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Schabarum Plan for Private Buses Hits Roadblock

August 30, 1987|ASHLEY DUNN | Times Staff Writer

County Supervisor Pete Schabarum's efforts to keep alive his plan to turn over bus service in the San Gabriel Valley to private companies received a setback last week in the state Legislature.

The Senate Transportation Committee Thursday rejected a proposal that would have made it easier to win approval for the plan from the county Transportation Commission.

Schabarum said the rejection left his plan for a San Gabriel Valley Transportation Zone in "grim" condition. But he refused to say the plan is dead.

On Wednesday the plan suffered its first setback when Schabarum withdrew it from consideration by the Transportation Commission after he sensed that it did not have the necessary support of eight of the 11 members.

Amendment Defeated

In an effort to bypass the commission, legislation was sought that would have allowed a simple majority of the commission to decide the issue. That effort failed when an attempt to amend a bill, AB-18, was defeated by the Senate Transportation Committee.

The bill would merge the Southern California Rapid Transit District and the county Transportation Commission into a new transit superagency.

The legislation, authored by Assemblyman Richard Katz (D-Sepulveda) and Sen. Alan Robbins (D-Van Nuys), has been opposed by Schabarum and others who believe the superagency would weaken local authority in transportation matters.

However, Mike Lewis, Schabarum's chief deputy, said Schabarum is considering changing sides if the new transportation zone were created as part of the bill.

"We're taking a long hard look at it," Lewis said.

Lewis said that other legislative means may be sought to implement Schabarum's transportation plan.

But Earl Clark, general chairman of the United Transportation Union, said unions intend to fight any attempt to approve the plan in Sacramento.

Another Attack Next Year

Schabarum said that if the legislative remedy does not work this year, he is prepared to attack the problem again next year when an anticipated $36-million RTD deficit may foster more support for a separate San Gabriel Valley transportation zone.

Clark said, "We'll continue to work just as hard against the zone as he is going to work for it."

Schabarum's proposal is based on state legislation that allows the Transportation Commission to turn over bus service to private companies if it finds that existing service is inadequate, unresponsive or too costly.

Schabarum, who first proposed the zone in 1984, has maintained the RTD has failed on all three counts.

Under the proposal, 25 of the San Gabriel Valley's 56 RTD routes would be turned over to private companies that would competitively bid for the routes.

The private companies would maintain the same routes, fares and buses that RTD now uses.

William P. Forsythe, the county consultant in charge of the proposal, said private operators could cut $12 million from the cost of operating bus service in the San Gabriel Valley because of competitive bidding and lower overhead.

At the meeting, transportation commissioner Jacki Bacharach called the zone an innovative idea that would save money and give the 26 cities in the zone more control over their bus systems.

"If we don't experiment, then we are not doing what we should be doing to stretch the public's dollars," she said.

Bacharach added that without the zone the San Gabriel Valley could face service cutbacks because of its relatively sparse ridership.

"The writing is on the wall for the San Gabriel Valley," she said. "Every line there is a candidate for elimination."

The proposal was strongly opposed by the transit unions, which contend that bringing in lower-cost private companies would result in lower wages and massive layoffs of current RTD employees.

Schabarum specifically blamed the unions' lobbying of several commission members for the proposal's lack of support.

The proposal also was opposed by the RTD, which maintained that the zone would lead to the breakup of the regional transportation system.

An RTD report on the proposal said the district could lose up to $10 million a year in transit funds if the zone were created. The funds would have to be made up by cutting service or raising fares in other parts of the county, according to the report.

Transportation Commission member Michael Woo said the creation of the zone would lead to the "Balkanization" of RTD and could further damage the troubled transit agency.

"It benefits the San Gabriel Valley at the expense of the remaining system," he said.

Walter King, Supervisor Kenneth Hahn's representative on the commission, also opposed the plan because he was skeptical about estimates on savings that would result from the zone.

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