Disgruntled bus riders on Saturday gave Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials an earful about agency plans to cancel or shorten some busy bus routes when the Hollywood leg of the Metro Red Line subway opens this year.
Many of the speakers at the lengthy public hearing at the MTA's downtown Los Angeles headquarters live in Hollywood or the San Fernando Valley, the two areas that would be most affected by the changes.
The MTA is considering ending or realigning 18 bus lines so riders will use the new subway segment to complete their trips downtown. Bus riders would get free transfers to the subway.
Officials say putting bus riders onto the new subway would enable the agency to avoid duplication in services, make better use of remaining bus routes and shift funds to improving bus service elsewhere in Los Angeles County. Their proposals also would relieve traffic congestion on surface streets and the Hollywood Freeway--which Valley commuter express buses use to get downtown--and, in some cases, shorten commuters' travel time, officials claim.
But critics charged Saturday that the MTA is trying to force riders onto the subway and would be cutting bus services while under a court-approved agreement to enhance them.
"Let us choose; don't push us like cattle. If we like the Red Line, fine; we will get on it," said Martin Hernandez of the Bus Riders Union, which sued the MTA over inadequate bus service.
Among the sharpest critics were riders from the Valley, which would lose several commuter express lines. Riders from the West Valley who work downtown, for example, would be required to get off the bus in Hollywood and ride the subway the rest of the way.
"I'm strongly opposed" to a proposal to cancel Line 427, between West Hills and downtown, said Valley resident John Tsai.
"That's the only express line from the West San Fernando Valley to downtown. We need more service, not less," Tsai said.
Ernesto Tabarez, who brought his guide dog, Broker, to the podium, said the subway is difficult for the blind, the wheelchair-dependent and other disabled people to use.
"The subway system is not an option," Tabarez said, citing poor signage and a "terrible" sound system. "The disabled community will have problems on the subway."
Many in the audience of at least 200 were elderly, disabled or said they had no cars and depended on buses to take them to jobs or school.
Others said they had stopped driving because they liked the commuter bus service but would get back into their cars--and add to traffic congestion--if MTA decisions made life as a public transit rider untenable.
Several of the 58 speakers asked the MTA to make no changes until after the Hollywood subway segment opens and operates for a few months.
"It's premature to cancel express bus service from the San Fernando Valley," said Norm Hobson, adding that giving riders no other choice "is a poor way to attract rail riders."
But some of the speakers supported the MTA proposals. They included Ken Rubin, who said he has been using public transportation for 50 years.
"The MTA has gotten a bad rap" from the Bus Riders Union and from The Times, Rubin said.
Several speakers at the 3 1/2-hour session complained about the fact that all of the MTA board members were absent, including Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan.
"Where are you, Mayor Riordan? Probably out riding your bike," bellowed activist John Walsh, who blasted the MTA's proposed route changes.
Then, providing one of the session's most theatrical moments, Walsh ended his remarks by leading the audience in a rousing cheer:
"I'm transit-dependent and I am proud!"
MTA spokesman Ed Scannell said after the meeting that "it was not necessarily intended" for board members to attend the hearing.
They will be given a staff report on the hearing and recommendations before making a decision on the proposals next month, he added.
The hearing also included comment on a pilot program of services countywide aimed at helping the MTA comply with a consent decree to improve bus service and relieve overcrowding.
Much of the public comment, however, centered on the subway-related proposals to cut back bus service.
MTA officials expect to announce an opening date for the 4.6-mile Hollywood subway segment this week, Scannell said.
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Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials are considering eliminating or shortening 18 bus lines when the 4.6-mile Hollywood segment of the Metro Red Line subway opens this year. Riders from Hollywood and the San Fernando Valley who take the bus to downtown Los Angeles would be required to get on the subway to finish the trip.