Transportation headlines, Thursday, March 13

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Looming train shortage at Metro (ZevWeb) 

Metro is in a race against time. Literally. The big question tackled by this story on Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky’s website: will there be enough rail cars to operate enough train service on two projects under construction — Expo Line Phase 2 and the Gold Line Foothill Extension — and more than halfway complete?


So, with a likely initial shortfall of about 50 train cars, the issue presents some tough decisions for Metro, all of which are likely to be unpopular with the traveling public. It could delay the new lines’ openings, operate them with shorter, more crowded trains, offer less frequent service, or redeploy cars from elsewhere in the system, thus spreading the pain more broadly.

The shortage is expected to be most severe in the first months of operation for the two new extensions, with steady improvements coming as new rail cars arrive throughout 2016. But even the prospect of a relatively short-lived disruption has been enough to strain the relationship between Metro, which will operate the lines, and the two construction authorities charged with successfully completing the projects.

Samantha Bricker, chief operating officer for the Exposition Light Rail Construction Authority, expects Expo Phase 2 to be ready for testing in the summer of 2015, which would make it possible for the line—running from Culver City to Santa Monica— to serve the public as early as December, 2015. But she’s worried that the train car shortage could impede that schedule and disappoint passengers looking forward to jumping aboard the westernmost phase of a light rail line that’s already attracting large numbers of riders.

“If these projects are done on time and there are no trains there, the public is going to go nuts,” Bricker predicted.

Metro’s Gold Line Foothill Extension, running from Pasadena to Azusa, is expected to open just two months later.  Habib Balian, chief executive officer of the Foothill Construction Authority, said he, too, is worried that his line’s opening will be delayed or marred by diminished service in the early months.

“It’s going to sit there and cobwebs are going to grow until Metro starts service, or they are going to put wimpy service on all the rail lines,” Balian said, referring to the possibility of importing rail cars from elsewhere in the system.

The problem dates back to November 2009 when negotiations between Metro and  rail car manufacturer AnsaldoBreda on a deal for new rail cars finally collapsed. Metro staff and some Metro Board members were never happy with the firm (including Yaroslavsky and Supervisor Mike Antonovich, perhaps most prominently) which had previously delivered flawed rail cars to Metro under an earlier contract. Despite this poor track record with Metro, the city of L.A. delegation of the Metro Board were hoping that the firm would build a manufacturing facility in downtown Los Angeles to provide much needed jobs during the Great Recession. That, of course, would have been a significant political victory.

The rail car contract then had to be re-bid and it wasn’t until April 2012 that the Metro Board — with great urging from Metro staff — finally approved a contract for 78 new rail cars with Kinkisharyo. That firm is presently building an assembly facility for the rail cars in Palmdale and company officials say that it will be very difficult to accelerate delivery of the vehicles.

In the meantime, Metro is sending a delegation to the company’s headquarters in Japan later this month to see if there is any way to get more vehicles quicker. Deliveries are currently scheduled to begin in September 2015 and continue through 2017. As for the Expo Line Phase 2 and the Gold Line Foothill Extension, Metro has been forecasting that both will open in early 2016. The projects together add 17 miles of track to the Metro system, meaning more trains are needed to cover that turf and maintain existing schedules.

Bottom line: this is really a story about politics and the awarding of big contracts.

UPDATE: Metro officials say they do not believe that the agency will be 50 rail cars short assuming the projects open on time — which, of course, remains to be seen. Officials also say they may be able to shift maintenance schedules around so that more rail cars will be available to operate at any given time.

Southern California Transit Advocates takes position on fare increases (SO.CA.TA website) 

The group isn’t large but they do pay close attention to transit in our region and, in particular, serve as watchdogs over Metro and other agencies. The group says it generally supports the fare increases proposed by Metro but would like to see some changes.

In particular, SO.CA.TA wants to see the free transfer period extended from 90 minutes to two hours and for TAP cards to be sold for single rides on buses for the same price as they’re sold from ticket machines at rail stations ($1). The group also declined to support the second option for fare increases that focuses on separate fares for peak and off-peak times. That, the group said, is a poor idea that would only make taking transit more confusing.

Fossils unearthed by Metro reveals L.A.’s watery past (KPCC)

A nice look at the reasons why that marine fossils are being found in the exploratory shaft for the Purple Line Extension project. The main reason: the beach wasn’t always located at its present location in L.A. 🙂

Becoming a biker in L.A.: buying a bike (KCRW)

A rookie cyclist dives into the world of bikes and bike gear to try to determine what she really needs. The gist of it: the proliferation of bike gear and fancy bikes has made things a lot more difficult than when Old Goats such as me bought bikes in decades past.

17 replies

  1. Steve,

    “Do it a civil fashion and your comments will be approved in the future. If not, they’ll be trashed.”

    Surely you can do the same then to do something about “John Walsh of” who hogs up the podium at all the Metro Board meetings (and most likely will appear at the fare hike meeting as he has nothing else to do), who keeps name calls politicians on the Metro Board as part of the “international Jewish conspiracy” or rants then?

    If you can do that, that would be helpful. I can probably say that everyone is sick and tired of listening to that guy.

  2. Frustrated with TAP, just for the record I don’t believe SO.CA.TA ever took a position on the fare gates. I personally questioned some of the financial assumptions. Also I have long been critical of the poor implementation and limitations of TAP. Being condescending and making broad statements is a poor way to argue your point of view. Our members sat around a table and discussed our position. And will present it at the hearing on the 29th. At least it is more rational than the stance other stakeholders (to remain nameless) have taken.

    • Hi Dana;

      Unfortunately, the civility you always display — and I appreciate it — can be in short supply with some of the folks who frequent this comment board.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  3. richard schumacher,

    “Who at MTA thought Breda was a good idea, and why? They must be punished!”

    Probably the same people who thought the honor system was a good idea. LOL

    Seriously, people working at Metro are complete novices. If we’re going to keep throwing tax dollars to this incompetent agency, we’d be better off spending our taxdollars to headhunt real transit experts from all over the world instead. If there are no talents here, we should bring them over from the outside. What’s wrong with bringing transit experts from London, Singapore and Hong Kong? They all speak English.

  4. Considering the amount of money the MTA WASTES on things that DO NOT MOVE (the Division 13 “rehabilitation”, the Union Station “Master Plan”, and obscenely-inflated MTA salaries!), is it any wonder that there will be rail car shortages? Consider also the idiocy the MTA does of buying 500 new buses, and yet NOT EVEN EXPANDING BUS LINE SERVICE! The idiots who run the MTA clearly DO NOT RIDE IT!

    • Hi istj04;

      I should have trashed the previous comment but I’ll leave it be since I approved it. Name calling is a no-no on our comment board. You have every right to criticize Metro and government here. Do it a civil fashion and your comments will be approved in the future. If not, they’ll be trashed.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  5. Frustrated with TAP

    The problem lies with the hiring of employees that make decisions concerning bus and rail operation that have no prior experience with the MTA/RTD. There are certain exceptions such as Art Leahy. Both he and his wife were terminated shortly after the merger and replaced with people from the outside. Some of these people came from companies like Laidlaw. Laidlaw was probably one of the first companies to use electronic fare box’s. It was a private transit industry operation that provided buses and drivers on a contract basis. Via the on board radio system it can be determined how many passengers are on the bus but the MTA wants to know how & how much each passenger paid. Another problem I believe is the operators they now hired cannot rapidly count the amount of each fare. It was a requirement at one time. Small bus lines and operations may do fine with electronic farebox’s but with a operation the size of the MTA farebox failure is commonplace.

  6. I agree. I don’t want to talk to bus drivers and I’m sure they don’t want to talk to me either. We’re all stressed out in our own way, the last thing we need is more yapping and more stressful situation. Just let everything run smoothly through automation.

    TAP is supposed to automate everything, not automate halfway. Adding an autocap feature so that TAP stops deducting cash value when a threshold is reached essentially creates a defacto replacement for a day, weekly, or monthly pass. This probably takes less than a day of computer programming work at most and you don’t need to be a NASA rocket scientist to do this.

  7. Who at MTA thought Breda was a good idea, and why? They must be punished!

  8. To be clear, SO.CA.TA’s position is not opposing a peak/off-peak structure. The statement reads that they are in favor of a single fare for all cash boardings. This makes a lot of sense because you do see operator-user conflict with seniors who pay 25 cents since that’s what they normally pay, when they really should pay 55 cents since they boarded during rush hour. Often drivers don’t want to argue with the obviously elderly, but it is still as much fare evasion as it is riding Metro Rail for one stop without paying. If it’s enforced by the farebox automatically, like it is on Metro Rail through the faregates, it minimizes the conflict with passengers. But having a $2.25 base fare from 3 to 7 pm will only lead to arguments if a bus which is scheduled to arrive at 2:55 rolls in ten minutes later. If you were to have an off-peak/peak scheme, better to charge the higher fare 24/7 and issue discounts to TAP users.

  9. I’m not sure but it appears there are excess Gold Line cars. During rush hour one can see lines of them, unwashed, sitting on the tracks not being used in the Gold Line yard. Nowconcerning the cars being used on the Expo Line. They are the few extra cars from the Blue Line. With the planned re-building of those cars a shortage is sure to take place on both the Blue Line and Expo Line.

  10. mike dunn,

    “In fact with the electronic fareboxs and the need for the bus operator to input information for each passenger boarding dwell time at each stop has increased.”

    And that’s the problem. TAP should be what it should be – a completely “smart” card, devoid of any bus driver input at all. Everything should be handled automatically.

    The point being is the idiotic issue of having to convert cash value to a day pass. All of this can be done simply with a auto-cap system that relies on ZERO bus driver input. Tap, tap, tap, hit the daily cap limit, do not deduct anymore.

    Simple as that. And Metro keeps failing to deliver the most simplest of all solutions.

  11. I read somewhere(can’t remember)that Metro was looking at leasing some cars from St.Louis. Is that still on the table or possible?

  12. Just because another transit agency also uses high platform trolley cars doesn’t mean that the dimensions, operating voltage, or other characteristics, are going to be the same. For example, San Francisco’s Breda cars (and the Boeing cars that preceded them) are all set up for onboard fare collection, and for a mix of high and low (or nonexistent) platforms (every stepwell on a Muni Metro car is power-driven, with steps that are raised to floor level when approaching high-platform territory, or lowered for street-level boarding for most of the older street-run territory [N west of Church, J south of Duboce, and K, L, and M south and west of the West Portal of the Twin Peaks Tunnel]). In fact, the power-driven moving steps may have been the major area where they had to iron the bugs out of their Breda cars before retiring the held-together-with-chewing-gum-and-bailing-wire Boeing cars.

  13. One would think TAP cards would speed up the boarding of passengers as opposed to cash fares using the old fareboxs. In fact with the electronic fareboxs and the need for the bus operator to input information for each passenger boarding dwell time at each stop has increased. Both DAY Pass’s and the TAP card program were poorly planned and instituted by those at the MTA who had no real transit experience. A case in point. The person in charge of instituting the TAP Card program believed bus operators never sold more than 20 DAY Pass’s each day. When presented to the five sector assistant managers in charge of actual vehicle operations the person in charge was laughed at and informed thousand more TAP Cards needed to be ordered immediately.

  14. SO.CA.TA members consist of those who were against the idea of fare gates, whined incessantly about how fare evasion wasn’t problematic, they wanted the continuation of the honor system, and their answers were more officers at the expense of taxpayers.

    They have no clue how transit is run in the rest of the world. They are people stuck with 20th century solutions to 21st century problems.

    Their statement in saying “declined to support the second option for fare increases that focuses on separate fares for peak and off-peak times. That, the group said, is a poor idea that would only make taking transit more confusing” pretty much shows that.

    If it were confusing why does London use it and runs perfectly fine in moving millions of Londoners everyday and has been doing so since they implemented Oyster over a decade ago?

    The CURRENT fare structure today is confusing as it stands today with all these transfer agreements between various agencies, various daily, weekly, monthly passes, yet another one for cross-agency passes, student fares, senior citizen fares, etc. etc.

    All of it can be simplified by just filling up your TAP card with money like how one puts gas in your car, TAP-in, TAP-out, automatically deduct fares based on travel distance, and auto-cap when a certain dollar amount threshold is reached.

    Why can’t we do that instead?

  15. Why not see if S.F., Edmonton, Calgary or Saint Louis (the other agencies with high-platform LRT) have cars they can sell Metro?