Capital Metro

Photo courtesy Twitter user JenelleS_KVUE, http://yfrog.com/mnhspfwj

This spring, Austinite Jeremy Barta was killed when a MetroRail commuter train collided with his car while it was stuck on the tracks at a private rail crossing. Barta’s two children also suffered in the accident. The train engineer was cleared in an internal Cap Metro investigation, despite a malfunction of the train’s camera system.

In a report today, the Austin American-Statesman raises new questions about the crash. 

According to police reports, the engineer didn’t immediately apply the brakes as soon as he saw the car on the tracks:

The engineer, Kazi Adnan Jahangir, 43, applied the train's emergency brakes and sounded the horn and bells only after realizing that the white Ford Taurus, driven by Jeremy Barta, might not move off the tracks, the documents said.

Starting this Sunday, Capital Metro and UT shuttle bus routes are changing with the seasons. Cap Metro says the changes are an attempt to improve the system and make it more efficient.

Major route adjustments will include changes to 30 Barton Creek, which will no longer serve the Barton Hills/Hollow Creek neighborhood, and the 323 Anderson lines, which changes alignment from Ed Bluestein Boulevard to Springdale Road and Tuscany Way.

Minor schedule adjustments will made to the following routes to improve reliability: 4 Montopolis, 7 Duval/Dove Springs, 19 Bull Creek, 30 Barton Creek, 101 N. Lamar/S. Congress, 151 Allandale, 243 Wells Branch, 323 Anderson, 338 Westgate/45th and 383 Research. Several Night Owl routes will also be realigned.

Daniel Reese for KUT News

Capital Metro is upgrading rail warning systems at some private MetroRail crossings.

Jeremy Barta, 32, of Austin was killed and his two children were injured when their car was hit by train at a private crossing in April.

Cap Metro now plans to install flashing warning lights at six crossings. The company will install the lights at one crossing per year for the next six years – at a cost of about $200,000 per crossing.

KUT News

Business Can Sue New Braunfels Over Can Ban

The Associated Press reports that a judge has ruled that tourism businesses and others can sue New Braunfels over the city's so-called "can ban." The city says it will appeal the decision and that the ban remains in effect.

Floating on area rivers is a longstanding tradition during hot Texas summers – one often enjoyed with a few adult beverages in tow. But turnout on local rivers has been down over the last several years, attributable to flooding, drought and, according to ban opponents, a recent prohibition on disposable containers.

The ban was approved last summer by the New Braunfels City Council over concerns about the cost of cleaning up after visitors. Voters affirmed the ban last November when it was brought to a ballot referendum by opponents.  The ban went into effect this summer.

Capital Metro

An off-duty bus driver committed suicide on a Capital Metro bus yesterday evening in front of other passengers. The man worked for Capital Metro through Star Tran, a non-profit group that employs the drivers and technicians.

Capital Metro issued the following statement this afternoon:

Capital Metro is deeply saddened to report that an employee died last evening aboard a Capital Metro bus from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. The employee, Jesus Rios, 47, had been a bus operator for Star Tran, Inc for 11 years, and had been placed on suspension for disciplinary reasons earlier this month by Star Tran.

Following the incident, the bus operator acted swiftly to safely escort the six passengers off of the bus. There were no injuries to the bus operator or passengers. The incident occurred in the 3100 block of Red River Street in Austin at 8:40 p.m.

Allen photo Capital Metro; Bus photo by Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

Effective immediately, Capital Metro vice-president and chief development officer Doug Allen has resigned.

“Doug resigned on Tuesday,” Cap Metro spokesperson Misty Whited tells KUT News. “It’s been something that he and [Cap Metro president and CEO] Linda Watson had been talking about for some time.”

Allen came aboard Cap Metro in 2008, and served as interim president a year later, before a national search installed Watson as the transit authority’s leader. In a blog from the time, the Austin Chronicle wrote that Allen was “the point man on recent efforts to get MetroRail up and running.”

KUT News

Capital Metro is celebrating the recent passage of a federal highway bill. The bill authorizes $105 billion for spending on transportation projects nationwide over a two-year period

The new transportation law is called "Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century" or MAP-21.

Capital Metro says the law provides much-needed stability. Capital Metro officials say MAP-21 gives a stable source of funding that's necessary for projects like bus and facility improvements.

(clockwise from left) Umlauf Gallery; photo courtesy flickr.com/environmentblog; photo by Jeff Heimsath for KUT News

Cap Metro Preps Layoffs in Labor Transition; Says Most Employees Will Be Offered Jobs

Capital Metro is laying off more than 800 union employees as it prepares to outsource those jobs to two contractors.

The transit agency says the union workers will be offered jobs under the new operators, as long as they can pass driving and drug tests.

More than 50 supervisors are also being laid off. They are not part of the union so they are not guaranteed new jobs, but will be given first consideration, Cap Metro says.

Photo by KUT News, Photo by Jeff Heimsath for KUT News, Photo courtesy texassports.com

Unsolved Murders to get Another Look?

Today Austin’s Public Safety Commission will consider a change in the way the city investigates unsolved crimes like the Yogurt Shop Murders.

The commission’s vice chair says the city needs to spend money on external reviews for some unsolved crimes because Austin Police Department detectives know too much about the cases and aren’t able to be as open-minded about possible solutions

Dr. Kim Rossmo says the Yogurt Shop Murders should be the first case considered for an external review. In 1991, the bodies of four teenage girls were discovered after a fire in a yogurt shop. Convictions in the crime were overturned.

Photo by Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

You may not know University of Texas freshman Nick Engmann by name – but if you follow Austin news, you’ve probably seen a video of him.

It’s a clip the electrical engineering major says he’s eager to put behind him. One month ago, Engmann was taking part in an end of semester campus tradition where finals-weary students charge at each other with foam swords to blow off steam. Engmann bolted across Guadaulpe Street to enter the fray – and was hit by a Capital Metro bus.

The video went viral, amassing 3.6 million views on YouTube.

Photo by Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

Video captured earlier today on the UT Campus shows an incident that injured one student, albeit not seriously.

The video below captures a scene from Foam Sword Friday, an end-of-semester tradition of sorts, where students relieve finals anxiety by engaging in faux battle.  As you can see, one participant received a blow from a Cap Metro bus instead.

The Daily Texan tweeted the student suffered only minor injuries.

Photo courtesy flickr.com/djwhitebread

H-E-B Recalls Meals

Central Texas-based grocery store H-E-B has announced a “voluntary and precautionary recall” for its Asian Ready-to-Eat meals. According to the grocer:  

The recall involves 19 Ready-to-Eat entrées and meals sold in 40 stores in Texas including one store in Houston. The product was available at the Grab 'N Go section in H-E-B Delis. The product(s) come in a 4 ounce, 8 ounce, 12 ounce, 24 ounce black plastic containers with a clear lid, single serve sizes and to-go containers … Any product sold prior to 5/3/12 is affected and should be returned to any H-E-B store for a full refund.

Photo courtesy Twitter user JenelleS_KVUE, http://yfrog.com/mnhspfwj

Update 1 p.m.: Capital Metro says complete rail service should be back on regular schedule by 1:15 p.m.

Update 10:30 a.m.: A 32 year-old man was killed in a Capital Metro rail collision this morning. Two children were also in the car with the unnamed man, and were taken to Dell Children’s Hospital. Capital Metro spokesperson Misty Whited tells KUT she’s learned the children are in stable condition.

127 passengers were aboard the train at the time of the collision, plus one train operator.

The collision occurred at a private drive crossing the Cap Metro rail line; out of 74 total crossings along the rail line, 13 are on private drives. Only two have crossing gates; the crossing at Oak Hill Drive (mapped below) did not have a gate, only a stop sign.

Photo courtesy Van Sutherland via Flickr

This morning, Capital Metro bus drivers and mechanics met their soon-to-be employers. Representatives from the companies that Cap Metro is contracting out services with were at the bus garages at 4 a.m. for a quick meet and greet.

Yesterday, the Capital Metro Board of Directors voted to outsource hundreds of employees. Those include regular bus drivers and mechanics along with people who provide door-to-door services for the disabled.

A new law required Cap Metro either to outsource their workers or bring them in as state employees.

Cap Metro staff has proposed separate contractors for regualr bus routes and its paratransit services, pictured above.
Photo courtesy Flickr user i-Ride Capital Metro

Today, Capital Metro staff met with the agency Board of Directors to make recommendations on new contractor bids. Monday, the board will make a final decision.

These are the last few steps towards a new labor structure for Capital Metro. The changes are required to comply with a new state law that requires transit employees to either become employees of the state or to become employees of a private contractor. The union that represents most of the employees chose the latter option so they could retain collective bargaining rights.

The board will need to choose one contractor for employees of fixed-route bus services and another for employees of paratransit services (door-to-door services for people with disabilities). The board could also choose to have one contractor employ workers of both services.

Willie and a friend gets a sneak peek at his bronze likeness.
Photo courtesy willienelson.com

Willie Nelson Statue Unveiled

A statue of famed country musician Willie Nelson will be unveiled today.

The eight-foot tall, one-ton statue will stand on the plaza located on Willie Nelson Boulevard (aka Second Street) and Lavaca Street, at the foot of the Austin City Limits Live Theater. Capital Area Statues has worked on the project over the past several years and as board president Lawrence Wright describes it, the statue will be another fixture of Austin’s culture.

“This gift to Austin will become an instant, iconic representation of our great city and its love affair with music.” 

A looming labor switchover means Capital Metro will only have about 200 direct employees.
Photo by Emily Donahue for KUT News

This summer, some 850 workers will no longer be directly employed by transit authority Capital Metro, or its non-profit contractor StarTran — instead, they’ll be contracted out to a soon-to-be named private company.

It’s a change that has to be made because of a state law passed last year, requiring transit employees to either become state employees or employees of a private contractor. The union that represents most of the workers chose the contractor option, as to maintain collective bargaining rights.

Tomorrow, staff will recommend to the Capital Metro Board of Directors which of the contractor bids it believes is best. They may recommend one contractor for fixed route services (regular bus lines), and another for paratransit services (door-to-door service for people with disabilities). Staff may also recommend a single contractor for both.

Photo by Jeff Heimsath for KUT News

Capital Metro announced today that it has received $38 million from the Federal Transit Administration to help cover the cost of the MetroRapid program.

The funds come from the administration’s "Very Small Start" program and will cover about 80 percent of the program’s $48 million cost, said Linda Watson, the president and CEO of Capital Metro.

“That’s tax money that Texans pay coming back to Texas,” Watson said. “So it’s a great day not only for Capital Metro and our customers, but for Central Texas and taxpayers in the whole state of Texas.”

Photo by KUT News

There will soon be some changes at Capital Metro. Riders probably won’t notice but many drivers and mechanics will.

Capital Metro is required to change its labor structure after the Texas legislature passed a law, Senate Bill 650, last May that basically requires transit workers to either become state employees or become employees of a competitively-bid private contractor. 

To receive federal transit funding, Capital Metro employees initially needed to retain their right to collective bargaining, but the requirement was at odds with state law prohibiting collective bargaining and the right to strike for public employees. A third-party, StarTran, was installed to resolve the impasse – but SB 650 did away with that arrangement.

Photo courtesy flickr.com/drbeachvacation

SXSW Film and Interactive Start Tomorrow

Austin’s South by Southwest Film and Interactive Festivals kicks off tomorrow and downtown is preparing.

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