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Valley Perspective

MTA Compliance With Consent Decree Has Cost the Valley Better Service

April 15, 2001|KYMBERLEIGH RICHARDS | Kymberleigh Richards is public affairs director of Southern California Transit Advocates (http://socata.lerctr.org) and senior Metro passenger advisor for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority

Anyone who takes an interest in local transit issues cannot have ignored the often loud protests of the Bus Riders Union, which presents itself as a grass-roots organization concerned with improving bus service in the region.

The BRU has targeted the bulk of its attacks on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and even sued the MTA in the 1990s. That lawsuit (actually brought by the BRU's parent organization, the Labor / Community Strategy Center) resulted in a 1996 U.S. District Court consent decree to bring about substantial improvements in MTA bus service.

Since '96, the BRU has cited the consent decree as the basis for fixing anything and everything it says requires improvement, ignoring MTA's many achievements since then.

For example, the consent decree required an increase of 102 buses in MTA's fleet. But the MTA has actually increased the total number of buses in service by 377 since then--more than the consent decree and the 250 additional buses the BRU has since demanded. Required to lower the number of standees on the most crowded lines, MTA has done so--from an average of 19 per bus to 10, which places it at more than 99% compliance.

Ironically, MTA's compliance has cost the San Fernando Valley much of its potential for service improvement.

Twenty-four of the 25 most crowded lines in MTA's system operate entirely outside of the Valley. The only one that does serve our region--Line 156 on Van Nuys and Burbank boulevards--originates at Vermont / Santa Monica Station and operates in local service though Hollywood before arriving here. Because the consent decree forced MTA to vigilantly monitor the most crowded lines, its scheduling manager says he has had to severely curtail monitoring of the rest of the Valley's service. This in turn has prevented him from scheduling additional service on lower (but still relatively high) ridership lines on Sherman Way, Roscoe Boulevard and San Fernando Road, among others.

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This focus on the more crowded lines operating south of the Santa Monica Mountains, where more transit-dependent people live and work, has also stalled implementation of the San Fernando Valley Transit Improvement Study, completed the year before the consent decree was signed.

Even though MTA has exceeded its predecessor Rapid Transit District's highest service year (1987) by more than 14,000 revenue service hours per year, the bulk of that service has been outside of the Valley. With the exception of a minor realignment of one Metro Bus line in Panorama City and the implementation of a Los Angeles Department of Transportation express line to Thousand Oaks (originally proposed in the Transit Improvement Study), only two lines of consent decree-forced "new service" come into the Valley--and again, those operate primarily "south of the hill."

Those who favor a Valley transit zone likely believe that I am making a case in their favor, but the reality is that the MTA has lowered operating costs by almost $12 per hour and spent $240 million on consent decree compliance (plus more than $700 million on bus replacement) since 1996. The MTA is not likely to allow those efforts to leave its scope of operation.

Also, the BRU has issued fliers opposing forming a zone, fearing that it would lose the ability to effectively raise issues afterward--and also fearing that, freed from the higher-cost lines in the region, MTA would funnel the savings toward rail.

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Thus we have a conundrum of sorts: The BRU has--directly or indirectly--been responsible for much of the neglect of Valley Metro Bus service in the past five years, yet it is likely to be a major stumbling block to the MTA divorcing itself from the region.

The solution appears to be a compromise between both parties: The BRU could allow less of a focus on the top 25 lines in order to monitor and improve Valley service. In return, the MTA could agree to keep that service under its direct control, so that improvements could be made without the involvement of a separate agency.

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