Metro has staved service cuts and fare hikes other transit agencies are experiencing... until now. The state budget woes are finally catching up with the Los Angeles County transit agency. The bus and rail network is facing a $250 million deficit which is being blamed on the usual culprits, high unemployment and cutbacks at the state level, but also a structural deficit that Metro has been maintaining since 1990.
Fares are artificially low. Riders of comparable transit agencies across the country charge much more than LA County does to ride bus and trains. When Metro does propose to raise fares to a realistic level, a circus comprised of advocacy groups descends upon Metro headquarters to oppose the fare increase, effectively hamstringing Metro's ability to provide a quality, robust service, while turning around the next day and criticizing Metro for not providing a quality, robust service. Many politicians, on the other hand, don't have the guts to stand up to them. Another big contributor is the practice of tying transit funding to a percentage tax on gas, an inherently unstable source of revenue. The Los Angeles Times recommends tying transit funding to an excise tax on gasoline instead, a tax that doesn't change when the price of gasoline changes.
Transit Coalition Chair Ken Alpern is musing about the Purple Line Extension in his latest LA City Watch piece. In the article Alpern explains that the Westside subway will open in "minimum operable segments" and focuses on the Western terminus, which may or may not actually reach the sea.
The state is holding back money for the Orange Line extension to Chatsworth, but that isn't stopping Metro. The agency has decided to use local funds to start the project with or without the state's help. $216 million in Measure R has been allocated to begin construction with the hope that the state will come through on their promise to give Metro the $14.7 million in Prop 1B funding.
The backers of the Gold Line Foothill Extension are on track to start construction on light rail to the boondocks by this June. The search is currently on for the contractor that will fund and build the line.
The group that ushered in the concept of Measure R, the half-cent sales tax measure that will help Los Angeles County build all kinds of nifty rail lines and implement bus improvements, is having a party next week. On Thursday, February 11, MoveLA will be holding their WE LOVE LA! (County & City!) Valentine's Celebration. There will be live music and several key figures who helped make Measure R possible. Tickets can be reserved at the MoveLA web site for $50 each.
Another year, more hoops to reopen Angel's Flight. Cars on the historic railroad have been undergoing testing but there is no firm date for a grand reopening. Metro had previously been asked to take over responsibility for Angel's Flight, but declined, citing financial difficulties. Currently, a few unresolved safety issues with the PUC are delaying its opening. The funicular railway closed in 2001 due to a fatal accident.
Long Beach is making strides with bikes, helping to make this often overlooked mode of transportation more viable with miles of sharrows and bike lanes. The achievements in Long Beach are making Los Angeles look bad, which is still studying nearly 700 miles of new bike lanes. Long Beach, on the other hand, is getting it done.
However, the big news in bicycling last week was the ongoing effort of the City Council to draft an "anti-harassment" ordinance to protect cyclists on the streets of Los Angeles. On the Council floor, a timeline for the ordinance appeared which included a public "town hall" transportation committee hearing with Chief Charlie Beck and a joint meeting of the Council's Public Safety and Transportation Committees.
Back in December, some new bike markings appeared on Avenue 37 in Northeast L.A. They were immediately revealed to be "Guerrilla Sharrows," i.e. not done by the city. However, if you actually ride a bike on Avenue 37, you'll note that the sharrows are actually better installed than the " official" ones in Westwood.
The National Coalition for Bicycling and Walking released their " State of the Union" report last week. It showed that, nationwide, nearly 10% of all trips are "people powered," i.e. are by foot, bike, skateboard, pogo stick, etc, in the United States. However, the amount of crashes involving a "self-propelled" person and the amount of funding spent on projects to protect them show a huge disparity on how government views "people powered" trips. Locally, statistics for Long Beach and Los Angeles didn't buck the national trend.
Later this month Metro will be holding early scoping meetings regarding the Gold Line Eastside Extension Phase 2. The early scoping meeting is the first step toward a Draft Environmental Impact Statement/Report. Attendees may comment on several alternatives, including an alignment along the 60 Freeway and another along Washington Blvd.
Responding to his call for a jobs bill aimed at easing the unemployment crisis in the State of the Union address, the Transportation for America coalition wrote to President Obama and cabinet members outlining the transportation investments that can put the most Americans back to work, quickly. The letter outlines key principles for targeting transportation funding that will have the most impact in putting Americans back to work while also laying the groundwork for long-term economic prosperity.
First, Congress can save jobs right now and put laid-off public transit workers back on the job by offering emergency assistance to the hundreds of transit agencies across the country that are facing deep cuts in jobs and service in this economic crisis. This will not only keep bus and train operators working; it also will ensure that other Americans can make it to their jobs. Meanwhile, investments should be made in workforce development training opportunities targeted to workers in greatest need, as well as increases in funding for highway and road programs with the highest job growth potential.
Congress also must recognize that repair, maintenance and upgrades of existing roads and transit systems puts more people to work, faster than building new projects.
"China is the biggest country in the world and they built over the Himalayas and are now committing an additional $500 billion over the next 20 years," he said. "Saudi Arabia too is investing in high-speed rail in preparation for that certain day when oil reserves will no longer sustain the country. If they can do it, we can do it."
However, the USDOT's 2011 Budget proposal includes only $1 billion for high-speed rail, less than half of the $2.5 billion allocated in the 2010 budget. Without greater allocations or a loan program akin to Europe's infrastructure bank, it seems unlikely that California's high-speed rail system, much less the nations, will be completed anytime soon. (However, the 2011 budget request from DOT does include some other interesting items, including $30 billion for a Federal Transit Safety program to address recurring challenges in safety and enforcement among the states.)
Time Magazine is asking whether high-speed rail can succeed in America. With the announcement of how the $8 billion in stimulus money will be divided among the states, high-speed rail has received greater attention from the national press. The Time article covers the usual bases and makes a case for high-speed rail. Anti-rail pundits are also on the attack.
Here in California, the California High Speed Rail Authority is holding a stakeholder-working group to discuss the Palmdale-Los Angeles segment of the high-speed rail route. The meeting is happening at the Buena Vista Library in Burbank on Monday, February 8 at 6:30 p.m.
Gasoline has hit $75 a barrel but reduced demand has caused gas prices to fall. Gasoline supplies in the United States are at a 22-month high. If and when the economy does recover, we are likely to see gas prices rise.
A new study by Highway Loss Data Institute has found that the two year old California hands-free law has not had any measurable effect on accident rates. The accident rate in some states with no hands-free law actually decreased while California's accident rate remained roughly the same. Some critics of the study point out that enforcement has been lackluster at best. Others point out that distracted driving is dangerous, and talking on a phone, whether it is on a hands-free device or not, is still a distraction.
The Las Vegas Monorail is in trouble. Although the poorly planned system covers its operating expenses, the Las Vegas Monorail Co. is currently in default on its debt with no salvation in sight. Rather than fund the system with bonds, the Strip's eastside hotels should have funded the construction of the system themselves, considering the system as a loss leader to shuttle potential customers to/from McCarren Airport. This could have been quite an advantage for the hotels that the monorail serves, which may have enticed the Strip's westside hotels to buy into the system. Sadly, the monorail does not reach the airport, which was likely the monorail planners' fatal mistake.
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State Route 710 Tunnel Technical Study meetings:
Los Angeles City Bicycle Advisory Committee: Tuesday, February 2,
Metro San Fernando Valley Governance Council and Hearing on Proposed June 2010 Bus Service Changes: Wednesday, February 3, 6:30 p.m., Marvin Braude Constituent Center, 6262 Van Nuys Blvd., Van Nuys.
Exposition Metro Line Construction Authority: Thursday, February 4, 2:30 p.m., Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration, Board of Supervisors Hearing Room 381B, 500 W. Temple St., Los Angeles.
Angeles Chapter Sierra Club Transportation Committee: Thursday, February 4, 7:30 p.m. Angeles Chapter Office, 3435 Wilshire Blvd, Suite 320, Los Angeles.
Ventura County Transportation Commission: Friday, February 5, 10 a.m., Camarillo City Hall, 601 Carmen Dr., Camarillo.
OCTA Board Meeting: Monday, February 8 and 22, 9 a.m., OCTA Headquarters, 600 S. Main St., Orange.
Metro San Gabriel Valley Governance Council and Hearing on Proposed June 2010 Bus Service Changes: Monday, February 8, 6 p.m., 3369 Santa Anita Ave. (near El Monte bus station), El Monte.
Metro Westside/Central Governance Council and Hearing on Proposed June 2010 Bus Service Changes: Wednesday, February 10, 5 p.m., 325 S. La Cienega Blvd., Beverly Hills.
Metro Gateway Cities Governance Council: Thursday, February 11, 2 p.m., Gas Company ERC, 9240 Firestone Blvd., Downey.
Metro South Bay Governance Council: Friday, February 12, 9:30 a.m., Carson Community Center, 801 E. Carson St., Carson.
SCRRA (Metrolink) Committees Meetings: Friday, February 12, 10 a.m., SCRRA Offices, 700 S. Flower St., 26th floor, Los Angeles.
Southern California Transit Advocates: Saturday, February 13, 1 p.m., Angelus Plaza, Rm. 422, 255 S. Hill St., Los Angeles.
LADOT Public Hearings on Service Cuts and Fare Increases:
Metro Board Meeting: Thursday, February 25, 9:30 a.m., Board Room, Metro Headquarters, One Gateway Plaza (adjacent to Union Station), Los Angeles.
Riverside Transit Agency: Thursday, February 25, 2 p.m., Board of Supervisors Conference Room, County Administrative Center, 4080 Lemon Street, 1st floor, Riverside.
Foothill Transit Executive Board: Friday, February 26, 10 a.m., 100 S. Vincent Ave., 2nd floor, West Covina.
SCRRA (Metrolink) Board Meeting: Friday, February 26, 10 a.m., San Bernardino Conference Room, SCAG Building, 12th Floor, 818 W. Seventh St., Los Angeles.
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