What’s going on with Metro these days?
Although leaders of the region’s transit agency are confident that they will secure $900 million in federal funding to build more light rail lines in Houston, they have begun discussing fare increases and advertising on buses as ways to pay for rail if they do not get the money.
“We are looking at the mathematics of a fare increase to help with completion of the lines,” Metropolitan Transit Authority board chairman Gilbert Garcia said during a visit with the Houston Chronicle’s editorial board Wednesday.
Acting Metro CEO George Greanias did not rule out a fare increase as part of the annual budget the board must adopt in September and said such a plan could emerge as early as next month.
No proposal is in the works, however, Greanias emphasized.
So this is basically a trial balloon. Look for the usual op-ed from Bill King any day now. Seriously, if you do have an opinion, now would be the time to express it to them.
The bit about ads on buses was interesting. Hair Balls makes it sound like that avenue has already been foreclosed.
About five years ago, Metro V-P George Smalley tells Hair Balls, the agency put out a request for bids for bus-shelter ads. The results showed the aforementioned “tens of millions” in revenue and savings over a 15-year period were possible. (The savings would come from bus-shelter maintenance being the responsibility of the winning bidder, not Metro.)
But there were problems: “The effort stalled, in part, because of an existing city ordinance prohibiting commercial advertising in city rights of way, which is where our shelters are located,” Smalley says.
Last year, the agency tried again, this time looking into advertising strictly on buses. Again, no go. “This was during the national economic collapse,” Smalley says. “I don’t recall the specific numbers in the bids, but the revenue potential was anemic and not deemed sufficient enough then to further pursue advertising on buses.”
He says there are no current studies, or plans to further request advertising bids, underway at Metro.
Well, there’s no proposal currently in the works to raise fares, either, so make of that what you will. I blogged about Metro’s previous attempt to do ads on buses, and I still don’t understand the reluctance about them. Heck, I think Metro shouldn’t limit itself to buses but should have ads on light rail cars, too. To my mind, this is basically free money. If school buses can have ads, why can’t Metro buses? Get with the program, I say.
According to the Examiner, there is some decent news for Metro and its financial situation.
[Greanias] called a decline in sales tax revenues a “far greater” concern than a possible change in federal funding or fare box revenues.
Earlier in the meeting, Board member Dwight Jefferson reported that tax revenues were down slightly compared to last year, but were still ahead of projections.
It would be nicer if they were up, but you take what you can get. Most of that story was about Metro modifying a questionable real estate contract with McDade Smith Gould Johnston Mason + Co. For the full details of that, read this Examiner story from a couple of weeks ago. That ought to save Metro a few bucks down the line, but even if it doesn’t, it was the right thing to do. Hair Balls has more.