October 5, 2009
Well, it was a great weekend – great party, great music, great football, great weather (well, maybe not that).
Other big things also happened last week.
Capital Metro, the main transit agency for Central Texas, was in the news. Again.
On Wednesday, it was announced that Capital Metro’s President and CEO is retiring. The news unearthed a lot of the frustration that’s circulated around the agency for the last several years.
Like a lot of you, I find it hard to believe that we’re waiting – still – for the commuter rail line that so many of us supported. And sure, I have lots and lots of questions about some of the business decisions that have been made over there, and I’ve got an opinion or two about who needs to be accountable for them.
But this needs to be a time for the community to come together and look forward, discuss where Capital Metro needs to go, and consider our vision of how to provide transit and transportation services in this region.
In that, this management transition comes at a really good time.
A bill I passed in the last legislative session is already having an effect.
It reforms Capital Metro’s board and requires that one of the appointments by the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization – the transportation planning group I chair – have at least 10 years of management experience; another appointment must have at least 10 years of financial experience. I’ve already initiated the selection process.
Other entities also have appointments. The legislation mandates that all new board appointments be made by the end of this year.
As importantly, the legislation requires that the Texas Sunset Commission – the agency charged with reviewing other state agencies and looking for reforms and improvements – conduct a top-to-bottom performance review setting out ways to fix Capital Metro.
Furthermore, CAMPO has already created what we call a “Transportation Investment Decision Tree” to guide consideration of major new projects, such as roads or rail proposals.
The Decision Tree takes a hard look at any major transportation project and asks whether there’s money to build it, how it measures up to other alternatives, and whether it conforms to community values and regional goals.
This model is already bringing real answers to what used to be purely ideological arguments about how we invest in transportation. It guides all sides of the transportation debate through a values-based policy analysis. In doing so, it serves as a means for taking the politics out of transportation.
Obviously, I think it will be especially valuable to Capital Metro – and any other jurisdiction contemplating any major transportation investment, whether rail or road – as we chart a way forward.
And on Friday, I announced that CAMPO will reconvene its Transit Working Group to look at where we need to go on transit projects and especially on rail. The group will take up rail projects that any agency or jurisdiction wants to bring forward.
In addition to that, I’ve commissioned this diverse group to ask what we can learn from the fact that Capitol Metro’s commuter rail line, which voters approved in 2004, still hasn’t opened. Such a review, hopefully, will assure that the same mistakes aren’t made on proposed projects, and will restore and assure credibility and confidence in future efforts by making sure the region learns from its past.
So given everything that’s going on, now is a good time for a management change at Capital Metro. The new board has to take this opportunity very, very seriously.
I think the focus must be on getting a real manager to oversee the agency. Frankly, it doesn’t need to be someone who can even spell “bus.” It doesn’t need to be someone who’s ever ridden a train.
No, it just needs to be someone who can manage – who knows how to run a big operation and deploy limited resources in a way that best fulfills the agency’s mission.
Texas Disposal Systems may have recently provided a good example. The award-winning company just hired the former chief operating officer at Southwest Airlines to run their waste disposal company. Two entirely different industries with just one thing in common: the desire for good, strong leadership.
More than perhaps anything, Capital Metro needs a strong hand that can communicate with the public, place value on employees, and build an organization reflecting this community, its needs, and its vision.
That means balancing the budget completely transparently. It means bringing forward projects that the region wants, needs, and trusts Capital Metro to launch.
And, frankly, it means that we should never have to hear that our concerns aren’t valid because some unrelated statistic somehow compares favorably to some other place. Put another way, comparing our bus ridership numbers to … oh, I don’t know, let’s say Nashville or some such place won’t get the commuter rail line built any faster.
In other words, we need our transit agency to function at the highest level. We need its board and management to do the same.
So we need to step up, too. The agency – and the region – can’t get where we want to go unless the community will help steer.