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Cap Metro hires plan consultant despite confusion

Tuesday, September 15, 2015 by Tyler Whitson

Following a discussion that shed some light on how the organization functions, the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority board of directors voted unanimously at a special called meeting Monday to hire a consultant for its 10-year service plan in spite of conflicting requests.

California consultant Transportation Management & Design Inc. and Pflugerville subconsultant Nancy Ledbetter & Associates will produce the plan, which will cost $466,000 and take 12 months to develop with input from the public.

The plan is intended to help Cap Metro develop and expand its fixed-route service through 2025 as well as increase ridership, connectivity, efficiency and more.

Todd Hemingson, vice president of strategic planning and development for Cap Metro, told the board that staff had already begun to work on a public involvement plan with the recommended consultant and hopes to be able to begin more focused stakeholder engagement before the end of the year in order to kick off broader public involvement early next year.

The selection came with Cap Metro staff’s recommendation at the board’s Aug. 24 meeting, although it did not appear to be the first choice for certain members of the public.

Representatives of the Real Estate Council of Austin and local advocacy group AURA testified at that meeting that they wanted the board to take more time on the decision and expressed interest in one of the other competitors –Houston consultant firm Traffic Engineers Inc. and Portland, Oregon, subconsultant Jarrett Walker + Associates.

Traffic Engineers was proposing to develop the plan over the course of 12 to 24 months for $1.08 million. Walker, one of the consultant’s seven subconsultants, was involved in the Houston Metropolitan Transit Authority overhaul that made its debut in August.

Although the board granted requests from City Council Members Ann Kitchen and Delia Garza – who both joined the board this year – to postpone and mull over the decision with more information, Cap Metro’s Chief Counsel Kerri Butcher explained Monday that the board could not simply make a selection in spite of staff’s recommendations.

Since Cap Metro receives numerous federal grants, Butcher said, it has adopted policies in line with those of the federal government. Those require staff to grade proposers based on a predetermined evaluation matrix and prohibit the board from making a different selection without either re-evaluating the proposers or putting out a new solicitation.

The recommended consultant received an “excellent” rating under staff’s evaluation, while Traffic Engineers received a “marginal” rating.

Despite ultimately voting for the recommendation, Garza was somewhat critical of the process that Cap Metro followed.

“There were some concerns from the community, and I do believe it’s our goal to be responsive to the community when they have concerns about any kind of process,” said Garza.

“If it’s the board’s role to make sure that the evaluation is done right, I guess I just want to point out that we weren’t made privy to a bunch of the evaluation data until we started asking questions,” Garza continued. “I totally understand best practices and that that’s how it’s done, but I was surprised at the level of subjectivity in the rating.”

In an apparent reference to Walker, Garza went on to express hope that there might be a way to involve the “one particular person” who had received community support during the planning process.

Kitchen said that, though she felt comfortable with staff’s evaluation, she would like more information before considering contracts in the future and also expressed a desire for Cap Metro to work with the individual to which Garza referred.

“I appreciate the comments that we received from the public. I think they were all very valid and very important, and I think that, going forward, perhaps we can discuss … a different way to access the talents and expertise of the person that was mentioned,” Kitchen said, adding that Cap Metro’s service plan should fit with the broader community and its goals.

Vice Chair Beverly Silas noted that the issue had come up prior to the Aug. 24 meeting, during a meeting of the board’s Operations and Planning Committee, and emphasized to the relatively new members that committee meetings allow members an opportunity to delve more deeply into such issues and “quiz staff” on its proposals.

Secretary Ann Stafford said that board members are welcome to sit in at committee meetings even if they aren’t members.

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