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Final MTA Appeal of Bus Accord Fails

Transportation: U.S. Supreme Court's refusal to hear case means the agency probably will be forced to buy hundreds of vehicles.

March 19, 2002|KURT STREETER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

At issue is an element of the federal agreement calling on the agency to add to its bus fleet, in order to reduce the number of people forced to stand during rush hours. The agreement calls on the agency eventually to reduce its number of rush hour standees to an average of about eight by June 30.

The Bus Riders Union believes the contract requires the standard to be strictly enforced. By this interpretation, they argue, at least 235 more buses must be bought.

The MTA, in contrast, believes such standards should be treated simply as planning goals. By this interpretation far fewer, if any, buses need be bought. "We feel we may already be in compliance," Snoble said Monday.

If the disparity about the meaning of the court order continues, Bliss, the court-appointed mediator, will probably be forced to play an increasing role in MTA management decisions.

Bliss has tended to take a middle ground, clearly viewing the limits on the number of standing passengers as hard goals that must be considered when purchasing new buses. By that standard, observers close to the case say, Bliss would probably call for more buses, but fewer than the Bus Riders Union wants.

In contending with a second phase of the court agreement, the parties and Bliss face perhaps even more intractable disagreements. That part of the order requires the MTA to increase bus service to medical centers, hospitals, schools and job centers throughout Los Angeles County.

Many transit experts say the agency will have to purchase hundreds more buses to be able to deliver riders to those far-flung locations. On Monday, Mann said he thinks it will take about 500 more buses to meet those objectives.

The bus rider advocate also said the agency, which portrayed itself as under financial duress in its brief to the Supreme Court, should stop current plans to build more rail lines.

"We are calling for a moratorium on rail, until they finish the [court] decree," Mann said.

The MTA is preparing in the summer of 2003 to take over operation of a light rail line from downtown to Pasadena.

It plans to spend $329 million on a fixed roadway for buses in the San Fernando Valley. Another $760 million is intended for a rail line serving the Eastside of Los Angeles. Snoble said that nothing in the federal agreement prevents his agency from pursuing such projects, many of which are funded by federal and state dollars that he said can be spent only on rail.

He did say that the plan to create a route from the neighborhood around USC to Santa Monica via Exposition Boulevard may be quashed or delayed. Snoble added that service to physically challenged passengers, construction of highway carpool lanes and other big-ticket expenditures could also suffer.

"I'm relieved [the Bus Riders Union] is talking about hundreds of buses and not thousands," said Snoble, who accused the advocates of being "anti-transit" because they focused solely on buses.

"If we go by what the BRU wants, we are never going to be able to serve the needs of the people here.... We still believe we will not be able to be successful if we are going to rely on 40-foot buses to do the job."

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