Another day, another Apple Dumpling Gang editorial boosting Houston MetroRail.
You can go read it if you want. I'll spell you the trouble and let you know that, according to the Apple Dumpling Gang, MetroRail will cure Houston's congestion problems (despite official Metro statements admitting that it will INCREASE congestion along the route and do nothing to alleviate highway congestion), clean the air (even though the electricity it uses is primarily generated from coal), eradicate childhood obesity, cure cancer, and finally....FINALLY make Houston a World Class City....until the next toy is desperately needed.*
The problem now is that we're stuck with 7 miles of toy train that does nothing more than hurl itself (slowly) back and forth from the Reliant complex to Downtown. It's singlehandedly killed off more bus routes than easy car credit, and it's displayed a maddening tendency to take out pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists (including, police & emergency vehicles). Metro's answer to this** is to wrap one of them in a red condom with 'SAFETY' emblazoned down the side in a style reminiscent of a Communist work poster. (Hard Work, and riding light rail, is good!)
Rail supporters, of course, think this is swell. Especially if other people can be convinced to hop on the new expanded light rail thus making their commute into their communal work spaces flow more smoothly. Rail opponents think this is all just so much tree-hugging nonsense and are suggesting that Metro rip up the seven miles of track, mothball the train-car fleet or convert them into buses so that other people can ride on them, thus making their commutes downtown to the buildings housing their cubicles less congested. Metro and its board are just happy that they can keep throwing money down a hole like a drunken sailor on shore leave in Singapore. That they have no real oversight from Houston's former newspaper of record, or the City and County Government only fuels that drinking binge.
What all sides are missing is a great money-making opportunity. Money the City can desperately use now that the City Controller has suddenly found a $23 Million "oops" love letter to pass along.
My plan, and I'm being serious here, is two-fold....
1. Charge the City's professional sports teams to use MetroRail as the official team transport on game-day. Instead of riding to the park in their Range Rovers, BMW's and Mercedes, gauche in these days of financial belt-tightening by the fans, all of the athletes will hop onto light rail and be forced to ignore the fans while wearing their iPods leaving the job of handing out photo-copies of their autographs to Houston's traffic ambassadors (it's not like they're working anyway right?) I know, I know you're thinking "You can't force teams to ride on the danger train can you? That's un-Constitutional. To that I say "bah". We live in an age where the President forced the American public to pay Billions in buy outs so that a few auto-unionists (and Democratic donors) don't have to face a renegotiation of their pension, and the Republicans destroyed an entire country just to make sure Big Oil has access to some camel breeding stations otherwise known as "pipe-lines". Don't worry about the Constitutionality of the whole deal. It'll work itself out.
2. On non game-days, lets drop the fantasy that MetroRail is in any way something resembling a "transit solution" and start treating it with a dose of reality. It's an amusement park ride, and Houston should treat it as such. Here's the idea, sell rides to the stadium in the very seats that athlete's sit in. You charge for the seats on a sliding scale depending on the demand. (Ex: Texans Defensive Secondary seats: $2, Carlos Lee's seat: $20, the seat for Carlos Lee's 7 pre-game snacks: $40 (and you get to check the cushions for sandwiches that fell between the cracks). The financial opportunities are endless here, so are the promotions. You can have a drawing to see who gets to sit in a seat occupied by a life-sized wax model of either Bob McNair or Drayton McLane. After the ride the winner gets a flamethrower and five minutes of fun, sub-letting allowed.
The good thing about both of these ideas is that the only people who pay are teams (which nobody likes anyways these days) and the rich who will pay big bucks for the thrill of giving McNair and McLane the ole creme brulee treatment. (which provides a side benefit for on-lookers if said rich person doesn't know how to work the flamethrower and top-brown themselves.)
To make this strike-proof the City could charge 'lockout rates' to fans allowing them to hurl water balloons at the stadium doors as they ride by. The Houston Aeros would be allowed to moon the picketers since they're minor league and unlikely to go on strike anyways. Meanwhile all the City has to do is sit back and let the money roll in. Metro, which would be freed from it's past mobility-fund payments to the City in return for surrendering rights to MetroRail, would then be free to focus on bus service, and moving people efficiently from point A to point B, as they should have from the beginning.
Of course, to pull this off we'd first have to get rid of the Metro board, and 3/4 of the current staff.
Maybe they could get jobs as Traffic ambassadors?
*OK, the last one's were a joke. Still, I wouldn't put it past the Apple Dumpling Gang in trying those arguments
**Since calling Houstonians idiots didn't work out so well