Weekly Transit eNewsletter
Tuesday, March 2, 2010
Volume 6, Issue 9

Welcome to  The Transit Coalition weekly newsletter! Our organization participates in meetings with key decision makers and community leaders. Our goal is to keep you informed on the latest developments in the transportation scene across Southern California.

Well, Now That You Mention It: The Transit Coalition will hosts its monthly Dinner Meeting on Tuesday, March 23. See Upcoming Events below for details.

A rendering of a high-speed rail station in California.
Will private firms flock to invest in the California High- Speed Rail system? The current financial plan is contingent on attracting $12 billion in private-sector investments, a plan that our very own Bart Reed is calling " magical thinking." Even if the CHSRA is able to attract private investment, they are not likely to do it without some sort of revenue guarantee, which would likely come from the federal government, according to outgoing CHSRA Executive Director Mehdi Morshed. State senator Alan Lowenthal, however, fears a larger state commitment beyond the nearly $10 billion approved when Prop 1A was passed by voters in 2008. There are also concerns that the system may not be able to operate without a taxpayer subsidy as promised. An opinion piece in the San Jose Mercury News echoes similar concerns about California's high-speed rail funding situation.

Robert Cruickshank of the California High Speed Rail blog slammed the Los Angeles Times for reporting on HSR controversy rather than facts. However, he agreed with CHSRA board member Richard Katz that the rail authority's numbers should be "scrubbed," and predicts that a new ridership study would benefit the project. The HSR booster also supports moving the CHSRA more directly into the state government.

What an airport terminal looks like from the sky.
Whether or not the project actually generates an operating surplus, the system would divert millions of passengers away from Bay Area airports according to a study commissioned by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, assuming they did not change a coefficient without telling anyone. San Jose is projected to lose 12% of its projected passengers by virtue of high-speed rail. Managers at San Francisco International Airport, which is expecting to lose 4% of its passengers, are not worrying. An SFO spokesperson said that any losses in short-haul flights would be offset by increases in passengers using the high-speed rail system to connect with international and long-haul flights. Amtrak's Acela Express, the closest thing to high-speed rail in the US, maintains over half of the travel market between Washington DC and New York. High-speed rail has also decimated short-haul routes in Spain and Korea.

What the future of LA rail could look like....
The Los Angeles Times is calling on the Feds to support the mayor's 30/10 plan. Under Villaraigosa's plan, Metro would receive a loan from the federal government to build all of the Measure R projects in 10 years rather than 30, the collateral being the sales tax revenue generated by Measure R. The proposal is being justified on the grounds that it would be cheaper to start on the projects while the cost of labor and materials is relatively cheap. Additionally, nearly 40% of the county's construction workers are out of work. Transport Secretary Ray LaHood is intrigued but notes that such an arrangement is unprecedented. The Transport Politic asks how feasible the plan is.

Bike news was highlighted by a "Town Hall" (actually a meeting of the City of LA Council Transportation Committee) between LAPD Chief Charlie Beck and the cycling community. The Times reports that Beck talked the talk in promising a new day, but cyclists are waiting to see if he can walk the walk before celebrating.

Before the hearing, nearly two dozen cyclists rode to LA City Hall in a small mass to draw attention to the City's refusal to prosecute the woman who ran down Ed Magos, then drove away. Beck promised that the City Attorney's office is going to review the case again before declaring it dead.

Not all of the bike news was generated in the City of LA, as Claremont and Covina opened two bike stations, including a place for cyclists to freshen up and store personal items near their Metrolink stops, and the City of Long Beach installed road signage best suited to direct cyclists to the safest routes to take.

The Metro Expo Construction Authority announced some steps to advance project construction on the agenda for the Thursday Board meeting.

Neighbors for Smart Rail held an almost secret meeting a few Sundays ago at the Palms Park Recreation Center in Cheviot Hills. At the meeting an anti-Expo resident of the area claimed that Expo officials deliberately "fudged the baseline" in order to avoid a below-grade option. Terri Tippit, president of NFSR, pointed to accidents on the Metro Rail system as evidence that the Expo Line will be a detriment to the public safety. NFSR apparently believes that a massive grid filled with thousands of drivers equipped with various levels of driving ability and 4-ton vehicles acting independently of each other on busy at-grade roads is far safer than any at-grade rail line.

Hall of Fame baseball pitcher and current Kentucky Senator Jim Bunning.
The US Senate's jobs legislation, nicknamed "HIRE," had the opposite impact on the federal transportation program, with a filibuster by Sen. Jim Bunning (R-KY) that prevented an extension of SAFETEA-LU before it expired Sunday, February 28 at midnight. Over 2,000 federal Department of Transportation workers were furloughed beginning yesterday, bringing transportation programs across the nation to a screeching halt. On federal lands in California alone, $37,000,000 worth of projects have been shut down until Congress can pass authorizing legislation, which is the top priority this week.

James Corless, campaign director of Transportation for America, said in a statement: "The problem is not simply that one Senator was able to thwart a crucial, timely vote. That lone Senator was able to shut down our nation's transportation program only because Congress has left this essential underpinning of our economy on life-support for far too long. This is not a backburner issue, even if Congress has been treating it as one."

Meanwhile, a new effort to pass a climate bill may include a carbon tax on transportation fuels, to be allocated towards transportation expenses. Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC), one of the three Senators behind the ongoing effort, told the New York Times, "Cap and trade as we know it is dead, but the issue of cleaning up the air and energy independence should not die -- and you will never have energy independence without pricing carbon." Will a climate bill help solve the funding crisis that continues to delay the transportation bill? Perhaps, but both efforts face an uphill battle in this gridlocked Congress.

How can the state better enforce smog compliance rules?
Harping on high-speed rail for questionable numbers does not mean we are going to let automobiles off the hook. A series of surprise inspections of 6,000 older-model vehicles has revealed widespread fraud among smog check stations throughout the state. The California Air Resources Board says that activities such as falsifying smog check certifications is prevalent. The Board is sponsoring a bill in the state legislature that would ban low-performing smog check stations from conducting such tests. Anecdotally, it's quite easy to find someone who knows someone who knows someone who will pass your pollution-belching vehicle, depending on where you live.

LA County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas is calling for a review of Metro's grade crossing policy and attempting to put on hold any grade-crossing decisions until the review is complete. Ridley-Thomas says that relatively high-income areas tend to have higher automobile traffic than low-income neighborhoods, and therefore tend to qualify for grade-separated crossings. This creates a cycle, he explains, where at-grade light rail hamstrings attempts to attract development to low-income areas. Robert Leabow has an analysis that tears the Ridley-Thomas op-ed apart like string cheese.

Metrolink received its first of new Rotem cars.
The brand new Hyundai Rotem cars for Metrolink have been shipped to Los Angeles. Some of the units will see final assembly at the new Metrolink Eastern Maintenance Facility and enter service by spring at the earliest.

Metro has unveiled a fully underground option for the Downtown Regional Connector, and it appears to be pleasing stakeholders in Little Tokyo. However, a fully underground alignment would also cost about $200 million more and may result in one less station built on the 2 mile light rail link.

LAX is planning a consolidated car rental facility but is having trouble paying for it. The facility is designed to curb the use of rental car company shuttles that circle the airport looking for customers, causing traffic and congestion. A central location would make it easier for airline passengers to find rental car locations and switch to another if their firm is giving them guff. A $10 fee imposed on car rentals has only raised $47 million of the $800 million in funding required to build the new facility. If LAX ever raises that cash, it might be more worthwhile to get the Green and Crenshaw Lines to the airport as soon as possible! Mayor Villaraigosa has assigned a deputy full time at the airport to do exactly that.

Never mind the car rental facility, LAX has bigger problems. A new J.D. Power survey gives the airport below-average grades on parking, check-in and security. According to the survey, California has some of the worst airports in the nation. Only Newark International was more pathetic than LAX. We may sound like a broken record here, but could light rail to the airport help a bit with those ratings?

Gas prices are expected to rise in the next few weeks due to a number of factors. An increase in driving, the annual switchover to the summer gasoline formula and a refinery strike in France may send gasoline to $3 per gallon soon and over $3.50 by the Fourth of July, according to analysts. By then many transit service cuts should have gone into effect, making escape from summer gas prices that much harder.

Recent storms have caused mudslides to spill into foothill neighborhoods. The good news is that the mud is being hauled away as we speak. The bad news is for Sylmar residents who get to deal with the trucks hauling the mud, which is creating all kinds of headaches for area residents. A convoy of 300 trucks has been tasked with moving the muck, and they have been lining up in residential neighborhoods just to drop their cargo at a May Sediment Placement Site. Some Sylmar residents are upset that mud from a city with a median income of roughly $120,000 is being trucked to a community where the median income is less than half that.

The LA Times has profiled a young woman, a self-described snob, who has become a bus rider through circumstance. Laid off and unable to make the payments on her Jetta, she turned to the 720 bus route on Wilshire to travel from her Brentwood apartment to her new retail job in Beverly Hills. Now she sees the world in a different light and writes a blog. It is the feel good story of the year.

I call the big one Bitey.
Four people were injured when a monorail train in Sydney collided into the back of another train. Officials say that it was a low-speed collision and that everybody on the first train was uninjured. The Sydney Metro Monorail was initially designed to be automated, but technical difficulties prompted officials there to keep the operators on the payroll.

The United States Postal Service wants to run its mail trucks on electricity. Contracts have been awarded to a few California firms to help them do just that. According to AC Propulsion, postal trucks are ideal for conversion to all electric vehicles since they start and stop frequently and idle at low-speed. The first prototypes will be delivered to the USPS in June or July and deployed in Washington DC.

Donate to The Transit Coalition!Donate and Join! If you have not done so yet, we invite you to donate and join The Transit Coalition. A monthly subscription to Moving Southern California comes with your membership. Visit our new and improved Donations page to explore other options. Please include The Transit Coalition in your will, trust or estate. Your contribution is greatly appreciated.

Upcoming Events: Consider attending our monthly Transit Coalition Dinner Meeting on Tuesday, March 23, 6:45 p.m. to 8:45 p.m. at Philippe the Original, 1001 N. Alameda St., Los Angeles. We hope to see you there!

LADOT Public Hearings on Service Cuts and Fare Increases: Wednesday, March 3, 5 p.m., Ramona Hall Community Center, Community Room, 4580 North Figueroa St., Los Angeles. (You may also address your concerns by internet at ladotlbl.tmdinc.net, by a phone message at 213-455-0880, or by mail to Philip M. Aker, Hearing Officer, LADOT, 201 North Los Angeles St., #18-B, Los Angeles, CA 90012.)

Metro San Fernando Valley Governance Council: Wednesday, March 3, 6:30 p.m., Marvin Braude Constituent Center, 6262 Van Nuys Blvd., Van Nuys.

Exposition Metro Line Construction Authority: Thursday, March 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, March 4, 7:30 p.m. Angeles Chapter Office, 3435 Wilshire Blvd, Suite 320, Los Angeles.

Ventura County Transportation Commission: Friday, March 5, 10 a.m., Camarillo City Hall, 601 Carmen Dr., Camarillo.

Metro San Gabriel Valley Governance Council: Monday, March 8, 5 p.m., 3369 Santa Anita Ave. (near El Monte bus station), El Monte.

LOSSAN Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) Meeting: Wednesday, March 10, 1:30 p.m., Metro Headquarters, One Gateway Plaza (adjacent to Union Station), Los Angeles.

Metro Westside/Central Governance Council: Wednesday, March 10, 5 p.m., 325 S. La Cienega Blvd., Beverly Hills.

Metro Gateway Cities Governance Council: Thursday, March 11, 2 p.m., Gas Company ERC, 9240 Firestone Blvd., Downey.

Metro South Bay Governance Council: Friday, March 12, 9:30 a.m., Carson Community Center, 801 E. Carson St., Carson.

SCRRA (Metrolink) Committees Meetings: Friday, March 12, 10 a.m., SCRRA Offices, 700 S. Flower St., 26th floor, Los Angeles.

Southern California Transit Advocates: Saturday, March 13, 1 p.m., Angelus Plaza, Rm. 422, 255 S. Hill St., Los Angeles.

Metro Committee Meetings: Thursday, February 18, Board Room, Metro Headquarters, One Gateway Plaza, Los Angeles.

  • Planning and Programming Committee, Wednesday, March 17, 1 p.m.
  • Finance and Budget Committee, Wednesday, March 17, 2:30 p.m.
  • Ad-Hoc Congestion Pricing Committee, Wednesday, March 17, 3:30 p.m.
  • Measure R Project Delivery Committee, Thursday, March 18, 9 a.m.
  • Executive Management and Audit Committee, Thursday, March 18, 10:30 a.m.
  • Construction Committee, Thursday, March 18, 12 noon
  • Operations Committee, Thursday, March 18, 1 p.m.
Metro Board Meeting: Thursday, March 25, 9:30 a.m., Board Room, Metro Headquarters, One Gateway Plaza (adjacent to Union Station), Los Angeles.

Riverside Transit Agency: Thursday, March 25, 2 p.m., Board of Supervisors Conference Room, County Administrative Center, 4080 Lemon Street, 1st floor, Riverside.

Foothill Transit Executive Board: Friday, March 26, 10 a.m., 100 S. Vincent Ave., 2nd floor, West Covina.

SCRRA (Metrolink) Board Meeting: Friday, March 26, 10 a.m., San Bernardino Conference Room, SCAG Building, 12th Floor, 818 W. Seventh St., Los Angeles.

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Contact Us:
We welcome your thoughts and comments on our new electronic newsletter. Please write us:
Bart Reed, Executive Director

Mina Nichols, Legislative Analyst

Zach Gutierrez, Communications
Damien Newton, Editor LA Streetsblog

About The Transit Coalition:
The Transit Coalition is a 501[c](3) non-profit whose goal is to increase Transit Options and Mobility in Southern California by mobilizing citizens to press for sensible public policy to grow our bus and rail network.

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