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May 30th, 2018:

Hiring and harassment at TxDOT

Good morning. Here’s another story about harassment and discrimination being suffered by female and minority employees at a public institution, in this case the state Department of Transportation.

The Texas Department of Transportation held Tamela Saldana up as a “superhero” when she trekked across the state working to help contract with minority and women-owned businesses. But everywhere she went, Saldana said she encountered a similar troubling scene.

“I traveled to almost every district in TxDOT, and the faces were the same. They were the same. They were male, and they were predominately white male,” Saldana said. “If you saw a minority person, they were going to be the lowest level – the person who checked you into the front desk or the person who was out in the parking lot picking up litter.”

After more than a decade of glowing performance reviews, Saldana’s tenure with TxDOT came to an acrimonious end in 2012. That year, TxDOT fired the former University of Texas track star. She, in turn, sued for discrimination.

A KXAN investigation of TxDOT’s workforce reveals Saldana’s experience is one of hundreds that underscore the agency’s ongoing struggle to address gender and racial disparities — and their unfortunate side effects — in a culture historically and predominantly composed of white men, especially at its highest echelons.

KXAN found workers officially made more than 200 allegations against the agency in the past five years. Many of those came from women and minorities alleging harassment, discrimination and retaliation, according to internal TxDOT documents obtained through an open records request. Dozens of workers have also sued the agency in recent years on those grounds, according to court records.

Go read the rest. Basically, TxDOT is less reflective of society at large and the state’s overall civil workforce than it was a decade ago. It’s a problem on a number of levels, and it would be nice if our state’s leadership paid some attention to it. Link via the Trib/a>.

Enabling better transit

This is great.

For less than the cost of a single bus, however, Metro might be the first transit agency in the country to take a significant step across an entire bus system that could open riding options to scores of vision-impaired customers with the use of a smartphone.

The secret is a small beacon about the size of a garage door opener, placed atop every one of those bus-stop poles.

“It is amazing when you see a need you can address it with new technologies,” said Lex Frieden, a member of the transit agency’s board and a nationally acclaimed disability-access advocate.

Users can plot their location using a mapping program, then the beacons are integrated into the directions. Often, the biggest challenge for some users is finding precisely where a bus stop is located at an intersection, or in the middle of a long block.

“It is about getting that information and getting it in your hands,” said Randy Frazier, Metro’s chief technology officer.

As someone approaches their intended stop, their phone receives signals from the beacon, which can send an alert to their phone. Alerts can be delivered either as audio instructions, such as how a mapping program gives drivers voice instructions to turn left or right, or as tactile directions that use pulsing so someone can understand the instructions via sense of touch. As they draw closer to the stop, the pulses increase until the rider knows they are in the correct spot.

[…]

The beacons are a relatively inexpensive leap that could put Metro at the forefront of making transit more accessible for many potential riders. In addition to an aging population of Baby Boomers, many of whom will need transit in the future as they lose the ability to drive, Metro and other transit agencies struggle to lessen para-transit costs.

MetroLift, which offers door-to-door service for elderly and disabled passengers, costs Metro $2.47 per mile, according to 2016 data. Providing a taxi, where applicable, reduces the cost to $1.26 per mile a passenger is carried.

Conventional transit, meanwhile, costs Metro less, about $1.11 per mile for a bus and $1.17 for light rail. When that’s considered across nearly 590 million miles of transit travel in the Houston area, shifting some of the riders to buses and trains could save millions of dollars and give elderly and disabled riders more freedom to travel without prearranged plans.

Installing a beacon at all of Metro’s roughly 9,000 bus stops is expected to cost $375,000, meaning for less than the cost of a single bus every place that a bus stops will be accessible to the visually impaired and others.

Better service for more people at a lower cost. Gotta love that. I don’t have a point to make here, I just want to make sure you keep this in mind when you hear all the blather from the usual blowhards when Metro rolls out its comprehensive transit plan later this year.

Pot versus Pete

I love this story.

Marijuana reform activists have created a new super PAC aimed exclusively at defeating Texas Republican Rep. Pete Sessions, the House Rules Committee chairman who has blocked cannabis reform legislation from reaching the House floor.

Marijuana Policy Project founder and former Executive Director Rob Kampia is leading the effort, which he said is crucial to legalizing medical marijuana federally and affirming federalism for recreational pot, two policies supported in principle by President Trump.

“Everyone knows who he is and that he’s our biggest problem on Capitol Hill. Half of my job has already been done by Pete Sessions himself,” Kampia told the Washington Examiner. “All I’m going to do is pass the hat.”

[…]

Kampia left MPP last year and now leads the Marijuana Leadership Campaign, a small group with a narrower agenda. He recently registered the super PAC, called Texans Removing Outdated and Unresponsive Politicians, ahead of a Wednesday donor meeting in New Orleans.

“[Sessions] is in fact what I call a sphincter who is constipating the process,” Kampia said. “The reason we haven’t won is just process; it’s not content.”

Kampia aims to raise $500,000, which he believes he can do after “having raised $4 million a year for this issue” at MPP, where he oversaw a variety of state efforts, including a major role in Colorado’s 2012 recreational legalization campaign.

In addition to the super PAC, which can independently spend unlimited amounts, Kampia plans to bundle contributions for the Democrat who wins a May 22 runoff primary and provide support for Libertarian candidate Melina Baker.

“I am going to bundle a whole bunch of checks and send them to the Democrat without talking to the Democrat. You are going to see a bunch of $2,700 checks flowing from the same people who you’re going to see on our [super PAC] reports,” he said.

The district’s two Democratic contenders, Colin Allred and Lillian Salerno, did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Although he believes their positions are acceptable, Kampia said, “It doesn’t matter if they are good on marijuana — we just need him out.”

I noted this in my Congressional runoff report, but didn’t get around to running this until now, when we know that Colin Allred is the runoff winner. I just want to say that “Legislative Sphincter” is now the name of my Butthole Surfers tribute band. No joke, though, Pete Sessions is seriously anti-pot – just read the quotes in that Examiner story. As D Magazine noted, both Democratic candidates in the runoff favored medical marijuana, so there was a winner either way for this PAC. I can’t wait to see the ads that Texans Removing Outdated and Unresponsive Politicians produces. The Dallas Observer has more.