How Metro is studying the Rail-to-River proposal

In 2013, Supervisors and Metro Board Members Mark Ridley-Thomas and Gloria Molina began promoting a proposal to build an 8.3-mile pedestrian and bike path that would connect the future Crenshaw/LAX Line to the Los Angeles River.

The path would follow the old Harbor Subdivision rail right-of-way that Metro owns and that runs through Vernon and then along Slauson Avenue.

It’s certainly a very interesting proposal similar in some respects to other urban rails-to-trails that have been built across the United States. Such a path would serve an area where bikes are commonly used to reach jobs and run errands and the path would connect the existing Blue Line, Silver Line and future Crenhsaw/LAX Line — all important north-south corridors.

Because this is an issue that involves Metro, I wanted to explain the process involved in evaluating the proposal:

•Prompted by a motion by Board Members Molina and Ridley-Thomas, Metro last year initiated a feasibility study of building an intermediate “active transportation corridor” along the eastern portion of the Harbor Subdivision. The study is expected to be presented to the Metro Board of Directors this September. The above fact sheet explains the scope of the feasibility study.

•Depending on the results of the Study the Metro Board will ultimately decide whether to initiate a project. The Board would also have to decide how such a project would be funded.

•Metro purchased the Harbor Subdivision ROW in the early 1990s and does own the land along the tracks. However, as part of the purchase deal, the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad owns easements that allow it to run trains along the eastern portion of the Harbor Subdivision.

BNSF rarely runs trains on that section of tracks. But Metro would have to deal with those easements in order to make any improvements to the existing transportation corridor, whether it be for an intermediate active transportation use, or to facilitate major transit such as Bus Rapid or Light Rail Transit along the tracks.

•Metro owns several old rights-of-way (ROW) in Los Angeles County that could one day be used for rail or busway projects. Metro also has a policy about altering rail right-of-ways that it owns; the policy is posted below. The policy seeks to find a balance between allowing some uses of the ROWs while preserving them for future transportation needs.

To help give you a better idea of the lay of the land, here is a video that shows the right-of-way between its intersection with 25th Street running for 8.3 miles to Crenshaw Boulevard and 67th Street. The video was made by Metro using a shoulder mounted boom with camera attached and walking the entire 8.3 miles followed by editing to speed up the footage and give one the feeling of traveling at a higher speed.

Finally, there is a meeting for stakeholders on Feb. 26 at the Los Angeles Academy Middle School’s multi-purpose room, 644 E. 56th Street, Los Angeles, CA, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. The meeting notice is below:

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Four alternatives move forward for Airport Metro Connector project — with more study of two other options

The Metro Board spent nearly two hours discussing which alternatives to study in the draft environmental study for the Airport Metro Connector project.

The bottom line:

•Four alternatives recommended by Metro staff (staff report) will go forward into the draft environmental impact study, the document required by law before anything gets built. Three of the four involve connecting the Crenshaw/LAX and Green Line to a people mover outside LAX’s central terminal area and one alternative would connect to the people mover near the Theme building in the Central Terminal area. Here are the four:

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•The Board also voted 12 to 0 to approve a motion by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Don Knabe that asks Metro staff to study two alternatives that would bring light rail directly into the terminal area near the Tom Bradley International Terminal (the motion is posted after the jump). Those alternatives are:

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•Metro expects to begin the draft environmental study in May when more is known about the development of the airport’s people mover. The Board directed staff to conduct further analysis on ridership, time savings and cost so that the Board could consider whether to include these alternatives in the draft environmental study. It remains unclear if a majority of the Board supports inclusion of these alternatives in the draft environmental study due to the cost and complexity of tunneling under the airport terminals, tarmac and/or runways.

The gist of the long conversation among the Board, Metro staff and Los Angeles World Airports staff involved narrowing down the alternatives for the best and most feasible way to connect the existing Green Line and the Crenshaw/LAX Line currently under construction to the airport.

LAX officials have long said that bringing Metro trains underground and directly into the central terminal area — i.e. also known as the terminal horseshoe — is fraught with problems. The big ones: the cost, the complicated nature and security issues involved with tunneling under airport facilities and the need to get passengers from train stations to nine different terminals from just one or two light rail stations.

Airport staff have proposed building a people mover — a type of rail system — that would connect with the Crenshaw/LAX and Green Line. As a result, Metro and airport staff have worked together to pursue options that would connect light rail to the people mover at three possible locations that are east of the terminal area and one that is in the terminal area.

Metro can’t tunnel under the airport without LAX’s permission. And Metro staff said that the cost of building the light rail alone to the Tom Bradley International terminal area would cost more than $3 billion, not counting the additional cost of a people mover that still would be needed to get people from train stations to some of the terminals. The problem: Measure R presently has about $175 million remaining for the project, meaning more funding will be needed.

One option proposed by the airport would build an Intermodal Transportation Facility (ITF) between 96th and 98th streets west of Airport Boulevard where light rail passengers could transfer to a people mover. (Airport officials also say passengers may one day be able to check luggage there). This is the option known as “LAX Connect.”

Something to keep in mind: all the alternatives would result in most passengers having to transfer from light rail to a people mover in order to reach their terminal. This is a typical arrangement at other large airports. The closest example: Those who take the BART train to San Francisco International Airport must transfer to the airport’s “Airtrain” to reach the terminals (map below). The same goes in New York, where the New York subway system and the Long Island Railroad connect to Kennedy Airport’s “Airtrain” that runs to the airport terminals.

Source: San Francisco International Airport.

Source: San Francisco International Airport.

Among the highlights of the conversation leading up to the vote:

•Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas: “I believe, and I think all of us do, that this region deserves a world class airport. The recommendation from staff would eliminate the options with the most public support and the fastest travel times. It seems to me we have an opportunity here to avoid mistakes of the past and we should. We don’t want to spend millions of dollars and miss the mark again.” (The last sentence is a reference to the Green Line coming up short of LAX).

•Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky: “We need to be very careful what we’re doing here. In the 1990s, this agency in terms of public confidence was in the toilet, we couldn’t raise a nickel from the public, there was no fiscal discipline, it didn’t matter if [projects] made sense or not. It took us 10 to15 years to restore public confidence and the public rewarded this agency by voting for a sales tax increase in 2008 with Measure R. The [four staff recommended options with the] automated people mover will get the most ridership and those are the options that we should be studying.”

•Supervisor Don Knabe: “I think to close out our options at this particular point is something we should not do. As long as we are trying to build a world-class facility, we should look at all the options…and then make the right choice.”

•Both Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and L.A. Councilman Mike Bonin said they were convinced the options that would take light rail directly into the LAX terminal area was not viable — and thus do not need to be studied as part of the draft environmental study. Garcetti said studying those options would only add to the cost of the draft environmental study, cost two billion dollars more to build and add five to six minutes in travel time on the train for those not going to LAX. “I don’t mind losing this vote,” Garcetti said. “I’m at the point where [alternatives] C3 and C4 aren’t worth pursuing.”

Bonin added: “I am supremely confident that the Board is absolutely determined to connect Metro to the airport, and kept alive and moved to the environmental process today  strongest most viable and passenger friendly alternative to do that — LAX Connect.”

One big question that will be studied: how will Crenshaw/LAX Line trains operate if a rail spur or bump is built to the west of Aviation Boulevard? If, for example, tracks are built to serve the airport’s ITF facility, Metro would need to decide if Crenshaw/LAX Line trains would serve both the ITF and the planned Aviation/Century station or just the ITF. Stay tuned.

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Public hearing on proposed Metro fare restructuring plan on March 29

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The Metro Board of Directors today approved scheduling a public hearing for Metro fare restructuring proposals. The Board is scheduled to vote on fare restructuring at its meeting on Thursday, May 22.

The two proposals by Metro staff are posted above. Here is the Metro staff report on fare restructuring.

Here is the news release from Metro:

In an effort to be more customer friendly while addressing a quickly growing operating deficit the Metro Board of Directors today voted to set a public hearing on proposed fare restructuring for 9:30 a.m. Saturday, March 29 at Metro headquarters, One Gateway Plaza in downtown Los Angeles.

The public will be asked for input on two fare restructuring options. Both would eliminate the cost of transferring from one bus or train to another — something that has been requested by many Metro customers. Both options also would raise fares gradually over the next eight years and help avoid a budget deficit that could occur as soon as 2016 if fares are not revised. Current Metro fares cover just 26 percent of the cost of operating the buses and trains and Metro faces an unsustainable operating deficit of $36.8 million in two years, growing to $225 million in ten years unless changes are made. Metro has raised fares only three times during the past 18 years and has among the lowest fares of major transit agencies in the United States.

Currently, the Agency’s Long Range Transportation Plan assumes a 33 percent recovery rate to meet funding commitments. Since 1995, the local consumer price index has increased 46 percent while Metro’s average fares have increased only 17 percent. In addition, over the years Metro has maintained the lowest fare per boarding (0.70 cents), when compared with other similar transit agencies.

The first fare restructuring option would raise the base fare from the current $1.50 to $1.75 for the next four years, with an eventual rise during the eight-year period to $2.25. (See chart below for details.) The second would keep the base fare at $1.50 during off-peak hours and raise it to $2.25 during peak hours for the next four years, eventually raising it to $3.25 during peak hours. [Off-peak hours are defined as weekdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. and all day on weekends and Federal holidays.]

For comparison, San Francisco Muni currently charges $2; Chicago CTA charges $2 for buses and $2.25 for trains; Portland TriMet is $2.50, Washington D.C. Metro is $1.60 for buses and $2.10 for peak-hour rail travel and the New York City subway fare is $2.50. All of those agencies allow for free transfers.

Because of the transfer policy, Metro customers have complained that they must pay full fare every time they switch from one train or bus to another. Metro customer surveys indicate more than half of its riders transfer to reach their destinations and the transfer policy effectively punishes those who must transfer. If adopted a no-transfer feature would make it possible for riders to board an unlimited number of buses and trains for 90 minutes in any direction for a single fare. This would allow not just for one-fare travel to a single location but also for multiple stops to, for example, the supermarket or drug store and home again on a single ticket, if all travel occurs within 90 minutes. It’s this kind of flexibility that riders have also cited in requests for transfer elimination.

Also, under the proposed new fare structures, the cost of daily, weekly and monthly passes will rise because pass holders tend to be the heaviest users of the system. Another change would be the eventual elimination of the currently monthly pass in favor of the EZ pass that would allow for unlimited travel on Metro and other bus systems throughout Los Angeles County.

No changes can occur before the Metro Board votes to approve them. The first possible opportunity for this will be in May. The earliest date new fares could take effect is Sept. 1.

Interested members of the public are encouraged to attend the upcoming public hearing and provide testimony. There will also be additional fare forums held at the regularly scheduled Service Council meeting during the month of March. Persons unable to attend the public hearing or the fare forums may submit a written testimony postmarked through March 29. Correspondence should be addressed to:

Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority

One Gateway Plaza

Los Angeles, CA 90012-2932

Attn: Michele Jackson

Comments may also be submitted electronically to publichearing@metro.net.

The Metro Board of Directors is expected to take up the issue of fare restructuring following the public hearing at their May 22, 2014 Board Meeting.

Roundup of today’s Metro Board of Directors meeting

Here are some of the more interesting items tackled today by the Metro Board of Directors at their January meeting:

•Item 76, the Board approved a public hearing on March 29 to review two fare restructuring proposals released by Metro staff on Friday. At this point, the Board is scheduled to vote on the changes at its meeting on May 22. Source post including charts and staff report.

•Item 15 on options for further study for the Airport Metro Connector: The Board approved a substitute motion by Don Knabe and Mark Ridley-Thomas for more study of two alternatives that would run light rail directly into the LAX terminal area; however the Board did not vote to include those alternatives as part of the project’s draft environmental study. I’ll have a post up with more info tonight or tomorrow. Staff report and earlier Source post with the four proposals favored by Metro staff and another Source post on the original Knabe-Ridley-Thomas motion that was tabled in favor of the substitute motion.

•Item 6, the Board approved a motion by Board Members Paul Krekorian and Zev Yaroslavsky directing Metro to investigate adding gates or partial gates to the Orange Line to reduce fare evasion. Motion and Source post with staff report on two December crackdowns on fare evasion on the Orange Line.

•Item 67: the item on possible ballot measures in 2016 was withdrawn by Metro staff. However, staff will continue to work with local COGs (Council of Governments) and other stakeholders on developing a list of local transportation projects that need funding. Staff report and earlier Source post.

•Item 39, the Board on consent approved a $33.4-million budget to refurbish Blue Line stations, including new canopies. Staff report.

•Item 53, the Board on consent approved a motion asking the Board to give Metro permission to seek a state bill that would allow the ExpressLanes program to continue. Here’s what you need to understand: the Board will not decide whether to continue the ExpressLanes on the 10 and 110 freeways until this spring. If they decide yes, Metro would need state legislation to continue the program — and now is the time to submit bills in the Legislature for consideration this year. Staff report.

•Item 74, the Board approved the motion posted below involving a business mitigation program for the Crenshaw/LAX Line. Staff report

•Item 58, the Board approved a motion directing Metro to study of how a countywide bike share program could be developed and implemented. Staff report

•Item 44, the Board on consent approved increasing the budget of the Silver Line bus platform at Patsaouras Plaza from $16.8 million to $30.9 million. Staff report

•Item 75, an oral report on issues involving the Orange Line’s Pierce College station and lack of restrooms at stations was not heard. It will be heard at a later date. Motion and earlier Source post

•Item 71, the Board approved a motion by Board Members Ara Najarian and Zev Yaroslavsky directing Metro to work with UCLA and USC on commemorative TAP cards. Motion

Agenda for Thursday’s Metro Board meeting: it’s going to be a long one, folks

UPDATE: The gavel has dropped on the meeting and it’s now underway.

This is a big meeting, folks, with tons of interestingness (relatively speaking) and a lot of important items. For those attending and media: might be a good idea to have a few Red Bulls along with your coffee for breakfast.

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Three of the tall ones, please!

You can also view the agenda with hyperlinks on metro.net or view or download it as a pdf. The meeting is, as always, open to the public and begins at 9:30 a.m. at Metro headquarters adjacent to Los Angeles Union Station. To listen to the meeting on the phone, please call 213-922-6045.

Some of the more interesting items on the agenda:

•Item 76, asking the Board to set a public hearing on March 29 to review two fare restructuring proposals released by Metro staff on Friday. Important to note: THE BOARD IS ONLY CONSIDERING SETTING A PUBLIC HEARING; THEY ARE NOT VOTING ON THE FARE CHANGES. At this point, the Board is scheduled to vote on the changes at its meeting on May 22. Source post including charts and staff report.

•Item 15, asking the Board to narrow the list of options to four for the Airport Metro Connector, the project that seeks to connect Metro Rail to the airport terminals via a combination of light rail and people mover. A motion by Board Members Don Knabe and Mark Ridley-Thomas seeks to restore two options that Metro staff wanted to eliminate that would build light rail directly to the airport terminals. Staff report and earlier Source post with the four proposals favored by Metro staff and another Source post on the Knabe-Ridley-Thomas motion.

•Item 6, a motion by Board Members Paul Krekorian and Zev Yaroslavsky directing Metro to investigate adding gates or partial gates to the Orange Line to reduce fare evasion. Motion and Source post with staff report on two December crackdowns on fare evasion on the Orange Line.

•Item 67, asking the Board to approve the development of two options for ballot measures to take to voters in 2016 to accelerate existing Measure R projects — either an extension of Measure R or a new sales tax, which may also include new projects. Staff report and earlier Source post.

•Item 39, establishing a $33.4-million budget to refurbish Blue Line stations, including new canopies. Staff report.

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Proposal for restructuring Metro fares is released; fares would be raised and free transfers allowed

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Metro staff released a fare restructuring proposal today that would raise fares in three phases over the next eight years while also making Metro more customer-friendly by allowing riders to board an unlimited number of buses and trains for 90 minutes in any direction for a single fare.

The proposal includes two options for restructuring fares. The first option would raise the base fare from the current $1.50 to $1.75 for the next four years and eventually to $2.25.

The second option would keep the base fare at $1.50 during off-peak hours and raise it to $2.25 during peak hours for the next four years and eventually to $2 in off-peak hours and $3.25 in peak hours. Both options with the complete set of increases are shown above.

The increases are needed to help cover the expense of running its bus and train system and to prevent a budget deficit in 2016, according to Metro staff. Metro has raised fares three times in the past 18 years, most recently in 2010 when the base fare went from $1.25 to $1.50. 

The proposal is a notable departure from the current fare system that requires passengers to pay a full fare for each individual ride on a Metro bus or train — which effectively punishes those who must transfer to reach their destinations (Metro customer surveys indicate more than half of its riders transfer to reach their destination). Metro staff say the proposed fares would be helpful to those using the Metro system to run short errands and will likely reduce the cost of riding Metro for some passengers.

For example, under the proposed fare system, a rider could ride from home to the supermarket and back for just a single fare — as long as they board their last bus or train within 90 minutes of starting their trip.

Under the proposal, the cost of daily, weekly and monthly prices would rise because pass holders tend to be the heaviest users of the system. Another significant change would be the eventual elimination of the current monthly pass in favor of the EZ pass that would allow for unlimited travel on Metro and other bus systems in Los Angeles County.

Metro staff are asking the Metro Board of Directors to schedule a public hearing on the fare proposals on Saturday, March 29 at 9 a.m. No fare changes can take effect until the Metro Board votes to approve them, which is scheduled to happen on May 22, according to the staff report. The Board has the discretion to accept, reject or request changes to the staff proposals. The current proposal calls for the new fares to take effect on September 1.

Some points to consider:

•Fares currently cover 26 percent of the cost of operating Metro buses and trains — the so-called “fare recovery” rate and the current average fare for Metro is just 70 cents. Those are both low compared to other agencies and will eventually cause a budget deficit as costs rise of running the system.

•The regular base fare for most other large transit agencies is already $2 or more. The New York City subway, for example, charges $2.50, the San Francisco Muni $2, the Chicago CTA is $2 for buses and $2.25 for trains, the Portland TriMet $2.50 and the Washington Metro charges $1.60 for buses and $2.10 for peak hour rail travel. All those agencies allow for free transfers within a 90-minute or two-hour period.

•Metro CEO Art Leahy has repeatedly said a new fare structure is needed to encourage more ridership and run a more efficient system. Riders sometimes take longer routes to avoid transfers, which Leahy has said doesn’t promote efficient use of the system and drives up operating costs. Leahy also has said that he expects next year to launch a major study of the efficiency of Metro’s route structure.

•The ability to transfer for free within 90 minutes would only be available to those with TAP cards. The reason: TAP cards will be the technology used to track how long people are riding the system.

•Metro last raised the price of the regular base fare and daily, weekly and monthly passes in July 2010. Fares for seniors, disabled and students were not raised at the time because they had been frozen by Measure R for five years.

The Metro staff report on the fare proposal is below or can be downloaded here as a pdf file. The proposal to call a public hearing is scheduled to be discussed by the Metro Board of Directors at their regular meeting on Jan. 23 at 9:30 a.m. in the Board room at Metro headquarters adjacent to Los Angeles Union Station. The meeting, as always, is open to the public. You can listen to the meeting by phoning 213-922-6045.