Vote NO to METRO, be pro-transit
Published: Friday, November 2, 2012
Updated: Friday, November 2, 2012 01:11
Rice students love METRORail. It is quick and easy to use, and it connects us to numerous art, culture, dining, entertainment, employment and recreation destinations. The principal complaint I’ve heard is that it simply doesn’t go enough places. On Election Day, Houston-area voters will have an opportunity to ensure that METRO’s rail expansion program will continue and that a robust local and express bus system will support it.
Those of us registered to vote at Rice (or elsewhere in the METRO service area) will find a question on the ballot this November asking whether we support something called the General Mobility Program. Most people probably agree that, in general, mobility is a concept worthy of support. However, there is more to this question than meets the eye. General Mobility, in fact, is the main reason Houston continues to have an inadequate transit system for a city of its size. Allow me to explain.
The majority of the funding METRO receives for the operation and expansion of its system of buses, trains, high-occupancy vehicle lanes, vanpools and paratransit services comes from a 1 percent sales tax levied within its service area. Since 1978, a quarter of that percent has been set aside for the city, county and smaller cities in the service area to spend on roads, the justification being that it would help them maintain the curb lanes used by METRO’s buses. Over the years, however, this General Mobility Program has become a slush fund for those jurisdictions, going to projects like neighborhood street paving that have little bearing on regional mobility.
The bizarre part is that the METRO board of directors, the nine-person body appointed by the member jurisdictions to govern the agency, is promoting the passage of the General Mobility ballot measure as the way forward for the agency. Its argument is that the new GMP we are being asked to support will only divert 19 percent of the sales tax revenue over 10 years rather than the current 25 percent.
The bottom line is this: METRORail expansion, including the critical east-west connection to Greenway Plaza and the Galleria area known as the University Line, will grind to a halt if this referendum passes. There will be no meaningful expansion of Park & Ride or local bus service. Houston will be stuck with an inadequate transit system for the foreseeable future.
METRO’s long-term expansion plans include extending light-rail service to dozens more neighborhoods, job centers and destinations, including both airports. Improved local and rapid bus service would fill in the gaps, freeing hundreds of thousands of Houstonians from traffic, gas and parking. Join me in voting against the METRO ballot item so a more livable, transit-friendly Houston can become a reality.
James Llamas is a Jones College graduate class of 2012.