ExpressLanes on 10 and 110 freeways to be continued beyond next January

The Metro Board of Directors voted unanimously Thursday to continue the ExpressLanes on the 10 and 110 freeways beyond January of 2015. The Board also voted to charge a $1 monthly maintenance fee on all ExpressLanes accounts to help cover costs of operating the lanes but chose to exempt those with equity accounts.

The vote followed the release of a federal preliminary analysis this week that found that the ExpressLanes met many of their goals since initially launching on the 110 freeway in Nov. 2012 followed by the opening of the lanes on the 10 freeway in Feb. 2013. In particular, Metro officials noted that commuters who shifted from the general lanes on both freeways to the toll lanes enjoyed a speedier commute. Ridership in the Silver Line — which uses the ExpressLanes on both the 10 and 110 — also increased 27 percent.

One item that generated discussion was the maintenance fee. When the ExpressLanes began, there was a $3 account maintenance fee for those who used the lanes three or fewer times each month. After complaints from customers that the fee served as deterrent to sign up for an account, the Metro Board decided to waive that fee last spring.

Still, Metro must pay its concessionaire $3 for each transponder issued. Metro Board Member Gloria Molina authored the motion calling for the $1 fee for all users as a way to regain $2.3 million of that cost, saying she wants to see as much of the money generated by tolls (about $18 to $20 million during the pilot period, twice what was expected) to be reinvested into transportation improvements in the 10 and 110 corridors.

Metro Board Member Zev Yaroslavsky said he was against the $1 fee but said it was an improvement on the $3 fee.

Metro officials say that they anticipate improving marketing, outreach, education and enforcement efforts along the ExpressLanes. Most of those who testified publicly asked the Board to extend the ExpressLanes program. Several Board Member also said that they are interested in expanding the toll lanes to other freeways in the future, although the only plans on the table are for eight miles of toll lanes in the Santa Clarita Valley on the 5 freeway.

In order to use the ExpressLanes, all users must have a transponder. To learn more about opening an account, please visit the ExpressLanes homepage.

The news release from Metro is after the jump.

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Yaroslavsky motion pushes for creation of San Fernando Valley-Westwood Express bus

We posted last month about proposed route changes for buses in the San Fernando Valley. One of the proposals is for the creation of a new 588 bus that would operate at peak hours that would run between Westwood and Nordhoff Street in North Hills, mostly along the 405 freeway and Van Nuys Boulevard. This new line still requires funding.

Supervisor and Metro Board Member Zev Yaroslavsky submitted a motion to the Metro Board today about the 588 bus; the motion was approved unanimously by the Board today and asks that staff continue the studies needed for the line and to report back to the Board in May. Here’s the text of the motion:

Motion by Director Yaroslavsky

Valley-Westside Express Bus

The San Fernando Valley and Westside are two of Los Angeles’ largest economic engines—places where millions live, shop, work and play. However, there is currently no express transit connection between the regions, which are separated by the Santa Monica Mountains.

This summer, the 405 Project is expected to complete construction and open High Occupancy Vehicle lanes that will create a new avenue for express bus service through the Sepulveda Pass.

Earlier this month, the San Fernando Valley and Westside/Central Local Service Councils held public hearings and made recommendations on proposed changes to bus service in their respective regions. Among the recommendations was the creation of Line 588, an express bus offering nonstop service through the Sepulveda Pass via the I-405 HOV lanes. The line would connect Westwood to the Orange Line and extend north along Van Nuys Boulevard to North Hills. When Phase 2 of Expo Line opens, it would extend south to meet it, providing a connection to Santa Monica, USC and downtown L.A. The proposed line received strong support from the public.

Line 588 promises an immediate solution for Metro patrons while plans for a more extensive future project through the Sepulveda Pass are being evaluated. Because funding has not yet been identified for the bus line, staff is not currently conducting the tests, studies and analyses that are needed to operate it. While efforts to fund the line continue, staff should make these preparations to ensure that Line 588 can begin serving the public as soon as possible.

I, THEREFORE, MOVE that the Board direct staff to:

1.    Prepare studies, tests and analysis for launching Line 588, an express bus connecting the San Fernando Valley and the Westside via the I-405 HOV lanes; and

2.    Report back on the status and progress of the preparations at the May, 2014 full Board meeting.

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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Transportation headlines, Friday, January 17

Have a transportation-related article you think should be included in headlines? Drop me an email! And don’t forget, Metro is on TwitterFacebook and Instagram. Pick your social media poison!

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ART OF TRANSIT: The Angeles Crest Highway, at left, starts its journey into the front range of the San Gabriel Mountains above La Canada Flintridge. The view is a reminder of how wild and rugged our local mountains are. Click to see larger version. Photo by Steve Hymon.

Union Station eases policy on homeless seating in the waiting area (L.A. Times)

Metro officials told the Metro Board this week that they are working to restore seating in Union Station for Metro customers. In December, the seating area was set aside for Metrolink and Amtrak customers because of concerns about homeless people taking too many seats and causing other problems. It’s a tough issue for Metro as the agency purchased the station in 2011 for $75 million and obviously wants somewhere for its own customers to sit.

Orange Line’s dismal fare findings (ZevWeb) 

Coverage on Supervisor and Metro Board Member Zev Yaroslavsky’s website of the recent fare checks on the Orange Line that found on one occasion that 22 percent of riders hadn’t paid a fare and another nine percent had valid TAP cards but weren’t tapping. The Sheriff’s Deputies have responded with more fare patrols along the line, say Metro officials. Of course, that raises the obvious question: where were they before? Here’s the Metro staff report on the issue.

Who birthed ‘Jamzilla’ on the Sepulveda Pass? (KPCC)

The segment posted the question: who comes up with names for traffic jams? Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky gets the credit for “Carmageddon” and this time around, “Jamzilla” was coined by a colleague of mine on the Metro P.R. staff. Which I love. I also saw a couple of good suggestions on Twitter the other day, among them “The Slow and the Furious” and “Carchella.” Listen here

BTW, if you haven’t heard…avoid the 405 on Presidents’ Day Weekend, Feb. 14-18, when northbound lanes will either be entirely closed overnight or mostly closed during the day for repaving. More details here.

California Congressional delegation is split on high-speed rail (KPCC)

Well, that’s hardly news. But the article makes one observation worth noting: legislators from other states — Republicans and Democrats — are surprised and perhaps delighted that California may spurn federal dollars for the state bullet train project. Most states, it seems, are attracted to federal money like lint is attracted to belly buttons. Or something like that (it’s Friday).

Two Metro Board members introduce motion asking for Orange Line to possibly be gated to reduce fare evasion

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The motion from Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and Councilman Paul Krekorian is in response to this staff report that found that there was a fare evasion rate of 22 percent and a mis-use rate of nine percent during a fare enforcement operation on Dec. 3 on the Orange Line.

A similar operation was held Dec. 17 and found fare evasion rate of 16 percent and mis-use rate of eight percent.

“Mis-use” means that people didn’t tap their TAP cards even though they had valid passes loaded on them and the cards were activated.

Metro staff have said that enforcement has since been stepped up on the Orange Line. Patrons of the busway are expected to tap their cards on the TAP validators on Orange Line platforms before boarding the bus.

As I wrote the other day, consider this a heads up! Everyone needs to tap their TAP cards at the validators on Orange Line platforms — even if you’re transferring from another Metro bus or train and have a valid daily, weekly or monthly pass loaded on your card and activated.

The full Metro Board of Directors will consider the motion at their meeting on Jan. 23,

Staff report on fare evasion on the Orange Line

The above report was prepared by Metro staff and the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department (LASD) in response to a motion by Board Member Zev Yaroslavsky asking for more information about who is and isn’t paying fares along the Orange Line.

As the report explains, two nearly day-long fare check operations were conducted by the LASD, which patrols Metro buses and trains. As a result, the LASD estimated that during the operations there was a 22 percent fare evasion rate and a nine percent “misuse” rate — i.e. people not tapping their TAP cards even though they had valid passes loaded on them and the cards were activated.

Those, of course, are not numbers that please Metro or LASD officials. Fares only cover 26 percent of the cost of running Metro, which is a low number compared to other large transit agencies. Fare evasion is also not fair to other riders, the majority of which do pay for riding the Metro system.

As a result of this, the LASD has increased fare checks along the Orange Line, as the report states. Consider this a heads up! Everyone needs to tap their TAP cards at the validators on Orange Line platforms — even if you’re transferring from another Metro bus or train and have a valid daily, weekly or monthly pass loaded on your card and activated.

Actions taken by the Metro Board of Directors today

The final Metro Board of Directors meeting of the year was a low-key affair. Perhaps of the most interest to everyday riders were motions approved concerning restrooms at stations, parking at stations and fare evasion along the Orange Line — more about those in this previous post.

Here are some of the actions taken today:

•On consent, the Board approved a $1.64-million contract with STV/Parsons Brinckerhoff for consulting services to help draw up specifications for the eventual procurement for new subway cars.

•On consent, the Board approved a new policy to govern requests from cities, third parties and other stakeholders for changes to transportation projects after they have been approved by the Board. The gist of the new policy: the modifications should not delay the project or increase its budget unless funding is identified. This one falls under the wonky but important category as a lot of these requests do come in after project construction is underway.

•On consent, the Board approved a Memorandum of Understanding between Metro and Los Angeles World Airports for changes to the Crenshaw/LAX Line’s Aviation/Century project that could help improve connections to future airport facilities such as a consolidated rental car facility or a people mover:

Screen Shot 2013-12-05 at 10.18.44 AM

•On consent, the Board approved a $6.17-million contract with ARINC, Inc. to provide a new computer software and hardware that provide “centralized control and/or monitoring of train movement, traction and auxiliary power, fire detection and suppression, gas detection, emergency tunnel and ancillary ventilation” and other communication systems.

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Metro begins restoration of historic Southern Pacific Lankershim/North Hollywood train depot

Metro held a media event this morning in North Hollywood to announce the impending restoration of the station that is next to the Orange Line terminus. The first two photos in the above gallery were taken this morning — the station was recently painted. The rest of the photos were taken in 2005 when work on the Orange Line was wrapping up.

To answer the obvious question I know you’ll have: the station is being rehabilitated so that it can be leased to a future tenant. We don’t know yet who may be interested; please feel free to post a comment with your suggestions.

Below is the news release and a short video of the news event taken on my iPhone (sorry about the vertical orientation!):

Metro announced today that major restoration work on the Historic Southern Pacific Lankershim/North Hollywood train depot is set to begin as construction crews work to rehab the facility over the coming year.

From left: Murthy, Metro Board of Directors Chairwoman Diane DuBois, Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, L.A. Councilman Tom LaBonge and Metro CEO Art Leahy. Photo by Jose Ubaldo/Metro.

From left: Aspet Davidian, Metro’s construction manager on station rehab program; K.N. Murthy, Metro’s Executive Director Transit Project Delivery; Metro Board of Directors Chairwoman Diane DuBois; Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky; L.A. Councilman Tom LaBonge, and; Metro CEO Art Leahy. Photo by Jose Ubaldo/Metro.

“Metro is redefining mobility and enhancing the quality of life by implementing the Measure R projects throughout the county. The preservation and integration of historic structures into new mobility is important so we are preserving our past and advancing into the future with this project,” said Metro Board Chair Diane DuBois.

Metro is taking the lead in performing restoration work on the train depot located adjacent to the Metro Orange and Red Lines in North Hollywood by funding a major portion of the $3.6 million project. The second phase of restoration work is expected to take 10 months to complete. Funding is made possible through Metro by using $2.5 million in Prop. C half cent sales tax monies and $1.1 million from the City of Los Angeles. Phase II restoration work is being done by DRP National Incorporated based in West Covina under contract to Metro.

“Today, we kick off the restoration construction work on this historic train depot, and this major undertaking has been a long time coming,” said LA County Supervisor and Metro Board Member Zev Yaroslavsky. “But once we complete the work, the public will have an opportunity to step back in time to the 19th century and revisit a vanished era in our transportation history.”

The first phase of the work has already been completed that included the removal of contaminated soils, roofing and lead-based paint throughout the structure along with the stabilization of the historic exterior woodwork with the vibrant Pacific Electric original yellow paint colors.

The current Phase II reconstruction work will include the seismic strengthening of the structure, new electric and plumbing systems, restoration of the platforms and signage as well as rehabilitation of the damaged siding, eaves, windows and doors. The project will complete the basic building leaving the structure ready for leasing to future tenants.

Additional work will be performed to include the restoration of the corner historic park and railroad tracks adjacent to the station building along with general landscaping to restore the historic context of the site.

The history of the train depot dates back to the late 1800′s. The Lankershim/North Hollywood Depot is a one -story prefabricated wood frame structure at the corner of Lankershim and Chandler in North Hollywood that was brought to the site on rail cars and assembled by the Southern Pacific Railroad in 1896. It is one of the oldest unmodified railroad structures in Southern California and is located in the heart of the North Hollywood Arts District. The depot started out as a high platform station for loading trains from a local packing plant and cannery industries and farms. Later it was used as the North Hollywood Red Car pedestrian station until the demise of the Pacific Electric in 1952.

Instagram collage by Anna Chen/Metro. Follow Metro on Instagram!

Transportation headlines, Monday, May 6

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 Los Angeles, the end of the free subway ride (New York Times) 

The old gray lady catches up with gate-latching at Metro subway stations and offers this intro to the story:

There is a startling new sight at the subway station at Hollywood and Vine these days, set amid the handsome trappings of vintage film projectors and movie paraphernalia: five subway turnstiles.

Their appearance amounts to an acknowledgment of the failure of the rider honor system that Los Angeles embraced when it began constructing its subway system nearly 20 years ago. This might not exactly come as a news flash to anyone who has traveled the subways of New York or the Washington Metro, but a gateless subway entrance is not the most effective way to motivate riders to pay their carriage.

Los Angeles transit officials say that millions of dollars in annual revenues have been lost because of riders who calculated, reasonably enough, that they could ride the subway free with minimal danger of detection, no matter the occasional deputy sheriff demanding to see a fare card and a $250 fine for violators.

“A lot of people — if not the majority of people — are not paying their fare,” said Zev Yaroslavsky, a county supervisor and a member of the board of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority. “There is no reason for them to pay. The odds of them getting a ticket are slim to none.”

The article goes on to say no one really knows what the fare evasion rate is. One Metro official says that latching of the gates, to begin this summer, will help Metro find out.

L.A. full of road to ruins for cars (L.A. Times) 

The Times offers a very cool map showing the grades for roads throughout the city — as graded by city officials. The gist of it: the city has tried to evenly distribute both good and bad roads across L.A., meaning there’s pothole-ridden despair in both wealthy and low-income areas alike. According to the map — be sure to zoom in for detail — Wilshire Boulevard east of Beverly Hills gets grades ranging from A to F.

Readers and Metro riders: is there any part of Wilshire Boulevard you believe qualifies for an ‘A?’

Time for Big Green to go fossil free (The Nation) 

The nation’s big environmental groups often say they are leading the battle against climate change caused by the burning of fossil fuels. But Naomi Klein found that many of the groups have been slow to divest their finances and endowments from Big Oil, meaning they are making money off the very groups they are allegedly fighting. Most troubling, some of the groups were somewhat evasive with their answers. Read this one, folks. A lot of these groups, I believe, do some very valuable work on behalf of the environment — but their investments, I also believe, threaten to undermine the message.