Richards on Metro Board Agenda Item 54, 9/22/11

I just read the motion which is agenda item #54 at next week’s Operations Committee meeting.  My comments are far too expansive for me to condense them into the one minute of public comment time allowed, so I would like to take the opportunity to communicate them to you in advance.

At the outset, as one of our agency’s Service Councilmembers I object to this level of micromanagement by the Board.  We have been charged with the responsibility of reviewing, considering, and voting on service changes, and every time the Board steps in to “save” low productivity service the net effect is to create resentment by the Service Councils that we are being second guessed.

The call for review is, quite honestly, laughable.  Before cancellation of a line is approved by a Service Council, a study more intensive than the one called for in the motion is created, and all remedial actions (such as the marketing campaigns suggested in the motion) have been taken.  As I said to the Board in response to Director Villaraigosa’s motion to freeze Tier 1 service hours, by the time a line becomes a target for cancellation its ridership is so low — and the subsidy per passenger so high as a result — that continued operation would be fiscally irresponsible.  I expect the Directors of our agency to not take actions that waste precious operating resources, yet this motion in effect creates such waste.

As an example, I suggest reviewing the data shown in Table 2 of the staff report for item #53.  By what logical standard should service with less than 40 boardings per hour, operated with vehicles that seat 45, be continued?  All six of the lines identified in the motion fall within the same level of ridership as the previously cancelled lines listed in that table.  Again, it is a waste of our resources to continue their operation, especially when we have cut midday service levels on some Tier 1 lines to half-hourly due to resource constraints.

Let me also comment on each specific line and the reasoning behind their proposed cancellation.  Although none of these are within my region as a Service Councilmember, I have reviewed their performance while generating the public comment in previous service change programs when serving as Public and Legislative Affairs Director of Southern California Transit Advocates and I therefore consider myself to be knowledgeable about them.

Line 126:  The line operates weekday rush hours only.  It operates only hourly service, six round trips per day total.  It parallels and/or duplicates parts of several other lines, including our own Line 210 on Crenshaw Blvd. and Gardena Municipal Line 4.  When a local service line cannot generate sufficient ridership to operate more than hourly service, and only in rush hours, you shouldn’t need a further study to know it is wasting resources!

Line 177:  This line was already low-performing when it was deemed eligible for contracted operation in 1996.  In the intervening years, the westernmost segment (between Jet Propulsion Laboratory and downtown Glendale) was transferred to the Glendale Beeline system in 2000; service retained between JPL and the Gold Line as a courtesy to JPL employees has proved to be non-productive outside of one or two trips per peak-hour period; and the easternmost segment between Pasadena and Duarte was finally cancelled in 2005 after many years of negotiation with Foothill Transit, who ultimately determined the route was too low in productivity to meet their standards either and declined to assume its operation.  If JPL is the only “constituent” of the line, why are they not running their own shuttle to and from the Gold Line … or at the very least, offering to subsidize its operation?

Line 202:  Another example of a line which has steadily lost relevance to the community’s needs.  It is within walking distance of other lines, parallels the Blue Line for more than one-third of its routing, and only operates during weekday rush hours (although a shortened shuttle version operates hourly during overnight hours only between two Blue Line stations as an extension of Line 55).  My same comment regarding Line 126 and further study applies here as well.

Line 442:  I need only to point you at Attachment A of agenda item #53.  The facts are accurate and the line has had more than ample time to improve its performance.  It has failed to do so over a period of over five years, even with marketing campaigns and a special dispensation of the requirement to achieve the performance levels of the rest of the Metro bus system.

Line 607:  This line came into existence as part of previous micromanagement by the Board when Directors Burke and Ludlow meddled with the cancellation of Line 107 in 2004.  It is a shuttle-style circulator that would be better operated by LADOT or the City of Inglewood, and its ridership is so low as to have been reduced to a single-direction loop that operated only during peak-hours last year.  Even so, much of its route is within easy walking distance of our Line 212 service on La Brea Ave., which runs all day, seven days a week, with extremely good productivity.

Line 620:  Originally created as a “temporary” line in the 1980s and was only to be operated by RTD for a short period of time until LADOT could begin operating it as a DASH line.  (This explains why the line is so circuitous and duplicative of other lines in the Boyle Heights area.)  LADOT has obviously never moved to honor their side of the deal and even when rerouted to connect to the Gold Line Eastside Extension the line has not been productive.  Cancellation of Line 620 should have happened twenty years ago and it is only because of consideration to the community far beyond what any transit agency would ever do in similar circumstances that it has remained this long.

Please share the above with Directors Ridley-Thomas and Knabe and urge them to withdraw this motion.  Proceeding with their course of action will result only in a report that says the above, only in more detailed language, and leaves them open to charges of wasting resources on emotional and rhetorical grounds, rather than acknowledging the facts and letting go of service that is past its useful life.