At a press conference announcing the new plan, Metro CEO George Greanias said:
When I took this position I told Ma Parker that I had no preconceived notions about how we should solve the city's transportation problems. I promised to start from scratch and consider anything, no matter how antiquated and labor intensive. Sometimes the best way to move forward is to move backward and this plan accomplishes that in spades.While federal regulations do not mandate "buy American" for purchases of rickshaws, Greanias was quick to explain that Metro had located a manufacturer in Neodesha, Kansas. A company spokesman acknowledged that the company's capacity of 250 rickshaws a year was grossly inadequate to meet Metro's requirements, but vowed that the company would ramp up production "somehow." The new plan calls for Metro to purchase 50,000 rickshaws by 2012.
Greanias admitted that transit times would increase substantially, noting that a commute that now takes 30 minutes would increase to approximately 6 hours by rickshaw. "Certainly some people won't like the idea of spending half of their life in a rickshaw," he said, "but they need to put aside their own interests and consider the good of the community."
Metro will spend $10 million to promote its new plan, including about $1 million for Google AdWords and another $500,000 for ads in The Greensheet. Its slogan for the campaign will be, "Please ride our rickshaws." Metro will also paint squiggly lines down the middle of the street along selected routes. Greanias didn't explain the purpose of the squiggly lines, but did say that they would look "pretty cool."
The Chronicle quickly endorsed the idea in a Sunday editorial:
In our fast-paced modern world, Greanias has demonstrated remarkable vision in proposing a plan that will slow commutes to a snail's pace. Instead of fighting traffic, isolated in their vehicles with only blowhards like Glenn Beck for company, commuters will be able to engage in leisurely conversations with other commuters. And they will have more time to enjoy Houston's only daily newspaper, which will be offering 20% off new subscriptions.To serve the needs of passengers during their long, arduous journeys, Metro will build about 10,000 rest stops along its routes. Each rest stop will include a Starbucks, free WiFi, and shower facilities. Select facilities will also have recreational areas with beach volleyball and a bowling alley.
Houstonians had mixed reactions to the announcement. "That's a great idea," said one bus rider. "Two rickshaws crashing into one another isn't going to be nearly as spectacular as a train-bus collision," said another passenger. Greanias dismissed the critics as uninformed naysayers, adding, "If I cared about their opinion, I would have spent $5 million on a study. I don't, so I didn't."
Local labor officials expressed concern that Metro would try to keep costs low by hiring only illegal aliens to pull the rickshaws. "Illegals don't have the necessary training," said one labor official, "and they will take jobs from Americans who want an easy paycheck and extravagant benefits."
Metro expects ridership to decline between 6% and 97%, a fact that doesn't concern Greanias. "To be honest," he said, "Metro has never been about transportation. It has been about providing jobs. And this is going to create goo-gobs of jobs."
The first rickshaws were scheduled to be delivered in mid-October. However, production has been delayed because Metro officials can't decide what color to paint them.