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New Transit Zone Goes Back to Drawing Board

June 23, 1988|CRAIG QUINTANA | Times Staff Writer

Backers of the Foothill Transit Zone, an alternative bus system for the San Gabriel Valley, will try to regroup Friday after a judge's decision last week derailed its plans to become the area's second transit operator July 1.

The zone's governing board, composed of representatives from 20 participating cities and the county, will consider the agency's options in response to an injunction that prevents it from taking two freeway express lines from the Southern California Rapid Transit District.

The transit zone would contract with private bus companies to provide service on lines formerly operated by the RTD.

The zone's board will also consider a proposed fare structure that would provide an 85-cent base fare, in contrast to the $1.10 that would be charged if RTD retains the lines. The same rate structure is expected to be adopted by a county-run pilot project, which uses Foothill Transit buses on six lines scheduled to be added to the zone within three years.

Last week's injunction, issued by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Eli Chernow, said the County Transportation Commission lacked the power to take two express lines away from the RTD and give them to the transit zone. The transfer was challenged by the unions representing RTD drivers and mechanics who sought the injunction.

Unless the RTD board agrees to the transfer, Chernow ruled, the transit zone cannot begin service on the express lines from Glendora and Diamond Bar to downtown Los Angeles, the first of 14 RTD lines scheduled to be taken over by the new agency.

Before Chernow's ruling, the RTD board of directors voted to support the unions' position that taking the lines away from the RTD represented an illegal breakup of the regional transportation operator.

At a news conference Tuesday, County Supervisor Pete Schabarum, who spearheaded the transit zone's formation, blasted the RTD board for supporting the unions' efforts.

"The RTD board will engage in any tactic, employ any excuse, contrive any reason, no matter how trivial, farfetched, or deceptive, to preserve the failing status quo," he said. "There has yet to be one dinosaur" that did not stand in the way of evolution, he continued. "I doubt the RTD will be the first."

Carmen Estrada, vice president of the RTD board, said the board supported the union's position because the RTD was created to be the regional carrier for the county.

"The RTD is not against the transit zone," she said. "It's a question of who will operate regional lines. . . . In this instance, the Foothill Transit Zone is seeking to supplant the RTD as a regional operator."

In a letter to RTD President Jan Hall, Schabarum has asked that the RTD board consent to transferring the lines to the zone at its meeting today. But the supervisor said Tuesday he has "no confidence" that the RTD board will agree.

A Response Later

Estrada confirmed that it was unlikely the board would respond to Schabarum's request before reviewing the judge's written opinion, which is due Friday.

"The supervisor is asking us to take action by Thursday and not (without) having seen the opinion," she said.

The transit zone was approved last year by the Transportation Commission, which controls the purse strings for transit projects within the county. The zone was seen as a low-cost alternative to the RTD for San Gabriel Valley cities and the Southeast community of La Habra Heights. It would contract with Embree Bus Lines, which was scheduled to take over the first two routes.

Point for Schabarum

The approval represented a victory for Schabarum, who fought stiff resistance from the RTD and its unions. Schabarum has charged that the massive RTD pays scant attention to the area's transit needs, only looking toward the San Gabriel Valley when service cuts are needed.

Schabarum has estimated that the transit zone, which would become the largest privately operated agency of its type in the nation, would expand bus service and operate until 1990 for $8.9 million less than it would cost RTD.

The commission approved the transit zone under legislation that allows such an agency to be formed if an existing operator "cannot otherwise provide adequate and responsive local transportation service in a cost-effective manner." If the zone succeeds in providing better service for 25% less than RTD at the end of its three-year trial, the commission could make it a permanent entity.

On the legal front, Schabarum, who is also chairman of the Transportation Commission and a zone board member, said he expects the commission to appeal Chernow's ruling. Foothill officials have said the ruling was flawed, incorrectly assessing the size of the zone as a threat to the RTD.

Another Option

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