Our readers talk back.
Capital Metro Responds
I'd like to respond to the May 21 article, "Shuttle Bus Battle" [News]. The statement "UT shuttle drivers consistently handle a comparable workload" to Capital Metro operators is inaccurate. ATC/Vancom shuttle bus operators are part-time, seasonal employees who average 1,228 hours of work per year just over half as many as full-time Capital Metro operators, who average 2,080 hours per year.
Likening the work, salaries, and benefits of the two is not a fair comparison. It would be more accurate to compare the UT shuttle drivers to Capital Metro's part-time operators, who earn from $12.49 to $14.28 per hour. Capital Metro contributes 50% of the cost of part-time drivers' health insurance. ATC drivers are eligible for insurance if they work about 25 hours per week and can become eligible for 100% coverage based on seniority. ATC/Vancom does provide dental insurance coverage as well as paid time off, contrary to what is listed in the article. In fact, ATC/Vancom offers more extensive health insurance coverage than both UT and the city of Austin. And UT shuttle drivers have a benefit that Capital Metro operators do not: They are given 20 discretionary unpaid days off each year, and can give as little as three hours' notice to take such a day off.
Regarding federal funds: "Formula" funds are awarded based on several criteria, one of which is ridership. Across our service area, those funds go toward the purchase of new buses, shelters, and benches at bus stops and other capital expenditures. Since UT is in our service area, they also benefit from these funds. The amount received in fiscal 2003 that can be attributed to UT ridership is an estimated $1.3 million. Compare that to the yearly cost of purchasing UT shuttle vehicles: about $1.9 million per year.
In response to the assertion that Capital Metro "just wants the numbers" from UT ridership, I'd like to point out some numbers of our own: the countless hours our planning department spends with UT students, faculty, and staff each year, designing, revising, and improving the UT shuttle routes; the dozens of customer service team members available to our UT riders; and this spring's doubling of ridership on the E-bus, which was created directly at the urging of student riders. Finally, I point to the most recent UT shuttle rider poll, in which the shuttle service received higher scores this year in every category, and 87% of respondents rated shuttle safety as "excellent or good."
We are committed to our partnership with UT and its riders, and will continue to focus on providing safe, efficient, quality service to everyone we serve.
Sincerely Fred Gilliam
Doesn't Like CTRMA's Approach
I am a fan of toll roads, but Mike Clark-Madison's "For Whom the Road Tolls" [News, May 21] provided a simplistic view of the CTRMA.
Instead of planning alternative roadways or HOV lanes, the CTRMA is trumpeting "additional capacity." As an Eastside resident, I enthusiastically watched as TxDOT began expanding U.S. 183 into a full-fledged highway, with two lanes of high-speed roadway and two lanes of stop-and-go access road. Now CTRMA is telling me the high speed roadway being paid for with tax dollars is additional capacity, and I can pay a toll for the "new road" or continue to use the same, inadequate lanes of stop-and-go road, now known as "access road." All right, admittedly TxDOT is in a cash crunch and we should all pay our way, but let us look to the west side of town, shall we?
While the Eastside has stop-and-go lanes along 183, the west side has free highway along Loop 1. When CTRMA comes in, west-side residents will still have three lanes of free highway, plus two new lanes of toll way. While the Eastside has to choose between stop-and-go and a highway, west-side citizens will have nothing but highway to choose from. In other words, the citizens least able to afford tolls will have no choice but to use them.
While I want to see some toll roads built in our region, I don't like CTRMA's all-or-nothing approach. Ask yourself: Where will the profits from the toll roads go? Will noncompete clauses signed to guarantee profits allow for improvements to I-35 over the next 30 years? Why aren't we spending this money on public transit projects? Do we want 45 to be connected over the aquifer? In the final analysis, CTRMA is thumbing its nose at ECT and is simply sounding the bugle call of the road warriors.
[Mike Clark-Madison responds: I think the writer's right about the equity issue in the sense that the U.S. 183/Texas 71 East segments should have been done long ago, long before South MoPac or Loop 360, and weren't because they're on the Eastside (not the entire reason, but a big one). But we need to remember that we can solve the equity problem simply by tolling existing roads, up to and including I-35, which is politically threatening right now but by no means impossible. (I should note that TxDOT insists that nothing in the SH 130 noncompetes prevents the agency from improving I-35, and the CTRMA's current plan does not connect SH 45 over the aquifer.) Progressives can and must continue to be vigilant in ensuring that the road plan doesn't lead to further inequity (or further sprawl), but they can do that without opposing the current CTRMA plan itself. That's where I'm at.]
Texas Prisons as Bad as Iraq
I have just finished reading Michael King's article "Pardoned by Satan" [News, May 28], and my heart is saddened. Many of us live in fear, but our fear should not blind us to the events of our material world. Photographs have been shown from Iraq, but those photographs could have easily come from inside our own Texas prisons. Most people don't know that there is no air-conditioning or central heating for offenders in Texas prisons. Prisoner rape is common, but little is done to decrease it much less stop it. The karmic consequences of not treating another human being as a human being I don't even want to think about. I challenge my fellow Texans to drive to Huntsville after making a visitation appointment with an offender in a maximum or "super-max" security prison and look the person straight in the eye. If compassion is not the first thing you feel, then I recommend you contacting your clergy of choice ASAP.
The Rev. Russell Scott Carpenter Texas Coordinator Innocent in Prison Project
TxDOT's Smoking Gun
TxDOT's "Toll Finance 101" proves to be a smoking gun ["For Whom the Road Tolls," News, May 21]:
, part three, titled "Toll Finance 101," p. 10.
It shows TxDOT's plan to force drivers on toll roads by:
1) limiting free alternatives;
2) avoiding frontage roads (or using discontinuous frontage roads); and
3) not providing new free-access roads.
Return of the Draft
Thanks for Michael Ventura's "Letters @ 3am" [May 14] focusing on the possible return of a military draft. Ventura made several good points, but clarification is needed about seeking conscientious objector status in the event of a draft. Case law during the Vietnam War made it possible for young people to apply for conscientious objector status based on "moral or ethical" grounds, not only religious grounds. One need not follow any religious practice or belong to any religious group in order to prove a well-founded objection to participation in war, nor would one need a statement from a pastor to support one's claim. Also, it's not too late for high school seniors or college students to assemble a CO claim. It is recommended that young people create files for themselves of documents that would support a CO claim, including written statements from adults who can vouch for their sincerity. Such files should also contain one's own statement of belief regarding war, papers or reports one may have written for school, or fliers saved from events one has attended that show one's objection to war.
Is a military draft likely? Opinions differ, but if there were a draft, those turning 20 would likely be drafted first, and they would have little time to prepare a CO claim. So, it would be wise to start putting together materials now, even if it just means collecting supporting documents in a shoebox. I don't share Ventura's sense of imminence about a draft, but I agree that a draft would likely include women this time around.
For more information, contact The Center on Conscience & War at
, the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors at
, or locally, Nonmilitary Options for Youth at 467-2946. Enlisted personnel can call the GI Rights Hotline at 800/394-9544.
Susan Van Haitsma
The crack about Jenna Bush in last week's "Naked City" [News, May 28] was totally inappropriate. Punishing children for the sins of their parents is the sort of thing a Republican would do. When you stoop to their level, you're no better than they are. In point of fact, Jenna's youthful antics, committed in spite of the embarrassment they created for her infamous father, are an indicator of the kind of high spirits that we could use more of in Austin, the opinions of aging, crabby ex-hippies notwithstanding.
Smoking Ordinance Unfair
We would like to talk to you about the impending smoking ordinance and its effect on our business. The current ordinance has not allowed one single restaurant to get a permit. The only people who have received permits are strictly bars. The ordinance was supposed to not affect live music venues, however it is completely the opposite in our case. Why? Because a restaurant cannot meet the 70% food sales to 30% liquor sales requirement if it serves food all day. The requirement does not allow us to not serve food and split our sales during that time when the live music is playing. Therefore if you are a club with no food, no problem. A restaurant? Your choice is to eliminate food sales or cancel all music because we can't compete on a level playing field. In addition, with the ordinance the way it was written we were able to comply with it and did over $100,000 in renovations to be a live music venue. Now, with the "between the lines" requirements we would have to spend another $200,000 to comply. There is much more to talk about but too long to list in an e-mail. I have all the names for all the city personnel and engineers we have talked to.
Wanton Development Bad
I have just read the article in The Austin Chronicle about the proposed projects on Hamilton Pool Road and I am appalled ["Westward Ho!" News, May 28].
No one seems to care anymore about the sensitivity of the Edwards Aquifer, the rich beauty of that area, the unique hidden treasure of Blue Hole (a longtime secret swimming hole), nor the overdevelopment of already congested Austin. I am so sad to see the landscape being shaped by rich, money-hungry, careless out-of-towners. The thought that the future holds more strip malls and suburban sprawl, with politicians and developers deciding how to drastically change the Hill Country into a money trap for California consumers. Ruining our land for what benefit or future generation's benefit? My children will not be able to see the heart of Austin. The impact alone on the Edwards Aquifer should stop all development in the area. What about the Recharge Zone? What about the water quality for the rest of us? Does anyone care what the people of Austin think? This land is all of ours and we have the right to say "no." After years of enjoying the hidden places like Hamilton Pool, because it is such a gorgeous drive out there during the springtime, I fear it won't be that way forever. The LCRA is the middleman in all this and y'all ought to be ashamed. Disheartening to say the least that there isn't anyone standing up for the true Austin. The most scenic of all of Texas, an oasis, or was an oasis. Maybe when the development is done (if we don't stop it), one of you guys that is working on this project will drive out there in 10 years and see the sad destruction and environmental degradation caused by careless developers and disinformed citizens. I hope you guys can sleep at night, because I can't.
Throwing the Gauntlet
I love your paper for the entertainment, information, and the belly laughs I get when reading the letters you print from the laughable left fringe. Where do you find these deluded people? Gore lost the election because Gore ran a lousy campaign, apparently did not understand the Electoral College, and managed to lose his own home state. (When was the last time, if ever, a major party candidate had the talent to do that?) And I love the bit about a Republican conspiracy to make the butterfly ballot disqualify all those Gore voters (fortuitously ignoring the fact that the ballot was designed and implemented by Democrat-elected officials; now that's a hell of a Republican conspiracy). I even recall recently reading on your pages how farmers vote Republican even though Republican policies are bad for farmers; now this had to be written by someone that probably never set foot on a farm, but by being ultraliberal, they, of course, know better than those poor stupid fools that actually work on farms. People, you cannot keep making these kinds of arguments and have any credibility. (How about this, just maybe a farmer knows more about what is good for farmers than nonfarmers do wow, who would have thought?)
While I certainly enjoy good political discourse, it does require some degree of intelligent argument. I would really enjoy reading better thought-out points of view that do not make ludicrous conclusions (like 9/11 would not have happened if Gore had been elected huh? Radical Muslims hate all of us because we aren't radical Muslims). Come on, you can do it. This upcoming election is going to be a hard fought and close one; we the people desire some intelligent discussion and not pure dogma. Consider the gauntlet thrown.
Hispanics Need to Be Heard
Dear Editor (and Austin),
I really enjoyed Belinda Acosta's May 28 article and tribute piece to Gloria Anzaldua ["TV Eye," Screens].
I also enjoyed the reflections she had regarding the lack of prominent Latino/Hispanic figures in mainstream TV. I must admit, now at 25, I can see that I am a direct product of this.
Like many Hispanic-Americans today, my culture is one of many paths. Raised in the U.S. just outside of Dallas, I grew up with a positive image at home but a negative one in the public. This forced me to put a "cultural" mental block up, and I eventually turned my back on my roots and my heritage.
It's a shame to see that the struggle for Hispanic America has been a movement to recognize us beyond this "invisible" society we are often viewed as. And it's far more detrimental to "not exist" than to have a strong voice and speak out.
As Hispanics, we must speak out more or face cultural extinction.
I am happy to say that I am being tapped by national production companies to explore this issue of growing up on "both sides of the fence," and the program I produce locally, the Austin Music Network Student Filmmakers Showcase, is one of the reasons for this. AMN SFS employs a very diverse group of student interns, including two Hispanics and one African-American, and eight of the 11 students are female.
I hope that soon I can offer a broader range of film and television for future generations.
Executive producer, AMN SFS
Don't Cut Lactation Services
I was dismayed to learn in last week's Chronicle ["Naked City," May 28] that several area hospitals are eliminating lactation services. I am a huge proponent of breast-feeding, having nursed two children myself.
The first few days after a baby is born are crucial in the establishment of breast-feeding for mother and baby (and for some, it takes several trying weeks to get it together). Many women want to breast-feed but need some education in order to help their babies nurse properly. If it's done wrong, an infant can become malnourished or fail to thrive, and a pediatrician might suggest a switch to formula. A lactation consultant who is available in the hospital is often the only person who can help a new mother and baby get breast-feeding off the ground. I needn't go into the benefits of breast-feeding for both baby and mother surely the hospital administrators know them. So I am perplexed that they would make a decision that could potentially adversely affect so many. Of course, poor women and their children stand to lose the most here, since they likely can't afford an outside lactation consultant, but even women with financial resources might give up on breast-feeding if they don't have available postpartum support.
I urge the administrators of these hospitals to reconsider this damaging decision.
We Have Copies
I am roommates with one of the coolest people on Earth. His name is Jonas Miller. He is a totally committed reader of the Chronicle.
This afternoon I accidentally mutilated the front page of a Chronicle that I thought was no longer needed. He went berserk! Absolutely insane. My first thought was (having been a Communications major at one time) there are probably five or six million of these in an office building somewhere in Austin.
So, my question to you is, is it possible that I can get a copy of the Chronicle Vol. 23, No. 38? if this is possible, it would be greatly appreciated. I have a deep desire to prove to him that that particular copy wasn't the last one on Earth, and that he can get another.
Thank you so much.
Warm regards, James Wade
Benefit for Beaten Dog
If people are wondering how the American soldiers were able to commit those heinous acts in Iraq, take trophy pictures, and then sleep at night, check this out: Last week a woman was woken up in the middle of the night by the sound of a dog yelping for its life. She was horrified to find a dog in a plastic bag, beaten with a baseball bat, and thrown down a 20-foot ravine behind her house. With the help of the APD, who answered the call within three minutes, wrapped the dog in a blanket, and took it to emergency care in their squad car, she was able to save this dog's life (now known as Forest). There will be a benefit at Jo's coffee shop on June 18th, all proceeds to be spent on vet bills. Cruelty starts at home but so does love keep hope alive!
The Human Voice Is Lost
Communication. How is it possible when flooded with a barrage of electronica? The human voice is lost.
The heavens are radioactive. The earth has become a bed for asphalt, concrete, and steel. What sleep is there?
Todd Alan Smith