Friday, November 9, 2007

Light Rail, Heavy Burden

Timothy Tuxedo

THIS article from the Houston Free Press by Alex Wukman varies its criticisms wildly from Hazmat sites to cronyism, land grabbing and voter manipulation. Even if you're still pro-rail after reading it you'll know that something has got to give, and maybe someone has got to go. Except for one allusionary paragraph comparing the local ridiculousness to national politics, this could be a a justifiable case of journalistic integrity; here's some highlights:

" the five miles between Hillcroft and the University of Houston there are 540 different Hazmat sites that Metro’s construction will possibly affect."

"...when a person gets on a bus or train that is a “boarding”. If you have to transfer, that is another boarding. ...even if the trip takes longer and is less convenient, it is counted as “increased” service."

"...six months after they cut the 68 bus line through third ward because it was too costly, Metro spent $60,000 to convert the entire system map for an IPOD download."

"procurement contracts revealed that in August Metro spent $96, 677.40 on “coffee services.”"

"Metro spent $448,344 for “bus shelter cleaning in downtown”... $136, 305.00 of the expenditure went to a company called “BJ’s Enterprise”, located in Webster, Texas. Several attempts were made to contact anyone from BJ’s Enterprise to discuss the terms of the contract; however the company is not listed in the city of Webster phone book or any phone book in the Houston-Galveston area. They have no website, their only address is a post office box and all mail sent was returned.

"The remaining $312,039 of the cleaning bill was paid out to the Houston Downtown Management District. The Houston Downtown Management District, or HDMD, is a taxing entity whose services are, according to the their website, “financed by assessing all downtown property owners, based upon their value determined by the 2005 certified tax rolls of the Harris County Appraisal District, and by a rate determined annually by the Board.” Also on the HDMD website is a statement that their “primary focus is to leverage public funds with private resources to improve facilities and services.” Taken at face value, these statements would seem to indicate that Metro is paying out over $300,000 for services to an organization that is already collecting public money for performing the same services."

"In 1997 [current METRO CEO] Mr. Wilson agreed to pay the State of New Jersey a $1,200 fine for possible violations of NJDOT’s ethics code and the state’s conflict of interest laws. An audit released that year indicated that one of the firms offering Mr. Wilson a job had received a consulting contract in violation of state purchasing rules, to the end result (as reported in the New York Times) of New Jersey taxpayers being overbilled by some $300,000-- if that figure sounds familiar, it should. It's about how much Metro is paying the Downtown Management District for apparently redundant cleaning services."