Leahy Outlines His Vision for Metro at Calpirg Conference

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There were a lot of highlights from last Friday’s "21st Century Transportation for Los Angeles" conference sponsored by CalPIRG, but many of them will require more research before I can write a full story on them.  From Asm. Mike Eng’s channeling of Gavin Newsom when he declared that the 710 Tunneling Project is going to happen "whether we like it or not" to a discussion of pedi-cabs downtown, there was a lot of interesting discussion.

But when new Metro CEO Art Leahy stepped to the microphone, it provided the first chance for me to get a measure of Leahy and his vision for Metro.

If Leahy is as progressive as his speech, the news is good.  Leahy, who if you missed the press release or haven’t spoken to anyone working at Metro recently, is the son of  Los Angeles Transit Lines Yellow Car drivers and began his career as a bus driver himself.  He’s been around long enough to have taken transit to a Dodger game, and not on the city’s free shuttle last year.

While he wasn’t able to give details on a lot of specifics, after all he’s been on the job for less than a month, he pledged that public outreach was the most important part of a project design.  In response to a question about Metro crossings, he replied, "We want to know potential issues…we’d rather work with you for solutions you believe in rather than muscle you over."

Leahy also argued forcefully that the state and federal governments need to be more forthcoming to help the agency push back against fare hikes and service cuts.  When asked to outline his top priorities they were to pass and implement the Long Range Plan, operate an efficient and on-time transit service in order to not lose the trust of the public that entrusted them with Measure R and other taxes and to "get to" Pelosi and Boxer the message that we need support for operations, not just building new rail lines.

Now, pretty much every transportation advocate I know has had their heart broken by a politician or bureaucrat who hasn’t matched their rhetoric; but Leahy’s most promising answer was about his personal habits rather than policy.

When questioned by the Bike Coalition’s Dorothy Le about his vision for cyclists and pedestrians, Leahy demanded a transportation system which makes it easier to move about Downtown and in their communities.  Then he added a personal anecdote about his first days at Metro.

Leahy had a meeting with L.A. Mayor and Metro Board Chair Antonio Villaraigosa at City Hall.  When Leahy was informed that his car was waiting downstairs he responded that "No, I can walk to Downtown.  I’m not taking a car a couple of blocks."  Whether Leahy was aware of it or not, former Metro boss Roger Snoble took a beating on some blogs for his willingness to take a car to destinations that were transit accesible or within easy walking distance.

So, let’s say I’m cautiously optimistic about Leahy.  Combining his speech with a later statement by the Bus Rider’s Union’s Francisca Porchas that we need to increase operating funds for "bus and rail" and the future for Metro is looking bright.

  • Spokker

    I was there and the son of a bitch said all the right things. I was ready to hate him because he was the CEO of highway happy OCTA. But then again, he gave Orange County residents exactly what they wanted. Hopefully he gives LA County residents what they want and voted for, better bus and rail operations.

    If this guy keeps his word on using his own transit system to get around, he’ll become very popular.

  • The good example needs to manifest itself in a simple Metro policy. When Metro emps or consultants attend a community meeting, they need to use the Metro. Car pool in the supplies if necessary, but Metro for the staff. Ride a bike to fill in the gaps. Same rules as for the people they serve.

  • Alan K. Weeks

    I am sorry I missed the conference. Having worked in Art Leahy’s RTD Schedule Department I know he is for real. I expect good things coming out of MTA in the future. He is the right man at the right place at the right time. Minor correction in your article. Art’s father and mother worked for
    the Los Angeles Transit Lines the Yellow car system not the Red Car system.
    Excellent article otherwise.

  • “No, I can walk to Downtown. I’m not taking a car a couple of blocks.” = Win.

    I might have missed something but I hope we get to see a more thorough discussion of the LRTP by Leahy soon (or perhaps it’s too early considering he’s only one month into the job?).

  • Marcotico

    I was always impressed by the fact that OCTA he drove a modest hybrid CRV. As Spokker mentioned OCTA is more freeway centric than Metro. But even there, when it comes to transit he focused on improving existing service, rather than constant expansions that couldn’t be supported.

  • Even for a cynic like me, what Leahy said sounds very promising.

  • Johnny

    He sounds like a WIN but it’s always comes down to Politics and Money and The Board. I do not have much faith in them since they want to spend 20 years digging under Wilshire instead of a Monorail option o_O :(

  • He did as good of a job as he politically could here. I spoke with a Roy, an OC transportation advocate: he said that under Leahy’s watch, OCTA expanded service on a lot of their bus lines and, at Leahy’s insistence, launched four 24-hour routes.

    Roy also said that OCTA’s current proposal to decimate bus service will essentially bring transit service levels back to the 90’s before Leahy came aboard.

  • Spokker

    “I do not have much faith in them since they want to spend 20 years digging under Wilshire instead of a Monorail option o_O :(”

    No offense to you, Johnny, but I think a lot of us ARE happy they decided not to go with a monorail option.

    I love the Disneyland Monorail as much as the next guy and Bob Gurr is a hero of mine, but we already have a subway under Wilshire Blvd. Extending it West is the way to go instead of creating an unnecessary transfer.

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