Five things I'm thinking about transportation, Dec. 21 edition

BAY AREA TRAFFIC AND SMOG: I think it’s high time that other cities/regions get due credit for their lousy traffic and smog.

I was in San Francisco area this past weekend and took the above photo on a decidedly un-breezy day when San Francisco’s smog output wasn’t being blown inland to other parts of the state. Yes, San Francisco produces smog (as well as smug) — but the media doesn’t write much about it, instead focusing on the places where the smog ends up. Places such as the Central Valley and Sequoia National Park.

And while I’m on my soapbox, the Bay Area’s traffic is pretty miserable, too. But we don’t read much about that in the national press because (I’m hypothesizing) national media visiting S.F. or Silicon Valley probably stay in hotels close to their stories, whereas reporters shipped into L.A. usually have to drive to get where they’re going here in Sprawlsville.

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Real-time train travel info displayed on electronic highway signs

Here’s the news release from Metrolink, the commuter rail agency funded partially by Metro:

IRVINE – Caltrans and Metrolink have jointly developed a pilot project to show commuters that trains are a viable alternative to freeway traffic. Both train and freeway travel times are now displayed on electronic highway message signs near the Fullerton and Anaheim train stations.

“For travel between Orange County and downtown Los Angeles’ Union Station, trains are often faster than freeways,” said Acting Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty. “We want to give commuters real-time information to help them get to their destination quicker.”

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Update: procurement set to begin for cell service in subway stations

I know that many Source readers have been clamoring for cell and/or wi-fi service in Metro’s subway stations — something that has become reality in a few other cities.

Metro is finally on the verge of asking potential contractors to bid on supplying service. There’s no guarantee it will happen — the numbers have to add up and the decision will ultimately be up to the Metro Board of Directors.

But here’s an update from Metro CEO Art Leahy’s daily email to staff from this past Friday:

Procurement will release a Request for Proposals (RFP) next week to procure Underground Cell Phone and Data Services. The procurement process blackout period is expected to run from December 20, 2011 to March 12, 2012. Metro does not currently have cell phone or data services available in its underground rail system. This competitive procurement seeks to provide such services at no cost to Metro through a neutral host provider (NHP) who will contract with the major carriers and share a portion of its gross revenue with Metro.

Five things I'm thinking about transportation, Dec. 14 edition

FTA COMPLIANCE REVIEW: For those who want to firmly understand the difference between a public transit agency and private for-profit business, take a look at the FTA’s Civil Rights compliance review of Metro released earlier this week.

Bottom line: as a public agency, Metro can’t just serve any one constituency — there are a lot of riders who rely on the system and Metro is obligated to provide a base level of service to them as well as find the best ways to communicate with them.

I’m not saying any of this because I think it’s a bad thing. Metro is government and government works to protect the most vulnerable and provide safety net services, such as mobility.

SERVICE CHANGES: I think it’s pretty clear from reading comments on The Source over the past year that many readers would like more information from Metro when service changes are proposed.

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Metro Board of Directors meets tomorrow

The Metro Board of Directors holds their final meeting of the year tomorrow at 9 a.m. at Metro headquarters next to Los Angeles Union Station. The meeting, as always, is open to the public.

Here’s the agenda. A few items worth watching:

•(Item 11) The Board will consider amending an existing joint development agreement with Taylor Yards — along the L.A. River — to increase the number of apartments for the site and reduce the number of for-sale condos.

•(Item 35) The Board will consider approving a motion by Board Member Don Knabe to add an at-grade Westchester station near the intersection of Florence Avenue and Hindry to the Crenshaw/LAX Line on the condition the contractor with the winning bid on the project can build the station within the project’s budget of about $1.7 billion. The Board will also consider adding a pecking order for additional stations: if a contractor could only build one additional station under their bid, a Leimert Park station would come first.

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Reason Foundation thumbs its nose at Metro; we thumb back!

The Reason Foundation — long-time critics of rail mass transit — put together the above video posted to YouTube last week. It’s amusing. It’s also a little factually challenged.

So in the spirit of fun, here goes:

•It’s about 29 miles by road — not 17 — from LAX to downtown Burbank, according to most of the maps that I consulted.

•To the dude in the video: if you seriously got from the LAX terminals to Warner Brothers Studios in Burbank using only buses and rail in 78 minutes, then you’re some kind of Jedi Knight of mass transit. That’s more like a two-hour trip — owing in part to the bus between LAX and the Green Line’s Aviation station.

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FTA releases Civil Rights compliance review of Metro

The Federal Transit Administration on Monday released its Civil Rights Title VI compliance review of Metro; the review can be downloaded here as a Word document.

The review found that Metro did not fully follow federal regulations and guidance when the agency made service and fare changes. The review dates back to 2009.

Here is the corrective action plan that Metro has assembled in response to the review and has sent to the FTA, which helps fund some Metro projects and programs and therefore conducts periodic reviews. And here is a report from Metro staff to the agency’s Board of Directors.

The release of the compliance review is the reason that Metro decided Friday to postpone service changes that were supposed to go into effect Sunday. Agency officials said that some of those changes need further analysis to ensure they followed FTA rules.

Below is the statement that Metro released about the FTA’s review on Friday, when the Los Angeles Times first reported it.

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) recently audited Metro for compliance with federal Title VI Civil Rights regulations. The review is similar to those conducted at other major transit agencies around the country as FTA increases its focus on Title VI with the expectation that the transit industry must do a better job of compliance.

The FTA audit of Metro was not an investigation to determine the merit of any specific discrimination complaints filed against Metro. However, it did find deficiencies with the methodologies and processes that Metro uses to assess impacts of fare and service changes on minorities and low-income people.

Metro is working closely with FTA to ensure that it is in full compliance with all federal civil rights regulations. These apply to instances where Metro raises or even lowers fares, such as recent action to shave a dollar off the day pass price, cutting or adding bus or rail service. There are numerous technical and procedural regulations imposed by the federal government that have led to some confusion not only in Los Angeles County but across the nation. The FTA, which has audited Metro in the past without finding fault, has recently clarified the requirements.

Last May the Metro Board of Directors approved a budget that reassigned the agency’s Civil Rights unit to the CEO’s office and created a new full-time Civil Rights compliance officer position that reports to the CEO. Since the Civil Rights compliance officer was hired in September 2011, he has been working with Metro executives, sector governing councils, the FTA and others to thoroughly review and modify all Metro policies and procedures or adopt new ones as appropriate. This effort is well underway. Many of the changes should be in place by March. The remaining issues identified by the FTA audit involve improving communication with customers who have limited English proficiency and these should be resolved within a year. In addition, all Metro executives and staff and consultants involved in any aspect of Title VI will be retrained so they have a thorough understanding of all Civil Rights regulations and will be held accountable for full compliance.