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.

I think this can be accomplished by developing a basic template that explicitly states the basic changes to a particular bus or train route, a brief explanation for the change (the changes are sometimes to make service more frequent — it’s not always a negative, people) and who will be most impacted for better or worse.

CONSTRUCTION AUTHORITY AUDITS: Let’s face it, the Foothill Extension Construction Authority got a negative story about its travel expenses and the Expo Line is behind schedule. I think then it’s hardly surprising then that three members of Metro’s Board of Directors are proposing an audit of three independent construction authorities (the two above plus the Alameda Corridor East C.A.).

I’m certainly not suggesting that Metro is perfect (see above item on the compliance review). But this is interesting in the context that construction authorities became somewhat of a fad in the 1990s when many critics didn’t see Metro as capable of managing or building its own projects.

The result is that we have independent construction authorities building the Expo and Foothill Extension of the Gold Line while Metro will build other projects such as the Westside Subway Extension, the Regional Connector and the Crenshaw/LAX Line, to name three.

Is that a great idea? I don’t know, but it certainly makes it harder to adhere to certain standards when you have a variety of agencies managing projects expected to cohere into a network at a later date.

UNION STATION MASTER PLAN: I think I was hardly surprised at the suggestions made by a Urban Land Institute panel last week that looked at ways to improve Union Station and the surrounding environs through the master plan that Metro is developing.

You don’t have to have a degree in urban planning to grasp that Union Station is somewhat isolated in the northern part of downtown L.A. — thank you 101 freeway trench! — and that the pedestrian environment in the surrounding area isn’t always peaches and cream.

I think one big obstacle to making this part of downtown more viable for housing and commercial properties is the number of parking lots intended to serve Olvera Street. The 101 coupled with those lots serves as a barrier of sorts between the Civic Center area of downtown and Chinatown and Union Station. It should also be said that the Civic Center isn’t exactly hopping — i.e. there’s not exactly an overflow of pedestrians in the Civic Center looking for somewhere to go much of the time.

To me, the other obvious fix that Union Station will need is to lose the parking lots in front of the train station. Yes, even transit stations need car parking — but there’s plenty of it in the underground garage that can be accessed from Vignes Street. Hint: if the garage seems crowded, just go straight to the fourth level where there’s always spaces.

PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES: It’s disappointing but hardly surprising that mobility is once again a non-subject as part of the presidential campaign.

As I’ve said before, the story of America is the story of mobility (as in “Westward Ho”). But local mobility has never really been a federal concern — something that is becoming increasingly disappointing as the country becomes more urban.

Take the time to visit the websites of the candidates (including the incumbent). Look at their energy plans. See what I mean?


6 replies

  1. Maybe I’m being too Pollyannish about this, but your second point about communicating service changes got me thinking.

    It seems there’s a necessity here to revamp the way service changes are communicated to the public. Given the fact that printed information must also be translated into a wide variety of languages, per the FTA, then might there not be an opportunity to find new graphical ways to communicate these changes to the general public?

    Maybe color-coded maps indicating which lines will move, which will change frequency, and transportation alternatives for affected riders? Maybe some sort of easily accessible website could help people understand how proposed service changes would impact their present trips from A to B?

    I remember feeling frustrated when service changes are proposed that all I can ever find is a PDF of a table indicating transit line numbers that refer to each other in confusingly self-referential loops. If there was a way to translate that information into something more graphical it might help meet the public’s information needs more readily. Just an idea.

  2. The issues raised in the FTA compliance report are pretty much specific for public agencies. Yes, all private and public transportation carriers are subject to safety, labor, and accessibility regulations, but because Metro receives federal funds, it is subject to additional rules regarding how the service is planned and how service/fare change information is communicated. Part of the reason for the additional rules is that public transit is not considered to be a competitive market (whereas in many cities there are multiple air carries serving the same route) and that public transit is considered a lifeline transportation (some airline routes to some rural destinations also receive federal subsidy for the same reason).

  3. I’m still wondering about the implications of this blurb from the “Corrective Action Plan”(pg 9, 2nd paragraph):

    “Metro understands that a service equity analysis is also required for the Expo LRT Phase I line and the Orange Line BRT Extension. An equity analysis based on actual planned service and including both Title VI and EJ considerations will be completed *prior to the lines opening* using the methodology for service equity described in 5(b) above. The Expo Phase 1 Equity Analysis shall be completed and presented at the February 23, 2012 Board meeting. The FTA will be provided a copy of the report in advance of public release and allow time for comment.”

    At the rate it’s going, I’ll have graduated before ever getting a chance to ride the Expo Line to USC, even though it was originally suppposed to open in June 2010, back before I even started grad school.

  4. Metro’s problems of coming under FTA scrutiny has nothing to do with whether Metro is a public transit agency or a for-profit private enterprise, nor does have anything to do with being a safety net for the poor.

    Said rules and regulations are equally in place for any organization whether it be taxpayer funded public agency like LA Metro or a private company such as Greyhound so long as they deal with the federal government.

    To put it into perspective, even airlines like American, United, and Delta all share the similar restrictions set on the federal level as they fall under the safety guidelines of the FCC and the FAA. By contracting with the US government to transport military personnel abroad, they also have to comply with Equal Opportunity Laws and Americans with Disabilities Act.

    The same thing in the food industry; rules and regulations such as Cal-OSHA has to be met and is obliged to have mandatory reviews and audits by the FDA.

    All in all, nowhere does it state that LA Metro has to oblige itself to act as a safety net for the poor; the rules and regulations that LA Metro is bound to is not different from the NYMTA or the NJ Transit where fares are higher which hurts the poor. All that the FTA compliance review states is that LA Metro failed to properly communicate their fare changes to their riders.

  5. Steve – One thing we are all thinking is what’s the real status of the Expo Line Phase I? How’s the testing going? I think a feature on the delays today will help clear up a lot of negative rumors going around on the Expo Line Phase I opening. Why has Culver City construction slowed? When is the Expo Line going to start running to 7th Street/Metro Center station? How’s the ventilation system? Signal prioritization? There’s so many questions, this is on the top of a lot of people’s minds. A big feature will be really helpful.