Uncertainty About Federal and State Funds Tempers Measure R Enthusiasm

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Anyone worried that the Metro Board of Directors, with an estimated $40 billion in hand to spend over the next 30 years, was going to break the bank right out of the bank can breathe a sigh of relief.  Concerns over federal and state funding measures, and how it impacts our plans for Measure R funds locally, dominated the debate at today’s Board Meeting.

On the federal level, both organizations and the Board pledged to work towards a re-authorization of the Federal Transportation Trust Fund that would pledge more funds towards transit and projects that encourage alternative transportation as opposed to just highway projects with a small set-aside for transit.  Even the Bus Rider’s Union was on board.

Mayor Villaraigosa also led a discussion on how a true stimulus package, if the Obama administration is serious about stimulating hte economy be investing a lot of money in infrastructure, should focus on projects that alrady have a local match available.  Villaraigosa argues that then the federal dollars would actually multiply if they were allocated for projects in areas where people actually have money to spend on transit projects.  In other words, because LA County has the highest tax dedicated towards transportation, the federal government should reward us by finally investing in Los Angeles as we deserve.

The Board’s concerns with the state are less, "are we going to get the new funds we deserve" and more the "is Schwarzenegger going to rob transit to balance the budget…again…" variety.  With the state budget crisis constantly looming, and the Governor’s history of robbing funds "dedicated" to transit to balance the budget; the Board has decided to move cautiously on it’s bus expansion plans so that if the governor robs transit operating subsidies…again…they will be able to cover the backlog without hiking fares.  So, for now, the dreams of bus-only lanes running throughout the city have to be put on hold while we wait for the state to figure out their budget mess.

In the meantime, Metro is going to focus on creating a new bus plan to spend the $8 billion in Measure R funds provided they don’t need to cover any shortfalls in state allocations.  The text of the Mayor’s initial resolution to make a new bus plan can be found after the jump.

VILLARAIGOSA MOTION that the MTA Board of Directors:
A. Direct the CEO to solicit feedback through the Service Sectors on what type of bus service improvements are wanted by the public by February 2009
B. Provide to the MTA Board and municipal operators by March 2009 with an estimate of the MTA and municipal operator portions of Measure R 20% using the formula allocation procedure (FAP)
C. Direct the CEO to coordinate with the municipal operators to avoid service duplication or other inefficiencies, including requesting information on how each municipal operator intends to spend its portion of Measure R 20% funds
D. Direct the CEO to report back during the March 2009 Board cycle with recommendations for a new “Bus System Improvement Plan” for MTA’s portion of Measure R 20% funding that considers, but is not limited to:
1. New clean fuel bus purchases
2. Additional fare freeze or fare reduction
3. Added bus lines
4. More frequent service
5. Longer hours of operation

Photo: StuckinSuburbia4/Flickr

  • I think Mayor Villaraigosa’s comment that our being able to bring local monies to the table should give us a leg up versus other regions of the country when the infrastcture stuimulus funds are divvied up is spot on. To give a historic precedent, Robert Moses was able to get so many projects built in New York during the 30’s because he had a revenue stream from tolls to match federal funds available to help create jobs during the depression.

  • I think it’s great too, but there are a lot of regions who have matches who could claim funds, including Salt Lake, Portland, Seattle, Los Angeles, Houston, Denver etc etc. They all have raised money for transit matches that were already supposed to come from the feds. It shouldn’t be a question that the feds should match these funds. The 80 20 split that is supposed to happen for projects is only 50-50 for transit and still 80 20 for highways. This should be a way to put back the 80-20 though I’m doubtful that will happen.

  • As for potential bus improvements I have some suggestions to add:

    1. Give MTA’s timetables to Google Maps.

    2. Add little placards to bus stops that show the timetables for the buses that stop there. Or a map of the routes of the buses that stop there. Every bus stop that has enough human traffic to have a bench should get a placard with a map/timetable. This will make the bus system less intimidating to potential new riders or out-of-towners, since they will feel they can just go to the bus stop and get the info they need to navigate the city without a car.

    3. Put the 761 on Rapidbus.net!

    4. GIVE MTA’s TIMETABLES TO GOOGLE MAPS ALREADY!

    5. Utilize the GPS antennae on the buses that have them so that riders can track bus locations from their computers or even mobile phones. I know at least the rapids have GPS, because they have that “Windows Live” screen on the transit TV sometimes, and it tracks pretty well. There should be an on-line tool that lets people see that screen for a given bus line. Chicago is already doing this. My friend there just recently got a google phone, and mentioned how nice it is that she can just check her phone to see when a bus is actually close to arriving. Saves her tens of minutes per day. We need this.

    6. “Premium” kiosks at major bus stops that are actually useful. For example, at Ventura/Sepulveda, on the south side of Ventura, there is a nice-looking covering with a red LED screen right where the bus pulls to a stop. You’d think the LED screen would be telling you something useful, like the arrival time of the next bus and which line it is (761, 720, etc.). But it doesn’t. All it does is display the words “Metro Rapid Bus”. Why are we using electricity to power an LED screen that doesn’t do anything useful?

    7. OH FOR HEAVEN’S SAKE! GIVE MTA’s TIMETABLES TO GOOGLE MAPS! WE’RE THE SECOND BIGGEST CITY IN THE COUNTRY! THIS SHOULD HAVE BEEN DONE LONG AGO!

    Sense a theme here? Each of these is a systemwide improvement that wouldn’t cost all that much money compared to other projects, utilizes existing resources like the GPS antennae, and would make riding the bus easier, less intimidating, and more efficient for people from all walks of life. The middle-class commuter will consider taking the bus because he will be able to use his fancy mobile phone to know when the bus is coming, and save time he would have spent waiting at the bus stop, making it more worth his while. The lower-class commuters and tourists would have easier access to timetable and route information at the bus stops. And anyone planning trips within the city would be able to use Google Maps, the same system they are comfortable using in any other city in the nation or world, to plan transit trips.

  • That 80-20 split for highway money is such a crock!

    Congressman Earl Blumenhauer of Oregon opened my tiny mind to how unjust, and car-oriented, our federal transportation money hand-outs are.

    I would love to see highway money disappear. That would be some change I believe in.

    And yes, davidalvan, I too agree the MTA should give Google Maps some data already. Hey, maybe we could crowd source it? The BRU has a lot of bus-savvy volunteers right?

  • That talk is not productive, though, since drivers outnumber bicyclists 10 to 1. I could say that I want all money on pedestrian and bicycling projects could disappear, too, put a statewide referendum on the ballot, get the auto and oil industry to fund it, and we could zero out State Transit Assistance, TDA funding for bicycles and transit, and funnel it all to highways. Of course, it would be pretty brazen for an overt takeover by the auto interests like this, but I bet that you could sell more than 50% of the public on this. And where would you get the money to campaign against it? Transit interests don’t have money; the bicycling lobby is poor; AARP and the Sierra Club aren’t rolling in dough. And the need to fill potholes and add lanes is huge.

    The point is that anti-auto talk helps no one. Rather than reducing the share spent on highways (which will just piss off the construction lobby, unions, etc.), increase the share for transit projects, so that the construction workers still get to work, and middle class jobs are created in operating and maintaining the transit systems.

  • Wad

    Brayj, I would have been the first one to format Metro schedules for Google Maps. I used to type in schedules many years ago.

    The problem is, if you look at the Google Transit API, it is an enormous task that needs data only the agency has. It needs schedule times for every stop in the system, not just the half-dozen or so on a printer schedule. It also needs every bus stop typed in, with global coordinates.

    Look at the feed specification:
    http://code.google.com/transit/spec/transit_feed_specification.html

  • Wad: It may be non-trivial for MTA to provide google with the timetable info they need to provide public transit directions on google maps, but the fact that it’s hard doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done. From all I’ve heard, the technical aspect is not the holdup. It’s the legal issues involved in giving google (an advertising company) the MTA timetables, which are not supposed to be used in ways that could make anyone a profit since they are government/public resources. That bureacratic red tape should be cleared away. That’s what I’m mainly frustrated about.

    Besides, any difficulties involved in getting the info to google, be they technical or legal, is still not a good excuse. There’s a whole list of U.S. cities that have done what was needed to get their public transit info into google maps. Metrolink managed to do it. So did the city of New York. Surely they have more bus and rail lines than L.A. does.

    MTA needs to take some money, higher a programmer for a month, and get this done. It would be one of the most cost-effective ways to improve their service.

  • cph

    How come I get the feeling that, five years from now, every transit agency in LA County EXCEPT MTA will be in Google Transit?

    It’ll be like Russell’s Guide during the last Greyhound Strike. A bunch of little companies listed with no connections between them….

  • Wad

    David, it would not surprise me if Metro is quibbling over the legal issues of releasing schedule information. This was the same agency whose board hung a whole monthly meeting over what color to designate the Expo Line.

    I’m surprised that this would be open to interpretation. In the law it’s well-established that a schedule falls under factual data (dates, times, measurements, etc.) and is ineligible for copyright protection. The times themselves cannot be subject to copyright, but their presentation is. You can take Metro’s individual schedules, combine them in a booklet and sell ads if you wish. Metro, though, is going to be looking at any way to get you to share its cash. It can take you to court if you use its logo or misappropriate its name (like, “Go Metro to the Staples Center”).

    Maybe Metro is wondering whether it can get some sort of compensation for sharing its data with Google, such as ad sharing. I think that Google, though, does Transit on a zero-cost basis. It won’t charge agencies for publishing schedules, but it won’t share revenues, either.

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