Behind the Orange Curtain: Massive Service Cuts at OCTA

Around the country, many of our largest transit agencies are dealing with massive deficits by cutting back service and laying off employees.  New York City Streetsblog has pretty much been devoted to round-the-clock coverage of NYCMTA’s proposed cuts, the politics behind them and the effort to stop them.

Closer to home, our neighbors in Orange County are facing a 25% cut in OCTA bus trips and laying off over 400 drivers.  The plan doesn’t have specific roots designated for cuts, just a mandate from the board to make these cuts and for the staff to get creative.  These cuts would be in addition to the 133,000 hours in cuts that have already been ordered in the last nine months, some of which haven’t gone into effect.

So far the only organized opposition to the cuts comes from a local Teamsters branch representing the bus drivers.  Naturally, this has led to OCTA staff noting that if the drivers were willing to give up their 4% mandated raise in July, the total cut would drop by 10%.

Meanwhile, the progressive online outpost in Orange County, the OC Progressive, came up with it’s own plan to reduce the service cuts by streamlining other parts of the OCTA budget:

OCTA could take less money for the local transit fund for
administration,which sucks $8 million a year from the bus fund for
administrative overhead – including  its wasteful $11 million a year
external affairs budget. This year’s external affairs budget shows $4.8
million in costs for 45 employees as well as 3.4 million for
professional service, like the $5,000 a month they pay Republcan party
chair Scott Baugh every month. Putting 8 million a year back into
paying for bus services would go a long way to staving off cutbacks.

This would let the other major source of revenue – Measure M funding, carry the administrative burden.

Listening to yesterday’s meeting, where the board voted to
continue to study a $3.9 billion tunnel under the Santa Ana River, it’s
obvious that there’s plenty of room for eliminating waste by cutting
back on consultants contracts.

OCTA could cut back the rates it pays to consultants and defer
some of the planning that it’s doing. Why spend a lot of money building
an Anaheim Regional Transit Center if you’ve cut the bus services that
are at the core of regional transit?

OCTA could rely on its reserves more and work aggressively to restore state revenue.

  • LAofAnaheim

    I hope this becomes a rallying cry for the rest of the state that we have to do something about transit funding. We have to make the issue about the STA cuts that were made in the budget negotiations. I have been following the news in the OC register and the readers continuously put the blame on the unions and the amount of subsidizing for transit systems. Of course, nobody talks about the huge subsidies for car drivers, but that’s for another conversation.

  • Spokker

    I’m not pro or anti union, but I thought this was a state funding issue, not necessarily a union issue.

    And like LAofAnaheim says, it’s hilarious when I read the OC Register comments about how bus riders are getting a free ride. Whatever you say, Orange County. *cue Texas DOT study*

  • LAofAnaheim

    Spokker..yes, the true issue is state funding, but our fellow brethen under the Orange Curtain believe unions are the reason for service cuts.

  • Spokker

    As said before, the comments on the OC Register site are amazing. Here are some of my favorites.

    “The majority of the customers, illegals, have returned to Mexico.”

    Tell that to the throngs of CSUF students that board/de-board the buses that serve the school. I see it every day, an empty Westbound 26 bus pulls up to the stop to start its run and the people waiting at the stop fill it to the brim. Gotta love a school trying to solve its parking problem by promoting mass transit.

    “Fares paid by riders cover about 21 percent of OCTA’s $266 million annual budget for bus operations, agency spokesman Joel Zlotnik said. The rest is covered by taxpayers.

    And therein lies the problem. The taxpayers are broke and have had enough. Let riders pay a full share of the actual costs.”

    Agreed. Just as soon as drivers pay the full cost of driving.

    “Has anyone here actually ridden the bus? I made the mistake once and it was like being trapped in a freakshow.”

    Ah yes, insulting our nation’s handicapped and disabled who are physically unable to drive. They too are just trying to get to work too to help stimulate this stupid economy of ours.

    Here’s the picture she put in her profile by the way: http://sitelife.ocregister.com/ver1.0/Content/images/store/10/12/9a44a46b-9356-4c92-ace3-d8b5c63380ce.Small.jpg If I saw her on the bus I’d wonder why such a winner was riding the bus! Give me an effin’ break. Fucking cunt.

    “Want to know why no one rides the bus, total waste of time.

    All you pro bus riders, do you people understand that time is money. Just think how much more productive you would be if you were not on a bus all the time.”

    Time is money in the go-go OC! I can study on my way to school. I wonder how much you are getting done in your car as you speed in and out of traffic while cutting business deals on your cell phone. I hope you plow right into a tree someday and the person who cares for you most, if there’s even a person that cares about you, bursts into tears as they hear the account of how your head came clean off in the accident. It would fill me with such joy to read about it in the paper.

    “Can’t say I’ll miss them. When I tried to map how long it would take to ride the bus five miles to work, the OCTA website said it wasn’t possible to go there. When I tried to map how long it would take to ride to my new job 15 miles away, it said it would take 1.5 hours.”

    Gee, a mode of transportation that stops every two blocks is slow? What a surprise. Why not starve the OCTA some more so they can never implement rapid bus or light rail solutions! This plan was been going swimmingly so far!

    “Less than two weeks ago, the Register ran this article claiming that many Mexicans are finally returning home because their jobs have dried up here: http://www.ocregister.com/articles/immigrants-returning-mexico-2326719-going-home

    Today, we read that local bus service has been severely affected, ridership is way down, and they’re forced to cut hundreds of jobs.

    Coincidence? Hardly.”

    These geniuses don’t realize that the article said nothing about ridership.

    I could do this all day.

  • I’ve posted my take on this at http://stevenchan.us/weblog/2009/03/steep-bus-service-cuts-and-layof (or http://stevenchan.us/node/172 ). I’m glad that OCTA’s staff is reducing frequencies rather than cutting whole routes (except for their route to Long Beach — I’m still very pissed about that). Sadly, riders here aren’t going to be putting up much of a resistance. When they announced these cuts at the customer service roundtable a few weeks ago, barely anyone spoke up. (Of course, complaining about this to OCTA isn’t going to help, since it’s our state and local politicians that are the ones holding the purse-strings.)

    I also think Spokker is hilarious and should get his own blog. Seriously, ocregister.com is full of trolls.

  • Re-reading Damien’s excerpt, I’m wondering: who exactly should we lobby? Should we also be putting heat on OCTA?

    It sounds like OCTA’s not trying hard enough if they want to build a double-decker 55 on Newport Blvd, they want to tunnel through the Santa Ana River (?!?), they’re expanding the 91 freeway, etc. I seriously doubt (from the OC Register article) that they’d re-institute bus service unless they hear loud vociferous demands from riders (of which we’re currently lacking).

  • This is a major bummer for the OC. I also think this is an example of what would likely be happening in Los Angeles right now if Measure R had not passed. Without an extra source of funding to fall back on, the state cuts of transit funding would have hit hard, and the MTA would have had to cut service like the OCTA is having to do, instead of simply scale back plans of bus expansion.

    Sadly, it will be hard for OCTA to ever increase service without an injection of extra funding. As the bus service frequency decreases, the service will become less attractive and ridership will drop. As ridership drops, so will fare revenue, and the OCTA will be forced to make further cuts. Frequency cuts will turn into cutting entire bus routes, which results in even less revenue, and the death spiral continues.

    The OC may become firmly set up as a completely car-dependent county (even more so than now).

  • Spokker quoted and responded:

    “”. . .And therein lies the problem. The taxpayers are broke and have had enough. Let riders pay a full share of the actual costs.”

    Agreed. Just as soon as drivers pay the full cost of driving.”

    An interesting side-note on the idea of user fees completely covering the cost of transportation. You know the Pacific Electric rail system that peaked in the 1920’s? It was completely privately owned and operated, offered fast transportation at low cost to residents of L.A. County, had an expansive network that is many times the length of our current rail system. . . and almost NEVER made a profit. Tell that to a libertarian and you’ll get a “then how did it exist?” look. Here’s how: Henry Huntington was the rail and real estate tycoon who started Pacific Electric in 1901. He’d expand out the rail system, and purchase land surrounding where the rail would be going. He’d take a loss on the rail operations and construction, but then make such a huge profit from land developers on the land near the rail lines that he came out ahead in the end. He basically used the rail lines as a “loss leader”. Of course, at a certain point he’d saturated the region and stopped making as much money because there wasn’t as much land left to sell. So, at that point, the income started to wane and they started looking into making service cuts, and eventually replacing certain sections of streetcars with buses, which opened the opportunity for the big GM/firestone conspiracy to swoop in and well, you know the rest.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pacific_Electric_Railway#Decline_of_the_Red_Cars

    My point: It is probably VERY difficult to make a profit on transportation systems. Whether you are a private company or a government entity, you are going to take a loss on the construction or operation of transportation infrastructure if you rely solely on user fees. The amount you’d have to jack up the user fees to get these things to pay for themselves is often so high that you create a major class disparity if you do it, and customers may not be willing to pay the necessary price.

    One of the main reasons we humans survive so well is because we are not solitary rogues. We live in communities and rely on each other for help. We want a transportation system that serves our needs? Then we all need to chip in and support it with our tax dollars, one way or another. Motorists alone can’t pay the full cost of the roads and freeway system, so we subsidize the system for the good of society so we can have the system at all. Rider fares alone can’t pay the full cost of the construction and operation of bus and rail lines, so we subsidize those systems so we can have them at all.

    I have nothing against capitalism, but the free market does NOT solve all problems. There are some services that are much more difficult for a private company to make profitable, or for a government to operate on user fees alone. For these services, it is in the best interest of society for a government entity to fund the system through a distributed tax system BECAUSE SOCIETY NEEDS THAT SERVICE.

    Remember this when someone makes a comment about amtrak not turning a profit or the freeways not paying for themselves with gas tax or public transit systems not being covered by fares alone.

  • Spokker

    So if bus service is cut, and gas prices go up again this Summer, what kind of clusterfuck do you think that will create?

  • The answer, Spokker, is ‘A really big one.”

    The OC, ever the hand maiden to 20th Century oil excess, is going to lead the nation as it did after WWII. This time, instead of showing us how to build endless cul-de-sacs, lane miles, and fast food chain restaurants the OC will be showing us how to starve the elderly in their McMansions and prevent the working class from getting to their jobs as it slides into a Hobbesian maze of meth labs and human trafficking hideouts in the ‘burbs.

  • Spokker

    Found some good comments on Arizona Republic about their new light rail system.

    “Ironically, your facetious statement was the right answer. Then you had to blow it when you got serious.

    Having grown up in San Diego, I’ve learned that the majority of light rail users are those that simply have no other means to get around. This includes a large portion of “undesirables”. Undesirables are those that usually are involved with gang, crime, and those that are homeless.”

    And here’s a *good* reply to his comment:

    “There are undesirables driving the cars around me.”

    I’m going to use that line whenever someone says transit breeds crime.

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