Metro Board Wrap: Votes for Cleaner Buses, Then Less Buses

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas tweeted this picture from his cell phone along with the text: Reduction in service is an ineffective way to characterize how to make MTA more efficient or user friendly.

Earlier today, the Metro Board of Directors approved a motion cutting 305,000 bus service hours in a surprisingly close 7-6 vote. In addition to the expected opposition from bus riders, concerns about the cuts were raised about what “replacement” buses will be created for areas where rapid buses will be cut and the total impact on the bus system of the cumulative cuts of the past several years.   Most of the cuts will go into place in June, with a handful coming after the opening of Phase I of the Expo Line.

While Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa arrived late, he did push the idea that Metro staff and Board are taking apart the bus system piece by piece.  The Mayor noted that the cumulative impact of a 12% bus service cuts in the past couple of years.  “When you look at what we’ve done over time, we really haven’t analyzed that.  We’re doing it piecemeal.”

Supervisor Gloria Molina also argued that the Board wasn’t receiving good data.  Molina complained that the information provided to the Board didn’t address the cost of replacing canceled rapid bus service county wide and specifically the canceled “Soto Rapid” service.  “We have over 3,000 people riding the Soto Rapid Bus right now.  They can’t all just ride existing local service.”  Staff apologized and, responding to a Molina motion seconded by Villaraigosa and Mayoral appointee Villaraigosa will return next month with information on what additional local service will be needed to replace rapid service, policy on how savings from cuts are reinvested and ways to ensure service to and from “regionally significant destinations.”

After receiving that staff report, the Board reserved the right to reverse the bus cuts at their April Board Meeting, all but guaranteeing another three hour meeting.

Responding to a question from Molina, Metro CEO Art Leahy offered that the cuts were not an effort to balance the budget, but an effort to reduce duplicated service and underutilized lines.  Earlier in public comment, transit gadfly John Walsh compared it to cutting off “underutilized fingers.”

Regardless of one’s feelings about the cuts, or the groups fighting them, it’s hard not to feel for people who are about to see their commutes and lives made more difficult because of decreased service.  A big part of the several dozen speakers who took to the podium to protest the cuts were workers and their families who saw their commuting lines eliminated.  BRU Organizer Esperanza Martinez argued that regardless of the savings, there is a social cost to cutting bus service.  “You propose cuts that will add one hour to travel time, and an increase to their fares.”

Martinez also argued that the cuts will do little to improve bus service for the remaining bus lines.  “ Staff is being disingenuous, these savings will not go back into the bus system.”  The Source reports that of the $32 million that will be saved annually, “Nine million of those dollars will go back into the bus system. Leahy that the money saved will allow him to reallocate 212 Metro employees to improve the cleanliness and maintenance of buses and to work on a real-time system to improve on-time performance.

The Source also listed all of the cuts to the system:

Lines impacted include the 26, 71, 94, 96, 155, 217, 230, 247, 254, 445, 450x, 485, 577, 634, 751, 757, 760 and 794. Some lines will be shortened, some expanded and some will not run at certain times of the week. Please see the full list of changes beginning on page 15 of this Metro staff report. In addition, the Board approved a number of bus service changes that will go into effect 90 days after the Expo Line light rail opened; those changes are on page 17 of the staff report.

The lines that will be entirely discontinued are the 26, 247, 445, 634 and 757. Existing bus service will replace those lines and/or Metro will modify existing service to replace those lines. In the case of the 757 Rapid Bus that primarily serves Western Avenue, for example, a new 307 limited stop service will be created during peak hours and all local 207 buses and 307 buses will use articulated buses to increase capacity.

Voting against the motion were  Villaraigosa, the three Mayoral Appointees: Mel Wilson, Richard Katz and Councilman Jose Huizar, as well as County Supervisors Gloria Molina and Mark Ridley Thomas.  Voting for the cuts were Metro Board Chair Don Knabe, who was joined by fellow County Supervisors Mike Antonovich and Zev Yaroslavsky, and locally elected officials Diane DuBois, John Fasana, Ara Najarian, and Pam O’Conner.  It should be noted that all of the representatives whose constituency is mostly Los Angeles City residents voted against the cuts except Yaroslavsky.

In other news, the Metro Board approved funding for the creation of a Union Station Master Plan, an increase in bike funding in the Metro Call for Projects and the purchase of 700 new clean fuel buses.  We should note that the increase in bike funding can be directly traced back to Mayor Villaraigosa who authored a motion requiring the increase at an earlier Board Meeting.

  • John

    So what exactly DOES IT TAKE to SUE THE MTA BOARD (in Federal Court-AGAIN!) to require them to invest AS MUCH IN THE BUSES AS THEY DO IN THE LIGHT-RAIL?

  • Ken Ruben

    Damien:

    Do you have a “breakdown” on the 7-6 vote (pro and con)?

    If you don’t, maybe I can get the info from Steve Hymon.

    Thanks.

  • Ken Ruben

    Damien:

    A follow-up to my question which you now don’t have to answer.

    I should have read further on The Source. My apologies.

    For your and everyone’s info.

    The Metro Board of Directors voted 7 to 6 on Thursday morning to
    approve changes to Metro bus service, including the cutting and
    shortening of some lines. The changes are scheduled to go into effect
    June 26.

    The changes amount to about 300,000 hours of service annually — about100,000 hours less than originally proposed by Metro staff earlier this year. Metro CEO Art Leahy told the Board of Directors that the cuts will help remove low ridership lines and duplicative servicefromthe Metro bus system and that the money saved — about $32 million annually — will help produce a balanced budget for Metro.

    Nine million of those dollars will go back into the bus system. Leahy said that the money will also allow him to reallocate 212 Metro employees to improve the cleanliness and maintenance of buses and to work on a real-time system to improve on-time performance.

    The yes votes were by the following Board members: Pam O’Connor, Zev Yarolsavsky, Ara Najarian, Mike Antonovich, Don Knabe, Diane DuBois and John Fasana.

    The no votes were by the following Board members: Antonio
    Villaraigosa, Richard Katz, Mark Ridley-Thomas, Mel Wilson, Jose
    Huizar and Gloria Molina.

  • Ken loses points for not reading the whole story…

  • Ken you should re-read Damien’s piece as he addressees your question:

    Voting against the motion were Villaraigosa, the three Mayoral Appointees: Mel Wilson, Richard Katz and Councilman Jose Huizar, as well as County Supervisors Gloria Molina and Mark Ridley Thomas. Voting for the cuts were Metro Board Chair Don Knabe, who was joined by fellow County Supervisors Mike Antonovich and Zev Yaroslavsky, and locally elected officials Diane DuBois, John Fasana, Ara Najarian, and Pam O’Conner. It should be noted that all of the representatives whose constituency is mostly Los Angeles City residents voted against the cuts except Yaroslavsky.

  • This large 300,00 service hours cut will reduce the overall ridership for Metro. That in turn will bring in a smaller revenue stream which will motivate Metro to reduce service hours again by cutting bus service that has fallen below the ridership level that is desirable. My guess would be that Metro will ask for the additional 100,000 service hours cut that they had originally planned on this time and there will be more tacked on that could bring the cut to 200,000 hours or more.

    Metro seems to believe that the same amount of passengers can be moved with less frequent service. This has not been shown to be the case. Frequency and consistency of service are two big draws for ridership. Less frequent service will turn away customers as they will have to wait longer to get a ride or walk to a main line.

    Why is it that Metro charges the same fee on all the lines regardless of service? Would anyone seriously expect just as many customers on lines with much less service? In Bogota Columbia their Transmilenio system charges only on the main large red bus trunk line and the smaller green feeder buses are free. That system makes money and the red buses are packed throughout the day.

  • Ken Ruben

    For the dude abides and others:

    I will accept less points (per Damien) but I am unfortunately also accepting more important, less bus service, cut-backs, etc.

    I am a rail person per se but I am also a daily BUS RIDER (both METRO and Culver CityBus) with a few others thrown in, such as Big Blue Bus, etc.

    Are Leahy, in his recent op-ed in The Daily News, and at the Transit Coalition meeting the other evening, defended for various reasons, the cut-backs, etc.

    I was somewhat surprised at the close vote and thanks for everyone updating me on the vote evem though I discovered the info after the fact, etc.

  • I hit the send button too soon so I will lose more points but of course, it should be Art Leahy in the next to last paragraph in my above posting.

  • the dude abides

    @Dennis

    Bogota funny. The cost of a bus ticket in Bogota is equivalent to $.85 compared to $1.50 here. But the average per capita income is one-tenth of the income that we have in the United States.

    So the system may make money, but it is done so by having the transit users spend more of their disposable income. I’d say the users of the Metro are getting a bargain.

  • What’s more disturbing is the fact that MTA staff is negotiating with Board members to get votes. While listening to this, apparently in order to get Yaroslavsky’s vote, MTA staff agreed to take the 757 full elimination and the shortlining of 71 middays and weekends at Union Station off the table. Zev’s vote was the deciding vote, so it seemed that staff knew how many votes were necessary to get it through. The Mayor’s block always votes as one, since they can be removed at will. The Supervisors generally act independently, and the suburban cities are more interested in the CTC side of the MTA rather than the RTD side, since all of them represent areas where municipal operators run. Call these the four muni seats. It seems like a great calculation on the part of staff, but a bad deal for the general public and the taxpayer, who may have wanted MTA service to be cut in a rational fashion. Then again, when MRT can keep the crappy 442 running that’s not saying much.

  • Dennis Hindman is exactly right, it’s a death spiral.

    Even worse is the logic used to cut “low ridership routes”.

    Say an 11pm bus has 10 riders, so bus service is cut after 10pm.

    Well, those 10 riders make a round trip, so theyre 20 rides…plys potential transfers, so lets say 30 rides. You cut their return trip, and now they wont take the going trip either, because they must switch to another mode.

    So your cut is 3x worse than stated, AND then the next bus is now the lowest, so you cut that…. I mean, there will always be one line with the lowest ridership. You cant just keep cutting and cutting.

  • John

    Jass-you are using LOGIC, which the MTA Board (nor its administration!) do NOT HAVE ANY OF! So, that is why they are doing what they are doing! Not to mention the bias of light-rail over buses and no federal court order FORCING a monopolistic transit agency to HAVE TO PROVIDE BUS SERVICE!

    Maybe the BRU IS right with their “demonstrations” at MTA meetings! Being peaceful, civil, and logical sure doesn’t work!

  • Carlton Glüb

    @Dennis:

    I’d also add that the largest factor in the cost of bus service is the labor costs — paying the driver to drive the bus.

    In Colombia, I imagine the labor costs are much much lower than they are here, and their drivers probably don’t have expensive health benefits (which our bus drivers deservedly receive).

    That’s all to say that it’s apples/oranges to compare Metro to Transmilenio.

  • Erik G.

    @Dennis

    Remember also that Colombia never had an automobile industry to speak of. The USA may not have a huge one either anymore, but the die was cast in the middle of the last century and the power wielded by those with interests in private automobile use and repair is quite substantial here as opposed to there.

    Bogota also has daily bans on private automobile use based on license plate numbers; you wanna try proposing that here?

    Yes, Colombia has fossil fuel production, but why use that up all by themselves (like the USA did/does) when you can sell it to the idiot Gringos for hard ca$h??

  • Matt

    Hardly a death spiral. Metro users pay such a small portion of the cost of operating buses, that this logic simply does not make sense. It is actually even worse, because the Wilshire and Vermont actually do quite well in terms of farebox recovery so that skews the results even more meaning that the service they cut is likely much less than 33% recovery of the system overall.

    Also, you mention transfer revenue and such. However, I know I don’t have to tell you that many of Metro’s customers use passes so that is not valid. Almost no one buys a ticket for $1.50 and then pays another $1.50 for a transfer.

    Yes, it is unfortunate that these cuts were necessary, but it doesn’t make sense to run near empty buses and wear out the bus fleet when service can be more efficient. It is expensive to run busses here in LA and there are limited operating subsidies to fund sparsely used busses.

  • Alek F

    @ Dennis Hindman: you are absolutely right.
    Metro cannot seem to comprehend: the more you cut, the more ridership you lose. Metro thinks only in terms of money, not people. I really hope BRU will file another lawsuit (the Consent Decree) to force the Metro lunatics to bring back the service that has been cut, and improve existing service. Shame on Metro!

  • John

    Alek-you give the BRU too much credit for ability to engage in ANY meaningful action! They were not even able to keep the previous “Consent Decree” going! They are great for demonstrating AT MTA Board meetings over fare increases, but nothing else that I can see. Look at how discombobulated their web-site is! That should tell you something about them!

  • Some of these cuts have some logic to them, others to me are utterly senseless (like the 460 and 757) or too extreme (the 26 should have been preserved during peak hours). Too often the impulse is poor ridership means cuts, without any attempt to address the reasons why the ridership is poor. If the Rapid on Western isn’t performing shouldn’t we try to improve it? Molina and Villaraigosa belatedly ask questions but don’t offer any real leadership. The triumph of cubicle-bound technocrats.

  • Wanderer

    Enrique Penalosa, the visionary former mayor of Bogota said that transportation is the one problem that gets worse with increasing affluence. Most problems–housing, health care, education–improve when there’s more money to spend on them. But in transportation increasing wealth leads to increases in car ownership and use, making it progressively harder to do anything progressive. That’s why it was so important to Penalosa to get out in front of the curve, putting the Transmileno and a system of bike and pedestrian paths into place.

  • ml

    I’d like to point out to Metro that there is no such thing as “duplication of service.” If you have multiple lines in the same corridor, you have increased service, not duplicated service. Shorter headways, more options, better service.

    “Duplication of service” is BS. But good for Metro that they can now concentrate on building more miles of garbage light rail to bfe. Can’t wait to NOT ride the slow, slow LRT service to Azusa, Industry, Torrance or other super-fabulous suburban destinations.

    GO Metro–to the middle of nowhere!

  • Spokker

    The Gold Line Foothill Extension was not a priority project for Metro. It was green lighted because the San Gabriel Valley was trying to hold the Wilshire Subway hostage. For whatever reason, that line has tremendous support there.

  • Bob Davis

    As a native of the San Gabriel Valley, I get a bit annoyed at the folks who think it’s still mostly orange groves, cow pastures and rock quarries “out here”. I had a struggle to get my relatives and friends to vote “yes” on Measure “R”, because many of them were convinced that the City Los Angeles members of would take OUR tax money to built THEIR pet projects and leave us with nothing but Foothill Transit bus service. Anyone who thinks there isn’t a need for more rail in the San Gabriel Valley should try driving the 210 Freeway between 3:30 and 6:30 PM–the HOV (carpool/bus) lane runs little, if any, faster than the regular lanes. Sometimes we have “metering on” for both directions in Monrovia.
    Unlike other parts of the county, where assorted NIMBYs and malcontents try to sabotage transit projects, every town on the Gold Line Foothill Extension is (except for a few naysayers) gung-ho for the work to begin.

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