Metro Board approves waiving account maintenance fee for Metro ExpressLanes


The Metro Board voted 7 to 4 to approve the above motion by Board Member Zev Yaroslavsky to waive the $3 account maintenance fee for L.A. County residents who have a FasTrak transponder for the Metro ExpressLanes.

Metro officials said that waiving the fee would likely result in more FasTrak accounts being opened. Infrequent users have complained that the $3 fee — charged to those who use the ExpressLanes three or fewer times each month — is a major disincentive to getting a transponder.

Metro's studies have also shown that only 4.3 percent of ExpressLanes users are “infrequent.” But that number, of course, doesn't include the number of people who may open an account if the fee wasn't in place.

The vote and the discussion beforehand was hardly unanimous. Board Member Mark Ridley-Thomas said that he would be willing to revisit the issue of the fee after the first year of the ExpressLanes is finished in 10 months. In the meantime, he would like to see how the lanes perform with the current rules in place.

The fee waiver goes into effect today and runs until Oct. 25. Customers who already paid the fee this month will be given credit on their bills.

Voting yes were Yaroslavsky, Diane DuBois, Jose Huizar, Richard Katz, Ara Najarian, Pam O'Connor and Mel Wilson. Voting against the motion were Michael Antonovich, John Fasana, Gloria Molina and Ridley-Thomas.


Transpo headlines, Thursday, April 25: 405 project, politics of Leimert Park station

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.

For the MTA, the buck stops at Leimert Park (LAObserved)

Supervisor and Metro Board Member Mark Ridley-Thomas guest blogs, arguing that Metro must build a Leimert Park station for the Crenshaw/LAX Line whether or not it can be done within the project's current budget. Excerpt:

A decision on the station has languished, despite it being one of those rare causes seemingly everyone says they support. The station would connect Los Angeles to the city's African American cultural center, much like the current stations in Chinatown, Little Tokyo, Culver City and Mariachi Plaza have enhanced the appeal of those destinations.

But when the station came up for a Metro board vote in 2011, Metro's own staff was divided: some said the agency could afford the station, others said it was impossible. The Mayor — who effectively controls four of the board's 13 votes — insisted no additional money be put up for a station and persuaded a majority of the board to go along with him.

The Metro board must soon stop the hedging and make the right decision. In the first week of May, the leading bidder for the Crenshaw/LAX rail line will be made public, to then be approved by the board at the end of the month.

If the bid does not include the station, or if it says construction costs are beyond what had been expected, the Metro board must decide whether it can find additional resources for a station.

If Metro does not come up with a way to build the station, Leimert Park supporters, after being held waiting for two years, will be finally spurned.

We'll see what happens when the bid results are released in early May. Until then, this post offers a very interesting — and rare — view into Metro Board politics.

405 project stuck in the slow lane (L.A. Times)

The Times catches up with the news that the Sepulveda Pass Improvements Project is running behind schedule and has gone over budget. Supervisor and Metro Board Member Zev Yaroslavsky isn't pleased with the way the project has been run while Metro officials say that some parts of the project have already opened (the Sunset Boulevard bridge, for example) and others will continue to open throughout 2013.

Meanwhile, in a blog post written off the 405 news, LAObserved's Mark Lacter says the 405 project should serve as a cautionary tale about the time and expense involved in extending the subway to Westwood.

Mayoral candidate survey: Eric Garcetti (L.A. Streetsblog)

Streetsblog throws some fresh transportation questions at the candidates for mayor of Los Angeles. Among the inquiries: who would they put on the Metro Board, what do they think of LADOT's leadership, what transportation project do they want to pursue in their first year of office, where will funds come from for pedestrian improvements, etc. Good questions. Eric Garcetti gets first crack at answering.


Metro Board meeting underway

The gavel tapped the table a few minutes ago, thereby beginning the April meeting of the Metro Board of Directors. Here's the agenda.

You can listen into the meeting by phoning 213-922-6045.

As per usual, I'll post about the meeting as the day progresses.


Transportation headlines, Wednesday, April 24

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.

Of broomsticks and bikes (ZevWeb) 

As part of the county’s approval of the expansion of the Universal Studios theme park and back lot, NBCUniversal has agreed to spend $13.5 million to extend the Los Angeles River bike path from Studio City to Griffith Park. With some future linkages in downtown L.A., it could be possible to take the bike path one day from the San Fernando Valley to Long Beach.

Goodbye Blockbuster, Hello subway stop (Buzzfeed)

The last hours of the Blockbuster at Wilshire and La Brea are chronicled; the store closed Sunday to make way for construction of the Purple Line Extension station there. Copies of “24” were going for 99 cents and the reporter counted 27 copies of “Greenberg,” the ultra-terrible Ben Stiller flick.

Central subway tunnel machines expected to arrive in S.F. this week (San Francisco Examiner)

The massive boring machines will be used to dig the north-south Central Subway project, which will extend light rail into the congested North Beach area. Digging is expected to begin in June. Meanwhile, the low bidder to build three stations for the project came in at $840 million, higher than Muni’s projections. Tunnel boring machines will also be used to dig tunnels for three Metro projects: the Regional Connector, the Crenshaw/LAX Line and the aforementioned Purple Line Extension.

Why aren’t young Americans driving anymore? (Washington Post)

The headline is a little misleading, given the Post cites data showing that between 2001 and 2009, driving by motorists age 16 to 34 declined by 23 percent; 2009 was four years ago, right? That said, the post cites stats showing that driving by all Americans has dropped by more than eight percent since 2005, which is the biggest decline in recent times.

What’s going on? For one, the baby boomers are driving less as they get older, which makes sense — many are presumably retired or hopefully doing something more fun than getting up early each day and putting on uncomfortable clothes (i.e. anything that’s not shorts, t-shirt and sandals) in order to sit in a tiny cubicle in some anonymous big building and answer/send needless email all day while fighting off the urge to drop into a permanent slumber.

As for the younger folk, here are the list of reasons the Post says they’re not pushing pedal to metal with the zeal of, say, my semi-fossilized generation: the recent recession, it’s harder to get a license, the cost of driving has gone up (gas, insurance, the car itself), more young people live near transit and are willing to use it and technology such as Facebook may have replaced some commute trips (yes, girls online have somehow become more interesting than girls in person; triple yikes!). In tech’s defense, some apps may make it easier to commute or give the kiddies something to do while on transit that’s more fun than sitting in rush hour traffic.

On that note, if anyone knows how to get three stars on this level, please leave a comment.

Finally, here’s a mighty interesting paper written by a team of researchers at UCLA that informed the federal research in turn used by the Washington Post.

Bullet train: the insanity escalates (San Diego Union-Tribune)

This harsh editorial takes the California High-Speed Rail Authority to task for changing the bidding rules for construction of the first 29-mile section of track between Madera and Fresno. In particular, the UT says that bidding rules shouldn’t have been altered without public notification in order to rank low cost ahead of technical merit. The low bidder for the project also ranked last in technical merit. The editorial was based on this article that appeared in the L.A. Times last week.

Transportation headlines, Tuesday, April 23

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.

Los Angeles mayoral candidates talk transportation at last night’s debate (NBC4)

Councilman Eric Garcetti and Controller Wendy Greuel were asked about public transportation and accelerating Measure R projects at last night’s debate at USC.

In this first video excerpt, the candidates were asked what they would do to increase use of public transportation while working with Metro (sorry about the commercials):

In this second excerpt, the candidates were asked if they would support sacrificing traffic lanes and street parking for dedicated bus lanes:

The questions were good but I’m not sure asking the candidates to squeeze what could be a much longer conversation about transit and transportation into just a couple of minutes is very fair to the audience.

Video interviews: the mayoral candidates (L.A. Times) 

The opinion section of the Times posts 30-minute interviews with both Garcetti and Greuel, including questions about pedestrian safety and transit. The interviews are also posted in segments so viewers can watch the parts that most interest them.

Letters: give the 110 toll lanes more time (L.A. Times) 

Readers opine on the recent story in the Times about the ExpressLanes project on the 110 freeway. Among the letters is one from a USC professor urging residents to give the ExpressLanes more time to change driver behavior (i.e. not use the 110 at its busiest times) and another reader urging Metro to adjust the tolls so that more motorists in the general lanes will want to use the ExpressLanes.

This date in history: April 22, 1964 (Primary Resources) 

It was 40 years ago that a plan was released explaining how the proposed Beverly Hills Freeway would be a tunnel while traveling under Beverly Hills with no exits or entrances, by the way. For those keeping score at home, the freeway lost. Check out the report in the post — fascinating read on the east-west freeway that never came to be.