Anna Valenzuela, 68, who never learned to drive, spent 23 tiresome years waiting at bus stops to go to her nurse's aide job at Whittier Presbyterian Hospital.
Now, two years after retirement, the Pico Rivera woman simply makes a phone call to City Hall and for 25 cents a mini-bus picks her up at her doorstep and takes her shopping anywhere in the city.
Paz Ramirez, Valenzuela's 90-year-old mother, can use the same service for medical appointments outside the city.
Valenzuela's nephew, Edward Smith, 23, who is in a wheelchair, is also taken to and from home in Pico Rivera five days a week to his classes at Rio Hondo College near Whittier. He pays the same price, 25 cents each way.
"This is a blessing, not having to wait in the rain for a bus or paying cab fare to get around. I thank the Lord," Valenzuela said.
The three generations who live together in the Valenzuela home are among thousands of county residents benefiting from a growing array of transit programs made possible by an influx of voter-approved transportation revenue.
Take Paramount resident Bill Jenkins, for instance. He calls the city's dial-a-ride program, a shuttle picks him up in front of his mobile home park and deposits him six blocks away, allowing him to catch a Long Beach Transit bus, then an RTD bus to his sales job at a South Gate clothing store.
'Used a Lot of Shoe Leather'
"I used a lot of shoe leather walking," said Jenkins, 31, before the Paramount neighborhood shuttle started Nov. 2.
The money for these and similar programs in other area cities is available because of Proposition A, the half-cent county sales tax for transit projects that took effect three years ago.
Pico Rivera, which operates three buses seven days a week for its elderly and handicapped residents, has nearly $2 million in mass transit funds available. In three years, it has spent about $728,000 on transportation-related services.
Paramount recently bought three new buses for an estimated $100,000, bringing its fleet to five and creating a combination dial-a-ride and a route-bus service available to the city's 40,000 residents.
"This is the coming thing. All of the cities" will have some form of mass transit, said Lynda Patrick, field supervisor for Community Transit Services Inc. of Lakewood, which operates the Paramount system. "It is very popular."
Of the Proposition A funds, about 25%, known as local return money, is divided among the cities and county areas on a population basis; 35% goes toward building a light rail transit system and 40% subsidizes city-operated bus systems, such as Long Beach Transit, the Southern California Rapid Transit District, Norwalk Transit and Montebello Municipal Bus Line, said Kristine Hill, a program analyst for the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission. The commission was established to oversee all transit-related projects financed through Proposition A.
Since 1982, the commission has allocated more than $255 million in local return money to the cities and county areas. Twenty-four Southeast cities, including Long Beach, have received more than $46 million of that money.
Long Beach Mall Transit
Because it is the largest of the cities, Long Beach, with more than 370,000 residents, has received more than $12 million, according to Transportation Commission data.
The majority of the money has been spent on the city's downtown mall transit project, which includes bus lanes for the Long Beach Transit system, bus shelters and a tram for shoppers, said Ray Rockoff, accountant for the city's department of financial management.
Long Beach Transit, which has 180 buses and serves an estimated 24 million passengers annually, this year received an additional $5.5 million in what the commission calls discretionary funds given to city-run bus systems.
Signal Hill, with the area's smallest population, 7,300, has received $229,938 of the local money. The city contracts with Long Beach Transit for dial-a-ride service for the handicapped and elderly. It has spent $118,710.
In contrast, Cerritos has spent only about $16,000 from a $1.77-million transit chest. The money went to Long Beach Transit, which runs through Cerritos, said Michele Ogle, spokeswoman for Cerritos. Cerritos is moving slowly in committing its funds, Ogle said. It still has no plan for spending the Proposition A money.
Funds unused after four years are returned to the commission, but "we encourage them to use them and it hasn't been a problem," said analyst Hill.
In the past three years, most Southeast cities have pursued some kind of transit project, although some have been more aggressive and creative than others.
Rides for Drunks
There are dial-a-rides and wave-a-rides. There are transportation programs for the elderly and handicapped. There are even plans in South Gate to use the transit money to give drunks a taxi ride home from bars.
To catch the public's imagination, city councils and transit boards have been busy tagging their new programs with catchy names.