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44 More Police to Ride Bus Lines : Transportation: The MTA will add 40 more buses, but riders will still be lucky to find seats on the nation's most crowded system.

August 22, 1993|ROBERT J. LOPEZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Although passengers on crime-plagued bus lines in Central Los Angeles will receive a slight increase in police protection, they will still be riding the most crowded buses in the nation under the Metropolitan Transit Authority's proposed budget for fiscal 1993-94.

The $3.4-billion budget, which is expected to be approved Wednesday,8-25 would pay for 128 new transit police officers and 40 additional buses for the MTA's 25 most crowded lines. Nearly half of the 1.3 million daily passengers in the four-county bus system ride buses in Central Los Angeles.

Although the buses have more crime and carry about 20 times as many daily riders as the rail lines, only 44 of the new officers will be assigned to the bus system, transit police said. The rest will protect the 20-mile Green Line railway that is expected to be completed in May, 1995. Some will be needed to patrol the line before it opens.

Bus passenger advocates contend that the budget does little to address the wide disparity between the money spent for security on rail lines and buses.

About 3 cents per passenger is spent annually on bus security, compared to 57 cents per Red Line rider and $1.29 for each passenger on the Blue Line light rail and Metro Link commuter railroad, according to MTA figures released last month. A recent City Times analysis of transit police crime data found that crime reported on bus lines more than tripled between 1988 and 1992.

"Once again, the rail system is getting more attention than the buses that are more widely used," said Jaime Flores, spokesman for Unidos para Mejorar el Transporte de Pico-Union, a group fighting to improve transportation in the bus-dependent immigrant neighborhoods just west of Downtown.

City Councilman Richard Alatorre, chairman of the MTA, acknowledged that the 44 officers are "minimal" but said it represents the first step in an effort to improve bus security over the next five years.

"It may not be what everyone would like, but it's a start," Alatorre said. "I'm absolutely committed to improving security on the buses."

The current 245-officer force is responsible for protecting the Downtown Red Line subway and 4,519 miles of bus lines in Los Angeles, Orange, Ventura and San Bernardino counties. Most of the 44 new officers will patrol bus routes in Central Los Angeles, said MTA Capt. Dennis Conte. He said the 84 officers who will protect the Green Line are the minimum needed for that line.

Conte said the new bus officers will allow transit police to periodically assign undercover teams to problem bus lines, but will not be enough to provide special patrols such as those credited with improving safety aboard the No. 204 line that serves South-Central and the Mid-City area.

The No. 204 line, which runs along Vermont Avenue between Hollywood Boulevard and Manchester Avenue, has for years been the most crime-plagued bus route in the MTA.

But special patrols in a three-month pilot project last spring boarded buses about every 20 minutes from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. and posted a 56% increase in felony arrests on that line, an MTA report said. The patrols were funded with $1.4 million in Proposition A money allocated to county Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke's office.

Burke, an MTA board member, said she was optimistic that more Proposition A funds could be used from other supervisors' offices for similar bus patrols.

The total money allotted for the buses in next year's budget is $638.8 million, up from $619.6 million last year. The new budget also includes about $20 million for graffiti abatement.

Of the 40 additional buses approved by the MTA, 29 will be assigned to 17 lines that run through Central Los Angeles.

The new buses, which will operate during peak morning and evening hours, are expected to reduce loads from the current average of 75 passengers per bus to 62, MTA officials said. But on some lines, such as the heavily used No. 204, there will only be about seven fewer passengers on each bus during peak hours. There are 43 seats on a bus.

"It doesn't sound like much, but this is going to make a big difference," said Stephen Parry, director of scheduling and operations planning for the bus system. He said the bus system would remain the most crowded in the nation. Parry also said that ridership could increase due to the extra buses, making them just as crowded as they are now.

The news that there would be a few more buses was of little relief to some passengers. "It doesn't make much of a difference," said 17-year-old Cesar Ochoa, who rides buses daily through West Adams and Pico-Union. "As long as you're standing, it's still crowded."

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