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Bus Lines Mobilize to Fight County Superagency

March 01, 1987|GEORGE STEIN | Times Staff Writer

As the Legislature considers whether to set up a superagency to handle all transportation issues in Los Angeles County, cities that run their own bus lines, with Torrance in the lead, are scrambling to protect their turf.

Despite assurances from legislators that the smaller bus lines are not the target of the reorganization effort, municipal officials are fearful that their bus operations--a highly visible source of civic pride--might lose out if the Legislature creates such an agency.

The Torrance City Council unanimously passed a resolution last week urging the Legislature to "protect the integrity and independence of the municipal bus operators."

Torrance City Councilman Mark Wirth, as well as council members from Gardena and Santa Monica, have testified before legislative committees in opposition to any move that would threaten local bus operations.

Last week, municipal bus officials from those cities and Long Beach, Culver City, Commerce and Norwalk met in Torrance to coordinate efforts and come up with similar statements on the proposed agency.

All in Agreement

"Everyone agreed that they would go back to their respective councils with the same thing," said Arthur Horkay, Torrance's transportation director.

The proposal for a superagency stems from what some in the Legislature see as overlapping and conflicting responsibilities involving the Southern California Rapid Transit District and the county Transportation Commission.

The RTD, which has been plagued for months by reports of inefficiency and mismanagement, runs a countywide bus system and is preparing to build the massive Metro Rail project connecting downtown Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley. The RTD board of directors is made up of the five county supervisors, two representatives of the mayor of Los Angeles and four delegates selected by other cities.

The Transportation Commission also has a dual role, allocating transit funds from the Proposition A half-cent sales tax to cities throughout the county and building a light rail line from Los Angeles to Long Beach. The commission is made up of the five county supervisors, the mayor of Los Angeles, a member appointed by the mayor, one member each from the Los Angeles and Long Beach city councils, two representatives of the League of California Cities and a nonvoting representative of Caltrans.

Additional Operations

In addition, both agencies, as well as the Southern California Assn. of Governments, have planning and research divisions for transportation issues.

"The focus (of the legislative proposals) is primarily the Transportation Commission, RTD and Southern California Assn. of Governments and the triplication of effort that occurs between them in planning--and the lack of overall planning," said Richard Katz (D--Panorama City), chairman of the Assembly Transportation Committee.

Details of Katz' proposal will not be released for a week, but Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley has opposed any superagency on the ground that creation of a new legal entity might provide an opening for the Reagan Administration, which is hostile to Metro Rail, to deny additional funds for the project.

While expressing reservations about its impact on their bus lines, some officials in the smaller cities applaud the concept of a super-agency.

"Our position is that the (RTD and Transportation Commission) . . . do not function well. It results not only in gridlock but also turflock," said Gardena City Councilman Jim Cragin. "Elected officials are all protecting their own little turf."

Despite Katz' statement that the creation of a superagency is not intended to curtail the smaller bus lines, he conceded that any superagency might examine areas where municipal bus operations and the RTD both have routes.

'Doesn't Seem Efficient'

"That doesn't seem very efficient to me," he said. "Do you eliminate the small companies?" Katz said he would prefer to restrict the RTD.

In the scheme of things, RTD, with 488 million boardings during the 12-month period ending in June, is the elephant. The 12 municipal bus companies for which county Transportation Commission keeps figures, are the mice, with 55 million boardings altogether in the same period.

But, officials of the smaller bus lines say, they get more transportation for their dollar than RTD does and their operations are the object of far fewer complaints proportionately.

In Long Beach, market surveys show that riders and the community at large like the municipal bus service, according to Jack Gabig, Long Beach Transit planning director.

Said Jack Hutchison, who directs Santa Monica's bus system: "We have a long history and a very successful history. By almost any measure, everyone would agree that we are doing a good job. We want to retain the local control that exists. We think it works well."

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