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Progress on MetroRail, but still no deadline

Tuesday, June 30, 2009 by Laurel Wamsley

At a work session preceding yesterday’s monthly Capitol Metro board meeting, the board considered a resolution from Mayor Pro Tem Mike Martinez and Board Secretary Mike Manor that would force management to run any wage cuts past the board. The resolution was a response to the tensions between Cap Metro bus contractor StarTran and the union, ATU Local 1091. StarTran has been advocating for wage freezes for its bus drivers and mechanics in 2010, instead of the contractually guaranteed 3 percent raise.


Margaret Gomez, the board’s chairman, asked board members to hold off on voting for the resolution for now, saying that she is “afraid that such a resolution will lock us into” the wage increases the union won after the transit union’s strike in November 2008. Gomez said Cap Metro’s budget problems are in large part due to a decline in sales tax revenue, as opposed to property tax, which has been a more consistent source of revenue during the economic downturn. 


Martinez countered that his proposal doesn’t lock Cap Metro and StarTran into paying for the pay raise, explaining that “the only reason I submitted this proposal was due to email traffic suggesting that Capital Metro might have been trying to unilaterally cut services or cut salaries.” He continued, “Maybe it wasn’t, but this proposal ensures that those changes would have to come before the board.”


Fred Gilliam, Cap Metro President and CEO, countered that speculation by explaining Cap Metro had merely prepared a list of suggested cuts, much as the city has with its own budget. “We would come back to the board with suggested changes,” Gilliam said. He added that the salary freeze Cap Metro had suggested was only for administrative positions. Regarding union wages, “StarTran clearly has the ability to negotiate with the union.”


With those assurances, Martinez withdrew the resolution. Chairman Gomez stressed the need to work through possible options before making cuts. “We need to look at these models and compare them by September, when we prepare the budget,” she said.


Manor noted that the cuts could be big. “Maybe we cut rail back 50 percent,” he said to a few scattered claps from the audience. “Does that mean we cut back stations? I don’t know. But nothing’s off the table.”


Cap Metro Executive Vice President and Chief Development Officer Doug Allen presented the transit authority’s monthly MetroRail update. As promised, he gave no projected date for the Red Line’s opening, though he noted progress has been made in correcting a number of gate malfunctions along the rail line. Engineer training and simulations are ongoing, and adjustments are still being made to the track, signal, and crossing system. Once those steps are complete, the next step is to validate the system as a whole, which might take three to five weeks.


Mayor Pro Tem Mike Martinez was optimistic about the MetroRail update, but also realistic. “Slowly but surely we’ll get there,” Martinez told In Fact Daily. “They’re making significant strides, and once you’re a year delayed, you want to get it done as fast as possible, without compromising safety. The Red Line will be up and running soon, but no one’s going to give a tentative date.”

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