Leaders of several San Gabriel Valley cities, dissatisfied with transit services in the valley, are lending cautious support to county Supervisor Pete Schabarum's controversial plan for a local bus system.
Mike Lewis, Schabarum's chief deputy, presented the plan to municipal leaders at an informal meeting last week and found "that they very much liked the general idea."
Schabarum's proposal for a separate bus system, possibly run by a private contractor or by individual municipal bus companies, stirred a hot debate in December when Southern California Rapid Transit District officials told the board that such a plan could throw the RTD's regional bus service into chaos.
Schabarum, who has been highly critical of major fare increases and route cuts planned by the RTD this year, recently stepped up his campaign for a separate system, taking the idea to valley leaders and to private bus operators at meetings last week.
Valley Gets Shorted
Schabarum has claimed that the RTD's planned cuts would hurt residents of the San Gabriel Valley more than those in other areas, and that the valley does not get a fair share of transit services.
Rosemead City Councilman Bob Bruesch, who attended one meeting, said he will not take a position on Schabarum's proposal until his questions concerning funding, administration and private contracting are answered.
However, he said, the San Gabriel Valley has gone without sufficient transit services for too long, "and this could be our first step."
"We seem to be the poor sister when it comes to transit, and this separate bus system proposal will at least get us looking at the problem," he said.
According to Lewis, if the valley had a separate system or municipal bus lines similar to those in Santa Monica and Long Beach, valley cities could save $9 million a year that could be spent on other transit projects such as new park-and-ride lots and intracity bus routes. Currently, Lewis said, RTD services cost the valley about $33 million a year.
Lewis said that if a new bus system is adopted for the valley, the changes would be gradual and would, at first, simply augment basic services provided by RTD.
"We aren't going to throw RTD out of the valley on a wholesale basis," Lewis said.
"Park and ride might be the first area we would go into, then maybe we could start handling the routes that aren't very big money-makers," he said. "We're not going to bite off more than we can chew."
RTD Issues Warning
However, RTD officials have warned that such a plan could disrupt the transit system.
"We don't want to turn the clock back to where we were many years ago, with a lot of little bus companies whose routes don't match up and whose schedules don't mesh," said Gary Spivack, director of planning for the RTD.
Nevertheless, municipal leaders who met with Lewis said they support Schabarum's plan to host a meeting of officials from the valley's 29 cities to discuss his proposal.
Several officials said that they have adopted a "wait and see" attitude on Schabarum's plan, and hope the discussion will lead to improved transit services in the valley.
"I was very disappointed that our . . . cities got no primary routes on the map of the new light-rail system that RTD came up with," said Rosemead's Bruesch.
He said the valley has attracted increasing numbers of Asians, Latinos and the elderly, "who are dependent on public transportation and not the single-family vehicle."
Charlie Storing, a La Puente city councilman and an RTD board member, said he would reserve judgment on Schabarum's plan until he sees more details on logistics, funding and its effect on the RTD.
A Transit Orphan
However, he said, "I've felt for a long time that the San Gabriel Valley has sort of been an orphan in the transportation system. It's the last to get improved service and first to get the cuts. I'd like to see that situation changed."
John Crowley, vice mayor of Pasadena, said that many special services not provided by the RTD--such as Pasadena's local dial-a-ride program for the elderly and disabled--are needed in communities across the valley.
"I think it would be self-defeating to go to a completely independent system," he said. "But we somehow need to meet transit needs here that are not being met."
The RTD offered stiff opposition to Schabarum's proposal in December, asking the Board of Supervisors not to approve feasibility studies of the plan. At that time, RTD board President Nikolas Patsaouras said Schabarum's plan "would send us back to the '50s."
Plans Are Similar
But RTD officials softened their stance this week, saying Schabarum's plan is similar to their own plan to improve services in the valley.
Spivack said the RTD is discussing several improvements for the valley, including tailor-made services provided by private operators or outside bus companies who would "work under the umbrella of RTD."
A proposal to allow the RTD to contract with private operators is on the negotiating table with the district's labor unions, Spivack said, but "it's a very tough thing to call which way it will go."
"We have essentially the same concerns and we are looking at a number of ways to save money," Spivack said. "We are not dead set against Schabarum's plan, but we are concerned about avoiding fragmentation of the bus system."