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UTC to propose taxi franchise selection criteria

Monday, August 7, 2006 by

Three companies up for lottery this week

Members of the Urban Transportation Commission will meet tonight to finish revising their criteria for ranking the three different companies that have applied for a new taxi franchise from the city. The group last week decided to follow up on the request of all three companies to come up with a ranking system to submit to the City Council for its consideration. The Council is currently posted to award a new franchise on Thursday to Lone Star Cab, Capital City Cab, or Longhorn Cab based on a lottery system, since all three applicants meet the city's basic criteria.

Owners of those prospective franchises, as well as drivers, told the UTC on Thursday that they did not favor the lottery system. "Whoever loses out is going to lose out on chance," said cab driver Chris Saunders. "Businessmen don't want to be gambled with. This is their livelihood you're dealing with. Who is most qualified would be the best way to determine who gets a new franchise, not just minimal criteria."

Attorney David Sander of Scanlan, Buckle & Young, representing Lone Star Cab, also supported a ranking process that would go beyond whether the applicants met the minimum qualifications. "We believe that it is certainly more fair to have criteria and elements that an applicant can look to try to promote itself, without having to guess whether it is actually meeting the criteria the Council may want," he said. "So the more specific the criteria, it is certainly better…so you have more of an even playing field."

Sander added, "One of the criteria that needs to be considered more important is prior applications," noting that criteria would clearly favor Lone Star Cab. "They have put forth time, effort, money and significant cost toward the application, and if they were qualified when they first submitted an application, then I think they should be considered above people who are just later in time," he said. "We think it is only fair that someone who has been making the effort and been qualified for years and years and years be given a higher consideration."

Commissioner Michelle Brinkman submitted a list of proposed criteria covering areas ranging from management experience to community concerns which had been ranked by a stakeholders group made up of cabbies, owners, and customers. Some of those areas, Brinkman admitted, were more subjective than others, but she offered the list as a starting point for discussion.

"I was hoping to achieve an expedited process for doing a merit selection. Instead of doing an additional paperwork submission, let's see if we can get the applicants to come in for an interview. An interview is almost always part of this two-step selection process," Brinkman said. "There are some people who believe if you change the criteria or the method of selection, that you really need to start over from scratch and accept new offerings again. That certainly wasn't anything that I had in mind."

Before wading into the weight given to the different criteria, commissioners first had to decide whether they even supported a ranking process. "All this work goes to a process framed around the franchise system, which I think is the problem. I would just as soon get over this hump, award the third franchise with a lottery or some highly simplified" system that is likely to win easy Council support, said Commissioner Gregory Sapire. Then, after that it would be time move on to "the harder task of improving the system as a whole," he said.

Sapphire warned that any criteria could be rejected, modified, or ignored by the Council in order to speed up the process of awarding a new franchise. The speed of the process could be an important factor, he said, since some drivers at Roy’s Taxi are either unable or unwilling to make the switch to Yellow Cab, which is scheduled for this week.

He was joined by Commissioner Joi Harden, who cautioned that any criteria system would have inherent biases. "What's most qualified on paper has not always been what's most qualified," she said. "I don't see how other people can get a fair share on just the point system. I don't want to add to an imperfect system. It should be about inclusiveness, not about who has the most money."

But other commissioners backed Brinkman's suggestion to do a ranking system, even if the system did not include all of the criteria suggested by the stakeholder group. "I don't know of a single other government process that doesn't rank using some kind of formula," said Chairman Andrew Clements. "This is the only lottery I've ever heard of."

Commissioners then began evaluating each of the different criteria considered by the stakeholders, eliminating some as too subjective or as impossible to accurately rank. Those that commissioners felt could be more objectively rated or verified were left in the mix. Brinkman urged commissioners to consider a "forced ranking" of the three applicants, awarding a first, second, and third place in each category with points awarded accordingly. "We’ve got objective criteria, we’ve culled it down," she said. "But we don’t have a good document."

Commissioners will meet tonight at 7pm at One Texas Center to put their recommendations into writing in time for the City Council’s consideration at Thursday’s meeting.

Rail district board debates starter routes

Faced with the long odds of securing federal New Starts transportation funds, the Austin-San Antonio Intermunicipal Commuter Rail District is moving forward with local financing strategies that would encourage participation from regional jurisdictions.

That topic was one of several discussed at Friday’s meeting of the rail district board.

To get to the point of serious discussion with cities like Austin and San Antonio—and every town in between—will require some key decisions from the board, which is still is in the midst of hashing out a proposed starter route.

A number of starter project candidates were proposed for the commuter rail line, which could stretch all the way from Georgetown to downtown San Antonio. While the commuter rail lines for the ASA Commuter Rail District and Capital Metro are expected to cross where the rail lines cross at the McNeil station, their routes are distinctly different.

The ASA line is more westerly, starting in Georgetown and traveling south down through Round Rock, along MoPac Boulevard to Seaholm, then through Kyle, Buda, and New Braunfels into San Antonio, where it has four stops before it ends up in downtown. Currently, the heaviest estimated ridership would be between Georgetown and downtown Austin, although some board members, like Sen. Jeff Wentworth (R-San Antonio), predict that the heaviest early use of the line may come from students traveling to and from Texas State University in San Marcos, which has a large number of commuter students.

The four starter project candidates – each tagged because of ridership and a pricetag under $150 million – are Georgetown to McNeil; Round Rock to downtown Austin; New Braunfels to the San Antonio Airport; and Loop 1604 to downtown San Antonio.

The fifth project – which board member Dave Marsh called the horse among the mules – was a full build-out of the 80-mile downtown Austin to downtown San Antonio route, which is expected to cost closer to $381 million. San Antonio board member Carroll Schubert said he expected the full route would get broader support, and Wentworth noted that the downtown-to-downtown approach was truer to the vision of the rail line.

"A lot of the idea of the commuter rail district was to relieve Interstate 35 between San Antonio and Austin, and a route between 1604 and the San Antonio Airport doesn’t help," Wentworth said. "Really, if we’re going to look to where our ridership will be, I would say it would be Texas State University students going in both directions. So I would think the starter line really needs to be more comprehensive."

The board was split on just how much information should be taken out to the communities that might participate in the starter projects. Marsh wanted more general information. Schubert said it was pointless to take information out to the communities, without some price tag attached. The ASA commuter rail district also has discussed using methods promoted by Capital Metro – creating tax-increment finance districts around station platforms – in an attempt to raise money for the commuter rail line.

The division of the cost of the starter line could take a number of angles: the number of rail miles; the number of stations; or even the number of boardings. Marsh, who expects plenty of boardings in San Marcos because of Texas State students, was especially sensitive to a methodology based on boardings. Should San Marcos be penalized for being the most effective stop on the rail line, or should the city be rewarded for producing the most revenue for the rail district’s operation? Marsh asked. He said a town with one station and 100,000 boardings should not be paying the same amount as San Antonio, which may have 100,000 boardings but also have four stations.

The board did instruct interim Executive Director Ross Milloy to begin the work of public outreach, between now and November, to various communities along the route to gauge interest in participation in the commuter rail district.

The group also agreed to commission a study meeting to quantify the rail line’s impact on traffic on I-35.

©2006 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

New reporting structure at City Hall . . . As of late last week, City Manager Toby Futrell has reorganized the departmental reporting structure for the various city departments into four majors areas of responsibility: public safety; community services; management services; development/environment services; and financial and administrative services. "With the arrival of our new Assistant City Manager Bert Lumbreras, we have an opportunity to re-examine the current departmental reporting structure while working to further assure maximum customer service in all areas of city government," Futrell said. Effective September 1, departmental reporting changes will include: Public Safety – Assistant City Manager Michael McDonald will oversee Community Court; the Emergency Medical Services Department; Austin Fire Department; Austin Police Department; the Department of Public Safety and Emergency Management; and the Office of Emergency Management. (These departments previously reported to Assistant City Manager Rudy Garza.) McDonald will also serve as staff liaison to Municipal Court and the Municipal Court Judges; Community Services – New Assistant City Manager Bert Lumbreras will oversee most of the departments that previously reported to McDonald. Those include Community Care Services; Health and Human Services; Austin Public Library; Solid Waste Services; and the Parks and Recreation Department. He will also serve as staff liaison to the City Clerk. The Neighborhood Housing and Community Development Office, which had previously reported to McDonald, will begin reporting directly to Chief of Staff Kristen Vassallo. Vassallo will also serve as the City Manager’s liaison to the Office of Police Monitor and she will continue to supervise Government Relations; the Human Resources Department; and the Communications and Public Information Office. Capital Improvement Projects Management Services – Assistant City Manager Rudy Garza will oversee departments that have been reporting to Acting Assistant City Manager Juan Garza, who will return to full-time duties as General Manager of Austin Energy. Rudy Garza will oversee Austin Water Utility; the Public Works Department; and the Small and Minority Business Resources Department. In addition, the Aviation and Austin Convention Center departments, which had previously reported to Chief Financial Officer John Stephens, will report to him. Rudy Garza will also serve as staff liaison to the Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau. The responsibilities of Assistant City Manager Laura Huffman remain unchanged. She will continue to supervise the Economic Growth and Redevelopment Services Office; the Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Department; and Watershed Protection and Development Review Department. Also, Huffman will serve as staff liaison to the City Auditor and the Integrity Office. The Department of Financial and Administrative Services will continue to report directly to Chief Financial Officer John Stephens. . . New president for firefighters . . . When Mike Martinez resigned from the Austin Association of Professional Firefighters to join the City Council, he left firefighters looking for a new president. Sr. VP Robert Garcia took the job as dictated by the firefighters’ bylaws, but since he has a young child and lives in San Antonio, he did not want to finish Martinez’ term. The board then had to choose which of four vice presidents would have the honor. They selected Stephen Truesdell and AAPFF spokeswoman Barbara Rush said about 50 members of the union voted to affirm the decision. Truesdell served with the Westlake Fire Department before joining AFD in 1998. He has a BA in Spanish from the University of Texas . . . Meetings . . . The Music Commission meets at 6pm in the Boards and Commissions Room at City Hall . . . The Historic Landmark Commission meets at 7pm in Council Chambers at City Hall . . . The Urban Transportation Commission will meet at 7pm in the 8th Floor Conference Room of One Texas Center to continue discussion of taxicab franchises . . . The Planning Commission CIP Committee will meet at 6pm in Room 3005 of City Hall . . . BCCP committees to meet . . . The Balcones Canyonlands Conservation Plan Science Advisory Committee meets at 3pm today at Richer Ranch off FM 620. The committee will discuss and make recommendations on the city’s plan request an amendment to its US Fish and Wildlife Service to build Water Treatment Plant 4 on 45 acres of the Cortana tract. The BCCP Citizens Advisory Committee meets at 6pm Tuesday at Town Lake Center to consider the same topic . . . UT/City safety coalition . . . Council Member Jennifer Kim’s office is overseeing the formation of a Joint City of Austin/University of Texas Student Safety Coalition designed to provide a forum for education and exchange of ideas to improve the safety of UT students. The coalition will be made up delegates from major student groups, UT Administration, UT Police Department, UT-area non-profit groups, and Austin Police in an advisory capacity. The coalition will deal with topics such as sexual assault, alcohol consumption, property crime, and other safety issues faced by college students. Kim plans to seek a resolution from Council to form the coalition later this month, with a first meeting planned for September . . . New member . . . Council Member Jennifer Kim was welcomed to the Austin-San Antonio Intermunicipal Commuter Rail District on Friday in San Antonio. She will serve as Austin City Council’s representative to the group. Representatives from San Antonio and San Marcos often have dominated discussions at the monthly meetings… Litigation over taxes . . . This week, District Judge Stephen Yelenosky will hear arguments from CLOUT, which stands for Citizens Lowering Our Unfair Taxes, who are accusing state officials of busting the state’s spending cap. CLOUT is a group of Harris County business people who are opposed to Gov. Rick Perry’s new business tax….

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