What a Wreck
Legislators, take note: Thank you for publishing the cover story "Run Over by Metro" [by Todd Spivak, March 30], detailing the inner workings of that agency and how it tries to minimize accident statistics, keep documents out of the public eye, lowball accident victims and present a public facade of operating a safe transit system. I find it reprehensible that the Texas Tort Claims Act of 1973 limits Metro's liability to $100,000. That was an inadequate amount then, and it's certainly inadequate today. I would think it should be no less than $250,000. Hopefully the publicity will cause some Houston-area legislators to take notice. The reader gets the impression that Metro considers injury settlement payouts as just another part of doing business.
One thing I wanted to ask you was whether driver Clifford Wayne Kidd was ever charged with or convicted for causing the fatal accident on May 7, 2001, that was cited in your story. It appears that was a strong case of driver negligence. Some of the intersection/crosswalk accidents involving pedestrians could be construed as inadvertent, but this one on a freeway HOV corridor is particularly damning. As you mentioned, the family was able to win a large settlement against Metro contractor First Transit only because it was a private concern rather than a government entity.
Cut off: Thank you for your article on the Metro bus system. Everyone who works downtown always talks about how crazy the Metro buses drive. If you're in a car, you have to get out of their way or you get bowled over. They're always cutting cars off and forcing cars to change lanes to avoid collisions. I've always wondered whom Metro allows to drive those buses. Maybe Metro will make some changes now because of this article.
Metro responds: The tone of Todd Spivak's recent article on Metro's safety record came as no surprise to those of us at Metro who worked to answer his questions and requests in preparation for this story. He had an agenda from the beginning, and no amount of information or explanation would change what he was determined to write.
What did surprise us, given how much time we dedicated to his many requests, was the number of faulty conclusions -- and outright errors -- incorporated in his story. So numerous were his factual mistakes that to list them all would consume your publication's entire Letters to the Editor section.
A small sampling:
We don't play loose with our accident and incident reports. These are governed by the Federal Transit Administration and mandated to all transit agencies. In 2002, the FTA loosened the criteria, but both Metro and First Transit chose to continue to follow the stricter standards.
First Transit's top operators are paid 99 percent of Metro operators hired after June 1, 1999 -- not 80 percent as Spivak states.
Bus operator Clifford Wayne Kidd was never promoted after his accident, as Spivak states in his article. Kidd was used in non-driving activities until he resigned.
Government agencies charge reporters for extensive search and document requests -- the original cost estimate we gave Spivak was based on the requests he made. It was the same fee we would have charged any other publication. It was not an attempt to withhold information from the Houston Press.
And, although we explained this fact on several occasions, Spivak could not grasp that while we don't keep First Transit's records in our possession, we do regular reviews of all its records -- including background checks on operators.
This article, in the hands of a more diligent reporter, could have been a serious and thoughtful look at an issue that every mass-transit agency faces when putting thousands of buses on the streets each day.
Our safety record, by FTA standards, is still one of the best in the nation. A perfect record would be ideal, but hardly realistic. Still, it is something we continually strive to achieve.
Metro, director of media relations
Editor's note: We stand by our story.
Scary stuff: Excellent article about the Metro buses. I work on Fannin right next to one of the hubs. The trip home now involves my tiny Honda being squeezed onto Fannin (which narrows to one lane where I am), with the light rail on the left of me and these bus drivers hurling out of their hub like NASCAR drivers, drafting each other nose to tail on the right. More than once, I have been missed by inches as these behemoths jockey for position. I don't even want to think about being a pedestrian in the area. It's way too scary, and at my age I can't run like I used to.
Stop the Buses
Suckage: The HISD article about their not polling residents is right on the money ["Wheels on the Bus," Hair Balls, by Richard Connelly, March 30]. I know firsthand -- I live in the Forest West subdivision just across the street from the proposed site. They never once contacted anyone in my neighborhood about their plan, and it seems they were trying to hide the planned site from the residents. I have no say in the matter, according to HISD. Although I have no kids attending HISD, they get the most from my taxes for my home. I guess I should just shut up and keep paying for nothing.
What is wrong with their present bus barn? Is it that they don't want to look out the windows of their new building and see buses parked there? And how many more taxpayers' dollars can they waste on land they buy for no reason? And then they make excuses for the reasoning. It sucks.
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Lomax is a critic: The Abattoir article about the Velvet Underground's status as the most overrated band ever finally confirmed something I've long suspected but could never really prove: that John Nova Lomax is a music critic [ Wack, April 6]. Most of the signs are present, from pointless bands-and-their-influences bashing to the duck-and-cover use of rhetorical questions to "prove" weak points. He even tosses in some self-aggrandizing revisionist rock history just to be safe. How he failed to once again mention that he knows Mike Haaga is beyond me.
Of course, Lomax is entitled to his opinion, and that we disagree on the VU isn't my point. He comes from a prestigious lineage devoted to exposing and preserving previously unknown talents, enriching our musical palate. Unfortunately, it seems Lomax chooses to use his abilities to write about why our local bands won't ever succeed and to tear down widely loved musical pleasures for motives only he can know. Indeed, the apple has truly fallen far from the tree.
Michael G. Bell