HRT’s Shucet meets with bloggers

Hampton Roads Transit’s new President/CEO Philip Shucet sat down Monday with local bloggers. In attendence were Henry Ryto of Avenging Archangel,  Archie Whitehill of Sparkling Diversity,  Eileen Levandoski of VB Dems, Brian Kirwin of Bearing Drift, and yours truly. HRT has been in the news a lot lately, mainly due to the cost overruns on Norfolk’s light rail starter line. Shucet took the reins of the beleaguered organization just three weeks ago, after former President/CEO Michael Townes, agreed to retire.

Since taking over, Shucet has taken the bull by the horns. He has been forthright in discussing management practices and exorbitant soft costs. His request for an audit was approved by the Secretary of Transportation. Last Thursday, he released a a “cost to complete” figure of $338.3 million for the 7.4 mile line, saying, “We’re not going to add a penny to that.”

All of this and more was discussed in the nearly hour-long Q&A session, the video of which is below. (I edited out the beginning “getting to know you” part as well as the ending “when will we meet again” part. )

Note that there were three HRT staff members in attendance, primarily to help if Shucet needed additional information. As it turns out, he really has a grasp of what’s going on at HRT and didn’t really need them.

I walked out of the HRT building thinking we’d just had one of the most transparent conversations possible. I was, therefore, a little disappointed to read on PilotOnline that HRT had found the $245K for the Beach study, a topic we had discussed rather extensively. We were given no hint that HRT was still looking for a way to come up with the money, although Shucet did say he was struggling with the issue. Given that it was such a short time between our meeting and the brief posting on PilotOnline announcing that HRT had found the money, I’d love to hear what happened.

UPDATE: Thanks to Mr. Shucet for explaining in the comments below exactly what happened and why. I appreciate his taking the time to discuss this issue with us.

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13 thoughts on “HRT’s Shucet meets with bloggers

  1. The events, reasons, the how and the whys as stated in the Pilot are not significantly accurate; however, they are not particularly untrue. Suffice it to say, it was politically expedient.

    1. Yeah – when I wrote this last night, the whole article wasn’t up yet. But – and this is really my point – why weren’t we told that something was in the works?

  2. Vivian,

    My hypothesis on that last point: remember as we came in, I noted the number of Vice Presidents leaving the meeting in the side office? I counted 5 before it was over: Whitney, Carter, Davenport, Amaruso, and Toscano. In hindsight I’ll bet that’s what they were discussing. All 5 have their hands in light rail. They probably had to clear it with the City of Virginia Beach before going public.

    Yes, we largely stuck to The Tide. As this now is suppose to become a periodic series, later sessions will probably bring more general mass transit questions. That’s why I want a June session: at that point HRT will know what the 7 localities will pay for in the following 12 months. (Yes, we can meet again in the interim after the General Assembly session.)

    I had 8 prewritten question ideas. I got to ask 2, while other’s questions left a few others moot.

    1. As I don’t know the VPs, I wish you had made note of it and asked Shucet about it. However, even if they were waiting on VB to clear it, a hint of what was coming would have been useful, even if it was simply to say that it was being discussed and that it was off the record.

      I honestly felt blindsided by the subsequent post on the Pilot. Not sure what value there is in meeting with us if we are still going to be treated like mushrooms.

      Of course the conversation revolved around the Tide – that’s the biggest issue facing HRT at this time. All the more reason for transparency in answering the question about the VB study.

  3. Vivian,

    Yesterday morning around 8:30am I heard about a commitment that was allegedly made in an May 2009 verbatim transcript of a Virginia Beach Council briefing. I was just listening to what I heard; I did not have the actual transcript yesterday morning. But what I heard was disturbing. It sounded to me like a rather clear signal had been to sent to the Beach Council that they would not be required to put up any matching fund for their light rail study. So, I asked that a copy of the transcript be sent to me so I could review it for myself.

    When we met together yesterday at 11am, I still had not seen the transcript. But as I mentioned to the group, in response to a question from Brian, I was struggling with the Virginia Beach matter. If what I heard yesterday morning was true, then it did seem like the Beach may have unwittingly supported our pursuit of the $1.2 million grant under the impression that the City would not be responsible for the matching portion.

    I received the verbatim transcript at 12:09pm yesterday. I saw it as soon as our meeting broke up. I read it carefully, called the staff together for a discussion, and told them that in my judgment the words on page 11 of the transcript were compelling. My decision was not influenced by whether or not the issue on today’s Council agenda would or would not pass. I was swayed by a sense of doing the right thing. Virginia Beach supported an effort to obtain funds based on a clear understanding that they would not be required to provide a match. Now that the grant was in-hand, we said to the Beach last week “You have to pay.” My sense of “right”, in light of reading the transcript, just couldn’t support that position.

    We are using available funds to provide the match. As such we will not affect our service to any member locality in any fashion. We didn’t find any new money. There are no pots of gold. We’re just doling what we need to do to keep our word to a group that trusted us to tell the truth.

    That’s the story. I realize you may or may not agree with my decision, but the above is how it came about.

    Thanks again for yesterday. Thanks to all, actually. I deeply appreciate the time you took for our sit-down together.

    Philip

    1. The Beach’s assertion about being promised not to need to pay for the study was in every story published about this for weeks. At your presentation, Councilman DeSteph read from the transcript to you on February 9th. It was pretty clear to me that they were told no city money was needed for the study.

      How could you have “just heard” something on Feb.22 that was said to you in Council Chambers on television Feb 9th?

  4. Thank you bloggers! You all have performed a great service keeping the public informed and providing a transparent vehicle for citizens as well as HRT. Thanks again.

  5. Our Bloggers session was talked about yesterday at HRT’s New Starts Committee meeting. Vivian and my blog were mentioned as having the video up. (Kirwin posted it on BD yesterday.) Commissioners were to be e-mailed links.

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