Pickle Research Campus

Lawrence Deeter, Capital Metro transportation planner, discusses the Pickle Research Campus shuttle route at a public forum on campus Tuesday night. Starting in fall 2014, the route will make the transition to a MetroRapid route in order to improve travel times for students getting to campus. 

Photo Credit: Fabian Fernandez | Daily Texan Staff

Parking and Transportation Services and Capital Metro representatives discussed a proposal that would change the current Pickle Research Campus shuttle route to a MetroRapid route, at a public forum on campus Tuesday night. 

The PRC shuttle route, which connects the Pickle Research Campus and the main UT campus, currently has stops near the intersection of Dean Keeton and Whitis and the intersection of Dean Keeton and San Jacinto. Blanca Juarez, UT Parking and Transportation spokeswoman, said the route will be transitioned to the existing MetroRapid 803 route, which goes along Burnet Road and Lamar Boulevard.

CapMetro transportation planner Lawrence Deeter said the need for greater efficiency and lower costs prompted the shift to a MetroRapid route.

“[The new route] will improve reliability and increase days of operations,” Deeter said. “PRC is the lowest performing route right now, and we’ve trimmed it over the years because it has the lowest ridership.”

According to Juarez, the new route will run seven days a week, unlike the current UT shuttle route, which only runs Monday through Friday. Juarez said it will also run more frequently: about every 10-12 minutes during rush hour.

“PRC only operates about 12 hours a day and stops every 60 minutes,” Juarez said. “With the Metro route, there will be a lot more travel options to get to and from the two campuses.”    

Deeter said the new route will also include features not found on the UT shuttle buses, such as real-time arrival information, mobile ticketing and free onboard Wi-Fi.

Travel time from the research campus to the main campus would remain about the same compared to the PRC Shuttle and would be 20 percent faster than Route 3 Burnet/Manchaca, which also stops by the Pickle Research Campus, according to Deeter.

Deeter said one downside of the transition is that the new MetroRapid route locations require a greater walking distance down Dean Keeton than the old PRC stops did. 

“The rapid only stops on Guadalupe, and there’s two stations — one by the West Mall, and one by Dean Keeton — which means there’s about a six-minute walk,” Deeter said. 

Additionally, the new route will eliminate one stop on the north side of the Pickle campus, which could reduce access for students in that area, Deeter said.

Engineering researcher Rick Pastor said the change could prove problematic for some students who take the UT shuttle to get to West Pickle Campus.

“We teach a class out at West Pickle in the fall, and some students ride the PRC out there, and now they won’t be able to do that,” Pastor said. 

The Facilities Services division of the J.J. Pickle Research Campus is undergoing restructuring affecting 52 employees. This restructuring will allow the department to “improve efficiency” and fund a “contingency reserve” that could pay for merit-based pay increases.

This University department oversees landscaping, custodial services and maintenance at the main campus and the University’s satellite institutions, including the Pickle Research Campus and the Dell Pediatric Institute. These departments are now being consolidated into one department on the main campus, said Facilities Services director Mike Miller.

Seven of the employees affected are in managerial positions and will be laid off, but can apply to new positions being opened at the main campus, Miller said.

“We are trying to take care of the employees affected by offering 10 new positions that they can apply for, although they are still going to have to be qualified for the new positions,” Miller said.

Thirty-five custodial employees are also being brought to main campus from the Pickle Research Campus, Miller said, where the vacant positions will now be filled by SSC Service Contractors, an outside custodial company, to be paid a negotiated sum. Ten landscaping workers will remain at the Pickle Research Campus.

“We have an opportunity to improve efficiency by making these changes, bringing the main campus and the other areas closer together where they had been separated,” said Steven Kraal, senior associate vice president of the office of Campus Planning and Facilities Management. “We expect all of the changes to be completed over the summer by August 31.”

From reductions in labor costs amounting to $500,000, Facilities Services will be able to come much closer to meeting a “2 percent self-funded contingency reserve” of $548,600 mandated by the University, Kraal said.

The two percent contingency is part of the proposed 2012-2013 budget, and it is unclear at this moment how the reserves will be allocated, said Pat Clubb, vice president for University operations.

This reserve allows individual departments to cover for budget holes resulting from cuts by the Legislature or other circumstances, said Mary Knight, associate vice-president and budget director of the Budget Office.

Facilities Services spokesperson Laurie Lentz said their contingency reserve might “very possibly” pay for merit increases that could be one-time bonuses or payroll increases.
“The University is setting aside 2 percent of every budget to cover future cuts, or very possibly to pay for merit increases,” Lentz said. “We will not know for awhile yet whether its going to cover budget gaps or if will go to merit increases.”

Any employee who meets or exceeds job performance evaluations could qualify for the merit increase, Lentz said, although the center has not received instructions on how merit would be evaluated.

“We generally receive some kind of instruction during the year from the administration as to whether we will be doing out merit-based pay and how we will do merits, but we haven’t received that yet,” Lentz said.

Printed on Tuesday, May 1, 2012 as:Restructuring could find merit-based pay increases

The Lonestar 4 supercomputer was dedicated at a ceremony at the Pickle Research Campus
on Monday.

Multiple technology partners, including the National Science Foundation and Dell, commissioned $12 million to Texas Advanced Computing Center to acquire the supercomputer.

Research associate Karl Schulz, who worked on the last three Lonestars, said supercomputers must have fast central processing units. The Lonestar 4 works on 22,656 cores, which is 5,000-10,000 more processing power than an average laptop. The network capability of the computer is 500 times more powerful than a typical wireless network and uses eight miles of cable.

Through the TeraGrid, an infrastructure that links scientific institutions, researchers from around the world can connect to the supercomputer to compute information or retrieve specific data.
President William Powers Jr. said the supercomputer is critical to the University’s competitiveness in the 21st century. He said it is also a key ingredient to collaboration, especially within
Texas institutions.

“Computing is the fuel that powers vast areas of research across the country and certainly research at the University of Texas,” Powers said. “It lets us tease out patterns and find order which, to the naked eye, would just be chaos. It helps us makes sense of the world we live in.”

Michael Dell said he was at an event in China and was surprised to find the chief information officer for the Chinese power grid relied on Dell’s servers.

“We don’t get to solve the problems, but we get to provide the tools that solve the world’s most interesting problems,” Dell said.

Center researcher Chris Jordan said the supercomputer’s resources are a way to bring in more researchers from a wider range of disciplines.

“You think of it being a geeky thing, but we want to involve more people from social sciences and economics, in addition to astronomy and physics,” Jordan said.