Ralph Stanley, administrator of the federal Urban Mass Transportation Administration, sounded as if Los Angeles County Supervisor Pete Schabarum's dream of a separate bus system for the San Gabriel Valley were a reality.
"We are using this area as an example nationwide," Stanley said during a daylong meeting called by Schabarum last week to discuss the proposal. "It will be one of the great models in the years to come."
But the years may be a long time coming.
Partial or complete private service through the San Gabriel Valley would take the agreement of 29 cities, and most have only voiced support for a study of the concept.
Although 23 have signed resolutions supporting a study of the issue, Gus Salazar, human resources director for West Covina, voiced skepticism during an interview that all the cities could reach an agreement. "We can't even get dial-a-rides integrated with other cities," he said.
"Most cities support the idea of looking into it, but that's as far as they go," he said. "We have no major complaints with RTD service, so I will wait and see what develops."
About 150 city and county officials and private bus operators attended the conference, which featured federal and county administrators extolling the virtues of private competition with RTD and other public transportation agencies.
Schabarum, whose district includes most of the San Gabriel Valley, persuaded the Board of Supervisors in 1984 to study his proposal. That study, which will include a financial and operating plan, is expected to begin soon and be completed in one year.
When the study was approved, RTD officials objected, saying that breakup of the 44 routes here would affect service in other parts of the county.
Last November the RTD board of directors adopted a neutral stance on the formation of separate systems but indicated that it wants to maintain some control over decisions in the area it now supervises. The board cited a requirement by the Urban Mass Transportation Administration that certain procedures be followed in dealing with the private sector before the RTD can receive federal assistance.
At the conference, RTD General Manager John Dyer, citing tremendous growth in the San Gabriel Valley, said private transportation systems should be looked at as part of the larger public system.
Criticism of RTD
But Dyer was the only speaker not critical of the RTD's service in the valley.
Schabarum said that although the San Gabriel Valley's population of 1.4 million is 17% of the county's population, the area receives only 10% of the RTD's service.
"A separate authority would be funded by money now going to the RTD," he said, adding that he thinks a separate authority could be operated more cheaply with no loss in service.
Stanley, an advocate of transportation systems that use private enterprise to do much of the work, said that as subsidies grow smaller the federal government will be searching for more efficient ways to spend its money.
"The larger the system the larger the cost, while smaller systems are more flexible and responsive to change," he said. "Only a small percentage of trips have their destination from the suburbs to the city. Suburban-to-suburban commuters outnumber suburban-to-urban by two to one, so we should rely less on regional systems. The private sector can help through the competitive process."
Rick Richmond, executive director of the county Transportation Commission, explained how a separate system would work. The commission has drawn up criteria for such systems.
Although Schabarum wants all 29 cities in one system, Richmond said that three contiguous communities covering 50 square miles could form a joint-powers agreement and ask the commission to allow creation of a separate system.
Such systems would have to be approved by all local jurisdictions involved, costs would have to drop by 25%, and schedules would have to be coordinated with the RTD. It is possible, Richmond said, that two systems could be created here, one for the San Gabriel Valley and one for the Pomona Valley.
3-Year Trial Basis
The separate systems could include only express service or a combination of express and local routes. However, routes would have to originate within the area covered by the system and buses could not pick up passengers outside that zone. Systems would operate on a three-year trial basis to determine the extent of savings and ridership and the likelihood of successful operation under the bus company providing the service.
In the Pomona Valley, Pomona, Claremont, San Dimas and La Verne spent $1.2 million to create the Pomona Valley Transportation Authority, which last November began the Valley Connection, a system of fixed-route and dial-a-ride services linked with RTD bus routes.
"Our board hasn't gone on record on the concept of a formal transportation zone," said Executive Director George Sparks, "but we have considered it and are willing to listen. It may present an alternative for our cities."