Transportation headlines, Monday, April 27

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ART OF TRANSIT: A hiker and dog two/four-leg it on the Sunset Ridge fire road above Altadena on Sunday. Photo by Steve Hymon

ART OF TRANSIT: A hiker and dog two/four-leg it on the Sunset Ridge fire road above Altadena on Sunday. Photo by Steve Hymon

Today’s profile of a Metro rider by Zocalo Public Square: I come from a transit friendly and I live to ride, La Brea Avenue to Hoover Street

A preview of Metro’s upcoming $5.6 billion fiscal year budget (Streetsblog LA)

Joe Linton combs through some of the budget materials already released and includes some informed speculation on the big picture and what it means. In his view, what it means could be problems ahead. Excerpt:

The agency’s fiscal balance is precarious in the longer time horizon. Massive construction sucks the air out of the room for all other agency functions. Heavy capital expenditures put agency finances into a “structural deficit” which former CEO Art Leahy and others have asserted means fare increases will be needed as early as mid-2016.

It gets even worse when sales tax revenue does not keep pace with projections; this occurs when the economy slows down. When agency expenditures outpace agency revenues, riders suffer from service cuts and fare increases. This results in an overall spiral of declining ridership, declining fare income, and further fare increases and service cuts. These chickens do not appear to be coming home to roost imminently, but, over time, they may.

Metro budget officials say there are no overall bus service hour cuts in the upcoming budgets although the public can certainly comment on how they would like to see the service hours used. In other words, service hours can be moved around. There are also no fare increases proposed in the coming year’s budget, but there certainly could be in future budgets. As for challenges ahead? Certainly, as always.

How New York City buses are becoming vehicles for hateful speech (Gawker) 

An article in defense of groups posting overtly political and/or provocative ads on buses along the East Coast. In particular, the article looks at the track record of the “American Freedom Defense Initiative, a nonprofit organization,” that has seen some of its ads rejected by transit agencies — rejections that it was able to overturn via litigation.

The last time I checked, buses are not purely marketing vehicles. But every transit authority has its own advertising policy, and how the First Amendment applies to those ads depends on the jurisdiction. In New York, MTA advertising space is a “designated public forum.” This means that the sides of MTA buses are opened by the government for use by the public for expressive activity.

Because the government has chosen to allow political and expressive speech in this forum, content-based restrictions on that speech—which, intuitively, regulate speech based on what it says—are subject to exacting scrutiny by the courts. But not every jurisdiction recognizes transit advertising as a public forum, so the standard of review is less strict in other locations. As a result, the group hasn’t been uniformly successful, although its track record is pretty impressive.

I don’t believe the public forum standard holds true with Metro. Here are the agency’s advertising standards, which restrict advertising to commercial purposes, government entities or nonprofits partnering with government agencies.

Walking New York (New York Times Magazine) 

Screen Shot 2015-04-27 at 12.33.15 PM

Great interactive feature with short text blocks highlighting different walks around Manhattan and the boroughs of San Francisco East. The special edition of the magazine also includes a good article headlined “How do we protect pedestrians,” about the city’s attempt to re-engineer intersections to better protect those not in cars.

Excerpt that just as easily be written about the transportation department in most big non-Gothamized cities:

For much of the 20th century, when the engineers running urban transit authorities thought about traffic, they thought less about the pedestrian experience and more about saving money, by saving time, by speeding movement, by enabling cars. They analyzed traffic flow, the backup of cars, stoplight times and right- and left-­hand turns, all in an effort to keep vehicles moving freely and quickly through the city. They ran the data through a program that would spit out a rating (A to F) for the “level of service.” An A meant that a street was congestion-free, which gave cars the potential to speed; an F meant that it was too congested to be functional. The grade considered ideal for most streets in New York was a C.

The value of speed, for car commuters, was an easy equation for engineers. “The assumption is that all travel time is a waste of time,” says Zhan Guo, a professor of urban planning and transportation at New York University’s Wagner School of Public Service. “But that rationale doesn’t apply to pedestrians.” The worth of the pedestrian experience, so pokey, so subjective, was scarcely considered, partly because it was hard to quantify.

Super good transit read that is pretty pertinent: those of you who read while riding transit will shortly be converted to being pedestrians upon exiting your transit vehicles.

Trends from the APA 2015 conference (Planetizen) 

Analysis of the thousands of tweets tweeted during the recent American Planning Assn.’s convention in Seattle. The two tweets that got the most traction? One was the map below showing the diminishing range that children are allowed to walk from home and other was a RT of a quote by UCLA’s Donald Shoup, saying it makes no sense to give free housing to cars and expensive housing to people.

11 replies

  1. Wow, you sure love to brag about eliminating funding and support for mass transit. How sad that you had to take the time out of your day to post that, just so you can brag that you’re going to vote for people who couldn’t care less about transit-dependent people, or pedestrians, or people who even choose to take transit. Instead of working together to improve the system in LA, you just want to relish in watching it fail, cutting all funding so that nothing new, especially a rail line, ever gets built anywhere. How hateful of you. I hope you are forever stuck in bumper to bumper traffic.

    • On the contrary, I do support mass transit. However, I am not putting a lot of faith in the current system with constant breakdowns, lack of transparency, bureaucratic red-tape, public sector unionism, constant fare increases, tax hike proposals, and service cuts.

      Many have provided input on how Metro needs to change. But the change has been slow or have fallen on deaf ears.

      Metro ran under the honor system for years while fare evasion was rampant. And they still have yet to lock all the gates. Many have questioned the honor system right from the beginning but the fix wasn’t done until 20 years later.

      TAP is clunky, the website is outdated, and it has been so despite it was launched in 2007. Eight years should’ve been more than enough to fix bugs and update the website, but they still haven’t done so. Most of the issues that involve simple tasks that anyone can do over the internet require calling customer service which is only open on weekdays from 8-5.

      Metro wastes land space to free parking instead of supporting transit oriented development. Metro has not worked strongly with private-public partnerships to expand business opportunities at the stations aside from Union Station.

      Metro raises fares, asks for more tax hikes, and has made service cuts to bus service.

      Delays happen more frequently with lack of information or transparency.

      To put a slap on the face, we have politicians who name stations after themselves which is against the rules of station naming. It’s as if the rules can be broken by the politicians themselves who serve on the Metro Board.

      Considering that, I do put the blame on the current make up of Democrat leaning politicians today who allow this to happen. If that is what I believe, I will say I will start voting for the other party unless I see some changes being made.

    • “Instead of working together to improve the system…”

      And to rebuttal this, we are working together. Yet the solutions fall on deaf ears with constant excuses that it can’t be done. If it can’t be done, then it’s basically saying maintaining the status quo. I do not want Metro nor LA to be a third world country. I believe strongly LA can have a world class transit system, on the levels comparable to Europe and Asia.

      But so long as nothing changes, so long as Metro and the politicians who serve their constituents does not listen to its own people, so long as we do not dissect and analyze more deeper on why European and Asian transit systems works better and what ideas they’ve used, we’re not going to get there. And excuses like “oh but LA is not a dense city” or “distance based fares is not common in America” or “we must continue to provide free parking” and “the honor system is easier to do” do not make any sense. Changes are required in those areas and people need to accept that.

      You can’t have “I want to run things the American way” while at the same time wishing for “why can’t we have good mass transit like they have over in Europe and Asia.”

  2. “It gets even worse when sales tax revenue does not keep pace with projections; this occurs when the economy slows down. When agency expenditures outpace agency revenues, riders suffer from service cuts and fare increases. This results in an overall spiral of declining ridership, declining fare income, and further fare increases and service cuts. These chickens do not appear to be coming home to roost imminently, but, over time, they may.”

    The usual three choices that no one wants: raise taxes, service cuts, or fare hikes. No solution in sight to actually fix the broken system itself.

    It’s pretty apparent by now that Metro needs to start hiring more business and profit minded people. Those with MBAs, those who have worked in the private sector, those who can think with a outside perspective than those who were brought up and raised under the public employee union system.

    Surely if privatized mass transit (or at least co-owned by government and private investors) works fine over in Asia, we can apply the same ideas here. Has Metro ever considered gradual privatization? That’s how Hong Kong MTR does: government owns the majority of shares, but some shares are also sold on the stock exchange for private investors to own and have a seat in the Board of Directors.

    Who says Metro Board of Directors should only consist of elected politicians and political appointees?

    • Who says? I believe the structure of the Board was determined in the state law (AB 153) in 1993 that created LACMTA by merging the CTC and RTD.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

      • OTOH Steve, laws can also be changed and repealed with the correct political climate. We are definitely feeling a gradual change in political climate and as a former editor of the LA Times, you should be feeling the growing momentum of libertarianism in the US today as well.

        I certainly wouldn’t have expected support for same sex marriage, legalization of marijuana and gun rights as it is shifting towards today.

        Senator Rand Paul got a standing ovation at UC Berkeley for example, which is unheard of in one of the most liberal universities in the US, let alone in San Francisco of all places.

        That alone would tell you that CA may not be a solid Democrat state as it has been for almost thirty years.

        And also Barbara Boxer is retiring, and the seat is expected to be a very contested one between Democrat Attorney General Kamala Harris (possible first female African-American for CA Senate) and GOP State Assembly Member Colonel Rocky Chavez (possible first Latino for CA Senate). In addition, Col. Rocky Chavez, has a distinguished military career, one from the US Marines, that many look highly upon as credentials for leadership.

        I hate to break it to you Steve, but the outlook for a potential Metro tax ballot in 2016 doesn’t seem to be leaning too good. I’m not going to hide it to you, I am leaning toward voting for Sen. Rand Paul for President and Assemblymember Rocky Chavez for Senate next year. And if the growing number of libertarianism, especially by Millennials in CA continues, it’s definitely going to change the political outlook of CA.

  3. When will Metro release the cause of the Gold Line fiasco last week? How long does it take figure out the cause? It’s been more than a week now. Is it going to take months, years, decades? Will The Source simply ignore the issue and act like nothing happened…until it happens again in a few months? When is Metro going to be at least 20% honest and at least give us SOME kind of explanation? “Cause is under investigation” is a complete and utter lie. There is no way a building full of engineers and rail operations specialists DON’T have a clue what happened. And if that’s the case, the entire Metro system could crumble at any moment, since none of these professionals can explain the wire damage OVER a WEEK after it happened. Is everyone on vacation there?

    • My understanding is that a staff report will be issued to the Board. If/when that happens, I will try to get it posted.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  4. Steve, I know that from time to time you provide a link to someone holding Metro’s feet to the fire but Mr. Linton is not as clairvoyant as he appears and he certainly is not CPA or even looking at facts.

    Metro recently changed it’s rate structure and proposed 2 more increases over the next few years therefore predicting rate increases is neither new nor unexpected.

    The public has voted for new construction for which he conveniently ignores. Mr. Linton would and will only be appeased if any and all construction was for biking or walking since that is the primary, if not the only, concern of the blog for which he writes.

    • Hi Vic;

      I thought Joe’s post was fine and, like anyone in the media, he has every right to be skeptical if he so chooses — as always, I try to provide any additional info I think riders/readers/taxpayers may need. Readers also have a right to decide for themselves whether any reporter’s skepticism is warranted or not. More than anything, I think it’s important to use this space to give readers the non-Metro view of things. As I’ve said many times before, no one should get all their news about the their government from their government!

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source