Saturday, May 15, 2010

Transit Consulting Contract 2010 - Woodlands Township

Two contracts of The Woodlands Township should be on residents' radar during the next few months. The Goodman contract was budgeted and let for transit consultant services, primarily for trolley and water taxi services. The other contract will be considered in a separate article.

The total contract is for $100k. It is to advise the township and provide reports on air quality to H-GAC (Houston-Galveston Area Council)as part of a pilot project, in addition to the transit consultation. $20k is to provide a recommendation for transition of the water "taxis" to the township. That includes the capital improvements needed to bring the boats up to specs that includes dining and completing the maintenance facility for the boats. It does not include a look into alternatives such as custom pontoon boats. Another $22.5k is included to pursue funding sources from federal and state agencies, among others. Another $22.5k is allocated for interfacing those agencies.

Additionally, at a cost of $27.5k, Goodman is contracted to conduct a survey for determining the interest and value of conducting a pilot trolley program between the village centers and Town Center. In this survey, residents will be asked questions at each location. The results will be compiled and reported back to the township. Residents in apartments and homes nearby to the village centers will not be part of the survey unless they visit the village centers and participate in the process there. It seems to me that multi-family dwellings would be a primary source of passengers for such services.

Right now, I am unsure what the actual vision is for the pilot program. Perhaps the contract includes that, but if so, it was not evident. The questions are apparently designed to see what interests residents have, so the vision should come out of those questions.

The trolley system in Town Center has been quite successful. If you have not ridden on one before, I highly recommend doing so, just to have a feel for what the service provides. With a trolley system to the villages, an avenue would also be introduced to visitors and tourists to go into the village centers to eat at a restaurant or shop at a boutique. I am hopeful that we can produce a good vision that serves both the public and the visitor, to reduce gas emissions and take traffic off of our roads, while stimulating the financial health of our village centers. A trolley system has a high chance of success in my mind to improve mobility here. The same question gets asked though. Should that be a function of the government or a private enterprise?

On the other hand, the operations of the cruisers is not a good investment, at least as currently defined. Goodman has already delivered on that part of the contract. They reported a probable loss of $240k annually is expected. However, with some tweaking and additional ridership, the operation could break into the black by "privatization" through the CVB. The taxis are perceived as a major component of drawing visitors to The Woodlands. They are perceived to be the unique difference between a visitor electing to come to The Woodlands in place of another nearby destination in the Houston area. However, the ridership statistics do not demonstrate that conclusion.

The Woodlands Development Co owns the taxis free of any federal dependencies or commitments, and it owns the underlying interest in the waterway corridor. The Federal Transit Administration owns an equitable interest in the waterway corridor. The development company has a long term agreement to extend the waterway westward to the lake. They have acquired federal ARRA money to extend the waterway starting this summer, along with the maintenance facility. Additionally, the company is arranging for federal funding of another parking garage next to the existing one on Lake Robbins at Six Pines.

Another project to fund with federal money, is a fleet of electric cars.

So it goes. The development company has plans for additional services and eventually we will have to assume some of that operation. It would be good to have the corresponding proposal and expected burden on taxpayers. I have yet to explore that part of the development company's plan. I just hope the board is aware of this and has visibly bought into the idea before the project is initiated. What is the plan and when does the township take over the operation and at what cost? I suppose those are the questions for the board.

Related Links
+ Federal Transit Administration

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