Transportation headlines, Monday, August 4

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It’s about the money: Yale on Metro’s plans and priorities (The Planning Report)

Very interesting interview with David Yale, Metro’s Managing Executive Officer of Countywide Planning and Development. In plain English, David is the guy that helps plan Metro’s long-term finances, including Measure R and potential project acceleration.

The interview touches on many subjects, including Measure R, the federal gas tax and potential funding for Orange Line improvements. Excerpt:

The deal for the Valley in Measure R was to get the Orange Line [Extension to Chatsworth] done quickly, which we did. We did not use Measure R money that the Valley was promised to do so, because the project was ready to go even faster than the Measure R money was available. Now, the Valley’s owed a payback project per the Measure R ordinance that must occur by the end of the tax in 2039.

Are we going to do it in 2038, 2028, or 2018? The problem with the Orange Line’s success is the question of when it becomes absolutely imperative to switch to a higher-capacity mode like light rail. With the ban lifted, we could engage in that discussion right away, though the Valley’s funding for the Orange Line payback is nowhere near enough to do a light rail project. After all, we’d need a light rail yard to maintain whatever we build, a fleet of light rail cars, overhead catenaries, and the rail. All of it adds to easily well over $1 billion in need, and we’ve got maybe $170 million for this payback project.

The silver lining here is that on the November 2016 ballot we can provide the Valley an opportunity to move this conversion, and the shortfall in the north-south corridor of the Valley, up in time with a new sales-tax proposal. This is part of that $100 billion problem. I think the Valley is taking the right approach by saying, “Don’t forget about us. We’re already talking about this and we want to do it.”

The “November 2016” is a reference to a potential ballot measure that Metro is exploring. No decisions have been made yet; a ballot measure could be an extension of the existing Measure R half-cent sales tax (due to expire in mid-2039) or it could be a new sales tax to fund new projects. We’ll see.

But it’s interesting to see that there is a possible pot of money to do something on the Orange Line, although a lot of decisions still must be made and Orange Line improvements still must be studied. The Metro Board of Directors in September is scheduled to discuss and consider what kind of study to go forward with.

On a related note, the San Fernando Valley Business Journal reports that a new “Valley on Track” coalition has been formed (with participation from several elected officials) to lobby for three projects: an Orange Line conversion to rail, the Sepulveda Pass Transit Corridor to connect the Valley to the Westside via transit and the East San Fernando Valley Transit Corridor project. The latter two are Measure R-funded projects. The Sepulveda Pass project is very early in its planning stages while the East San Fernando Valley Transit project is studying potential bus rapid transit or a rail line between the Orange Line and the Sylmar/San Fernando Metrolink station.

Major legal victory for California bullet train project (L.A. Times) 

An appeals court overturns a lower court decision and finds that the California High-Speed Rail Authority followed the law when developing an initial spending plan on the project aiming to connect San Francisco and L.A. The decision could free up station bond money the state needs to spend on planning and construction. Roger Rudick at StreetsblogLA says the ruling removes the “most significant” legal obstacle that threatened the project.

Listen up America: it’s time to start making public transit free! (Salon)

I bet that headline got your attention. Excerpt:

Many people reject the idea out of hand, saying free rides are a problem, not a solution. But “free” transit, of course, is only as free as public libraries, parks and highways, which is to say that the financial burden is merely transferred from individual riders to a municipal general fund, a sales tax or local businesses and property owners. A free ride policy represents the culmination of a long shift from thinking of transit as a business sector — one that was quite profitable in its heyday — to considering it an indispensable public service.

The article makes a persuasive case that free transit usually does boost ridership — and the article even argues that it doesn’t have to be free all the time, i.e. perhaps a targeted approach would be workable. The big problem, of course, is that while fares in most American cities (including at Metro) come nowhere near covering the expense of running transit, they do provide considerable sums — $345 million at Metro in the 2013-14 fiscal year. That’s a big chunk of change to lose while keeping service at current levels. That said, I think free fares is the one thing that would likely extract a noticeable chunk of people from their cars.

9 replies

  1. Hmm. Tying in with the recent Seattle article, I’ll note that for several years, KC Metro buses were free at peak hours within the downtown area. If you were going into downtown, you paid an entry fare; if you were going out of downtown, you paid an exit fare. They have since abandoned the system.

    I think I’ve been to one or two other cities that had free transit at certain hours, within certain areas.

    I’ll also note that the Colonial Williamsburg shuttle buses are free, so long as you have a valid CW admission badge (and if you don’t have an admission badge, then you can’t get into any of the living history exhibits or activities, either, you must content yourself with the shops and restaurants).

  2. The SFV got the Orange Line, the Red Line and the never ending 405 improvement project. But those who travel the east-west Santa Monica Bl. corridor so far don’t get anything. In fact the promised and funded Two Freeway was killed by Jerry Brown when he was the governor previously.

    Unless the next MTA tax initiative includes as it’s NUMBER ONE priority a light rail line from West Los Angeles to at least the Silverlake area via Santa Monica Bl. I will oppose and campaign against it.

  3. Metro may have $345 million in revenue, but operating expenses is a different matter. Metro’s farebox recovery ratio is among the lowest in the US, if not the world, at a meager 28%.

    So doing a simple arithmetic, $345 million / 0.28 = approx. $1.23 billion.

    That’s how much it costs a year to run Metro. And if Metro only gets back $345 million from collected fares, where’s the remaining $885 million shortfall coming from? It comes from taxes.

    Now, let’s make transit entirely “free.” Now Metro won’t recover that $345 million either so taxes will need to cover the entire $1.23 billion to run Metro.

    In addition, one also have to realize that boosting ridership may sound like a great idea, it also has its downsides: as more people ride the system, it becomes overcrowded and ends up requiring more rail lines and more bus services, which end up increasing operating expenses. If everyone living in LA County, all 10 million residents, took Metro today because of “free” rides, the system will overload beyond capacity.

    So while “free” public transit may sound good, on the downside, everyone will end up paying more in taxes for extremely overcrowded transit services. Alternatively, we can look to make cuts elsewhere to find the money. Should we make budget cuts to the police, firefighters, and schools?

  4. The Transportation Planning Report states that LA county brings in about $2.1 billion from Proposition A, Proposition C and Measure R sales taxes every year.

    About .26% of that is spent on bicycle projects in the city of LA from its 15% local return from Measure R. Yet, judging from the passenger boarding numbers for Metro it looks very likely that commuting by bicycle will make a higher percentage of gain through 2016 than commuting by transit or by car in the city of Los Angeles. Its quite obvious to me that bicycling is by far the best bang for the buck in terms of gaining a bigger percentage of commuters, even though its got by far the lowest commuting share and gets a tiny fraction of the transportation dollars.

  5. Sure let’s have free transit for all. If Colonial Williamsburg can do it, we can surely do for all the people living here in Los Angeles!

    And all the job creators will leave due to high taxes leaving everyone else to deal with high taxes and mass poverty. Oops, they already are!

  6. I have respect for Metro for acknowledging the lack of return that the Valley has received from Measure R. During the Measure J campaign, one would think that the Valley owed money for having been blessed with the Orange bus and we know how Valley voters responded to that message. For the Valley to support another tax hike, I imagine Valley projects will have to be built into the law and placed at the top of the list… that’s the only way I’d vote for it.

  7. I have a suggestion about the Orange Line. Instead worrying about building a maintenance facility for a potential Lite Rail conversion, why don’t we have the red line extended meaning come up the ground from the bottom like a hill the red line train would merge on new track the way the red line rides on. Right on the Orange Line path,stops at the same stations all the way to Chatsworth. The stops have to be modified. As for Warner Center you can provide shuttle buses on route between Warner Center and Canoga Station. That’s something to think About

  8. I wonder if the $170 million of Measure R money that was not spent on the Orange Line extension can be used on the East San Fernando Valley Transit corridor project. If it can, then that additional money would create enough funds to install a BRT line, but not enough to install a light-rail line.

  9. Since Metro owes the SFV a line from the Measure R funds I would go for the Sepulveda Pass project .If the line goes from the Orange line with a stop at the Metro link line to the Expro line or the VA Hispital it would benefit a lot of weekdays and weekends commuters