Plans for a separate San Fernando Valley bus district were revived Monday after officials heard a consultant's report that indicated spinning off a new transit agency from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority would be workable.
The concept of a Valley bus district almost died after state legislation signed in September made it more difficult to achieve.
At a meeting Monday, the board of local officials trying to create the new bus zone voted to proceed with an application to separate from the MTA.
The zone organizers, formally known as the San Fernando Valley Transportation Zone Interim Joint Powers Authority, also approved extending the agency's existence. It had been set to expire at the end of this month.
In September, during the heat of the union strike with the MTA, county Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, an MTA board member and chairman of the Valley transit zone group, said the legislation would be a "zone killer."
The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Kevin Murray (D-Culver City), ensured that the workers of any new zone would retain wages and benefits now paid by the MTA. Opponents of the bill said those worker protections would present an insurmountable roadblock to forming a new bus district.
But on Monday, the joint powers authority, which represents nine cities and the county of Los Angeles, heard a consultant's report that gave a cautious green light to a transit district, calling it "feasible."
Cost savings could be realized through more efficient scheduling of buses, leaner management and tighter controls on bus driver work shifts, said the consultant, Russell Chisholm of Transportation Management & Design Inc.
The report estimated that a Valley zone bus could be operated at about $82.59 an hour, compared to the MTA hourly bus cost of $98.66.
The report also said the new union contracts with the MTA would benefit a new transit zone, resulting in savings of about $42.6 million over 10 years.
But Chisholm cautioned that even with a new Valley zone's 16% cost savings, the revenues for a new zone were difficult to forecast.
And an initial subsidy from the MTA would most likely decrease quickly. "A zone is very dependent on a subsidy for the kickoff period," Chisholm said. "That period could be three to six years."
Despite those caveats, several officials said the report buoyed their hopes. "It's not at all dead in the water," Yaroslavsky said of the proposal to create a Valley bus zone. "It's alive and swimming vigorously."
Los Angeles City Councilman Alex Padilla, another member of the joint powers authority, voiced concerns that proposed projects like a north-south busway in the northeast Valley and another high speed bus service along Chandler Boulevard would be curtailed because of a new transit agency.
But after other officials assured him those projects would not be affected, Padilla agreed the transit zone plan should move forward.
"It looks possible and beneficial to the Valley," Padilla said, adding that no union workers would be hurt by the spinoff bus agency.
Goldy Norton, a spokesman for the United Transportation Union, which represents bus and rail operators, also attended the meeting but remained adamantly against a new transit zone.
"We are unequivocally opposed to the concept of transit zones and the MTA has, in our labor contract, certain obligations which must be met before it can even consider an application," Norton said.
Nevertheless, the joint powers authority on Monday also moved to request from the MTA and the Southern California Assn. of Governments up to $300,000 to proceed with additional feasibility studies.
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