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Posts published in February 2012

Subsidy offer from East Aldine may save Route 59 bus service

By GILBERT HOFFMAN

Northeast News

The East Aldine board met last Tuesday evening, and one of the agenda items was a resolution to METRO regarding the proposed cancellation of bus routes 59 Aldine Mail, and route 39 Parker Road. The board wanted to be on record strongly opposing the discontinuation of this service, which serves many schools, health facilities, social security offices, churches, shopping and other necessary community needs.

However, the board also learned that METRO had responded to their request, and submitted a dollar amount of a subsidy that would possibly keep the service running. METRO stated that a yearly subsidy of $30,000 would keep the service active until Dec. 31, and both parties agreed to look for other solutions to improve the ridership and income.

The East Aldine board approved the subsidy request, but the letter from METRO said that they would need some work to effect the continuation of service, and since it had already been announced, there might be some break in the service. However, all parties agreed that this was very good news for the Aldine area and the riders of the bus service.

In other business before the board last Tuesday evening, a maintenance contract for work in the public rights-of-way was approved, for $245,000 to Case Contractors.

The Public Safety report stated that 47 arrests were made in the district in January, drugs were seized and over $50,000 in cash related to drug activity was confiscated.

Deputy Bobby Brown was honored as District II Deputy of the Month by the Sheriff’s office.

Community Development grants that were approved included $22,000 for Aldine YOUTH and $7200 for their trip to Stony Creek Ranch. $60,000 in scholarships to ASF was approved also.

Walle, community meet with METRO on Route 59 cancellation

By GILBERT HOFFMAN

Northeast News

East Aldine offices were the scene for an important meeting last Friday, between management of METRO, and spokespersons for many institutions in the Aldine, Airline and Greenspoint District that oppose the cancellation of the Route 59 bus line.

METRO proposes to cancel this line, and six others on Feb. 26th, labelled as “low performing” because their ridership and fares do not meet goals of the transportation agency.

However, the speakers at the meeting made the point that serving the many institutions on Aldine Mail Route, including schools, health clinics, doctor and dental offices, social security office, shopping, police station, churches, senior housing, were important services that would severely increase travel time, inconvenience and social welfare costs if citizens did not have direct, efficient access to these services.

In addition, Scott Bean of East Aldine District pointed out to Grenias that METRO collected over $3 million in sales tax in the affected area, and did not provide any direct benefits in return.

Speakers in favor of continuing the route included Sylvia Bolling of Aldine Youth, Teri Koerth of the Airline District, representatives Dru Gutierrez of Pct. 1 and Chenchy Mireles of Pct. 2, King Hillier and Heena Patel of the HC Health Clinic, Ryan Hogue of Walle’s office, Jerry Lowry of the Greenspoint District, Bennie Lambert of the Lone Star College District, Richard Cantu, Scott Bean and Gerald Overturff of the East Aldine District, Jose Rivera of Congressman Gene Green’s office, City Council representatives Jeremy Harris (Dictrict B) and Steven David (District H), Mariana Sanchez of BAA, and Virginia Bazan of ESD#1 and Tasfield CC.

Bolling pointed out that low-income citizens need easy access to services, or the community will pay later in increased social costs. This theme was echoed for the educational and healthcare segments as well, all of whom had a substantial number of clients relying on bus service. East Aldine chairman Gerald Overturff said in particular, senior citizens depended on this type of bus service for shopping and access to social and health services.

Grenias suggested that better sidewalks, and Metrolift service, were viable alternatives. However, this did not take into account citizens who cannot endure a longer walk.

The general concensus from the public group, was that Route 59 and the Northeast area needed increased transit service, not less. It was suggested that some routes, such as 59, 39, and 6 suffered from poor connections and limited routes, and would have higher ridership if these were improved. It was noted that they do not connect to any transit stations, and that transfers to other routes was very limited.

Subsidies Possible

Looking for ways to keep the 59 service beyond the Feb. 26th deadline, East Aldine’s Gilbert Hoffman suggested METRO provide a cost figure for a subsidy that would achieve continuation. This would be discussed at the next board meeting on Feb. 21st.

Grenias said that the fare on all buses is $1.25 for local trips and must be subsidized on every route, from about $5 to as much as $20. He said that Route 59 was being cut because of low ridership, no hope for improvement, and a subsidy that now was costing about $10 per rider.

Grenias said that other cost savings, such as smaller buses, better connectivity, sidewalks, and Metrolift, might save money, improve service and help reduce costs. He said that reducing frequency of service was often self-defeating.

He did not discuss the $3 million sales tax money collected from the area, and not returned in transit services.

Grenias said that the METRO budget is $540 million per year from sales tax, $70 million from federal grants, and $64 million from fare collections.

Information for Ridership boost

Both Bolling and Sanchez said that with the immigrant and low-income community in Aldine, more information and demonstration of how to use buses was essential to increasing ridership.

A discussion ensued on how to increase ridership. It was thought that a discount, and extensive advertising to explain routes and bus usage could help.

Grenias pointed out that the Q-CARD program currently in use provides a 50% fare discount to students and those over 65, and a Free ride to those over 70. Participants in the meeting pointed out that many people are not aware of these discounts.

Title VI Problems

An issue raised was whether METRO can eliminate routes serving “minority and low-income” populations, as defined by Title VI of the Federal Civil Rights Law of 1965. Grenias believed he was within the law, but his decision to eliminate bus service may be challenged on this basis, said some participants.

Senator Gallegos stated how important it was to continue the bus service on Aldine Mail, especially to the Social Security office. He said that a 2 hour ride from the west end of Route 59 to the east end was not acceptable, when it is now only a 16 minute ride the whole length of Aldine Mail.

Representative Walle ended the meeting by firmly stating that eliminating the Route 59 service was unacceptable. He also complained of the lack of notice that the area had about the changes that were imminent.

Rep. Armando Walle protests cancellation of 39 and 59 METRO Routes

HOUSTON,TX Feb. 3, 2012 – State Representative Armando Walle (D-Houston) recently called on the CEO and Board of Directors of METRO to reconsider the planned cancellation of the 59 Aldine Mail Crosstown and 39 Parker Circulator bus routes.

“I am concerned that the cancellation of these routes will make it extremely difficult for members of our community to access necessary services, like those provided by the Aldine Health Center, the Social Security offices and Santa Maria’s Bonita House,” stated Rep. Walle. “In failing to provide adequate transportation options, METRO only creates additional roadblocks, including increasing the time and cost of transportation, for area residents who rely on the vital services provided by these community partners.”

With METRO’s proposed cancellation of the 59 Aldine Mail Crosstown, a sick person living near Aldine Senior High School would have to ride on the bus for almost 2 hours and then walk over a half-mile to see a doctor at the Aldine Health Center, while currently the trip takes between 15 and 20 minutes followed by a short walk. A routine trip to the Social Security office from the Aldine Senior High School neighborhood would also take two hours with additional walking, while currently it is also about a 20 minute trip.

With the cancellation of the 39 Parker Circulator, residents along the route, like those at Santa Maria’s Bonita House, a residential treatment facility for women and their children, will be without any meaningful public transit options. Service to this area is already greatly reduced, but current service still allows residents of the facility a chance to travel to and from work while receiving essential care at the facility, enabling them to have an opportunity to build a better life for their families.

Rep. Walle proposed that the Authority, instead of cancelling routes, look into creating better transportation efficiencies by reduced scheduling or combining routes in this area, explaining, “While I understand the difficult budget constraints METRO is facing, and I appreciate the manner in which the Authority provides more with less, cancelling these two vital avenues of transportation is neither an effective nor efficient long term option for METRO, its passengers, and our community.”

Since METRO recently announced their intention to eliminate the 39 Parker Circulator and 59 Aldine Mail routes from their service area, Rep. Walle has set up a meeting with METRO CEO George Greanias and various other METRO board members to see if a workable solution to save the routes can be reached.

Airline Improvement District holds community input workshop

By Julieta Paita

Northeast News

The Airline Improvement District Board of Directors along with the Harris County and other entinties are working together in a study project that would help facilitate the creation of a vision plan in order to improve quality of life and economic development for the community.

A workshop took place at Carroll Academy (423 Gulf Bank) last Thursday, Feb. 9 for the purpose of gathering community input.

Residents of the area answered an opinion survey anonymously about transportation and things they would like to change or improve in their community.

During this workshop, participants also suggested METRO bus routes according to their needs and work interactively with the Project Team to show on a map of the district areas where they see potential for improvement.

One of the public concerns is extremelly heavy “traffic by Gulf Bank specially on Sundays,” said one of the participants. Another concern is not enought lighting on the streets. Teens focused on parks and recreation improvements.

The Airline Improvement District is currently working on existing projects which include bike parking, new road lighting, new medians, new side walks, crosswalks, new bus shelters and new parks.

The District plans has scheduled two more public meetings to discuss community improvements ideas. The next meetings will be Thursday, March 22, 2012 and Thursday, May 17, 2012 both meetings will start at 6:30 p.m. at Carroll Academy, 423 Gulf Bank, Houston, TX. 77037.

If you may have any suggestions and/or questions, please contact the district at tkoenig@knudsonlp.com

Aldine holds FFA Livestock Auction

ALDINE– Hundreds of spectators and students gathered last Friday night, for the 53rd Annual FFA Livestock Show and auction of the Aldine ag students. This year’s show proceeded without weather problems that delayed last year’s show.

A total of 57 projects were sold by Auctioneer Ed Phillips. This compares with 61 from the previous year. A total of $131,950 was bid, compared with $147,700 from 2011. These figures are without add-ons or resale amounts, which usually add about $30,000.

The money raised by AISD ag students is theirs to use for college scholarships or to fund future FFA projects during the 2011-12 school year.

Nimitz High senior Tyler Kelch raised the grand champion steer for the third consecutive year. His steer was purchased by A Contact Electric Rentals, LP, for $16,000, the same amount and same buyer as last year.

HICC Chamber holds annual Economic Forum

By GILBERT HOFFMAN Northeast News

NORTH HOUSTON– The Houston Intercontinental Chamber held a powerful and fact-filled Economic Forum last Thursday, at the Airport Marriott Hotel. A large group of businessmen, community leaders, entrepreneurs, and chamber members listened to two seminar speakers, and two keynoters discuss the current and future state of the economy in the nation, Texas and the North Houston areas.

The seminars started in the morning with an emphasis on international trade opportunities. Mr. Alejandro De Valle, president and CEO of the Hispanic Business Center, which now offices in the Greenspoint district, presented facts and potentials for trade with and business opportunties with Mexico and Latin America.

Although he stressed the large market and robust manufacturing capabilities in Mexico and Latin America, he also cautioned about security risks and business customs that must be recognized and dealt with properly. He recommended that U.S. businesses should partner with Hispanic agencies that can help negotiate local conditions.

Mr. Juan Carlos Yu, president of the U.S. Chinese Chamber, presented a picture of the Chinese market, and noted differences in business practices and cultural customs in Asia compared with the United States. However, he noted the growing number of Chinese residents and businesses in the North Houston area, a sign of the strength and interest of Chinese with their American counterparts. He thought their was a great potential for both entities to prosper from a proper business relationship.

The Economic Forum continued through the lunch hour, with keynote presentations by Robert Wood, Director of Economic Development and Analysis for the Texas Comptroller’s office, and Ronald Green, Controller for the City of Houston.

Mr. Wood noted signs of an economic upturn in Texas, and to some degree in the nation.

These signs include business inventories increasing, and employment numbers up also.

Texas economy is better than the rest of the nation, he said, for many reasons including a favorable weather climate, a developed port and airport, a strong oil and gas business, and diversification.

Signs of the strong Texas economy include lower unemployment and sales tax collections up 9.5% from last year. He suggested the website www.thetexaseconomy.org for details.

City Controller Ronald Green had facts on the efforts to restrain expenditures due to reduced city revenues. However, he also saw a strong economy with most indicators up, forecasting future growth and prosperity in the local markets.

Questions from the floor included Jack Drake asking about alternative tax systems for Texas, and Bill Ginder questioning the city fees and regulatory restrictions on business growth.

East Aldine workshop plans for future

NORTHEAST– The East Aldine District board held their annual budget workshop on January 27th, planning the projects for the coming year.

The workshop was led by executive director David Hawes, with assistance from the staff of Hawes Hill Calderon.

The District will have additional monies to spend this year, with sales tax collections increasing to an estimated $3.8 million. Last year they were $3.4 million. This money is directed to projects in the 10 Year Service Plan, which may now require an update from the 2001 version. Much of the budget each year goes for Public Safety and water and sewer projects, both of which are basic to Economic Development in the district.

In addition, the district uses seed money to leverage other entities to build improvements. For instance, a total of $8 million has been brought into the district for street and water projects. None of this was local tax revenue, according to Hawes.

A thorough revue of the district’s budget and goals will be presented in an upcoming issue of the Northeast News.

AIRLINE IMPROVEMENT DISTRICT, HARRIS COUNTY AND H-GAC TO HOST LIVABLE CENTERS STUDY, REQUEST COMMUNITY INPUT”

The Airline Improvement District Board of Directors is working in conjunction with the Houston-Galveston Area Council (H-GAC) and Harris County Community Services Department on a Livable Centers study aimed at facilitating the creation of a vision plan to provide multi-modal transportation options, improve quality of life for the residents of the District, and promote economic development. The first public workshop for the study is this Thursday, February 9, 2012 at 6:30pm at Carroll Academy (in the school’s cafeteria), 423 Gulf Bank Rd. Houston, TX 77037.

This Livable Centers study is the first step in a process to seek funding for projects in the area identified by the community as high-priority. The Project Team, selected by H-GAC, consists of SWA Group, Inc. leading the overall effort, with the support of sub consultants such as Knudson, LP for public outreach, Transportation Alliance for traffic modeling, and CDS Market Research and Spillette Consulting for demographic and market analysis.

The Project Team will host a series of three public workshops over the next five months in an effort to have as much direct input from the community as possible on which projects the community would like to see come to fruition. In addition, the Project Team is working with administrators at Carroll Academy, Stovall Middle School, and Aldine Senior High School to involve their students at various levels in the study process.

The first public workshop will be held to gather community input on the following basic questions: What changes or improvements within the District would make your daily life better? How do you envision the District in the short- and long-term? What projects would you consider high priority to pursue? The format of the first workshop will include stations where participants may suggest METRO bus routes, complete opinion surveys, and work interactively with the Project Team to show on a map of the district areas where they see potential for improvement. Refreshments will be provided for attendees, activities will be provided for children, and there will be three chances to win a $50 gift card to local favorite Dee Dee’s Pie shop! Spanish-speaking members of the project team will be present, and all written materials will be provided in Spanish as well.