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Cap Metro delays hiring service plan consultant

Tuesday, August 25, 2015 by Tyler Whitson

After hearing conflicting advice on which firm to choose, the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority board of directors voted unanimously Monday to postpone selecting a consultant to head up the development of the organization’s 10-year service plan. The board will take up the issue again at a meeting on Sept. 14.

The plan, which is updated every five years, will guide Capital Metro in developing and growing its fixed-route service through 2025. Its goal is to outline cost-effective ways for the organization to increase ridership, improve productivity and improve system connectivity.

City Council Member Ann Kitchen made the motion to postpone the decision. “We have significant concern from our community that is asking us for more time, and I am not hearing enough of a concern about that time to counterbalance that,” she said. “If we don’t have excellent, A-plus, off-the-charts results from the community, we will not be successful.”

Council Member Delia Garza also requested more time to consider the applicants.

While some board members worried that a postponement might impact the plan’s rollout, Todd Hemingson, Capital Metro’s vice president of strategic planning and development, stated that staff would do its best to avoid delay. “I can’t say definitively how that would affect the schedule, but we’d certainly do everything we could to keep the original schedule,” he said.

As proposed, the planning will kick off in the fall, with completion in the fall 2016 and implementation in early 2017. Public involvement will take place throughout the study.

Capital Metro staff and the board’s Operations, Planning and Safety Committee have recommended that the board select consultant firm Transportation Management & Design Inc. out of Carlsbad, California – near San Diego – along with subconsultant Nancy Ledbetter & Associates out of Pflugerville to take on the plan.

Those firms have proposed to develop the plan over the course of 12 months for $466,000. Capital Metro staff has rated both firms “excellent” using its standard evaluation criteria.

The board’s other options consist of Houston-based consultant firm Traffic Engineers Inc., along with its seven subconsultants, and Nelson\Nygaard Consulting Associates, along with its two subconsultants.

Those firms, respectively, have proposed to do the work in a period of 12 to 24 months for $1.08 million and over the course of 11 months at a cost of $285,000. Staff rated both firms “marginal.”

Real Estate Council of Austin President Ward Tisdale and AURA Board Member Eric Goff both requested that the board postpone its decision.

Tisdale spoke in support of Traffic Engineers subconsultant Jarrett Walker + Associates out of Portland, Oregon, noting that Walker spoke at a RECA event earlier this month and helped design the Houston Metropolitan Transit Authority overhaul that debuted on Aug. 16.

“I think he has a vision for this community that we should strongly consider,” Tisdale said. “I think it’s extremely critical that we get the right visionary here in Austin to help design Capital Metro’s 2025 plan.”

Hemingson said that Traffic Engineering’s experience is “basically limited to Houston, in terms of their transit efforts,” while the recommended consultant has more experience. He added that although the Houston project has received an “exceptional” rating from involved agencies and municipalities, Jarrett Walker + Associates would only be responsible for about 20 percent of the work that Traffic Engineering would take on, if selected.

Chair Wade Cooper said he would support the motion to postpone but is “not sure” it will change the outcome of the vote.

“The economics are so significantly different, and in my judgment the experience factor is so significantly different, I don’t see it changing this,” said Cooper. “But I respect the fact that members of the community as well as members of our board have asked for some additional time.”

Photo by Jsevse (I have taken this photo myself on my iPhone) [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

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