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MTA's Bus Drivers Look for a Safer Ride With a Little TV Guide

CITY SMART | Street Smart

September 13, 1996|RICHARD SIMON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

* Don't worry, MTA bus drivers aren't watching "Gilligan's Island" while piloting 30,000-pound, 40-foot buses.

Those small TV screens mounted on the dashboard are wired to cameras outside the bus. They're part of an experiment to reduce bus accidents and crime.

The cameras are designed to help drivers see blind spots in traffic and near the rear door of buses so that they can better tell when all the passengers have gotten off and whether anyone is trying to sneak in the back without paying.

There also are three pinkie-sized cameras aboard--undetectable to a passenger unless he or she is looking for them--which record all of the activity on the bus.

And soon, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority will be adding a feature that allows the bus driver, in an emergency, to push a button and transmit a live picture to transit police via cellular phone.

*

* Remember the Pentagon's $600 toilet seat? How about the MTA's $1,200 bus driver's seat, made by the manufacturer of Porsche car seats?

The agency has ordered 316 Recaro seats for $1,200 apiece. But that includes installation, noted Jeff Johnson, MTA's director of equipment engineering.

The pre-1992 seats most commonly found on MTA buses cost $800.

But transit officials say the more comfortable and ergonomically correct Recaro seats will save money in the long run by reducing back injuries. The MTA pays $2.5 million a year in claims for back injuries.

The cloth seats feature a heating and ventilation system.

*

* Call it the nation's most expensive StairMaster.

Don Tilley goes down into the Los Angeles subway over and over again, but hardly ever boards a train.

He is among a group of downtown workers who have found a new use for the $5.9-billion subway: They run up and down the 101 steps at the Civic Center station for exercise.

"I cheat," confessed Tilley, 41, data processing supervisor for the Los Angeles Superior Court, who was spotted riding the escalator down before beginning his upward climb--in his necktie. Twice a week, he runs up the stairs seven times during his lunch break.

Occasionally, he draws strange looks from subway riders. "One person said, 'Why don't you take the easy way up, buddy?' " he said. "Usually, I end up beating them to the top."

Renee Valencia, 26, a clerk in the county assessor's office, said that she has lost six pounds since beginning to exercise on the steps about two months ago.

"My mom and her friend were out there one time," she said. "They were doing it to exercise so I said what the heck, I'll do it too."

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* The MTA now has a Web site: http://www.mta.net

But so do the agency's critics.

Critics of the subway project feature pictures of the subway construction mishaps on their page: http://www.mtala.com/

The Bus Riders Union also has its own page: http://www.igc.apc.org/lctr/

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* Donald Bliss is trying to help solve a thorny court case by riding buses and trains.

He is the $250-an-hour Washington lawyer-mediator hired to try to settle bus riders' lawsuit against the MTA.

In the suit, the transit agency is accused of neglecting a bus system that primarily serves poor and minority riders in order to build a rail network for more affluent commuters. The Bus Riders Union and other plaintiffs are seeking to get the MTA to increase bus service and roll back fares.

To better understand the issues, Bliss has been riding buses and trains as well as poring over legal briefs and shuttling back and forth between the parties.

The 54-year-old Bliss is a Harvard-educated lawyer who served as a top aide to William T. Coleman Jr., a U.S. transportation secretary under President Gerald R. Ford.

If no settlement is reached, trial is set for Oct. 8.

"We're still pretty far apart, but we're a lot closer than we were," said an MTA source. Attorneys for both sides declined to comment.

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