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Vacancies, lack of interest put Capital Metro’s customer advisory committees in the hot seat

Friday, October 27, 2017 by Caleb Pritchard

The two committees intended to provide user feedback to the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s board of directors could be cruising toward a makeover.

At Monday’s monthly board meeting, Chair Wade Cooper and Council Member Ann Kitchen expressed concerns about vacancies on both the Customer Satisfaction Advisory Committee and the Access Advisory Committee.

“If we’re not getting the folks there, then we’re really not getting the feedback that we need. And we as a board ought to look at how we’re appointing and/or staffing them, and maybe the whole role of the committees is fair game,” Cooper said, when Kitchen broached the subject after hearing staff’s regular briefing on the CSAC’s and AAC’s latest meetings.

The two customer advisory committees are designed to be a more or less direct conduit between the board and the agency’s riders. The CSAC is tasked with providing advice on planning and operations while the AAC tends to focus on accessibility for riders. Each Capital Metro director appoints one person to each committee, except the chair, who makes two appointments to each.

Neither committee is operating with a full complement of members. Kitchen and Council Member Delia Garza have not placed anyone on the AAC, while Garza, Cooper, and Manor Mayor Rita Jonse each have a vacancy to fill on the CSAC.

The CSAC’s chair, David Foster, suggested to the Austin Monitor that the hitch might be in the method of appointment.

“The process is for staff to accept nominations from the public – you can nominate yourself – and then they vet them and then they take them to the board,” he explained. “But for whatever reason, we’ve had a number of vacancies for some months now.”

Kitchen’s office was unavailable for comment on Thursday, while Garza’s office and Jonse did not respond to efforts to contact them. During a brief phone call before he boarded a plane, Cooper said the situation indicated the need for further board discussion.

According to the agency’s website, the CSAC has had two canceled meetings this year, though the calendar has not been updated since June’s skipped meeting. Foster told the Monitor that he believes at least one more meeting since then had been scotched.

Sam Sargent, Capital Metro’s customer satisfaction advisory committee liaison, was unable to provide meeting records to the Monitor on Thursday. A request sent to the agency for more details about the appointment process also went unanswered.

Canceled meetings aside, Foster explained that the CSAC’s larger problem is its lack of public awareness.

“We don’t get a lot of citizen input,” he complained. “Most meetings, I’d say more than half, we don’t have anybody from the community come.”

He continued: “As far as how CSAC interacts with the staff and the board, I think that works. Where we really do need to rethink is in making sure the public knows we exist and giving them a way to weigh in.”

As for the AAC, that committee’s chair painted a far rosier picture of participation. Chris Prentice told the Monitor that he has only canceled one meeting this year and that was because it was scheduled for July 5, when several members had planned to be out of town.

“With all the changes coming with Project Connect and Connections 2025 and all those things, not only are our members coming, but there’s also always one or two people if not five or 10 from the disability community that are coming and speaking to our meetings,” Prentice explained.

He also shed light on the different levels of public participation between the two committees.

“There are a lot of people in the city with disabilities,” said Prentice. “For them, alternate transportation is not a desire. It’s a necessity.”

Any change to the structure or policies of either the CSAC or AAC is unlikely to be immediate. Cooper posited that the board would be unlikely to discuss the matter at its Nov. 15 meeting. However, he said, the discussion could happen at a subsequent meeting or even a special work session.

The AAC meets at 5:30 p.m. on the first Wednesday of every month at Capital Metro’s headquarters. Its next meeting is set for Nov. 1 (November’s meeting has been moved to 624 N. Pleasant Valley Rd.). The CSAC convenes at Capital Metro’s Transit Store in downtown Austin on the second Wednesday of every month at 6 p.m. Pending a proper quorum, it will meet next on Nov. 8.

Photo by WhisperToMe, Public Domain.

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