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RTD Parley Could Be Litmus Test for Bus Plan

February 15, 1987|ASHLEY DUNN | Times Staff Writer

The board of the Southern California Rapid Transit District has called for a meeting with the county Transportation Commission to resolve questions it has about a proposal to turn over bus service in the San Gabriel Valley to private companies.

According to an RTD staff report presented last month, the proposed district could cost RTD $15 million a year and jeopardize service throughout the county.

However, one of the 11 RTD board members, John F. Day, said Thursday that the proposal "deserves to be tried and given every opportunity to succeed."

No 'Shotgun Marriage'

Board member Jay B. Price added, "We're not going into a shotgun marriage. We just can't rush in with all the questions unanswered."

Although RTD has no say in the formation of the new district, its cooperation would be essential. The board unanimously agreed to delay taking a position on the proposal until it meets with the commission to see if differences can be resolved.

"This could very well be a litmus test of how we and the commission can cooperate," said board member Norman H. Emerson.

The Transportation Commission is responsible for setting transit policy in the county and allocating federal, state and local transportation funds.

The proposal for a San Gabriel Valley transit district, which was proposed by county Supervisor Pete Schabarum, is based on state legislation that allows the Transportation Commission to form a new district if an existing bus operator "cannot otherwise provide adequate and responsive local transportation service in a cost-effective manner."

Attack From Unions

Although the board delayed taking a stand, unions for RTD bus drivers and mechanics stepped up their attacks on the proposal at three public hearings last week in the San Gabriel Valley.

Earl Clark, general chairman of the United Transportation Union, said the new district threatens to put public transportation in the hands of low-paid and inexperienced drivers and mechanics.

Clark said private companies would make profit, not service, their top priority and that public transportation would become chaotic and accident-prone.

Clark also discounted claims by proponents of the new system that it could provide bus service for $14 million a year less than the RTD.

"Don't buy all this talk about saving money and end up with buses that are unsafe on the road," he said at a hearing in San Dimas on Monday. "Let's stick with what we have and improve it."

Rebuttal to Unions

The unions' claims were rebutted at the hearings by representatives of private bus companies, who said they can provide the same service as RTD for less money.

Jim Seal, a consultant for the California Bus Assn., which is made up of private bus operators in the state, said the majority of private bus drivers are already union members and provide safe and efficient service throughout the state.

Dave Preston, division manager for Embree-Mark IV, a private bus company that provides charter, sightseeing and school bus service in the area, said, "If you let your children ride to school with them every day, why wouldn't you want to go to work with them?"

Three more cities--Glendora, Sierra Madre and El Monte--in the San Gabriel Valley endorsed the proposal last week, bringing to 13 out of 29 the number of cities that back the new transportation district. The County Board of Supervisors also has endorsed the plan.

The proposal must be endorsed by all 29 cities and the county before it can receive final approval from the Transportation Commission. The rest of the cities are expected to decide on the proposal within the next month.

Better Service

William P. Forsythe, a county consultant who is serving as the proposal's project director, said the new district would give the San Gabriel Valley a level of control and service that RTD has failed to provide.

He said the new district would eliminate the constant threat of RTD service reductions because of the area's low ridership and high costs.

Forsythe said the new district would be run by a board composed of representatives from the county and the 29 cities in the area and would provide increased local control over bus service.

Private companies would bid competitively on about half of the current routes in the area, all of them local and express routes that primarily serve San Gabriel Valley riders.

RTD, which could also bid on the routes, would continue to run the rest of the existing routes, as well as provide services such as route information, bus stop maintenance and bus schedule distribution, he said.

Little Notice by Riders

Forsythe said the switch from RTD to privately run operators would hardly be noticed by riders.

The new 350-square-mile district would have the same routes, transfer points and fares as the RTD, he said, adding that the only apparent difference would be the color of the buses.

The major change would be a significant cost savings because of competitive bidding between bus operators, lower labor costs and less overhead, Forsythe said.

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