A new system of buses, dial-a-ride shuttles and special vans for the handicapped will carry its first passengers Monday in the East San Gabriel Valley, the product of two years of planning and $1.2 million in investments by the four cities sharing the service.
But even before customers in Pomona, Claremont, San Dimas and La Verne can get used to it, the new system could be sent back to the drawing board.
In September, officials of the Southern California Rapid Transit District said they had been warned by congressional officials that funds for public transportation might be cut by as much as 15%. Such a cut would cost the RTD $5 million to $7 million.
RTD officials have announced that if the district loses that much money, service reductions would be necessary. Three of the four routes that may be cut in the East Valley are crucial links in the new system, called the Valley Connection.
If the service cuts are made, it could mean that the small, independent Pomona Valley Transportation Authority would have to assume some of the service of the much larger RTD, with which it has no monetary or governmental ties.
Until now, the Pomona Valley authority's only operation has been a small but effective system of door-to-door service for the disabled and the elderly, which it has run since 1977. The Valley Connection is much larger and was designed to complement existing RTD service.
At best, replacing routes the RTD has said might be eliminated would strain the new system, and at worst it would leave large gaps in local bus service, officials of the Pomona authority said.
There is still a chance that House and Senate budget-makers in Washington could postpone the funding cuts until next year. A decision is expected in the next few weeks, congressional subcommittee staff members said.
"I hope we don't have to make the cuts," said RTD spokesman Rick Jager. "But things are up in the air right now." Jager said ridership is low in the East Valley and the revenue cost does not equal the expense of providing full service to the area.
George Sparks, a former bus line manager who now oversees the four-city Pomona Valley Transportation Authority that will regulate the Valley Connection, said major route revisions would probably be necessary if the RTD cuts its service.
Sparks said that how the authority would handle RTD service cuts is up to the board of directors, made up of two officials from each of the four cities. In addition to expanding the Valley Connection, Sparks said, Los Angeles County Transportation Commission funds or Proposition A funds from the four affected cities could be used to cover the RTD's losses.
A commission spokeswoman said some funds might be available for that purpose. However, the eight board members overseeing the Valley Connection said their cities have already committed to the system the majority of Proposition A funds, garnered from a voter-approved half-cent sales tax.
In Pomona, for example, only 5% of the city's Proposition A money has not been invested in the Valley Connection. Sparks said Pomona has appropriated $545,000 for the new system's first year of operations. He said San Dimas has appropriated $210,000, or 75% of its Proposition A allocation; La Verne has allocated $106,000 or 68%; and Claremont has appropriated $307,000, or 70%.
Pomona would suffer the most from RTD cutbacks, Sparks said, because of the heavy dependence on the service by many in the city. The city's yearly ridership is about 1.1 million, Jager said.
Jager said the possible elimination of four local routes in the East Valley would affect about 3 million riders a year. Those are:
- Route 192--Entirely within Pomona; its principal streets are Indian Hill Boulevard and White and San Bernardino avenues.
- Route 194--Entirely within Pomona; its principal streets are Mission and Indian Hill boulevards, White, Towne and Garey avenues, Arrow Highway and the Corona Expressway.
- Route 187--From Pomona and Claremont to Pasadena; its principal streets in the Pomona-Claremont area are 3rd Street, Towne Avenue and Foothill Boulevard.
- Route 293--Serves Pomona and Claremont; its principal streets are Garey and Mountain avenues, Foothill Boulevard and Base Line Road.
Sparks and other officials said that if the choice is providing more funds to the RTD or expanding the Valley Connection, they would prefer the latter.
"We would have a much lower overhead than RTD," he said.
Pomona Councilman Jay Gaulding said that although it would probably strain the new system's resources, he believes duplicating the service that RTD might eliminate is possible.
"We would want to run it locally," said Claremont Mayor Pro Tem Terry P. Fitzgerald. "Part of RTD's problems are self-inflicted. They have very high labor contracts and the routes are inefficient."