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Metro Looks At Mass Transit Options For Houston And The Region—Conservatives Don’t Seem To Want To Be Part Of The Discussion

Last week I attended a lunch for local political bloggers that was put on by Metro.

Metro is our transit authority in Houston and Harris County.

The lunch was held in the big Metro train barn out near the Astrodome.

Below is a picture I took that conveys a sense of the place.

The intent of the lunch was for Metro to gain favorable attention from local bloggers. After recently writing off $168  million in worthless assets, Metro could use some good press.

This wasting of taxpayer dollars no doubt further agitated many local conservatives who have long been suspicious of Metro.

There is nothing wrong with a public agency seeking positive public relations. Metro has goals and plans. Plenty of people of all ideological views use mass transit.

Metro has a right to make their case. The public can then decide what they think and how we should proceed.

Among those from Metro attending this blogger lunch were President and CEO George Greanias, as well as Metro Board Chair Gilbert Garcia. Here is a list of members of the Metro board.

Metro has been pressing hard in recent years for the expansion of light rail. While construction continues, funding is always a problem. The new Republican majority in the U.S. House puts federal dollars for transit initiatives in danger all around the country.  Though Houston light rail funding for the year ahead has been requested by President Obama, it seems that securing external funding for this longterm big-ticket item will be a year-to-year struggle.

My own view is that light rail is not likely ever to expand to the point where it represents an effective transit solution to the multi-county Houston metropolitan area. While Metro, at the moment, serves primarily Harris County, an important goal of Metro should be expansion of  mass transit options to our full region. Light rail is a contentious subject, not just because it is so expensive to build, but also because it’s limited scope in relation to the needs of our full metropolitan area give it the feeling of a scheme more suitable to Portland or Seattle rather than a useful tool for people who live 30 miles from Downtown Houston, Texas.

If I had to pick three top goals for Metro, they would be as follows—

1. Full regional cooperation.-–The potential environmental and fuel-saving benefits of regional mass transit in an area as large of the Houston-area must be realized. People in all parts of our region merit a mass transit option. (As long as they understand that it takes money to fund mass transit.)

2. Certainty that outlying areas of Harris County that are growing have sufficient mass transit options.— Metro must adapt to where people are living in our county.

3. Operational transparency and outreach across the ideological spectrum.—Metro must have local political support to meet the transit needs of millions of people in our area.

Regarding operational transparency, Metro now posts extensive data on how they are spending the public’s money.

Conservative bloggers were invited to the blogger lunch. This is what Metro asserted and I believe it.  None came. If they did not feel comfortable with the idea of Metro paying for the lunch, they could have offered to pay Metro the $10 or $15 or whatever it costed per person. They could have refused the meal. If they’d been excluded from the lunch, they could ask for an invite anytime in the name of fairness.

But it seems that on the whole local conservative bloggers don’t really want to be part of a serious discussion about how Metro should serve the public.What readers of these blogs have so far instead is a post by David Jennings at Big Jolly Politics where he seemed to go looking for a conflict with Metro.

I hope Metro has another blogger function and that bloggers of all political stripes show up. Metro is a public entity and is accountable to all in our community.

I’d be happy to bring my own sandwich if that would make everybody happy.

Perry Dorrell at Brains & Eggs and Charles Kuffner at Off The Kuff were two of my fellow Houston political bloggers who did attend the lunch.

Here is a history of urban mass transit in the United States.

(Below–Metro is looking for a way out from recent negative attention.)

February 25, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | 6 Comments