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SGV Connect Special Edition: Happy 35th Anniversary, Foothill Transit

Last Friday, Foothill Transit celebrated its 35th anniversary with a party in the parking lot of its West Covina headquarters. Joe Linton and Chris Greenspon were among those on-hand and they had a chance to catch up with a handful of people that helped shape Foothill Transit's past and will guide the agency into the future.

Last Friday, Foothill Transit celebrated its 35th anniversary with a party in the parking lot of its West Covina headquarters. Streetsblog's Joe Linton and Chris Greenspon were among those in attendance and had a chance to catch up with a handful of people that helped shape Foothill Transit's past and will guide the agency into the future.

The podcast features remarks from Congressmember Judy Chu, plus interviews with:

  • Foothill Transit Executive Director Doran Barnes
  • Former Duarte Mayor John Fasana
  • Former Glendora Mayor Bob Kuhn
  • Deputy Chief Executive Officer of Foothill Transit, LaShawn King Gillespie

Also read Linton's Streetsblog post covering Friday's event. Get in on the celebration by entering Foothill Transit's anniversary contest where you could win one of 35 free preloaded ten-trip passes on a Foothill Transit 35th anniversary commemorative TAP card.

A full transcript of the interview can be found below the podcast.

SGV Connect is supported by Foothill Transit, offering car-free travel throughout the San Gabriel Valley with connections to the new Gold Line Stations across the Foothills and Commuter Express lines traveling into the heart of downtown L.A. To plan your trip, visit Foothill Transit. “Foothill Transit. Going Good Places.”

Chris Greenspon (in studio): Welcome to SGV Connect 121, this is a shorter episode, but it’s a special montage of interviews from the 35th anniversary celebration of Foothill Transit at their headquarters in West Covina. Joe and I heard from board members past and present, local legislators, and higher ups in the transit agency about its history and where it’s going. Before we listen to that, I’d just like to remind you that: Streetsblog’s San Gabriel Valley coverage is supported by Foothill Transit, offering car-free travel throughout the San Gabriel Valley with connections to the Gold Line Stations across the Foothills and Commuter Express lines traveling into the heart of downtown L.A. To plan your trip, visit Foothill Transit dot org…… “Foothill Transit. Going Good Places.” Now let’s revisit the celebration that took place last Friday.

Judy Chu: Well, good afternoon. I'm Congress member Judy Chu. And I just had to be here to say congratulations to Foothill Transit on your 35th anniversary. I can't believe it's been 35 years but I can believe it because Foothill has made such an impact on the San Gabriel Valley. And I am a huge admirer of this agency. I'm especially thrilled because it's addressed an issue that Southern Californians have had to deal with, which is traffic and congestion on our roadways, carbon emissions and having better ways to get to work, school and to other communities in the San Gabriel Valley. But Foothill Transit has been at the forefront of solving these problems and ensuring that communities in the San Gabriel Valley that are underserved by transit have a convenient, sustainable connection to the rest of the Los Angeles area. And I especially admire Foothill Transit because it's leading the way in terms of clean energy. You're the first transit agency in the world to deploy heavy duty, fast charge electric transit buses in service. How about that? And I always boast in Washington DC about the fact that Foothill Transit is pushing for a 100% clean fueled fleet, and they're well on their way to getting it. And just look at all the tremendous steps that happened this year alone. In June, we celebrated the grand opening of Foothill Transits Mount SAC Transit Center, which provides on Campus Transit to thousands of students, staff and faculty members. And by implementing the new Foothill Transit Rose Bowl shuttle service thousands of people can get to and from Rose Bowl events without having to deal with the hassle of traffic and parking. So you are making public transit more accessible for everyone. You're reducing the number of cars on our overburdened roads, and you're helping to fight climate change and building a greener and healthier community. So congratulations Foothill Transit and everyone here on this wonderful milestone. Thank you for all the work that you're doing to serve our communities, improve our public transit, and protect our environment. And I'd like to present a certificate of congressional recognition to Foothill Transit for 35 great years...

CG: First of all, first name, last name, who you are, why do we care?

Doran Barnes: Hi, Doran Barnes, Chief Executive Officer here at Foothill Transit.

CG: So when/why/how was Foothill Transit founded?

DB: Well, Foothill Transit was created to be responsive to the communities that we serve, to really focus on the San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys, to be located here, to really understand the conditions in the community and how we can best serve the community and its residents.

CG: But just for a little context, it wasn't the first agency serving this jurisdiction, right?

DB: It was not. Originally, this area was served by the Southern California Rapid Transit District. We were part of the county wide service that provided service here in the San Gabriel Valley. Our community leaders wanted to have that local control and that local responsiveness. So that's how we were founded.

CG (in studio): All right, now let's listen to some of those electeds for a more detailed picture of Foothill Transit's pass.

John Fasana: John Fasana, I was a council member in Duarte for 33 years. I also was on the Foothill Transit executive board for a while and served on the Metro board for 27 years.

Joe Linton: The longest serving person on the Metro board.

JF: Yeah, I was. I was an original.

JL: So talk a little bit about what your role has been with Foothill Transit and maybe a story about what Foothill Transit has done?

JF: Well, Foothill Transit, I think in the early days, what it came down to... the SCRTD was going to cancel routes, they're having budget issues. And in the San Gabriel Valley, they were going to do substantial cancellations of routes. So in the early to mid 1980s, people like Supervisor Schabarum, and at the Transportation Commission, Sharon Neely and others were looking at strategies, "Well, rather than canceling lines, is there a way to get better efficiency in the lines or better performance?" And people like Bob Bartlett in Monrovia, Don McMillan, Judy Wright and Claremont, McMillan were in El Monte. They were coming together like, "Yeah, we don't want to lose all our routes. What can we do to still keep our routes and still provide the service that people need?" So they looked at forming this agency, it started off very small. They talked with  cities in the San Gabriel Valley. First they were going to do the entire valley. Then they scaled it to 20 cities, I believe, mostly in the eastern Valley. And it's been a success. I mean, over the years, they've done a lot of innovation. They've run a great service. They had clean buses at the time in the early 90s. And Metro buses had a lot of graffiti in them. So the Foothill buses were very popular, and the Metro I think, has improved their services and runs a good service. But cost wise, I think Foothill is still extremely efficient. And they continue to be the eyes and the ears of the San Gabriel Valley in terms of what's needed out here. They've been a key stakeholder in terms of also informing us about what some of the transportation needs are, how do you keep that 10 busway moving for, for example, keep people moving and not having the busway gridlock. There's some of us I know that were formed as a bus way originally. And then there was a transit strike that after it sat empty, people couldn't deal with that so they let cars in. And it's been a good story. But Bob Kuhn out of Glendora, who was on the council back then, also would have a lot of that ancient history of how it started.

CG: Hi, Bob, what's your name? What's your claim to fame?

Bob Kuhn: Okay, I'm Bob Kuhn. I was on the Foothill Transit Board in the early years. I've been a city council member for the city of Glendora, former mayor. I currently serve on three different water boards right now. I don't know if that's a claim to fame, or just a fact.

CG: That seems more like a humble brag.

JL: So tell us about this: Foothill has been around 35 years, when did you come into the picture? And what was it like then?

BK: I got into the picture at an early end of it. And that was from the standpoint of talking with Pete Schabarum and the fact that he wanted to bring an independent transit agency out into the San Gabriel Valley. He wanted to see cleaner buses, he wanted to see on-time production. And he also wanted to see some of the school districts served, that was really a big issue for him. At that time, Metro wasn't doing a particularly good job of servicing the school districts. And that was basically the ridership. And so he made a pitch to Glendora, which I had just gotten elected. It was my very first meeting as a city councilman. And my mistake for me personally, was calling the guy who made the presentation on Pete's behalf, it was a guy named Bill Forsyth. And I called Bill the next day. And I said, "Bill, I really do understand English, but I didn't understand a single word you said. You were talking in transit." He was involved in the 1984 Olympics and set up their transit system. So he was asked and tasked to set this up. And I didn't understand the routing. I didn't really understand what he was saying about on time. Those were all issues that just didn't, didn't register with me. So he and I sat down for about two hours. And then he said at the end, "I need an elected official to go with me to some of the different city councils and make presentations." He said, "It's always good to have staff, and it always looks better when you're talking to electeds to have electeds there." And I said, "As long as I don't have to talk, I don't mind being there." And that's the way it worked out. I went with him. And toward the end, I was making the presentation and he was sitting there watching and it just came to be. It was just something that was destined at that time.

CG (in studio): Okay, let's bring it back to the present now.

LaShawn King Gillespie: I'm ready. I don't even have to take off my glasses because you don't have a camera. Isn't that great? Hi, I'm LaShawn King Gillespie and I serve as Deputy Chief Executive Officer here at Foothill Transit.

JL: And talk a little bit about what you do. What's your day to day job?

LKG: My day to day job is to support the team in both the operations, the planning, the day to day operations. I also work with our operations contractors at both locations, so that they can have what they need to provide the excellent service that we've committed to providing our customers.

JL: Great. And what's an accomplishment that you're proud of recently at Foothill? Or even in the past of Foothill, what are you proud of having done?

LKG: I think there's a few things that I'm super proud of. Of course, our commitment to technology and innovation, but our commitment to our community, both those who live here, who are educated here, those who play here, and making sure that we provide the highest level of service that we can, and what that looks like is clean buses, on-time performance, friendly operators/customer service representatives, and reliable service.

JL: Any any like stories like some time you were out on a bus or you were talking to a customer, if you've got a story, that'd be awesome to add. If you don't want to add, you're done.

CG: Her head jerked. That means yes.

LKG: I probably have more stories you want to hear about. One of my favorite stories, and I think they talked about this during the presentation today is our Rose Bowl service. When I go out on January one, at eight o'clock in the morning, the parades going on, and I see 70 meticulously clean Foothill Transit buses, there, ready to provide service to the thousands of customers or 1 thousands of people who are going into the Rose Bowl, and the service that we provide that community and the feedback that we get after doing that service. That is one of my favorite things ever. Just imagine 70 buses -- am I getting a little too excited -- 70 buses lined up along the parade route. You see the floats going by and the buses, and then we are ready to just get people from that parking lot out to the Rose Bowl, seeing that. So that's one of my favorite things. In some of my day to day service... I do take the service, because we need to know our product. I remember when I first started, I got lost, I got lost and I was stranded. And I'm like, "Oh my gosh," it was before a lot of the technology was available, but calling our customer service representatives and them helping me and guiding me on how to get from where I was back to the office. I was like, "Alright, this is a cool place to work because they care." They absolutely care.

CG (in studio): And let's close out once again with Foothill Transit CEO, Dorian Barnes.

CG: Okay, two questions about the future. How close are we to getting... Well, we're looking at about an initial purchase of about, was it 30 Fuel Cell buses? Are they all in pocket now?

DB: Yeah, 33 Fuel Cell buses, they're here, they're operating so you can take a ride on those fuel cell buses today. They're out in the field, more to come. We're looking at additional zero emission technology, really looking at how that technology is evolving. And it's up to our policymakers to make those smart decisions about how fast we move.

CG: And Foothill Transit has service like we already mentioned L.A. but also the fringes of Orange County and the Inland Empire right into them, not to the edge of them. Are there any future plans or hopes to bolster up these inter-regional connections?

DB: Well, we're really part of a mosaic of services throughout the region. So we do connect to Omnitrans at Montclair, we connect to OCTA in Brea. And then of course, connecting into downtown Los Angeles, where there are lots and lots of different operators. We're constantly looking at those partnerships, looking at how we not only serve our communities, but provide connectivity beyond our communities with our partners. So it's really an ongoing process looking at how we make improvements.

CG: Okay, last question for you, Doran. I know your time is very valuable. So there's been some development from the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments. They've been working on a transit study and Bus Rapid Transit plan, how hopeful and how aggressive might Foothill Transit be about pursuing service provision for that line?

DB: We've been very much involved with the creation of that study that's looking at additional lines in the region, BRT style lines. We're very hopeful that we'll be the operator of those services. As they're getting closer and closer to finalizing the preferred routes and the highest priority routes. We think there's some pieces that could fit really nicely into our network and further expand what we do for the communities we serve.

CG: Just as an addendum, why do you think Foothill is the strong agency to do that?

DB: Well, again, we're focused on the San Gabriel Valley. So blending those services into what we do makes it even more seamless for our customers. Certainly, whoever operates the lines, we'll want to make sure that we're interfacing very closely. But again, we think it fits into our network very nicely.

CG: All right, Doran, thanks so much, and enjoy the rest of the party.

DB: Thanks. I'm looking forward to it.

CG (in studio): To see photos of our coverage of the Foothill Transit 35th anniversary celebration, look at Joe’s most recent stories, linked in the text for this episode. We’ll be back with more SGV Connect after the winter holidays.

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