A message to our customers and taxpayers from Metro CEO Art Leahy

Metro CEO Art Leahy.

Metro CEO Art Leahy is distributing the following message today to Metro customers and other interested parties. The statement concerns his views on the state of Metro’s transit operations and his views of the proposed service changes in June. A Spanish version follows the below English version:

Since becoming Metro CEO 22 months ago I have taken a hard look at Metro transit operations, ridership and recurring budget deficits. I rode many bus and rail lines, talked to passengers and operators, visited yards and pored over performance data, comparing it to other transit agencies. My experience working in transit for more than 40 years, starting out as a bus operator, helped with my assessment.

I realized we needed to improve service quality to ensure buses arrive on time, and that we cannot survive operating deficits that annually topped $100 million. And we had to recognize that the dynamics of transit in Los Angeles County have changed with the sharp growth of the two dozen municipal bus operators, Metro Rail and Metrolink, as well as voter approval of Measure R, a new half cent sales tax that funds a dozen new transit projects. The new and existing services have to be better integrated. We can’t afford to duplicate service, especially, against the backdrop of the worst economic downturn in 80 years.

So I’ve made organizational changes that emphasize quality over quantity. Today, we have leaner operations, cleaner buses, better on-time performance and fewer breakdowns. As a result, customer complaints in December hit an all time low. But we’re just beginning. We’re ordering new buses, dedicating more resources for major bus maintenance work, such as engine replacements and vehicle overhauls, and also increased road supervision.

We are committed to putting better service on the street in the most efficient manner possible, so all our customers benefit. This means we will move toward a more integrated bus and rail system that doesn’t duplicate service operated by Metro or the other carriers. In the end you will have a more productive bus/rail agency and lower overall costs.

Currently, Metro buses overall run less than half full. By boosting productivity we will make our system sustainable and enable us to improve reliability and performance for you, our customers, and dedicate resources where they are needed most.

This is not an issue of bus versus rail. Both serve the same customers. It is about being a good steward of public resources in managing the entire transportation system – including bus, rail, highways, ridesharing, bike and pedestrian programs.

Proposed bus service economies in June are designed to impact the fewest amount of customers possible. We targeted lines that have very poor ridership or duplicate Metro or municipal bus services. We took great pains to make sure that alternative service is available within a quarter mile if lines or route segments are discontinued.

Our passenger loads will still be less than what bus riders in Chicago, Philadelphia, New York and other major cities experience, and Metro fares will remain among the lowest in the country. With this approach, we also will be in a better position to strategically add buses on individual lines if we detect overcrowding as ridership bounces back during the economic recovery.

Ultimately, we will have a great public transit system that draws riders from their cars, eases traffic and makes the air we breathe cleaner, but first we have to better manage today’s transit system. We need to do more with less. That’s why we’re putting a greater emphasis on quality and productivity and balanced budgets so we can deliver to you on that promise.

Here is the statement in Spanish:

Un mensaje para nuestros usuarios y contribuyentes de Art Leahy Presidente Ejecutivo de Metro

Desde que me convertí en el Presidente Ejecutivo hace 22 meses atrás he estado revisando cuidadosamente la operación del servicio de autobuses de Metro, el número de usuarios y los constante déficits del presupuesto. He viajado en muchas líneas de autobuses y trenes, hablado con los pasajeros y conductores, visitado las divisiones de autobuses y trenes y revisado minuciosamente la información del rendimiento, comparando esta información con otras agencias. Mi experiencia trabajando en la industria del transporte público por más de 40 años, comenzando como conductor autobús, me ha ayudado con mi evaluación.

Me he dado cuenta de que necesitamos mejorar la calidad del servicio para asegurar que los autobuses lleguen a tiempo y no podemos sobrevivir los   déficits de operación que anualmente llegan a los 100 millones de dólares. Y tenemos que reconocer que la dinámica del transporte público en el condado de Los Angeles ha cambiado con el agresivo crecimiento de dos docenas de operadores de autobuses municipales, Metro Rail y Metrolink, así como la aprobación por parte de los votantes de la Medida R, un nuevo impuesto a la ventas de medio centavo que financiará una docena de nuevos proyectos para el transporte público. Los nuevos y existentes servicios tienen que estar mejor integrados. No podemos darnos el lujo de duplicar servicios, especialmente, con el peor declive económico de los últimos 80 años.

Así que hice cambios en la organización que hace un énfasis en la calidad sobre la cantidad. Hoy tenemos una operación más ágil, autobuses más limpios, mejoró la llegada a tiempo de los autobuses y pocas descomposturas. Como resultado, las quejas de los usuarios en Diciembre llegaron a su nivel más bajo de todos los tiempos. Pero estamos comenzando. Estamos ordenando nuevos autobuses, dedicando más recursos para el mantenimiento aplazado de autobuses tal como el reemplazo de motores, reparaciones completas de vehículos y un incremento en la supervisión en el camino.

Estamos comprometidos a tener un mejor servicio en las calles de la manera más eficiente posible para beneficio de todos nuestros clientes. Esto significa que vamos a movernos hacia una mejor integración del sistema de autobuses y trenes para que no se duplique el servicio prestado por Metro y otros proveedores. Al final usted tendrá una agencia de autobuses y trenes mas productiva y con costos de operación mas bajos.

Actualmente ofrecemos servicio de autobuses a menos del 50 por ciento de su capacidad real. Al incrementar la productividad haremos nuestro sistema sostenible y nos permitirán mejorar la confiabilidad y desempeño para nuestros usuarios y dedicar recursos donde más se necesitan.

Esto no es un tema de autobús contra tren. Ambos sirven a los mismos pasajeros. Es acerca de ser un buen administrador de los recursos públicos al  administrar el sistema entero de transporte incluyendo autobuses, trenes, carreteras, programas para compartir el viaje, de bicicletas, y de peatones.

Los cambios de servicio propuestos en Junio están diseñados para afectarán posiblemente a la menor cantidad de usuarios. Nos enfocamos en líneas con un número de pasajeros muy bajo o con servicio duplicado por Metro o servicio de autobús municipal. Nos esforzamos en asegurarnos que el servicio alternativo este disponible dentro de un cuarto de milla si la línea o segmento de la ruta es descontinuado.

Nuestra carga de pasajeros serán menor que lo que los usuarios de autobús en Chicago, Filadelfia, Nueva York y otras ciudades importantes experimentan, y las tarifas de Metro permanecen entre las mas bajas del país. Con este enfoque, vamos a estar en una mejor posición para agregar estratégicamente autobuses en líneas individuales si detectamos abarrotamiento cuando el número de usuarios se incremente durante la recuperación económica.

Por último, tendremos un gran sistema de transporte público que atraiga mas pasajeros de sus vehículos, alivie el congestionamiento de tráfico y tengamos un aire más puro para respirar, pero primero tenemos que administra mejor el sistema de transporte público hoy en día. Necesitamos hacer más con menos. Es por eso que estamos poniendo un gran énfasis en la calidad, productividad y un presupuesto balanceado para poder cumplir con usted esa promesa.

Categories: Policy & Funding

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39 replies

  1. Anyone who said there is duplicate service does not convince me that he takes bus/rail everywhere
    I was in the hearing.
    People have to take 3 or 4 buses to reach destinations. Some times, people just have to work to save the pain
    People already accept waiting one hour for bus is OK. One person mentioned that. She even said don’t discontinue the service even if we have to wait longer. People cannot stand anymore will current EXCESSIVE SERVICE.

    What went wrong with MTA and many US cities that is trying to renovate it is public transportation system. It is design for the people who drive not people who could not drive. That is the reason the system is so terrible even after 79 additional rail miles are built because so many people have hard time reaching those stations.
    Leachy has hard time understand
    LAofAnaheim has hard time understand too

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  2. @Connor

    I believe that’s the part Ken was talking about.

    Everyone’s going to be for rail, but this city is so centered on the automobile that majority of Angelinos don’t really know what the cons are of having rails running through their neighborhoods.

    Being more open about what’s at stake and what the consequences are beforehand could lesson the shock so that neighborhoods know what they can expect beforehand.

    Instead, the current transit planning model has this image of some braniacs who think they are smarter than everyone else doing all the planning in a dark room somewhere without zero public or neighborhood input, and just slapping a notice on people’s doors that trains-a-coming.

    Of course they’re going to face opposition and litigation. Just imagine how you’d feel when you suddenly get a notice on the door that a rail is being laid in your backyard. If it were going to be laid in my backyard, why didn’t these people come ask me first? Did they just assume that I’m going to say yes because it’s the best, most efficient way to lay down the tracks? No, of course not and you betcha I’m going to sue the pants off of them.

    But things would’ve worked out differently had they knocked at my door beforehand, sat down with me in my living room over a cup of coffee and discussed that this is the plan we’re trying to come up with, this is what’s at stake and these are what the consequences are, etc. etc.

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  3. The distance/zone based model sounds like an idea worth implementing. It appears to be the most logical solution to fair fares and to generating income for Metro. Has Metro considered this option?

    The bus I take is proposed to be cancelled. Rail does not serve me. My commute from home/work, by car takes 15-20 minutes for a little under 6 miles. I’m fortunate that I currently only need one Metro bus to get from home to work, which from door-to-door takes 40 minutes. I happily spend an extra 20-25 minutes on the one-way commute (an extra 40-50 minutes daily) because I believe mass transit is good for our community. If Metro cancels the line, one alternative involves a walk of 1.7 miles (30-40 minutes) each way to a Metro bus for a total daily commute of 2.5 hours. Compared to driving’s 30-40 minutes, it’s a no brainer what my choice will be. This is but one rider’s example of how Metro’s proposed changes does the opposite to “have a great public transit system that draws riders from their cars, ease traffic and make the air we breathe cleaner.”

    I work late hours, so another consideration should be made for the fact that the alternate/overlapping service does not run the same frequency and hours as the line being cancelled. For other riders that already have a distance to walk/ride or that currently take more than one bus and will need to add connections, the additional time and fare cost seems an extreme burden on these people that may not have the luxury of purchasing a vehicle. They may even run out of options all together if, by the time they make it to their connection, the bus has stopped running.

    It is understandable that buses cannot get people to their door, but the line they are proposing to cancel has ridership. It happens to be a late running bus, from 5AM until past 1:30AM, so the average ridership may look low on the surface. Rather than cancel the bus, take a look at limiting the runs during the low ridership times.

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  4. This topic is very interesting and I agree with Ken that he pointed out a very credible point about distance/zone based fares.

    I too have wondered why we can’t be like other transit oriented cities around the world while the US keeps failing. He brought a great fact and I think he’s got something right on the track.

    Every US public transportation is in a sad pitiful state and I can’t think of any US city that runs on the obvious model of distance/zone-based fares. Whereas other successful and efficient transit oriented cities across the globe do run on distance/zone-based fares.

    It only makes natural common sense that the more you ride the bus/train across a longer distance, the more you pay than the person who rides it at a shorter distance.

    This method would be much better way to generate revenue on the basis of people paying their fair worth over a course of a distance rather than just flat out discontinue the service altogether. Not only does it makes sense, but by actually even lowering the fare for shorter distances, it might even increase ridership over shorter distances too. I don’t think anyone would pay $1.50 to get five blocks down the street, but if it were distance based like $0.50 for that first five blocks, all you need is three people to break even and the fourth person would be extra profit.

    Is there a reason why we cannot implement distance/zone based fares? It seems like the rest of the world has been doing these for decades before TAP-like contactless payment systems. That means this should be easier to implement in the US now. Maybe Metro can lead the example to other US cities.

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  5. The TAP card is a total failure. Why do u think Long Beach Transit, Torrance Transit, OCTA, and Santa Monica BBB had second thoughts about getting in the program ?

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  6. Distance based fares just make perfect sense. I just spent two weeks in Tokyo on a business trip and it was a real eye-opener to see how life can be without a need of a car to get to places.

    Granted, it was quite a surprise that the fares varied depending on the distance, but I could immediately tell the huge difference that the revenue from this model is able to support itself with constant improvements to while keeping taxpayer burden low.

    The fare gates at each station were all state of the art models with wide gates so that the flow of people can go both ways and handle the largest of rollerboard bags. People just charged up their Suica or Pasmo cards and just tapped in and out with automatic deduction of fares. I could buy and charge this anywhere, at local convenience stores to automated machines at any train station. Millions of Tokyoites use trains and subways without ever needing a car, and it sure does seem to help them in the physique and health; I lost ten pounds easily in just that one week alone because I never once needed a car.

    And guess what, Tokyo isn’t a compact city as everyone thinks to be! I had to travel 50 km (approx 32 mi) one-way from the suburbs into downtown, and all it took was 45 min from out the door of my place of stay, walking to the station, riding on the limited/express commuter train, and walking from the station to work. And the 45 minutes commuting time was always constant; never a minute delay because there were no variables like being stuck at traffic signals, freeway traffic or weather factors. Be it snowing or shine, 45 minutes to the exact second. And by the end of the week, I figured out that I can save extra money buy just transferring at a certain station and getting off at another one that takes only a two minutes more walk to the work place.

    Trains were all clean, very quiet, and always on time, they were all equipped with digital LCD signs showing where they were going, announcements like “those who want to go to station X faster, it is adviseable that you get off at the next station as the express train that’s coming 3 minutes later will overtake this train at station Y.” Even the station train sounds made this nice jingle that’s less stressful than the annoying buzzer. Marvelous service indeed! Signs were easy to read; I didn’t have to look or search for signs, it was if the signs were strategically placed so that people were to look at it without the need of searching for it. Everything that Tokyo did just worked perfectly and made darn good sense.

    If this is what distance based fares can do, I’m all for it. And if LA Metro can’t do this themselves, I say it’s time to get 30/10 really on board by recruiting people who makes public transit run in Tokyo. I’m sure they have lots of ideas and expertise to really jump start transit it LA and provide us with a good lesson to not just for LA Metro, but to every public transportation agency in the US.

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  7. As an economics analyst, I can vouch for why the US public transit system has never tried to implement the distance based scheme.

    For years, gas prices in the US remained fairly stable, in which the flat rate system worked well. There wasn’t that much fluctuation in oil prices to keep buses running so it made perfect sense to keep it as a flat rate.

    Whereas others like Britain and Japan, are island nations which doesn’t have much natural resources. They had to import oil from abroad so gas prices was high and fluctuated on demand. In order keep their buses running, they had to charge passengers according to distance to make up for the cost. And in order to save cost, they invested heavily in trains and subways which aren’t chained to gas prices on the market.

    But, and here’s the huge but: the US public transit agency does not seem to reflect that what worked fifty years ago, is not going to continue to work for the years ahead. We are now facing the exact same issues as Britain and Japan did as we now import most of our oil from overseas. Be it buses that run on petroleum gas or natural gas, prices of these consumables are so volatile these days that a single flat rate model cannot keep up with the huge fluctuations in prices that we see everyday.

    As such, if US public transit agencies really want to see their situation improve rather than this image of “taxpayer subsidized transit,” it is time that they all take a serious look at going to a more volatile model that’s more inline with market prices.

    Jacking up flat rate fares every year is not going to earn happy riders. Instead, it would be much better to make it fair for everyone who rides the bus/takes the subway: introduction of distance based fares.

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  8. I rode metro exclusively for several years because I didn’t have a car, but now I drive exclusively, and I’m much happier. The vast majority of 10 million Los Angeles County residents share my perspective. That speaks volumes about the quality of mass transit in L.A.

    Distance based fares seem very reasonable, but I think the case for them has been overstated. Y. Fukuzawa wrote a glowing report on Tokyo’s system, but seriously, do you attribute all of that primarily to distance based fares? Or is it that overall, the Japanese society proportionately invests more in mass transit than the U.S.? How much do they tax their gasoline? How much are vehicle registration taxes?

    Also, based on my memory, Paris, Madrid, and Barcelona all had flat fare based subway systems 10 years ago.

    It may be a good idea, but I don’t think it would make that big of an impact.

    I believe that the biggest factor that could transform mass transit in L.A. and throughout California is if California were to increase its gasoline tax and use the majority of the revenue to fund mass transit. With gas at $3.50 per gallon I’m currently being taxed about 70 cents per gallon, including state, federal, and sales taxes. That’s a very low amount by international standards.

    It’s also a very low amount considering the profound ecological damage that results from such consumption. However, it’s not just that I’m permitted to cause that profound ecological damage for such a low amount, it’s not just that I’m encouraged to do it, I’m compelled on a daily basis to destroy the planet, because as an independent adult in L.A., I cannot live my life to the fullest without driving a car.

    Californians spend upwards of $60 billion on petroleum based fuels. It is only rational that part of this money be redirected to fund the solution. I don’t see the plight of Metro improving much until this or another similarly serious step which prioritizes mass transit is taken. Nor do I see the American economy improving until the U.S. reduces its radical oil dependence.

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  9. @Pancho

    Yes, you’re definitely right that the US pays one of the lowest taxes on gasoline. While I was in Japan, I did some number crunching. While there are fluctuations and variables like foreign exchange rates, the market price of crude oil and the big difference of Japan having to import almost 100% of their oil, they pay an average of approx 130 JPY per liter (approx $6.02 / gal) and are taxed 53.8 JPY per liter (approx $2.49 / gal).

    But you have to also consider that close to 42 million people live in the entire Kanto region encompassing an area three times as big as LA County. Out of that 42 million, probably anywhere from 30-50% of that probably don’t even need or even own a car as public transit on the distance based model serves them better. And the first hand experience has shown me that Tokyo is perfectly capable of efficiently transporting tens of millions of commuters every day on a to-the-second perfect efficiency and lots of frequency on a myriad of connections, express, limited, and local services that are available within 10 minutes walking distance at most.

    But said is much more different in Los Angeles where it’s such an automobile centric city that suddenly having $6.00 / gal gas with taxes making up $2.49 is not going to gain much support from Angelinos. Even if you somehow manage to convince everyone to ditch their cars and go to buses and rails, LA Metro does not have the infrastructure built to handle millions of Angelinos everyday, let alone the lack of on-time performance, infrequent services and cutbacks due to “double up” lines, we have no frequency on rails that offer a myriad of connections, express, limited, and local services that are anywhere near within 10 minutes walking distance at most.

    That is why some here, including myself are asking LA Metro to consider a fair option like moving to a distance based model which meets us half way. Continuously taxing gasoline is not going to be the saving grace. Neither are continuously asking for federal and state grants. All this just gives us the impression that Metro is just lending out their hands and saying “gimme, gimme, gimme” without putting some effort into it.

    Is it going to be easy to switch over to distance based fares? No it isn’t, but that’s part of Metro’s job. Whining that “oh it’s so confusing, it’s so difficult to do, it’s much easier to just tax everybody” doesn’t leave a good impression to people. And with that, it’s quite understandable why some people are angry at Metro and are advocating if they can’t do the job, they need to be replaced with someone else that will.

    I’m willing to bet that many Angelinos here would gladly pay $7.00 one-way from SF Valley or the South Bay to LAX if there was a direct rail line to the airport that whisks past all the traffic jams on our freeways. No one is going to pay $7.00 for the LAX Flyaway bus because so long as it buses along on the same freeways and streets as other cars, it’s just the same as driving yourself there. Nor does LA’s public transit has a fleet of FlyAway buses shuttle the close to 165,000travelers passing through LAX each day.

    But if you introduce a direct rail line along the 405 all the way to LAX that can shuttle hundred of passengers in one shot and on a mode of transportation that isn’t held hostage to the SigAlerts, oh you betcha a lot of people are willing to pay that $7.00 for the convenience of getting to LAX. Just imagine what that does; 165,000passengers everyone of them paying a $7.00 train ticket directly to LAX 365 days a year brings in over $420 million in revenue alone.

    See? Introducing distance based fares is not only fair, but it is now real alternative provider for the people of Los Angeles that differentiates itself from people being chained to behind the wheel. And at the same time, by being a differentiator that provides a better (frequent, efficient, plenty of seats available, on time service that isn’t held hostage to traffic jams) service, people will gladly pay $7.00 for the convenience of getting to the airport. Or what, does LA want to just keep that fare to LAX at $1.50 on the Green Line and the Crenshaw Line and care to lose out on a potential $330 million in annual revenue?

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