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Private Bus Firm to Run 2 RTD Lines

October 29, 1987|DARYL KELLEY | Times Staff Writer

Some commuters from San Dimas and Glendora may hardly notice the change, but beginning Monday the buses they ride each morning to downtown Los Angeles will be operated by a private bus company, not the regional Rapid Transit District.

Though the color of the buses on freeway express lines 492 and 494 will be different, the schedules, fares and bus stops will remain the same, county officials say.

The new service on the lightly used commuter lines, which had been scheduled by the RTD for elimination, was approved Tuesday by the County Board of Supervisors as part of an experimental program to demonstrate how efficiently private companies can replace the RTD in some areas.

The supervisors unanimously approved spending $1.99 million as the county's share of a $6-million, three-year contract with Embree-Mark IV Charter Lines. The county Transportation Commission and the federal government are also sharing the costs.

Under the same contract, Embree-Mark IV will also begin operating two other eastern San Gabriel Valley express commuter bus lines--495 from Diamond Bar and 498 from Glendora--by the end of the year. Embree will share that service with the RTD, so costs of each operation can be directly compared, according to Mike Lewis, aide to Supervisor Pete Schabarum.

Lewis said a contract that will allow another private company--Laidlaw Transit of Van Nuys--to take over four other threatened bus routes in the San Gabriel Valley is expected to be signed by the supervisors in November, with service beginning Dec. 1.

Costs to Drop

Laidlaw has signed the $3.7-million agreement to operate local bus lines 192, 194, 291 and 293 in the Pomona and Claremont areas, Lewis said.

Operating costs, compared with the RTD's, will be cut by 60% under the Laidlaw contract and about 50% under the contract with Embree-Mark IV, county transportation consultant William P. Forsythe said.

Forsythe said operating costs of private companies are lower because administrative overhead is much less and the private companies are more able than the RTD to use part-time and temporary employees.

The San Gabriel Valley contracts are part of a broader push by some city, county and federal officials toward expanded use of private bus companies throughout the county.

Took Over Nine Lines

For example, Laidlaw, operating under the name Commuter Express, took over nine RTD lines serving communities from Chatsworth to San Pedro on Oct. 5.

Proponents of greater "privatization" of bus service say it reduces overhead and operating costs and produces smaller bus systems that are more easily managed.

Critics, especially the public transit employee unions, argue that private lines threaten the jobs of their members while providing less pay and fewer benefits to workers. They also charge that in the long run, use of private bus companies will undermine the RTD, which was formed 24 years ago as the county's regional bus agency.

The efficiency of Embree-Mark IV and Laidlaw on the San Gabriel Valley routes will be constantly monitored, Lewis said. If costs are kept low and the quality of service high, that would enhance the argument for a San Gabriel Valley regional bus system that Schabarum has supported since 1984, Lewis said.

Twenty-six valley cities have endorsed Schabarum's plan for a transportation zone separate from the RTD. His proposal calls for turning 25 of 56 RTD routes over to private companies that would bid for the routes.

However, in August the supervisor was forced to withdraw his proposal from consideration by the county Transportation Commission because he did not have the necessary support of 8 of 11 commissioners.

Schabarum plans to resubmit the proposal to the Transportation Commission for a vote by the end of the year, Lewis said.

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