Todd Mason is the vice president of real estate services for Metro. At the time of his hiring, there was some concern that by hiring Mason and dabbling in big-time real estate development at and around Metro properties, the transit organization was extending itself far beyond its mission statement, which reads:
METRO is an innovative regional transportation organization of dedicated employees committed to partnering with the public and private sectors to provide the safest, highest quality services and mobility solutions that exceed our customers' expectations while creating economic growth.
Consider those fears well-founded. Apparently, Mason is now attempting to decide who gets to ride the light rail and who doesn't.
At an October meeting in the mayor's conference room at City Hall, Mason addressed a roomful of concerned downtown citizens, including Anthony Love, the president of the Coalition for the Homeless Houston/Harris County, as follows in a pretty-much-verbatim transcript assembled by Hair Balls after hearing a copy of the tape.
Mason: The bus transit system provides more connectivity for the homeless...Metro is not in the business of attempting to put the homeless on the train. That's the signature service downtown.
Love: Is that the official position of Metro?
Mason: The board isn't going to adopt an official position.
Love: Then whose position is it?
Mason: Today it will be my personal position.
So there you have it folks. According to this very well-paid Metro vice president, The train is for nice people. The bums can ride the bus. This in spite of the fact that Metro eliminated the downtown legs of the Bissonnet, Richmond, and Bellaire routes when they decided to have them all terminate at the light-rail line.
So if you are homeless on the southwest side, you best plan to do some walking if you want to go downtown, or to any of the many agencies along Main in Midtown that cater to the problems of the disenfranchised. You can take the bus as far as it goes, but after that you're on your own.
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Like the man said, the light rail is the signature service, like a fancy grocery store. It is not for Houston's riff-raff.
"Metro is for anyone to ride," says Love. "Anyone who pays a fare should be able to ride Metro. If there's any discrimination, Metro should be taken to task for that. If it does come to fruition that that is their strategy, or that's what they're doing, then we would really expect officials to either change that policy or get rid of the people who are promoting that policy."
Including guys like Mason, whom Metro secured when they paid his private real estate firm McDade Smith Gould Johnston Mason + Co. $2 million dollars for five years of Mason's exclusive services. And even though he's raking in $400K a year from Metro, Mason doesn't pay when he rides the train (like, admittedly, too many of the homeless)..
Mason did not respond to a detailed email from Hair Balls.