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Car-Rich Cerritos to Study Transit System's Utility

August 16, 1987|BETTINA BOXALL | Times Staff Writer

CERRITOS — This is a city where it's easier to find families with six cars than families with none.

It's a place where only 1% of the workers hop on a bus to go to work. It's a community where--according to a just released study--there is "minimal" demand for public transportation services.

Nonetheless, in the cracks of those pro-car statistics, City Council members suspect there lies a wheel-less minority of the elderly and the young that deserves help and attention. So despite the city-commissioned study's results, the council earlier this month asked for a further report examining the costs and advisability of setting up a local transit system.

"I feel there is a need and I feel the report does not really reflect that need," said Councilwoman Ann Joynt. She argued that if a clean, convenient bus or van system existed, it would be used. "Right now in the City of Cerritos, you buy your kid a car on his 16th birthday. I don't think it's something we want to do."

'Time to Begin'

Councilwoman Diana Needham also insisted that just because town residents are affluent and car-rich, public transportation shouldn't go by the wayside. "Our prosperity as a city shouldn't be the deterrent to provide a basic city service. It's simply an excuse, and one we can no longer use. I think it's time to begin now."

Three bus companies run lines through the community, but Cerritos is one of only 10 cities in Los Angeles County that doesn't have some sort of locally sponsored transit system of its own.

In neighboring Norwalk, passengers took nearly a million rides on the municipal bus system during the last fiscal year. La Mirada has offered Dial-a-Ride services since 1973. Lakewood offers Dial-a-Ride service to its elderly and handicapped.

If a community bus or van network is created in this 8.9-square-mile suburb, council members seem to agree that, at least initially, it should be run on a trial basis with leased equipment.

"You start small and work up," commented Councilman Don Knabe, who said any city system should first be geared to helping youngsters and older residents get around town.

Among the transit options mentioned by council members were a Dial-a-Ride system, in which riders call to be picked up, or a conventional system that would follow a fixed route within city boundaries. The city could also consider contracting with a neighboring community, such as Norwalk, to run its service across city lines.

Any local transportation program would be financed with the $500,000 the city annually receives under Los Angeles County's five-year-old Proposition A. The measure, which sets aside a portion of sales tax income, gives communities funding specifically earmarked for public transportation spending.

But hardly any of the city's Proposition A money has thus far gone to public transit, a fact that bothers some council members. "I would feel much better if we just used our Proposition A funds the way they were intended," Joynt remarked.

Funds Traded

About $700,000 of the city's transportation money has been traded for an equal amount of federal funds that were used for Cerritos street improvements. Last year the city gave $16,000 to Long Beach Transit, which runs buses to local malls. And the city has slightly more than $1 million of Proposition A money squirreled away in a reserve account, waiting to be spent.

Needham says she'd be delighted to see all of the Proposition A income poured into a local bus or van system, along with efforts to promote car pools.

Mayor Daniel Wong is not so sure.

Wong, saying he can't imagine much demand for a local system, worried that city vans would wind up circling town empty, looking for passengers who would never materialize. Still, he went along with the rest of the council at its Aug. 5 meeting, agreeing to ask SR Associates of Costa Mesa--the same firm whose recent report found minimal demand for public transit--to examine ways the city might venture into public transportation.

"I don't want to close the door. I want to see the actual study," Wong said.

SR took nearly a year to prepare its $25,000-transit report, which was presented to the council at its last meeting. Drawing on existing community profiles, as well as telephone interviews with 300 of Cerritos' 56,000 residents, the consultants concluded that to the degree public transportation needs exist in town, the needs center on commuters.

The firm's telephone survey revealed that the vast majority of those interviewed said they didn't use public transportation because they didn't need to. Only 10% of those questioned said they were unable to take trips because of inadequate bus service. Slightly more than half of the contacted households boasted ownership of at least three cars, a figure that far exceeds the Los Angeles County average of 35% with at least three cars. Only 1% of Cerritos families said they lacked a car; 4% of the households reported at least six cars lining the driveway.

Noting that the population of handicapped and elderly was very small (less than 3% of the population is 65 or older), the SR report said those groups' transportation needs "are not completely being met."

Almost 90% of the city's workers commute beyond city boundaries, which prompted the consultants to recommend that the council take several steps to encourage car pooling and bus use. The recommendations were that the city should try to get the three bus companies serving Cerritos to better coordinate their routes; it should join a computerized car-pooling program to match commuters traveling in the same directions, and it should publicize information about park and ride facilities and bus routes.

The council adopted all the suggestions and directed SR to prepare a second report on possible city systems. The council hopes to have the document in hand by the end of the year.

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