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.

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