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Posts from the "Transit Coalition" Category

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Measuring the Odds for Measure R+

Image from Metro Board reports via The Source.

The issue of whether or not Measure R+, our temporary name for a proposed ballot initiative to extend the 2008 transportation sales tax, will be on the fall ballot will be much clearer in a couple of days.  The Metro Board of Directors will vote on whether or not to place the initative on the fall ballot this Thursday.  The initiative still needs the approval of the State Senate and the Governor’s office, but if the measure passes muster on Thursday, it will most likely go before the voters.

Whether the voters will pass it is another story.  As in 2008, extending the sales tax would require a two-thirds vote of those voting.  The 2008 ballot measure passed with 67.2%.

In other words, it barely passed.

While the coalition that worked to pass Measure R in 2008 is coming back together under the stewardship of Move L.A., the opposition to the transit tax extension already appears stronger than last time.  The campaign for Measure R+ could have a tougher road to travel.  The plan calls for no new projects, just a “speeded up” project schedule.  In other words, if it matters to you whether the airport connector is completed in 2023 instead of 2028, then you’ll likely support the project.  If you wanted a Leimert Park Station for the Crenshaw Line, there’s nothing in this proposal for you.

Leading the opposition is Supervisor, and soon-to-be Metro Board Chair, Mike Antonovich.  The Supervisor famously compared the plan to “gang rape” of his constituents despite his Supervisor District receiving the lion’s share of the highway funding portion of the sales tax.  Antonovich voted against placing the initiative on the ballot in Committee.

Noting that rail transit generally requires a higher subsidy than bus transit, thus causing an overall increase in transit fares, the Bus Riders Union led the charge against Measure R four years ago. The civil rights group seems poised to repeat that role this time around.

“The original Measure R has offered nothing good to transit-dependent Black and Latino bus riders, who have seen close to one million hours of bus service cut and a 20% fare increase since it took effect in 2009,” explains Barbara Lott Holland, Chair of Bus Riders Union.  ”Extending Measure R indefinitely will only accelerate the destruction of the bus system and the civil rights crisis that LA Metro now finds itself in, and will plummet the agency into a debt that the poor will be asked for pay through more fare increases and even deeper cuts to their service for decades into the future.”

The Los Angeles Times puts voice to a fiscal argument that extending a sales tax indefinitely out into the future doesn’t make a lot of fiscal sense long-term.  What if the transit needs of the county change in the next fifty years, and voters are paying a tax for a completed transit system with no revenue going towards future expansion?  Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa argues that these future voters will have the benefit of a completed transit system, but that argument could be a harder sell than the argument for any transit expansion made four years ago.

Another group that opposed the 2008 tax was a loose coalition of legislators and municipal governments in the San Gabriel Valley.  These lawmakers gave perhaps the least articulate opposition demanding funds for a local project that was funded by Measure R at the same time they opposed the overall Measure.  Getting more funds for the Alameda Corridor continues to be their top priority, and there is little opportunity to close the $260 million funding gap in Measure R+. Read more…

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Tomorrow Night: Metro CEO Art Leahy Speaks to the Transit Coalition

6_18_10_leahy.jpgArts got smarts. Photo: Daily News

Tomorrow night at 7:00 P.M. Metro CEO Art Leahy will speak and take questions at The Transit Coalition's monthly meeting at Philippe the Original in downtown L.A.  Love him or hate him, the affable Leahy has been more open about his plans and vision for Metro with the press and advocates than either his contemporaries at other agencies or predecessors.  He even sat down for a Streetsblog interview last summer.

The Transit Coalition meetings are open to the public, so just show up and be prepared to ask him some questions.  When I spoke with Leahy last summer, he had a lot of information and stories at his fingertips and loved to hit you with facts illustrated by a part of his or the agency's history.

You can read the Coalition's meeting announcement after the jump.

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Activists Respond to DASH Cuts and Hikes. LADOT Schedules Public Hearings

As the Los Angeles Department of Transportation prepares for five public hearings next month and in early March, activists are responding to their proposed series of cuts and fare hikes that will close the city's budget hole...at least when it comes to it's transit services.  Unlike the reaction we saw two years ago when Metro outlined a series of major cuts to its bus service, transit advocacy groups are not nearly as unified in opposing these cuts as they were two years ago.  For more information on LADOT's public outreach and other options to submit testimony, read the LADOT press release, available on Streetsblog here.

Each of the three major groups in Los Angeles, Southern California Transit Advocates, the Transit Coalition and the Bus Rider's Union each take a different approach.

Kymberleigh Richards' statement on behalf of the Southern California Transit Advocates crystallizes the difference in how advocates view the LADOT's bus service as compared to Metro.  Remember that two years ago, Richards was one of the leaders opposing Metro's proposed cuts, even threatening the Metro Board with retaliation if they went through with their plans:

So.CA.TA is okay with a lot of this.  The three Commuter Express lines proposed for cancellation have very low ridership and displaced passengers still have options.  On the lines proposed for modifications, we believe 422 and 423 should continue to Thousand Oaks Transit Center (a hub location) and that late night service on 142 should continue at less frequency...

...We're also okay with the proposed fare increases. although we think DASH fares should go directly to 50 cents (no interim step) as it has been unrealistically low as a quarter for far too long.  We do think the interagency transfer (IAT) should be part of DASH's fare structure, though, especially to facilitate transferring to Metro where a DASH line has been canceled or realigned to avoid route duplication.  It may well be that adding the IAT will be a condition of LADOT becoming an "eligible operator" for county sales tax subsidies anyway, so we think they should just go ahead and do it.

Fellow So.CA.TA. executive Dana Gabbard also pointed to the need to cut waste in the DASH system.

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Statewide/Local Advocates Slam Schwarzenegger’s Rumored End-Around Cut on Transit Funding

1_7_19_bru.jpgIf the BRU is willing to protest Obama, I can’t wait to see what they have to say about another operating cut from the State. Photo: Streetsblog/Flickr

Local transit advocates are reacting with fury to the Governor’s rumored plan to skirt a court ruling requiring that the state stop robbing transit funds dedicated in the gas tax by completely revoking the tax and reinstating it as an excise tax.

As reported recently in the LA Times, and briefly discussed here on Monday, to close a looming $20.7 billion budget deficit,
Schwarzenegger is expected to release a plan this Friday to eliminate
the state’s gas tax, which has specific mandates to provide funding for
transit, and replace it with an excise tax that would not have transit
funding requirements. The net effect would be 5 cents less per gallon
at the pump and continued decimation of state funding for transit
operators.

Erin Steva, the transportation advocate for CALPIRG, makes the case that the Governor’s end run on state law is not just bad policy, but politically tone deaf, "  Raiding public transportation funding is the wrong move. We need more
transit, not less to keep our cities moving and our economy strong.
Cutting public transit funding goes against California’s commitment to
fight global warming pollution and clearly violates the voter’s will to
expand, not contract, transit."

"It’s what we feared," said California Transit Association (CTA)
spokesperson Jeff Wagner told SF Streetsblog earlier this week. "This proposal circumvents both the law and
the will of the voters. The court ruled they had to stop doing it, so
what do they do? They change the laws that were in place. Time and
again, transit has been the piggy bank they’ve gone to to fill
in the gaps in the other stuff. It’s shortsighted and it’s in blatant
contravention of the voters’ will."

Wagner said the CTA was tempered in its reaction to its victory in
court last year, saying they assumed the governor could come up with a
scheme to continue taking money from transit to plug the general fund
hole. "We knew that our lawsuit victory would provide us with some
reprieve, but we were cautious. We knew that it wasn’t beneath this
administration."

Locally, transit advocates were just as outraged.

Read more…

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The Transit Coalition’s “Simplified Network” Could Create Millions for Metrolink

12_17_09_header.jpegThe Transit Coalition has big plans for Metrolink. For larger versions of the current Metrolink Map and a map with the proposed changes for the regional rail system, click the embedded links in the text above.

Last week, the Metrolink Board of Directors punted on the decision on how to balance their budget through either fare hikes, service cuts, or a mix of both until sometime in 2010.  While some riders breathed a sigh of relief that Metrolink didn't fill their Holiday Stockings with some regressive transportation policy; it seems inevitable that the Board is only delaying what will ultimately be an unpopular and difficult decision.

However, there is a third way.  Yesterday, I had a lengthy phone conversation with The Transit Coalition's executive director, Bart Reed, about his group's plan to save Metrolink.  The plan is simple, Metrolink can increase revenue by changing from a "segment" system to a "corridor" system.  Instead of having all routes begin and end in Union Station the segments are combined to create larger corridors.  The segments that currently end in Oceanside and Montalvo would be combined as would the current red, green and blue segments.   Basically, the trains run through Union Station after a stop instead of just stopping there. 

But can that really increase the number of passengers to such a level to avoid hikes and/or cuts that could cripple the agency for years?  The Transit Coalition thinks it can:

"When riders know they can get from one place to another without the uncertainty of having to transfer, ridership goes up twenty-five percent," promises Reed, "In the northeast corridor it used to be that you couldn't get from Boston to Washington without a transfer and a delay.  When they connected the Washington to New York and New York to Boston segments into the Northeast Corridor, ridership shot up."

Under the Coalition's plan, the system would become more efficient not just because it would open up the system more, but also because it would save the agency millions of dollars in efficiencies.  The cost of labor would go down as would, because of reduced idling time in Union Station, the cost of maintaining and running the trains.  Meanwhile, the "corridor" service could also compete with freeways in a way the current segmented system cannot.  Reed jokingly asked how many people would drive on freeways if they had to pull over for twenty minutes between interchanges as some Metrolink passengers have to wait to transfer trains.

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For Metrolink It’s a 6% Fare Hike vs. Major Service Cuts

12_4_09_interior.jpgThis was one of four cars on an Orange County Line run leaving Los Angeles Union Station to Orange County and Oceanside. It gets busier in Orange County.  Photo and description: LA Wad/Flickr

Two weeks ago, I celebrated that the Metrolink Board agreed to "look into other options" rather than raise fares by 6%.

Maybe I was premature.

Earlier this week, Metrolink announced a series of proposed service cuts that would eliminate service on some weekend lines and curtail service on lines across the board.  The cuts would replace the fare hike, but for many activists the cuts go way too far.  You can read Metrolink's official announcement of the proposed cuts here.  The Metrolink Board will vote on their budget, including either fare hikes, or service cuts, or both, on December 11.  If you're interested in this story, be sure to read on until the end as some of the information provided by Transit Coalition volunteers is must-read material.

Bart Reed, executive director of the Transit Coalition, complains that while the lines that are on the chopping block may be some of the least used lines, they provide start or end of trip connections.  In other words, eliminating or reducing these services will reduce ridership across the service.

If you drill down into the numbers, you will find that the weak trips that are on the chopping block still carry between 80 to 125 riders. Many of those riders are completing a final leg of their trips. While at Union Station today, I actually saw a number of riders get off the Orange County and San Bernardino trains and transfer to the Moorpark bound Metrolink. Many got off in either Burbank or Glendale. If the trip segments are cut, Metrolink becomes worthless for many more riders, as their trip corridor can only be completed by auto.

Ryan Stern, a volunteer board member for the National Association of Rail Passengers, notes that many of the large trip generators served by Metrolink would see a sharp decline in service, to the point of neutering the service at certain times:

If all the cuts go through as proposed, Northridge Station (which services Cal-State University Northridge as well as the large Northridge Medical Center) would see a total of TWO morning trains from Los Angeles (one of which would be the dual-personality Amtrak #799) and only ONE inbound afternoon/evening train.

Burbank Airport would see its service cut almost in HALF.  Downtown Burbank (which is utilized by employees at Disney, Warner Brothers, and NBC Studios, among others) would see a reduction of 10 trains-- mostly morning trains originating in Los Angeles and afternoon/evening trains heading "inbound" toward Union Station.

It has been my observation that many passengers who ride "outbound" in the morning actually begin their trips heading "inbound" from points on other lines.  I often wonder if Metrolink fully comprehends how Union Station has become a way-point for a substantial number of their passengers.  Even though it may be preferable to dismiss the morning outbound frequencies as "re-positioning" moves, these short "reverse trips" are vital to those who connect at Union, enabling these passengers connect to "long" trips elsewhere in the system.

While the Southern California Transit Advocates are still working on a formal position, it's a bit of a tight deadline to have cuts announced one week and a vote occurring the next,  but they seem to be leaning towards a position supporting a mix of the cuts and hikes to balance the budget.  They note that a 6% across the board increase would effect all riders, while targeted cuts would effect a much smaller minority.  While there are some cuts that are more troubling than others, the SoCATA Board Members I spoke with are concerned on the impact that a second fare hike in the last year would have on riders while noting that ridership has dropped by nearly 20% on some of the routes expecting cuts.  Dana Gabbard writes:

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