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.