The Metropolitan Transportation Authority has begun to implement a court-ordered pilot project to improve access to jobs, schools and medical facilities under a 1996 federal court decree in which it pledged to improve bus service.
Since Sunday, a line starting from Marina del Rey has been running farther east to reach a shopping center in the City of Commerce. Ten new or lengthened bus routes will begin on dates staggered through February.
The MTA has kicked off a $500,000 radio and print campaign to advertise the service changes, and is offering free fares for one month to riders on new routes or those who board at new stops.
The MTA signed a consent decree to settle a lawsuit filed by the Bus Riders Union and other parties, which complained that MTA budget policies favored more affluent subway riders at the expense of poor bus riders. The decree required the agency to improve and expand bus service.
However, critics were unmoved by the latest changes, noting that cutbacks in night service started the same day. On Sunday, the MTA canceled or reduced late-night service involving 18 lines, eliminating 40,000 service hours annually.
"It's robbing Peter to pay Paul," said Kikanza Ramsey, an organizer for the riders group. "On the same day a new route is starting, the MTA is cutting back service. It's a disgusting irony."
Also under dispute is a paucity of express lines that travel between cities. Two express lines are scheduled to expand in January and February: Line 422 from Newbury Park to Encino and Line 550 from West Hollywood to San Pedro.
But the creation of three express routes and the expansion of a fourth--changes that activists believe are crucial to fulfilling the consent decree--have been delayed until spring because the MTA says that it lacks funds.
The expanded routes are supposed to facilitate travel to employment, educational or health centers. Under the terms of the consent decree, the MTA and the Bus Riders Union will evaluate the routes in December 1998.
Constance L. Rice, western regional counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the plaintiffs' lead attorney, said the movement of many jobs from the central city to the suburbs make long-distance commuter lines essential.
Bus route information is available by calling (800) COMMUTE.