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.
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.
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.