The History Thats Led Us to This Weekend’s Special Metro Board Meeting

(Everyone knows that Dana is one of the Board members for the Southern California Transit Advocates, right?  Good. – DN)

May 24, 2007 the
Metro Board held a public hearing to consider what the agency termed
euphemistically "fare restructuring". Tumultuous is word that best
captures what the six hours of public hearing held in the Metro Board
room that day were like. At the end I was exhausted and gladly took up
a friend’s offer that we decompress by having dinner together (at the
then still open Old Spaghetti Factory outlet in Hollywood ).

The best overview of
the lead up to the hearing and its outcome is Hank Fung’s article "MTA
Fares Increase
" from the June 2007 issue of The Transit Advocate.

In the same issue
you can read in my monthly Public and Legislative Affairs column the
germ of the beginnings of a thought process that has shaped Southern
California Transit Advocate’s approach to the Metro Special Board
being held this Saturday whose ostensible purpose is "to
receive public comments and for MTA to update the public on the
implementation of the scheduled July 1, 2010 fare increase." This
impending fare increase was actually part of the deal the Board
approved back in 2007, albeit originally to be implemented in 2009 then
delayed a year when Measure R was passed in the interim (R’s
provisions included a one year fare freeze).

While I noted in 2007 the BRU exhibited "organizing
prowess" in drawing a huge turnout of supporters, I also felt that this
was squandered by their taking a no fare increase stance which was
great to generate applause and publicity but essentially DOA as to the
politics of the situation.

Interestingly Steve
Hymon at Metro’s blog The Source has a similar reaction to the BRU’s
repeat of its 2007 tactic of taking strident umbrage at an upcoming
fare increase. He muses on whether advocating for something similar
to a two hour ticket of the sort TriMet of Portland offers would be
more productive. "Rather than the same old discussion that Metro fares
must always remain the same, that to me seems a more reasonable course
so that service is preserved and value is added." The idea does seem to
have merit, although likely couldn’t be done until the problems of TAP
are resolved (if that ever happens).

Comments I posted on this blog some months ago captures my thought process in approaching the upcoming meeting: that activists "not
get caught up again in the fare proposal mania some of us advocates
chased [in 2007]. Cutting fares etc. is not in the cards so how about
putting together a list of key bullet point strategies that need
leadership from the Board? The point is to have have better service as
an outcome so this process isn’t just about revenues, etc."

At my
suggestion Southern California Transit Advocates is following this
strategy. Our members provided input for what ended up being six bullet
points that we will present at the meeting. Here is a preview: 

Statement to May 8, 2010 Special Metro Board meeting

the Feb. 26, 2010 quarterly Meet & Confer we presented to the
Governance Councils a list of operational issues that we believe
deserves their attention. In a similar fashion we are requesting that
the Metro Board show leadership on some key larger concerns (structural
and policy) that in our view are being unfairly neglected. Our goal is
not necessarily the budgetary concerns that are the main purpose
motivating this meeting but useful improvements that would improve
service quality or begin reform of the policy responsibilities this
Board often does not pay sufficient attention to versus a persistant
habit of micro-management. By bringing these to the fore at this time
we allow Metro to shape its ongoing contract negotiations to seek Union
concurrence with these items, especially as it pertains to the final
bullet point on contracted service overhauling.

is time for the Supervisors to use their clout to aid the city of L.A.
to find a solution to its disagreement with the County Office of the
Assessor regarding the possessory use tax and bus shelters (per the
August 16, 2006 presentation to the Metro San Fernando Valley Service Governance Council).

hope L.A. Mayor Villaraigosa will monitor the progress of the
implementation of the Wilshire bus lanes to ensure it is done
expeditious and does not get bogged down in LADOT’s lamentable foot
dragging that had un-necessarily delayed this project for nearly half a

*The MTA Board under the authority granted it by Public
Utility Code section 130051.9(d) should evaluate the potential
advantages of procuring legal services by a competitive process versus
the current contracting with L.A. County Counsel.

*The Board needs to become pro-active in determining if TAP can be salvaged and whether the gating should be reconsidered.

Board needs to request an audit of the performance of the contracted
bus lines–complaints, schedule adherence, accident rate, condition of
equipment and preventive maintenance as compared to services operated
in-house to see if the contracting is cost effective AND equivalent in

*Further in re contracting, consideration should be
given to overhauling the current scheme of contracted services. We
suggest to facilitate better connectivity, dispatching and more
efficient fleet utilization having the contracted services targeted to
a core regional area (for example the South Bay).

  • At the risk of being repetitive… In lieu of a full fare hike, Metro should reconsider all that “free” parking at its Metro stations – when looking to close budgetary gaps, charging for parking (and keeping fare prices as low as possible) would incentivize for transit use. Charge market price for parking… use that money to keep fares lower.

    Kudos to the Bus Riders Union (BRU) for their activism in keeping the fares as low as they are to date. This is a huge accomplishment that benefits me and hundreds of thousands of other transit riders – every day.

    It’s probably not politically feasible at this point, but I think that BRU and Southern California Transit Advocates (SoCaTA) should combine forces and wrest some of those billions of subsidies going to highway projects. Let’s also work together to get full state funding for transit operations. Also, I completely agree with BRU and SoCaTA that Wilshire Bus Only Lane project needs to be expedited.

  • Alek F

    I doubt it other organizations will want to “join forces” with BRU, because of BRU’s anti-Rail propaganda. In order for other advocacy groups to fully support BRU, the latter should start using common sense and advocating for expanding Rail service across LA County (and ultimately change the name from “Bus Riders Union” to “Transit Riders Union”), that would be a good start.

  • Has anyone ever done an analysis on the opportunity cost of not charging the market rate for parking at Metro’s parking lots? Of course, some lots should remain free, if the analysis were to follow the Shoupism of charging to maintain an occupancy rate of 85%.

  • S.S. Sam Taylor

    Metro has paid parking at both the Universal City and North Hollywood Stations. The cost is reasonable at $3. The occupancy rate is only about 50%, so the truth is that most people want to park for free and will search for a free street spot blocks away rather than only $3.

  • Joseph E

    Until LADOT and other cities charge a fair price for street parking, Metro will not be able to charge a reasonable price for their parking garages. Clearly, a garage that costs $25,000 to build per parking space is not going to break even, let along turn a profit, at $3 per day. Even if every space were used every week day, it would take 25 to 50 years to pay back the capital costs, providing a 0% rate of return. To match the rate of inflation and pay property tax over 50 years (a reasonable life-span for a garage), you would need to charge over $20 per week day per space. (Math: $25,000 per space * 1.05^50 = 300,000 needed over 50 years; 300,000 / (250 *50) = $24 a day)

    No way that those Metro garages are breaking even. Their rate of subsidy per rider is higher per rider than any train, and most of the bus routes.

    Of course, if street parking cost $100 a month throughout the region, and $50 a day in downtown districts (a reasonable cost per square foot, compared to other uses for the land), Metro might be able to break even on parking in cheap surface lots in the suburbs.

  • Joseph E

    Does Shoup discuss what to do in the situation where fair market pricing for parking leads to areas that never reach 85% full? Would he recommend removing street parking or redeveloping off-street lots for another use, in that case?

  • (sorry, Dana, for Shoupistas hijacking your comment thread)

    @Sirinya “Of course, some lots should remain free” – why? It’s not clear to me how this follows from Shoup’s work. My analysis is this: each of those spaces is costing the public agency tens of thousands of dollars to build, and additional money to maintain. Until the agency provide free transit, it shouldn’t provide free parking either. If the agency is looking at “fare recovery” then it should also examine “parking cost recovery.” I think, as a matter of policy and incentives, it’s much more important to subsidize transit itself than to subsidize people driving to transit.

  • Can I suggest the Shoupistas take advantage of the meeting on Saturday to press the Metro Board about your free parking concerns? Heck, bike and ped advocates should do the same. However many Board members actually show up it is a rare chance on a Saturday to address them directly on whatever issues you feel aren’t being addressed. Let a thousand opinions bloom!


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