Congresswoman Karen Bass introduces local hire legislation — bill is consistent with America Fast Forward legislation

This is an important issue because local transit agencies are currently prohibited from creating local hiring programs when using federal funds for projects. The rationale has been that all Americans should have access to jobs created with national funding, but the policy fails to take into account that most of the funding for most projects these days is raised locally.

Here is the update from Metro’s government relations team:

Earlier today, Congresswoman Karen Bass (D-37) moved to introduce legislation that will allow transportation agencies “to prioritize hiring local residents for highway and transit projects.”

According to a press release issued by the Congresswoman’s office, the legislation, entitled the “Local Hire Act” will make it easier to “generate jobs in the very counties and states where their transportation projects are located, while preserving competition and cost effectiveness.”

In September of 2011 our Board voted to add an additional component to our America Fast Forward initiative to permit transportation agencies to establish local hiring programs in proportion to the local share of a given project(s) total cost. Currently, federal procurement regulations do not permit agencies, like Metro, to require bidders to establish local hiring or purchasing programs or to take such programs and local hiring directly into account in the bid evaluation process.

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Metro Board Committee discusses need for fare restructuring

The issue of fare restructuring — and problems with Metro’s current fare structure — were discussed today by the Metro Board of Directors’ Finance, Budget & Audit Committee. Metro staff are currently finalizing fare restructuring options that will likely be released to the public in early 2014.

Among options likely to be looked at are offering unlimited rides on a single fare for a certain time period (for example, an hour or 90 minutes), different fares for peak and off-peak hours and a simplified zone structure and/or offering flat fares for zoned buses.

Since the passage in May of the 2013-14 budget, Metro CEO Art Leahy has been telling the public and Board members alike that staff would be proposing a fare restructuring as part of next year’s budget. The big issue: Metro is seeking to avoid a budget deficit beginning in fiscal year 2017.

On Wednesday, Leahy also outlined other reasons why fare restructuring is important. In particular, Leahy said that the bus and rail route structure was designed to encourage transfers to help people reach a myriad of destinations around Los Angeles County. The average rider, in fact, has to transfer at least once to reach their destination.

On the other hand, Leahy said, the agency has a fare structure that discourages transferring by charging the full fare per transfer. As a result, riders take longer routes to avoid transfers — and that, in turn, doesn’t promote efficient use of the system, driving up operating costs and requiring riders to spend more time on transit than they should.

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Metro staff report looks at issues involving potential ballot measure to accelerate and fund transportation projects

First, the caveat: The Metro Board has not — emphasis on the HAS NOT part — decided to take a ballot measure to Los Angeles County voters.

That said, in recent months, both the Board as a whole and individual members have said they want to explore the idea of taking a ballot measure to voters in 2014 or 2016. Furthermore, the Board has instructed Metro to ask local cities what kind of transportation projects that may want funded in such a measure.

As the above Metro staff report explains, there are still many decisions to be made.

Perhaps the most significant: should a ballot measure seek an extension of Measure R to accelerate projects? Or should it perhaps be a new sales tax to provide more money for some Measure R projects and perhaps pay for some new ones?

Some quick background. The Measure R half-cent sales tax increase was approved by 68 percent of county voters in Nov. 2008. The Measure R expenditure plan spread money around to many transit and road projects across the county.

In some cases, Measure R provides most of the money needed to build a project — a good example is the second phase of the Expo Line. In other cases, Measure R only provides partial funding and not enough money for more expensive project alternatives and segments.

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Self-driving cars versus transit: will they compete? Take our poll

Although I’m normally allergic to panel discussions, I actually attended one last month at the Mobility 21 conference on self-driving cars that rose to the level of mighty interesting.

The gist of the conversation: virtually ever major car company is pursuing self-driving cars, the technology is sound, the cars could reduce accidents (in other words, not like human drivers are all that safe) and lawmakers better start getting super serious as to how to regulate them as a lot of them could be on the road within a decade.

And this–the really interesting part: the big marketing push and the big source of demand will likely come from those who can’t or don’t want to drive (seniors, teens, disabled, etc.) but need the mobility a self-driving car could supply. In fact, one of the panelists even proposed that self-driving cars could save government money by negating the need to supply transit in areas where transit is inefficient.

This is already how Google is framing the self-driving car issue:

Not discussed by the panel is another issue I find interesting: if there is a proliferation of self-driving cars, what does that do to transit?

On the one hand, roads will continue to have only a finite amount of space. Yes, perhaps self-driving cars may squeeze some extra capacity from roads by driving more efficiently — but you can only pack so many cars in so much space, presumably.

On the other hand, cars often enjoy the door-to-door convenience factor not afforded by transit. At present, one of the major draws to transit is that it’s a chance for people to relax and/or get some work done.

What happens if you can get that work done in your own car that is driving itself to work? Would sitting in traffic be more tolerable if you didn’t actually have to be the one tapping the brakes and accelerator? Or would traffic still make you go bonkety-bonkers?

Take the poll and comment please.

Planning underway for Monrovia’s Station Square at new Gold Line stop

With the Gold Line Foothill Extension project nearly 50 percent complete, it’s a good time to start pondering some of the development that will take place along the 11.5-mile route between eastern Pasadena and the Azusa/Glendora border.

Thus, the above report from the city of Monrovia on planning efforts for the “Station Square” area around the future Gold Line station there. The Gold Line platform, in fact, will be just a few feet west of the old Santa Fe depot that served Monrovia for many decades, although the building is now in need of some serious rehab work.

The Monrovia station is interesting, I think, because it’s a challenging site. The Gold Line is being built along the old Santa Fe alignment through the northern San Gabriel Valley. While the tracks pass through downtown Arcadia and Azusa, in Monrovia it’s a different story: the city’s very well-tended downtown is north of the 210 freeway while the Gold Line tracks and station are about a mile away on the south side of the 210.

As a result, Monrovia officials are trying to upgrade the land adjacent to the station — there are some vacant lots — and better connect the area to the rest of town through improved sidewalks and bike lanes. It makes sense.

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President Obama plugs America Fast Forward-type bond program

Interesting legislative update from Metro CEO Art Leahy, on a nice shout-out from President Obama on the proposed America Fast Forward bond program:

President Obama Backs America Fast Forward Bonds in Address at Port of New Orleans

Earlier today, at an event held at the port of New Orleans, President Barack Obama outlined his plan to immediately invest $50 billion in America’s infrastructure through his “Fix it First” initiative.

The initiative, as outlined in a White House fact sheet, includes a modified version of our America Fast Forward Transportation Bond program. Specifically, the White House fact sheet shares that the “new America Fast Forward bonds program would build upon and expand a successful program created in the Recovery Act to attract private capital for infrastructure investments.”

The main difference between our agency’s America Fast Forward Transportation Bond program and the bond program being advanced by the President relates to the level of federal subsidy.

Our agency’s bond initiative envisions the federal government subsidizing nearly all interest costs associated with America Fast Forward Transportation Bonds, while the President’s plan includes a more modest rate of subsidy.

I look forward to continuing our work with White House officials, seniors officials at the U.S. Department of Transportation, and Members of Congress and their staff to advance our Board-approved policy of seeking to have America Fast Forward Transportation Bonds enacted into federal law.

Of course, it remains to be seen whether Congress gets on board with the bond program. They previously incorporated an expanded TIFIA loan program — also proposed by America Fast Forward — as part of the last multi-year transportation bill. TIFIA provides federally-backed low-interest loans.

The bond program is equally important as it could deliver the dollars Metro and other transportation agencies need to build big, pricey projects. And Metro has more than a few of those it is trying to build.

Funding begins to flow again from feds after dispute over California’s pension reform

A trio of legislative updates are below from Metro CEO Art Leahy. The first one is perhaps the most interesting as it involves an issue we wrote about over the summer: a delay in receiving federal dollars because of the U.S. Labor Department’s concerns of California’s pension reform.

The updates:

U.S. Department of Labor Moves to Certify Over $260 Million in Metro Grants

Today, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) moved to certify eight federal grants, valued at over $260 million, that were designated for our agency earlier this year. The grants were not certified by the DOL earlier this year because of the PEPRA/13C issue, which effectively froze our agency’s receipt of federal grants until the California State Legislature and Governor Brown moved to enact AB1222 into law. Among the federal grants certified by the DOL are funds for bus and rail preventive maintenance, bus acquisition and funds for an underground pedestrian passage between the Metro Orange Line and Red Line. With DOL’s certification of these grants, the Federal Transit Administration may now move to formally award these funds to our agency. I would like to extend my appreciation to the Metro Board, Governor Brown, members of the Los Angeles County Congressional and State Legislative Delegations, U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and senior officials at the U.S. Department of Transportation and Labor, for working cooperatively with our agency to favorably resolve the PEPRA/13C issue.

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One tidbit from Mobility 21 conference: Mayor Garcetti says another transpo ballot measure is possible

The annual conference on transportation issues in our area is taking place today in downtown Los Angeles.

The most interesting tidbit to burp out thus far: Los Angeles Mayor and Metro Board Member Eric Garcetti — in an introductory video (he is in D.C., lobbying for transportation funding — said that connecting Metro Rail to LAX is among his highest priorities and that another transportation ballot measure is possible.

So that’s intriguing to hear. I don’t have any more details and the Metro Board certainly hasn’t decided anything. Nor is there anything even on the table for their discussion.

But the juxtaposition of a ballot measure along with the airport project — a project with both public appeal and the need for a lot more funding — is worth noting (see this earlier post for more details about that project). As is the Mayor’s statement that cities have been asked to submit desired projects, which suggests he envisions a ballot measure that could fund new projects.

Measure J, which narrowly failed last year, would have accelerated some Measure R projects but not funded any new ones.

As of now any countywide ballot measure would need two-thirds approval to pass. There were bills in the Legislature this year to lower that threshold to 55 percent but they were tabled and that discussion and vote won’t happen until 2014 at the earliest. The next two big elections in L.A. County will be in Nov. 2014 (governor) and Nov. 2016 (presidential); that’s key because passing transportation ballot measures with high thresholds often requires high voter turnout.

Metro Board Chair Diane DuBois also gave a speech at the conference about the need to upgrade Los Angeles County’s infrastructure and the challenges that go along with that. Here’s the text of that speech:

Good morning.

I’m here to tell you that we are aging.

Are you surprised?

But we’re not the only ones. Our world is aging. Our country is aging. Our cities are aging. And our infrastructure?

Our infrastructure is ready for AARP!

That’s why it’s particularly fitting that this year’s Mobility 21 Summit is focused on infrastructure, education and healthcare.

A healthy infrastructure is at the core of what we all do. And without it, we can’t expect to connect to the things that make a region a good and fair and comfortable place to live … with top-notch schools, excellent healthcare and access to jobs.

And yet, what have we done for our infrastructure lately? And what do we mean when we say “infrastructure”? Do we mean trains and buses? Do we mean bridges and streets? Is it okay to talk about freeways?

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Roundup of today’s meeting of the Metro Board of Directors; here’s what the agency’s deciders decided

A long meeting today clocking in at four hours and five minutes — about 1 1/4 Hobbit movies by my estimation or enough time to watch the new Captain America trailer 180 times or so.

In the order the items were tackled, here are some of the votes and discussion by the Board (full agenda here)

•The Board approved a motion by five Board Members that would have Metro be the lead agency in developing a countywide bike share plan. Here’s a recent Source post about the motion.

•Votes on items 16, 68 and 69 were postponed so the Board could receive more information. The items concern Metro’s ability to issue a series of small contracts for technical work.

•The Board approved a contract modification for the Airport Metro Connector for more work on one project alternative: a rail connection with the airport’s planned Intermodal Transportation Facility (ITF).

As part of that item, the Board also approved a motion by Board Chair Diane DuBois for Metro to perform a feasability study of locating the ITF near the Crenshaw/LAX Line’s maintenance yard at 96th Street and Aviation.

The Board also approved a second motion by Supervisor Don Knabe, L.A. Councilman Mike Bonin and Santa Monica Councilwoman Pam O’Connor asking for monthly updates at Metro Board Committee meetings on Los Angeles World Airport’s and Metro’s ongoing work to connect the LAX terminals to Metro’s Crenshaw/LAX Line and Green Line.

Speaking in favor of that motion, both Ridley-Thomas and Bonin said the Airport Metro Connector should be one of the Board’s highest priorities and that more attention needs to paid to it.

Here’s a recent Source post explaining the many issues involved with the Airport Connector.

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Metro applies for federal funding for Regional Connector project

Metro CEO Art Leahy informed Metro staff and Board today that the agency has officially sent in its application for federal New Starts funding for the Regional Connector project to the Federal Transit Administration.

It’s a first step in the process of obtaining a federal contribution for the 1.9-mile underground light rail project to connect the Blue, Gold and Expo Lines in downtown L.A. The full funding grant application for the Purple Line Extension project is planned next.

Here’s the update from CEO Leahy:

Correspondence to FTA – Regional Connector Full Funding Grant Agreement

This morning, I transmitted our Full Funding Grant Agreement (FFGA) application for the Regional Connector to the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) Regional Administrator Leslie Rogers.  Over the coming months, the FFGA for the Regional Connector will be fully reviewed and considered by the FTA and the relevant congressional committees.  The FFGA for the Regional Connector includes a federal New Starts commitment of $670 million.  I would like to personally express my appreciation to FTA Administrator Peter Rogoff and his professional staff in Washington, DC and at the FTA’s regional office in San Francisco and local office in Los Angeles for their exceptional efforts in working with our agency’s staff on this planned transit project.  For your review, please find my letter to FTA Regional Administrator Leslie Rogers.