AUSTIN (KXAN/LBJ/CLASS) - Capital Metro, the publictransit provider owned by the City of Austin, is introuble.
And its future, as well as mass transportation issues ingeneral, have become a major issue in the mayoral and city councilraces this election.
The system has invested millions of dollars in MetroRail, a newcommuter rail line, only to indefinitely postpone its opening -placing the project well over one year behind schedule.
At the same time, the organization's cash reserves, essentialfor any organization to have in case of unforeseen costs and debts,have been drained to dangerously low levels that cover only twomonths of Capital Metro's operation costs.
The problems are prompting current and hopeful city leaders todemand reforms.
"We must ... seek answers to the many questions surroundingCapital Metro and judgment errors that have plagued the agency forsome time now," City Councilman Mike Martinez told the AustinChronicle in its March 27, 2009 edition.
The MetroRail project's last official opening date, March 30thof this year, was already one year behind schedule. In mid-March,Capital Metro indefinitely postponed the opening of the MetroRailline from Leander to Downtown Austin due to numerous operation andpersonnel problems found in preliminary inspections.
Shortly after Capital Metro announced the postponement ofMetroRail, Veolia Transportation, the subcontractor who actuallyhires the engineers for the MetroRail commuter trains, was declaredunder investigation by the Federal Railroad Administration forsafety issues. In a Capital Metro press release distributed shortlyafter, CapMetro called for Veolia to replace their safety director.Capital Metro also announced that staff will continue testingsystem enhancements in response to the problems found duringinspections, and make a report to the community on May 15, 2009 onthe status of the MetroRail project along with an action plan.
If that is not enough, serious financial problems are emerging.Capital Metro owes millions of dollars to the City of Austin buthas drained its cash reserves because of the MetroRail and otherexpensive projects that have not repaid their costs.
Many say the future of Capital Metro is looking weaker thanever.
In his comments to the Chronicle, Councilman Martinez noted thatVeolia was simply a "scapegoat" in the fiasco, and said: "Otherfolks are going to have to accept their responsibility as well. ...It really brings into question the competence of theorganization."
In defense of Capital Metro, they do have a number of possiblesolutions to their ailments in the works.
First, Capital Metro recently solicited outside help on theMetroRail issues by bringing in experts from Massachusetts BayTransportation Authority that operates a successful commuter railsystem in the Boston Metro Area.
And second, a timely bill introduced by State Senator KirkWatson, D-Austin, could revamp the agency's oversight board andaccountability. The bill would add designated spots on the CapitalMetro board for two members with management and financial expertiseand would also require more financial oversight meaning that if theagency begins to use large amounts of cash reserves, the publicwill know about it faster.
Katy Cummins is a graduate student at The University of Texas at Austin's LBJ School of Public Affairs, specializing in Urban and State Affairs, with a focus on energy and transportation issues. She is part of the CLASS program at LBJ. She can be reached by email at email@example.com.
Late Saturday night into early Sunday morning, a light band of freezing drizzle traversed the I-35 corridor eastward. With sub-freezing temperatures, even the light precipitation created major problems.
A 10-year-old was killed while standing outside a vehicle after the child's family was involved in a fender bender, DPS said.
Austin Police are looking for a missing woman.
APD is responding to a 25 vehicle accident near the 5400 block of Ed Bluestein near Thurgood Ave.
A man is dead after being hit by several vehicles in the eastbound lane of Highway 71 Saturday night.
A representative at the Fayette County Sheriff's office said that Fayette County is effectively shut down due to icy conditions.