Cap Metro Not Budging on Budget

Board hears earful on inaccessible bus stops

Monday's public hearing on Capital Metro's proposed FY 2010 budget boiled down to two issues: accessibility for people with disabilities and, to a lesser extent, how to spend federal stimulus money.

Numerous speakers with some form of disability lined up to lambaste the Capital Metro board of directors for the agency's bus stops, which they say are insufficiently accessible to riders in wheelchairs. "Capital Metro, by their own internal surveys by their own staff, have identified that two out of three bus stops continue to have issues with accessibility," David Witte of Adapt of Texas, a disability rights organization, complained to the board. "That's over 2,000 bus stops that have problems. ... Access to the bus stop is not an amenity, it's a necessity.

"The American-Statesman yesterday identified over $40,000 a day being spent on rail projects that are not even running," Witte continued. "If we were spending $40,000 a day for bus stop access improvements ... I wouldn't even be up here talking to you."

On the rail side, representatives of the Downtown Austin Alliance and the Down­­town Austin Neighborhood Assoc­i­a­tion were on hand to vouch for the Lean­der-to-Downtown commuter line. Both oppose shifting $2.6 million in federal stimulus money from rail improvements to regular operating expenses in order to push back a fare increase from January to August.

"We think it's an unwise choice," said the DAA's Tom Stacy, urging that the money be used for the long-term investment of rail. "Currently, in 2007, before the first fare increase [when single-ride fares went from 50 cents to 75 cents], the national average of fare recovery was 17½ percent. After the second phase of the fare increase goes into effect [75 cents to $1], Capital Metro's fare recovery will still be only 8 percent. ... We think it's really important that we not use long-term capital money for a short-term fix for seven months."

Board member and Austin Mayor Pro Tem Mike Martinez said he hears the concerns about the stimulus fund shift but compared it to the Domain subsidies: "What we agreed to was a phased approach, with the second [increase] coming in August of 2010," he said. "For me, our word is our word, whether we make an agreement with a multibillion dollar corporation or with some of the poorest folks in this community."

After the meeting, conversations with some board members indicated that little had been said to move them to request major changes to the budget. Board members said inaccessible stops concerned them, but Martinez said in the current economic climate, there wasn't much more that could be done in this budget cycle. "Let's say, for example, Adapt of Texas goes out and sues. And what if a judge says, 'You have to spend $50 million upgrading your stops tomorrow'? [Then] we're bankrupt. We're shut down. What is the point proven ... if you're going to crush the agency? We're committed to improving those stops, but it's going to be a shared burden moving forward."

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