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Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Ground Control to Major Tom

I've got to tell you, I was beginning to flag in my enthusiasm for transportation advocacy...

As you know, I've had a rough year and things seemed to be going along okay, so I thought I could let it ride the rest of the way on its own. Then, along came Jamal....

I got an e-mail and a phone call from an enthusiastic cab company entrepeneur here in Tyler the other day. I had plenty to do, bankers to schmooze, creditors to appease, lawyers and CPA's to make happy, so I wasn't exactly looking to get involved in some new crazy wild-haired campaign to reform transportation in East Texas. I'd just about decided to let someone else worry about transportation. I'm tired.

Then, I sat down to talk a little treason with Jamal. Holey, moley, I've found a kindred spirit! In a short meeting and a lunch, we'd decided to launch an organized effort to develop a regional transportation broker system for public transportation in East Texas. Now, when I've tried to explain this concept to people before, I usually get a lot of blank looks and confusion. Jamal got it right away, then he ran with it.

I come from a background in aviation, he told me. We have air traffic controllers that....

Yeah, I interrupted. We do like ground traffic control....

After that we started talking fast and finishing each other's sentences and pretty soon we worked out a strategy for pulling together a detailed outline of how the plan would work and presenting it to the regional steering committee. Ain't regional transportation planning grand? It's the same regional transportation idea ETJTA has been pushing for more than 6 years now (and the powers that be - they know who they are - have viewed with horror).

But don't you just love the air traffic control analogy? It's perfect. Even cab companies like Jamal's are installing GPS and tracking software. His dispatcher showed me their display. When you had a customer waiting, it showed a little stick figure. It showed where the assigned cab was and how fast it was approaching the rider. When the pickup is made, the stick figure disappears and when the fare is paid, the amount is recorded. How cool is that?

So why not create a master system that tracks the whole 14 county region, all provider vehicles, all riders. You have a single number to call and somebody to hook you up. There are all kind of software solutions to do that kind of dispatching.

That way if Jamal is hauling a couple of pints of blood to Addison and someone is headed for Mineola from Lindale, he can swing by and grab the fare on the way instead of sending a huge paratransit vehicle on a special trip for one guy. What a wonderful resource it would be. Each transit provider could continue to do its own dispatching if they wanted. They'd just be tracked by the master system too so they could be coordinated and the broker could hook up the provider from its end too. If we can track hundreds of planes in the air, why not hundreds of transit vehicles, cabs and vans on the ground.

The increase in responsiveness, reduction in turndowns for rides and increased loading such a system could generate would increase ridership. To make it work you'd need some basic stuff:

  1. A funding stream to cover the service - we might have to get TxDOT or the legislature to help us figure out how to structure that and obtain state, federal and/or local funding.
  2. GPS equipment would have to be installed on every participating transit bus, paratransit vehicle, cab and church van.
  3. The broker agency would have to be able to broker rides across all participating providers and have some control over how funding gets done
  4. The broker/ground traffic controller would have to have a development capacity to promote innovation, rules changes needed to facilitate coordination and cooperative equipment maintenance arrangements.
  5. The system would have to allow all provider partners to maintain independent operation while grabbing opportunities for picking up as many riders as possible. The broker dispatch system would act as a "travel agent" or better yet be able to interact with "travel agents" from human service agencies to broker rides. The as well as traffic control system.
  6. The system would have to favor efficiency and reliability and customer service FIRST!
  7. Eventually, the system should have the capacity to "hand off" traffic to other similar systems in border regions or to hand off customers from one provider to another to piece together trips that cross service boundaries.
  8. The broker/controller would have to be trusted by all the providers to be neutral. If it's a nonprovider, consumer oriented agency, then you've got a workable solution that more nearly guarantees equal treatment of all provider partners. It's in the interest of consumers to make sure everyone is successful so there are more resource out there.

Interesting how it works when you get fresh ideas at the table.

We need to create a planning group of around 10 people from a cross section of providers, consumers, civic and human service agencies. We need to create something like a business plan for a regional ground traffic controller / trip broker and then we present them to the steering committee.

What fun....

Just one man's opinion.

Tom King

Friday, March 24, 2006

If they steal a sheep, shoot the sheep!

Abdul Rahman decided to become a Christian. Normally that wouldn't be much of a problem except that he lives in Afghanistan. Worse he was a Muslim and it's illegal for a Muslim to convert to Christianity in his particular community. I think the fanatic element of Islamic faith consider it sheep-stealing! Except their solution is to shoot the sheep!

Now Christians can donate food, clothing and medical care to Muslims when earthquakes destroy their cities. We can donate them Stinger missiles with which to drive off the Russian invader. We can drive out an evil government and give them the right to vote. We can pour aid money into the place like it was water. But if one of them decides to become one of us, their law says that person must die.

Worse, 70% of the Afghanies (if you believe the media - and I don't) also support murdering Abdul, though his only crime is changing his religion. You have to wonder what are these people are thinking?

  1. Are they thinking Allah needs major help holding on to his followers?
  2. Are they thinking this sort of thing will convince the United States of their good intentions toward us? (Does anybody really think these guys won't be harboring any more of those nasty old terrorists while publicly displaying their hatred of our religion!)
  3. Are they thinking, "We better nip this in the bud right now before we don't have anyone left to go on jihad!"
  4. Or are they just not thinking. Are they so used to letting the mullahs do all the thinking for them that they just parrot the party line (which seems to be "Death to everyone who is not us!"?

If that's the case, no wonder they need to hold the threat of death over their own people's heads as a penalty for leaving the Muslim faith. What else is going to hold them in the "true" faith but fear.

Islamic culture is held up as an example of intellectual vigor by pundits, historians and all those "apologists-for-every-other-culture-but-American". Well, it looks to me like somewhere along the way these smart-Bobs would have figured out that the worst way to keep folks in your religion is to point a gun at their heads and say, "Stay!"

I predict that the Mullahs' worst fears are about to be confirmed. I predict that as the children of Islam come into increasing contact with the freedom that flourishes in Christian cultures, many will take a look about them and decide that the ways of their fathers are wrong. When that happens many eyes will open and Arabs will come to see that the mullahs are what they are--power hungry greedy old geezers that believe it is their inalienable right to lord it over their fellow humans. When that happens, there will be a rush away from Islam that will terrify those hideous old men. Unless Islamic leaders find a way to embrace some of the positive aspects of their faith and separate religion from politics, I fear Islam will soon destroy itself from within.

Terrorism is no more about the faith of Islam than the Crusades were about Christian missionary work. The Crusades were about politics and power and were inspired by a lot of corrupt old men in castles who wanted to burn off the energy of the young knights and warlords so they could sit in their castles and molest the servant girls and tax the peasants without having to worry about the young bucks starting a civil war or something. It had nothing to do with religion and everything to do with holding on to power.

That's what's happening in Iraq and other Islamic countries right now. The old geesers are trying to hold on to power by getting the young potential troublemakers to blow themselves up for Allah. If the people ever do turn on them, they've shown the capacity for unthinkable violence. That's why you don't want the terrorist leaders to be anywhere near nuclear weapons when the whole rotten mess tumbles down around their ears. They'll use them if they can and they won't care about the consequences. After all, Christians are only fit to be killed to these power hungry warlords and who cares what Mohammed said about tolerance for "people of the book". After all, it's not about religion or even about faith. It's about holding on to power!

Which is a stupid reason to fight a war just as it has always been. It's too bad there are still young fools who will fight for an unjust cause - and I'm not talking about the coalition soldiers who brought down Saddam either! I'm talking about the ones who are merrily blowing themselves and their neighbors up over what is essentially a centuries old quibble over who was the rightful Caliph after Mohammed died hundreds of years ago and (big surprise) over who has the authority now.

It's Catholics & Protestants blowing each other up in Ireland. It's Romans feeding Christians to the lions at the Coliseum; Jesuits hunting down and slaughtering Waldensian Protestants; Phillistines attacking Jews; Puritans burning witches; dogs chasing cats! Dig down underneath all sectarian violence and you're going to find a bunch of old geesers clinging to power with their gnarly old fingers for all they are worth and pouring out the blood of young men like water uselessly!

It's also bureacrats and transit providers shutting out nonprofits, advocacy groups, private providers and civic leaders from the planning process for fear of what they might suggest as a solution to the problem!. Anytime you get an entrenched group like that in power, you have to figure out how to flood the trenches and get them out of in the open. They never go willingly and NEVER invite you into the trenches for a chat.

Too bad. Changing things for the better shouldn't have to be that hard!

Just one man's opinion...

Tom King

Friday, March 17, 2006

The "It's All on Your Shoulders" Syndrome

I'm scanning all my old slides and negatives with my new film scanner. I've discovered photos I haven't seen for years in the process including (at last) photographic evidence that I am (or at least was at one time) not a complete klutz. In the picture at the left, the young man in the center bottom position, the key man in the water-skiing pyramid at the Lone Star Camp Water Show circa 1978 is none other than me! Admit it. You didn't think I could do it either! You thought I was making it all up about being a trick skiier!

I noticed something about that picture that makes me wonder. "How, exactly do I keep winding up in this stupid position?" When I was doing that stunt, most of the weight was on my shoulders. My skis were about a foot below the skis of the two guys on the outside because of the weight of the two guys on top. I can't bobble or the whole thing comes down on my head.

Sometimes you have to wonder if you are getting something out of having all that weight on your shoulders. Sometimes you have to ask yourself, do you take all this on because others want you to or did you volunteer because you like being the center of attention.

I'm beginning to wonder. After all, the chairman of ETCOG essentially said the same thing in his infamous letter to me. Maybe he's right. Maybe it's time I climbed out of the water and let someone else hold up the pyramid for a change. Maybe someone else can do a better job of it than I can. Maybe I should take all that good advice I've been getting about dumping Generations and starting over some where.

It would certainly lift the financial load and place it elsewhere.

But would it be right. God seems to have opened a door that would allow us to open a new day care center that would generate enough income to pay back some of the debt from GT and allow us to keep taking care of our seniors. It seems to me that would be a good thing.

I remember when one of Mark Twain's wild-haired business ventures went bankrupt, he personally guaranteed all of its debts and went on a worldwide lecture tour till he earned enough to pay them off. Twain may have been a crusty old sinner, but he was an ethical sinner (and I'm not convinced he was a sinner anyway). While I can't earn anything as a comedian, I can work hard and I can run a profitable day care center if we have a building.

Crazy or not, I feel the weight on my shoulders and difficult or not, I think anyone who takes the name of Christ should at least try to pay his debts instead of hiding behind the legal protections of corporate law.

Of course, occasionally I buckled and the whole danged pyramid fell down on top of me and it usually hurt a lot. I hope we can avoid that.

Please pray for our intergenerational day care center. We are waiting on a decision by the investors.

Tom King

Thursday, March 09, 2006

An Act of Amazing Grace

Marty Allen (TxDOT) & Jon Mitchell
(ET Wheelers & Walkers) at GETTA Meeting

TYLER, TX: I saw something yesterday that I never thought I'd see. So as not to embarrass anyone, I'll just say that what I saw was an act of courage and grace. I won't say who did it because it might infer that this person was not a person of courage and grace once upon a time. I don't intend that impression at all, so lets just leave it anonymous. If you've followed the course of the East Texas transportation initiative, you know how contentious the process of bringing consumers and consumer advocates into the regional transportation planning process has been. There's been name-calling, incessant maneuvering and a lot of distrust between elements of the provider community and the consumer advocates.

I think we've reached the turning point in this process. At a tri-lead agency meeting yesterday all parties agreed that it was important for the new 33 member steering committee be given the opportunity to find its own voice and to facilitate that, the tri-leads elected to step back and let a neutral presenter facilitate the meeting. East Texas Council of Governments deserves a lot of credit for putting their own interests behind those of the communities of the region they serve. It is terribly tempting for transit providers like ETCOG to protect their turf and go to extraordinary lengths to control the process. ETCOG has made a public decision not to do that, but to let the steering committee do its work and to serve the committee rather than control it.

For an organization like the COG, that's not easy. It WILL mean more work, more trouble and probably force them to do things that are uncomfortable and difficult.

GETTA (the consumer/provider coalition) and TxDOT are to be congratulated for steadfastly insisting that the steering committee be independent and at the top of the organizational pyramid for regional service planning instead of being an isolated "advisory" branch - easily by-passed if they get too frisky.

So things are looking pretty strong for regional coordination in East Texas. Maybe next we can get a one-stop ride broker coordination scheme going. It's probably too early for that, but who knows. We've got a steering committee now. Anything could happen.

Tom King
East Texas Just Transportation Alliance

Expecting the world to treat you fairly because you're a good
person is like expecting a bull to not charge you because
you're a vegetarian. - anonymous