October 6, 2009
It’s hard to talk about Capital Metro, the region’s primary transit agency, without falling back on years of familiar frustrations.
Like countless Central Texans, I find it hard to believe that we’re still waiting for the commuter rail line we supported five years ago. And I and others still have questions about the agency’s past business decisions — and who needs to be accountable for them.
But for all the time that’s been spent on recriminations, more attention must be paid to what comes next. This must be a time for the community to come together, create a vision for transit and transportation in this region, and set out Capital Metro’s role in that plan.
Actions will be taken in the coming months that should set a new course for the agency, and Central Texans need to be just as concerned about the future as they are about the past.
A bill I passed in the 2009 legislative session, Senate Bill 1263, reforms Capital Metro’s board. It also requires that new appointments by the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization — the transportation planning group I chair — have at least 10 years of management and financial experience. The new board will be appointed by the end of the year.
Just as importantly, the legislation requires that the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission — the agency charged with looking for reforms in other state agencies — conduct a top-to-bottom performance review that should provide a blueprint for fixing Capital Metro. Work on the review already has begun.
And CAMPO already has created a “Transportation Investment Decision Tree” to guide consideration of major new projects. The Decision Tree takes a hard look at any major transportation project — road or rail — and asks detailed questions about whether there’s money to build it and how it measures up to other alternatives, community values and regional goals.
This model will bring real answers to what used to be purely ideological arguments about transportation, guiding all sides through a values-based policy analysis. Obviously, I think it will be especially valuable to Capital Metro — and any other jurisdiction contemplating a major transportation investment — as we chart a way forward.
Finally, I’ve charged CAMPO’s Transit Working Group with looking into the planned Capital Metro commuter rail line and seeking out lessons from its problems. Such a review, hopefully, will restore and assure credibility and confidence in future efforts by making sure the region learns from its past.
Capital Metro’s board soon will have to replace the agency’s president and CEO. The board should focus on hiring a top-notch manager — someone who knows how to run a big operation and deploy limited resources in a way that best fulfills the agency’s mission.
Capital Metro’s leader must be able to 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 and bringing forward projects that the region wants, needs and trusts Capital Metro to launch.
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.