Metro Cuts Service, and More Updates from the September Board Meeting
Five updates from today’s monthly Metro Board of Directors Meeting:
1. 20 Percent Transit Service Cuts Approved
The Metro board approved its fiscal year 20-21 budget, which includes a 20 percent cut to bus service compared to the FY19-20 budget. Only director Mike Bonin voted against the service cuts.
Bonin grilled Metro Chief Operations Officer James Gallagher, who ended up reluctantly agreeing with Bonin’s assertion that “we’re [Metro buses are] more crowded than we say we are” due to loading numbers not taking into account front seats cordoned off during COVID-19. Bonin ultimately only succeeded in the passage of an amending motion that requires Metro to monitor operations and report back to the board every two months on how to restore service. Much of the board expressed interest in restoring bus service, if funding becomes available. L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti asserted that, even before the election, another COVID-19 federal stimulus could possibly provide needed monies. Conventional wisdom suggests a transit stimulus is unlikely to pass before January.
2. Crenshaw/LAX Rail Construction Facing More Delay
Metro’s Crenshaw/LAX light rail line is under construction, but delays continue to push back an opening date. As of April, Metro CEO Phil Washington had anticipated a Spring 2021 opening predicated on construction being substantially complete by early December 2020. Today’s slide presentation makes it clear that Metro’s contractor, Walsh Shea, will not finish building the Crenshaw Line this year. Once Walsh Shea finishes Metro needs about six months testing before the line opens to the public.
3. Union Station Patsaouras Busway Station Opening Delayed
Phil Washington announced that that new Patsaouras Plaza busway station opening is delayed until the end of October. It looks complete and had been due to open this weekend. Washington attributed the delay to revised state elevator codes. This busway station project has been hitting snags for about a decade – from early over-budget bids to a more recent year delay when unexpected human remains were discovered during excavation.
4. Metro Has Drawn Down 100 Percent Of Its CARES Acts Funds
During the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, congress approved the CARES Act stimulus which included $1.068 billion for L.A. County transit operations. The money is shared by Metro and the county’s various municipal transit agencies. CARES funding was available on a reimbursement basis, with some concerns that administrative processes could delay it getting to Metro. In May, Phil Washington expected Metro to receive $735 million around September/October. Today, Phil Washington announced that Metro had already drawn down 100 percent of its CARES Act funds, totaling $846 million.
CARES monies have helped Metro balance its budget and avoid even deeper cuts and layoffs that some U.S. transit agencies are experiencing. The full draw down means that Metro is on its own budgetarily unless another stimulus passes – see item 1 above.
5. Public Comment Now Available By Phone
Metro has implemented improved meeting features that allow the public to comment by phone. Earlier during COVID-19 virtual meetings, comments had to be submitted in writing and would be read out loud by the board secretary. The new meeting program also allows the public to see who is speaking. These are needed improvements for the public to better participate in Metro’s meeting process.