Transportation headlines, Wednesday, Sept. 12

Here is a look at some of the transportation headlines gathered by us and the Metro Library. The full list of headlines is posted on the Library’s Headlines blog, which you can also access via email subscription or RSS feed.

The cables on Half Dome in Yosemite National Park -- one of the more ways to get from Point A to Point B -- have been added to the National Register of Historic Places. Photo: Frank Kehren, Flickr creative commons.

 

Santa Monica bike share program snags big grant (Santa Monica Patch)

The $500,000 from the South Coast Air Quality District will allow the program — set to launch in 2013 — to expand to 350 bikes available at 35 rental stations, including five outside Santa Monica. A $1.5-million grant from Metro is also part of the funding for the project, which will include rental stations at each of Santa Monica's three Expo Line stations.

A photo essay of bus stops that aren't really bus stops (New Yorker)

A haunting collection of five photos of bus stops on the grounds of nursing homes in Germany. Patients suffering from dementia are taken to the stops, where they spend time sitting and waiting for buses that never come.

UTA racks up travel expenses (Salt Lake Tribune)

The Utah Transit Authority, which runs buses and trains in the Salt Lake City metro area, racked up more than $600,000 in travel expenses in the past 18 months. Many of the trips were taken by a former CEO, who traveled the world on the public's dime for the sake of studying other transit systems in at least 11 countries (including two trips to Spain). The CEO of the UTA is mostly an advisory job — the general manager runs the show — and, not surprisingly, the job is no longer filled.

Amy Ephron's take on L.A. transportation (L.A. Observed)

Excerpt from her first post, which is mostly about finally getting a license plate for her car:

I realize this is LA-centric but it's not my fault I live in a city where it's not possible to walk from one place to another; public transportation is limited and sluggish; I'm too scared to ride a bicycle on a city street, let alone navigate a high-speed canyon; and constructing a subway, in my opinion, under a city that's actually on an earthquake fault (or three) and has a working oil-well dead-center (on the high-school campus of Beverly Hills) is one of the worst ideas ever, and if I was FEMA I would be fighting it.

Yikes! For those inclined to take Ephron literally, my response:

1. I think it's likely Ephron has the resources to live in a walkable community, if that's what she wants.

2. There are plenty of walkable neighborhoods in L.A. County, just as there are plenty that are not conducive to walking. It's not hard to figure out which is which before buying or renting a home/apartment.

3. According to the most recent numbers from the American Public Transportation Assn., Metro is the third largest transit agency in the country in terms of the number of passengers it carries. I don't think it's limited, although other metro areas have larger rail systems. I do think it's fair, of course, to question its effectiveness and whether things can be done to make it quicker.

4. I think Ephron is hardly alone in being scared to ride a bike on a city street and I do think in many parts of L.A. County too much has been done to help cars get around and too little done to provide cyclists with safe routes.

5. Ephron should be smart enough to know that subways have been built and sare safely operated in other metro areas where there is seismic activity, including Tokyo, Seattle and this little village up the road known as San Francisco. I also think it's kind of odd to gripe that transit here is “limited and sluggish” and then complain when a project is proposed — i.e. the Westside Subway Extension — that seeks to expand transit and speed it up in the congested Westside.

13 replies

  1. UTA CEO spending binge with public funds must be paid back either by the CEO or the CFO who is such an idiot to allow these selfish individuals to have credit cards. Shame on them! Any similar agency must change their policies if they also allow such practices.

  2. Eugene,

    Do you think it’s just UTA? It happens everywhere where government has grown too big and where there is little or no public oversight. That’s right, it happens everyday here in LA with Metro as well.

    Who checks the finances and budget of Metro? No one. Who digs down to check that Metro isn’t wasting money on frivolous things? No one.

    How much do you think Metro is spending daily on all these useless studies and meetings on the public dime? Ever been to Metro meetings? Have you noticed how they all wear fancy shoes and classy pin-striped suits? Where do you think they get the money to buy all those? That’s right, our tax dollars pay for them.

    What about all the raises, retirement and pension benefits people working for Metro get? All paid for with your tax dollars too. If they need more money, all they need to do is crank up the loudspeaker and say “we need more money” and hope tax payers will blindly do so without much thought.

    This is why I say Metro will be done much better under the private sector.

    Just remind yourself everyday: the average Metro employee receives $80,000+ a year and those are all paid from your tax dollars. While everyone else suffers in this economy, they give themselves raises and bigger pensions.

    • If you’re looking for expensive threads, definitely hang out somewhere besides Metro HQ. And I include my work clothes in that statement unless you count the Van Heusen and Bass outlet stores as upmarket.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  3. Steve,

    Does Metro has a policy and standard of conduct procedure in place to ensure that tax dollars are not wasted like the UTA? Is there a public oversight committee looking after finances of Metro?

    I say this because Metro is indeed a taxpayer subsidized agency. When we passed Measure R, is there any outside committee that oversees how money is spent wisely and to ensure that borrowed funds from Measure R are used solely for what Measure R was intended for and not for things like raises and increase in pension benefits?

    We live in a tough economy and this question warrants a serious answer. Nobody wants taxpayer dollars going to waste. Who manages the finances at Metro so that employees aren’t abusing taxpayer dollars?

    • Hi Melinda;

      There is no particular committee aimed at expenses such as what happened at UTA — although the agency does have rules and policies in place about restrictions on work-related travel (this isn’t unique; most government agencies and private firms have similar rules). Metro also has an Inspector General to investigate such complaints, if they should occur. I’ll be honest–I don’t know much about the rules, as I rarely leave L.A. County as part of my job.

      Oversight of the agency is mostly done by the Metro Board of Directors, the 13 elected officials and their appointees — the idea being that elected officials are directly accountable to the public that elects them. There is also considerable information posted online about Metro’s annual budget, the meeting agendas with links to staff reports and executive compensation. Please see: http://www.metro.net/about/.

      I hope that helps. I posted the UTU story — unflattering as it is — as a reminder to readers that paying attention to govt matters.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  4. Steve,

    How does one report suspected behavior of Metro employees misusing taxpayer funds?

    Let’s say I know someone who works at Metro. Despite working for Metro, the person drives a Ferrari, wears $10,000 suits, brags about flying in first class and staying at top end hotels “on the company’s (tax payers) dime.” He claims he’s entitled to all these benefits because it’s all part of his job. I suspect that person is like the corrupt City of Bell officials; using tax payers dollars for their own benefit.

    If I suspect that someone that I know who works for Metro, a government agency paid for with my tax dollars, might be gravely misusing public funds, whom should I contact? And where is the guarantee that if I report this to someone within Metro, that they won’t just hide it under the rug to “protect their own brothers?”

    Just to be clear, I’m not making accusations. But it would be nice to know how and what the public can do to keep a check on Metro employees since their salaries are indeed paid for with tax dollars.

    In a way, it’s like saying “who polices the police.” How should the public keep check on Metro employees?

  5. I live in Chicago now and recently came back to LA for a few days. What struck me is that Metro trains and buses are actually really fast. The problem is that everything is so much farther apart.

  6. Metro employees make on average 80,000 a year. Are you serious? Where do you get your facts from. Wrong statistics I’ll tell you.

  7. Vanessa,

    Let’s look at Metro’s own kob opportunities site:
    https://jobs.metro.net/jobsearch.aspx

    HUMAN RESOURCES ASSISTANT 005215-002 $43,394 – $54,253 – $65,112
    OFFICE SUPERVISOR 008614-001 $47,850 – $59,812 – $71,775
    SENIOR COST ESTIMATOR 006403-002 $77,832 – $97,279 – $116,726
    RAIL SIGNAL SUPERVISOR 004609-007 Start Rate: $32.56 p/hr – Top Rate: $43.42 p/hr
    WORKERS’ COMPENSATION SUPERVISOR 008022-003 $59,726 – $74,652 – $89,578
    THIRD PARTY ADMINISTRATION SUPERVISOR 009405-001 $77,832 – $97,279 – $116,726
    RAIL BODY/PAINT REPAIRER 000767-003 Start Rate: $23.82 p/hr – Top Rate: $29.77 p/hr
    AIR CONDITING TECH 000799-007 Start Rate: $28.58 p/hr – Top Rate: $28.58 p/hr
    AIR CONDITIONING TECHNICIAN 000799-008 Start Rate: $28.58 p/hr – Top Rate: $28.58 p/hr

    A human resources assistant gets paid $43k at the lowest? In the private sector today, the starting salary for an HR assistant is around 31k-39k. http://www1.salary.com/Human-Resources-Assistant-I-Salary.html

    A senior cost estimator gets paid a six figure income and yet Metro’s budget is way in the red.

    A rail signal supervisor gets paid $32.56 per hour and yet they still can’t fix the rail signal problem on the Expo Line.

    Compared with private enterprise which actually makes their own money to pay their employees salary, Metro employees are way overpaid. Since Metro makes no money, all of these are paid for with your tax dollars. And this doesn’t include additional raises, pensions, and retirement benefits.

    Each and everyone of these deserves a pay cut of at least a $10,000 a year. That would save a lot in taxpayer burden and refocus those savings to where they are needed.

  8. Steve,

    The quality and performance of government employees are always inefficient and poor, at the same time the pay that they get is always higher compared to private sector.

    What is the basis for a human resources assistant at Metro to be paid over $10,000 more annually than the private sector? What is the basis for a rail signal supervisor to be paid over $30/hr for not even still trying to fix the Expo Line problem? What is the basis for Metro supervisors and managers (and how many department supervisors and managers are there in Metro?) to be paid six figure incomes while most supervisors and managers in the private sector make half as that?

    We won’t have a problem with this if Metro is doing a good job and making money on their own. If Apple is making profit year after year, sure spread out the wealth for doing a good job, they earned it.

    We have a problem because Metro is taxpayer funded. You have not earned a single cent of money on your own. You guys are doing a poor job at making Metro self-sufficient and all you do is keep coming back crying to tax payers. Metro employees do not deserve high pays and pensions at the taxpayers’ expense.

    Your tax dollars at work, folks! No wonder LA is going bankrupt.

  9. I think there’s a big difference when it comes from taxpayers paying for Metro employees salary versus profit and sales paying for employees in the private sector.

    What are the performance review criteria for Metro employees based on to warrant such high salaries, Steve?

    Surely you don’t believe that a human resources assistant should be paid $43,000 a year when the national average for the same job is much less than that, right?