It’s been six months since George Greanias took on his role as acting CEO and president of Metro, a position he now officially holds. He delivered a state of Metro address to stakeholders in Houston’s business community to discuss what he called the second biggest issue the city is facing, after education.
“And that’s how we’re going to provide adequate mobility — a total package of mobility that’s more than streets and roads, more than just the transit services, but the entire package. How we’re going to do that for the entire region.”
He says most Houstonians want more transportation dollars to go toward public transit, but admits people still don’t have a lot of trust in Metro to get things done.
“Our strategic challenge is to close this gap.”
Greanias says one of the agency’s biggest challenges is restoring faith and trust in Metro– something that was lost during the previous administration. But Metro is still having a hard time getting it back and keeps running into major funding hurdles. In recent years Greanias says Metro has been operating in a deficit.
“They were using that quarter cent that was supposed to go to the small cities, Houston, and county, they were using that for their own purposes. And then when the bills came in they’d borrow in the commercial paper market. What we ended up with was a liability of $167 million dollars in commercial paper.”
Greanias says the new Metro administration has stopped borrowing money to pay cities for transportation projects, and has moved to a cash-based program instead. The agency also got in trouble in September when the Federal Transit Administration ruled that Metro broke federal-and even its own-purchasing laws-because it awarded a light rail contract to a Spanish manufacturer. That put a $900 million dollar grant and various rail projects on hold. Greanias acknowledges that many local businesses are affected by all the cutbacks.
“I know there are many people in this room whose organizations have suffered some because of the reductions, or the slowdowns, and the cuts we’ve had to make. We appreciate your patience and your forbearance during a very difficult period.”
Metro is in the process of completing its re-procurement plan for the light rail cars and will be submitting its final version to the FTA on November 19th. It expects to rebid the contract early next year. Metro hopes to secure the $900 million dollar federal grant sometime after. Still, Greanias says getting Metro back on the right track could take more than two years.
“Changing an organization like Metro as complex as it is with as complex a challenge as it has, you do not do that over night.”