Responding to a barrage of complaints from bus riders, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority will unveil a $3.4-billion budget this week that adds 40 buses to overcrowded routes, hires 128 additional security police and sets aside an unprecedented $20 million to combat graffiti on the county's frequently vandalized fleet.
Although the bulk of transit dollars are set aside for construction of costly rail lines, for the first time in several years, the proposed budget includes money to upgrade the county's troubled bus lines.
"There is genuine concern about opening glossy new rail lines while the condition of the inner-city bus rider continues to deteriorate," said MTA chief Franklin White. "This board is determined to not let bus conditions deteriorate as a consequence of the rail construction effort and they are showing it very clearly."
Bus proponents say the promised improvements are insufficient for the aging fleet that serves most of Los Angeles County's transit riders--1.3 million passengers a day.
"In return for giving us 40 buses, they want to sign off on all rail construction," said Eric Mann, director of the Labor/Community Strategy Center, a community group that has lobbied for improvements in bus service.
In a news conference today, the group plans to ask the MTA to commit $1 billion to expand bus service. The spending plan sets aside $103 million for purchases and maintenance and $639 million for MTA bus operations.
The carefully crafted MTA budget--already a month past deadline--is designed to give something to everybody without raising fares on bus or rail lines. Facing a $258-million shortfall, MTA board members have weighed a variety of competing projects, dealing with the painful reality that it is no longer possible to honor all the promises made by previous administrators.
The budget is expected to be officially unveiled Wednesday and could be given final approval the same day.
Although the MTA was created in part to diminish political strife, the agency has been rocked by conflicts as funding proposals pit bus riders against rail proponents, and local politicians against each other as they battle to secure money for a pet line.
"At one point, I thought we were all talking about a transportation system that connected Southern California," said Glendale Mayor Larry Zarian, an MTA board member. "Now everybody is thinking about how they can get a piece of the quarter-pie--there never was a full pie."
Mayor Richard Riordan and his two MTA appointees--former Recreation and Parks commissioner Stan Sanders and Northridge real estate agent Mel Wilson--will join the board Wednesday, adding an unknown factor to the political equation.
"This could be a whole new ball game," White said.
With the proposed budget, the fate of several key rail lines could be determined: the San Fernando Valley line, the Green Line (which will run between Norwalk and El Segundo) and the Pasadena line.
Under the budget proposal, no money has been set aside for the Valley line. The MTA tentatively decided this year to delay funding for the rail line for 10 years--an issue that Riordan and his appointees are expected to revisit. Riordan's alternate member to the MTA board, Nick Patsaouras, said: "The Valley is not getting its fair share."
Officials calculated a $414-million shortfall for the 22-mile Green Line, under construction and slated to open in May, 1995. To keep the $726-million project on track, the budget proposes to use $106 million set aside for an extension of that line to the Los Angeles International Airport, borrow $158 million from a sales tax fund and utilize $150 million that was intended for ride share and traffic monitoring efforts.
Siphoning off funds intended for the Green Line extension means that the Green Line will stop short of the airport, although it was designed to reach the facility's parking lot C. That decision could significantly hurt ridership, said Gardena Councilman James Cragin, an MTA board member.
It is not yet clear what direction the MTA board will take with the Pasadena line--a project heavily supported by MTA Chairman Richard Alatorre. According to MTA officials, the decision over the $841-million trolley line--which would run from Union Station to Pasadena--may be further postponed to allow the new board members an opportunity to voice their concerns about planning the region's transportation network.
In an earlier meeting, White had supported funding a portion of the Pasadena line, allowing the project to move forward but causing a delay of at least one year.
Under one scenario, the MTA would approve $48.6 million to proceed with the design of the Pasadena line as well as construction of a Los Angeles River bridge. This option would devote minimal funds to keep the line alive while not deciding key questions, such as how long to make the line or whether to pursue federal funds.
The perception by the public, Cragin said, is that "we don't know whether to back up or go forward."