sense, it is a motorist who is making a call that is not a good one,” said Margaret O’Brien-Molina, spokeswoman for Metro.

In fact, accidents among automobiles as a whole are up in 2014, compared to the past four years, according to Houston TranStar. In June 2014, emergency officials responded to 874 accidents along major freeway and highway corridors, compared to 799 in June 2013 and 733 in June 2012.

Clearly, this is the fault of the red light cameras. (Sorry, my sarcasm reflex was on autoplay there.)

As MetroRail officials prepare for the December openings of the Green Line along Harrisburg east of downtown and the Purple Line along Scott and Wheeler southeast of downtown, they have focused on community awareness.

“Metro has been out talking to every citizen group it can get itself in front of,” said Diane Schenke, president of the Greater East End Management District. “They have lights at every intersection that flash. It is very difficult to think what else can be done.”

Still, Schenke said, the new line is “weighed against years and years of people driving on this road. Change is hard.”

[…]

Few of the conditions present in the Medical Center – spots where cars sit on the tracks to make left turns – exist along the Green and Purple lines. In many spots along the two new routes, the track is on a slightly elevated platform and largely fenced in, said Andy Skabowski, operations director for Metro.

That might be enough of a buffer to make a difference, Schenke said. Still, she acknowledged transit officials face a challenge.

“There are people to this day that do not pay attention to pedestrians and bicyclists,” she said. “We are conditioned in Houston not to expect anything but cars on the street. That’s what some people think.”

And a lot of those people think they’re the only car on the street. We’ve all experienced drivers like that. There’s only so much Metro can do to prevent accidents. Maybe you think they’ve done enough and maybe you don’t, but at some point it’s on all of us to avoid them. We have a role to play, too, and it’s far from clear that we’re doing what we should be doing.