Watson Surveys Stakeholders on Cap Metro Reforms

Now is the time to act, senator says

CAMPO chair and Sen. Kirk Watson
CAMPO chair and Sen. Kirk Watson (Photo by John Anderson)

In 2007, Capital Metro underwent a peer review ordered by the Capital Area Metro­pol­itan Planning Organization, the agency responsible for transportation planning in the Austin area, measuring it against nine comparable transit authorities around the nation. The results were published in November 2008, and now Austin state senator and CAMPO Chair Kirk Watson says it's time to act. Last week, Watson sent a list of recommendations to area transportation stakeholders and asked for feedback to help him determine whether to file legislation to accomplish his goals.

"While I appreciate the optimism of some of the [peer review] recommendations, being a pragmatist is necessary going into a legislative session," Watson wrote. "The review gave some excellent general guidance that now requires the creation of specific proposals. In some instances, the review gave some specific recommendations that may not be legislatively practical." Some changes are necessary, Watson says, because current restrictions on Cap Metro – put in place by the Legislature because, "In 1997, Capital Metro was a disgrace to our community," rife with "corruption and bad management" – are now obsolete, especially now that elected officials are a part of Cap Metro's board.

His major recommendations:

• The Capital Metro board: Change the makeup to reflect that Austin is the core of Cap Metro. Two of CAMPO's three appointments to the board would have to be "from the largest city," including one elected official, one person with at least 10 years of financial/accounting experience, and one with 10 years of "professional staff executive experience in a medium or large government or private sector entity." The other four seats would be joint appointments by, respectively, the city of Austin and Williamson County, Austin and Travis County, Austin and Hays County, and small cities within Cap Metro's jurisdiction. When 35% of the population served by Cap Metro is outside the largest city, two additional board members would by allocated by CAMPO.

• Fares: Give CAMPO final say over fare increases, but allow Cap Metro to approve fare discounts.

• Rail expansion: Allow Cap Metro flexibility to extend passenger rail lines up to one mile "for improved performance" without having to submit the proposal to voters in an election (currently, state law requires this, specifically of Cap Metro), and enter a contract to operate or maintain passenger rail without an election.

Watson asked that the stakeholders' feedback be returned to him by Friday, Feb. 27. "I will consider all the input I receive during that time to determine whether or not I will introduce a bill that accomplishes these goals," he concluded. "Of course, I will be open to discussing details of the final bill after introduction, but your input will provide me a gauge for the interest of this community in, and stomach to achieve, these goals."

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Cap Metro, Kirk Watson, CAMPO, Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, Capital Metro, 81st Legislature

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