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AROUND THE FOOTHILLS

In Early Going, Glendale Shuttle Has a Few Bugs to Work Out

February 14, 1991|BY DOUG SMITH

Chris Gargaro's commute to Glendale on Tuesday morning was comfortable, private and free--in other words, the opposite of everything a trip on public transit is thought to be.

It was also quite futile, judged in the context of what public transit is meant to be.

Gargaro was the only commuter on his bus. He would have been the only rider if I hadn't joined him. I had driven twice the usual distance from home, two hours ahead of schedule, and parked my car on a side street for the day to try out Glendale's new commuter shuttle.

Briefcase in hand, I waited alone at the corner of 6th Street and Irving Drive in Burbank at 6:45, that enchanting daylight hour when the song of birds still tops the grind of automobiles on the decibel scale.

Sixth Street in Burbank isn't as urban as it sounds. It's a long, wide, lazy avenue running from one end of town to the other through the lower reaches of the mountainside residential district. It is lined by houses and apartments and shaded by old camphor trees.

So few things move at that hour that I spotted Gargaro almost a block away as he turned onto Irving on foot.

He too carried a briefcase, but wore old boots and an open shirt suited to his outdoor job as a city construction inspector.

We had barely introduced ourselves when the bus arrived. It was one of those bulgy vans with the red, yellow and brown stripes that the city uses to shuttle shoppers and business people around downtown.

Last week, Glendale drafted two of the Beeline buses to start its first inter-city commuter transit system.

One route runs along the Foothill Freeway to Sunland-Tujunga, the other down Glenoaks Boulevard to Burbank. They're free for a month, then a small fare will be charged.

The goal is to make the bus so attractive that commuters will begin to leave their cars at home by choice before that inevitable day when the smog and traffic bosses impose some onerous incentive, such as an exorbitant fee to park downtown.

"We're trying to do all the positive things we can before we get into the things that are disincentives," said Glendale's traffic and transportation administrator, Tom Horne, giving the most optimistic interpretation.

Actually, the city, like all the largest employers in town, is under pressure from the South Coast Air Quality Management District to cut down on individual auto trips by its staff. It must achieve an average of 1 1/2 commuters per vehicle in about two years or face fines.

In its first week, the new shuttle to and from Burbank has yet to tip the balance in Glendale's favor. The poor response doesn't appear to be from a lack of candidates. At City Hall, Gargaro's "commuter rep" gave him a list of 10 city employees in his neighborhood.

And, just a block from him lives Kerry Morford, the assistant director of public works. In the first week of the Burbank line, Morford rode a couple of times. He couldn't make it Tuesday, though, because he was subbing for his boss, George Miller, at the City Council meeting. A few others also rode last week but didn't show up Tuesday.

So as our driver, Miguel Marroquin, dutifully lingered at several stops along 6th Street before turning south to Glenoaks Boulevard, Gargaro and I sat facing each other with nothing to do but talk transit.

Gargaro has a progressive attitude about riding the bus.

"My purpose was to help the city out and try to meet the standards," he said. "I thought I would do my best to help the city."

It hasn't been easy. First he had to change his shift. He used to arrive at 8 and leave at 5. He got permission to come in at 7:30 and leave at 4:30.

There's still one irritating detail to work out. It takes him five minutes to walk from the bus stop to his desk, so his workday is now 10 minutes short. He said his supervisor suggested that he could shorten his lunch break.

He's also losing 10 minutes on the front of his day because the bus takes that much longer than his freeway route. He doesn't mind.

"You can relax, read a newspaper or do some paperwork," Gargaro said. "When there are a few people, they're city employees who I can chat with."

The real trouble seems to concern his personal flexibility.

Sometimes he works late and finds another way home, either bumming a ride or taking the RTD, whose routes, fares and society he finds less appealing.

Sometimes he wants to bring his own car to run errands during the day (his city vehicle is off-limits for that) or stop off to shop on the way home.

Almost as a personal confession, he says:

"It's very difficult to get people out of their cars. We're all tied to our cars." Gargaro worries that the city will drop the line if it doesn't do better.

But for the city, the stakes are too high to be that fickle.

Horne said the system will be monitored and adapted. Maybe the buses are too large, or too small. Maybe the routes aren't right, or the fares.

"Our interest now is to figure out what it would take to get people attracted to such a system," Horne said.

Giving them a bus that gets to work when their shifts begin would be a start.

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