A federal judge said Thursday that he will decide next week whether to extend his oversight of public bus service in Los Angeles County past its upcoming expiration date.
The order, known as a consent decree, has forced transit officials to spend more than $1 billion over the last decade to make bus travel safer, cheaper and more convenient.
It is set to expire Oct. 29.
Attorneys for the Bus Riders Union, a transit advocacy group, asked U.S. District Court Judge Terry J. Hatter Jr. to extend the decree for at least four more years. In court, they told Hatter that the county's Metropolitan Transportation Authority has failed to meet its commitment to reduce bus overcrowding.
But MTA attorney Patricia Glaser countered that "it's just not possible" to assure that nearly all bus riders have seats during rush hours no matter how many more buses are purchased and how many more drivers are hired. Buses experience the same delays as the cars stuck beside them in Los Angeles traffic, she said. A sporting event or changes in the school day can cause bus overcrowding.
The decree was signed in 1996, two years after the Bus Riders Union sued the MTA, charging the agency with improperly shifting money from bus operations to building the subway and other rail projects.
Bus service has improved in recent years, both sides agree. But the parties remain divided over whether transit officials have met their promise to significantly improve service.
The deal requires that no more than eight people on average are standing on a 40-passenger bus during rush hours, and that routes be added to colleges, hospitals and job centers.
Attorneys Connie Rice and Richard Larson, who represent the Labor/Community Strategy Center and its Bus Riders Union, said that sometimes three times as many people are standing on the system's busiest routes. They also asked the judge to fine the transit authority for failing to comply with all court orders.
After the hearing, Roger Snoble, the MTA's chief executive officer, said the agency will continue examining ways to improve transit service, even after the consent decree ends.
"We have the highest standards in the industry," he said, "and we're certainly going to maintain those standards."
Earlier this month, the MTA was ranked among the nation's best transit agencies by its trade group, the American Public Transportation Assn.