Transportation headlines, Tuesday, May 12

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ART OF TRANSIT: A Gold Line train arriving at Chinatown Station on Monday. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

Move LA interviews new Metro CEO Phil Washington (Move LA)

The activist group has a long interview with Phil, who officially started yesterday. The interview covers a lot of ground and Washington is asked up front about the potential ballot measure that Metro is considering putting before voters in 2016. His answer:

As you know we are in the midst of discussions about whether to put another sales tax measure on the ballot next year, and a recent Metro poll suggests very strong public support. What’s your opinion?
One of my first orders of business is to sit down with each board member to understand their objectives and priorities and to develop a tactical plan based on what I hear. If the board supports the idea of a new sales tax measure I know how to do it: We did it in Denver in 2004 and our success was largely due to our ability to bring people together. One of the truly great things that happened is that the Metro Mayors Caucus — a nonpartisan group of 40 mayors who voluntarily come together to address complex regional issues like air pollution — unanimously supported the measure. The transit build-out has been a Metro Mayors Caucus priority since the very beginning, and they also worked with the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority on issuing bonds to finance affordable multi-family housing at stations along the rail lines.

What are some of the key lessons learned about winning the ballot measure in Denver?
I believe the specificity of the plan was key — not just with the mayors but also the general public. A very detailed plan is a must. We tried going to the ballot in 1997 and failed partly because we weren’t specific about how the money would be spent, and it took us 7 years to get back to the ballot. It’s also critical to lay out the economic benefits, and to remember that these benefits are different for different stakeholders: For developers, for example, it’s about providing an opportunity to build next to what become thriving real estate markets around new stations, while to the unemployed or under-employed it’s the possibility of a job — or a career — in construction, operations or engineering. The mobility benefits are for everyone.

Phil also talks about funding and, in particular, the use of a public-private partnership in the Denver area to fund some transit projects. As many of you know, PPPs have been talked about in transit circles for many years now but actually pulling them off has proven difficult. There are certainly some projects here in need of extra funding so it will be interesting to see whether PPP turns out to be a viable option.

Editorial: better buses, balanced budgets; advice for Metro’s new CEO (L.A. Times) 

The editorial also covers a lot of ground and says that buses need to be more reliable, cleaner and their routes less confusing. They also urge him to “think like a rider” and focus on making the transit experience more pleasant. As for the ballot measure:

Stay focused on projects that deliver the greatest benefit. Metro’s board of directors is expected to put a new sales tax increase proposal on the 2016 ballot. The CEO will play a crucial role in the decisions about which projects are included in the proposal and in balancing regional and individual political demands to shape a modern, convenient public transit system.

Of course, the tension with ballot measures always involves building projects that make the most transit sense versus pursuing projects that may play well politically. The CEO, in many ways, is the bridge between Metro staff and Metro riders and the Metro Board of Directors, the 13 elected officials and their appointees who oversee the agency.

On the bus, just like mom taught me (Zocalo Public Square)

Lucerito Valenzuela. Photo: Zocalo Public Square.

Lucerito Valenzuela. Photo: Zocalo Public Square.

The latest in Zocalo’s ongoing profile of Metro riders.

LA Times completely botches story on high-speed rail fares (California High-Speed Rail Blog) 

A long and detailed response to a story I listed here yesterday taking a look at possible high-speed rail fares if the system opens between San Francisco and Los Angeles. The blog feels that the LAT didn’t give enough creedence to the high cost of flying and, thus, the possible attractiveness of the train.

My three cents: sure, the price of bullet train tickets is important — no one wants to see tens of billions of dollars spent on something too expensive to ride. That said, I also kind of think worrying about fares in 2028 is a little premature given that the vast majority of the project — which involves a lot of bridges and tunnels and grade separation — between L.A. and S.F. is not yet funded but will supposedly be done in 13 years. Um, look how long it takes to build a few miles of light rail, people.

California transit funding fight spreads as layoffs, cutbacks loom (San Jose Mercury News)

Here’s a bureaucratic issue that won’t go away and could potentially impact Metro. The issue: the Department of Labor had ruled that California pension reform was getting in the way of bargaining rights of transit labor unions in the state — and, thus, some federal dollars should stop flowing to California transit agencies. A federal court seemingly rejected that position but the money hasn’t started to flow again, although it appears the Department of Labor won’t appeal the earlier ruling. The state of California is trying to free up the money and Metro — which could be impacted — has been involved in the battle.

Rail could make a comeback in O.C. (L.A. Times)

A look at two potential streetcar lines in the OC. One would connect downtown Santa Ana to a new regional transit center in Garden Grove and the other would connect the Anaheim Metrolink/Amtrak station to Disneyland. The Santa Ana project is further along in the planning stages and qualified for federal assistance — but still faces some hurdles.

Orange County has commuter rail (Metrolink) but no light rail. Streetcars are usually sold as a boon to developers but it’s unclear if either of these projects would serve riders better than current OCTA buses.


Quasi-transity things…

•Things to read on transit: I recently finished Bill Bryson’s fun and informative book “One Summer: America 1927.” I’m glad to pass along my somewhat worn paperback to any rider who agrees to read some of it on transit and, when finished, pay the book forward to another transit rider. Email me if you want the book and can arrange a pickup at Union Station. Bryson, btw, is the author of one of my all-time favorite books, “A Walk in the Woods,” an alarmingly funny tale of his attempt to hike the Appalachian Trail with a college buddy. A movie version with Robert Redford (they aged the characters about 30 to 40 years apparently) will be released late this year.

Charles Lindbergh figures prominently in Bryson's latest book. Photo: Library of Congress.

Charles Lindbergh figures prominently in Bryson’s latest book. Photo: Library of Congress.

•Go Metro to Clippers basketball: I’ve been remiss in not saying Go Metro to Clippers playoff games. I do have some excuses. For one, the phrase “Clippers” and “playoffs” was so rarely uttered for so long at this time of year, that I’m still not quite used to it.

The other issue is that I almost never watch pro basketball and probably won’t until they get rid of free throws and timeouts and standardize the traveling rule. That said, Go Clippers! It would be great to see them reach the finals.

Just as it’s not a horrible thing that the Anaheim Mighty Ducks (I refuse to acknowledge the corporate name change) will soon be playing for the chance to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals. Although this column has no good will toward Corey Perry, a So Cal team playing for the Cup for the third time in four years would reinforce the point that So Cal is a hockey hotbed, perhaps more so than the Edmontons and Torontos of the world.

As for our L.A. Kings, it’s perhaps not a horrible thing that they missed the playoffs this season. The NHL season is both brutally long and just plain brutal. The Kings went deep into the playoffs for the past three seasons and it’s inevitable that there would be a letdown or they would slip a little. My advice to them: have a fun summer, get away from the ice for a bit and come back refreshed, revived and ready to hip check some unsuspecting winger into the fifth row.

Feel free to follow me on Twitter and Instagram for my less-transity tweets and pics.



16 replies

  1. If the new MTA CEO is suggesting a sales tax increase; I suggest that they look at more light rail lines closer to the city. It is nice they are expanding Metrorail to the San Gabriel Valley for the people that live in that area. But it will not benefit most of the the people in the more congested areas of LA County. Specifically, MTA needs to draw up plans for the San Fernando Valley. What is happening with the Orange Line and will they up grade it to light rail and connect it to the Gold Line? How about the Sepulveda Pass what is the long term decision on that? When will a decision be made on extending the 710 freeway to the 210 freeway? How about extending the Green Line further in to the South Bay Area? When will LAX build the people mover and when will it be in service? These are just a few of the ideas of what the voters will be looking for when this issue gets on the ballot. If the information is not put on the ballot to explain the issue and what will be the benefits from the tax increase then it will not pass again. This needs to be done correctly so the outcome from the election will be positive.

    • Metro CEO suggesting a raise in sales tax? So speaks a man making +$350,000 a year from our taxes. Of course we may need to raise the sales tax if only to cover his salary and pension in “Blue Heaven.” Such chutzpah! As for when the 710 Truck Tunnel? Not before we Pasadenans picket the Chinese Consulate, since that’s where the Pasadena Star-News says the push to dig is coming from!

  2. Hey Steve–

    Do you realize that you put comments on the travelling rules in the NBA on a transit blog? Good job, man.

    • Yes, I was fully conscious and aware when I wrote that. And, yes, I also believe the rule is/has been applied inconsistently by the league. That said, Go Clippers and Go Metro to the NBA Playoffs!

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  3. Hopefully someone has filled “Phil” in about the wasteful, polluting union welfare project called the 710 toll & truck tunnel. According to the then vice mayor, it was We$t Pa$adena hostility to the tunnel that brought down all of Metro’s last measure. Will a new Measure R also bankroll the 710 tunnel like a Trojan Horse?

  4. Usually, skeptics of HSR state that the US is not dense enough, but we’re not talking about linking LA to NYC cross country with HSR, we’re talking about linking major cities in CA, already the most populous state in the nation with HSR. And while denialists do not like to accept the facts, the hard truth that must be swallowed is that CA’s population will continue to grow and statics say that CA will grow from 38 million people today to over 60 million by 2050. In comparison, Japan’s population stood at 93 million when their first Shinkansen bullet train opened and it was right to do so because Japan ended up growing to a population of 128 million by 2010.

    If CA is not “dense” enough like Japan, do we still wait until CA’s population reaches 93 million before planning a HSR system? At what point do we start doing it then? We need to be acting now to build a viable HSR network here in CA. We all know CA’s population is going to keep increasing. And there is very little left to do than continuously adding more highways or airports, let alone continue to live in a suburban sprawl lifestyle as it is so accustomed to today.

    There’s also the fact that people need to accept and grasp is that at a population of 38 million today in CA, 10 million of them live right here in Los Angeles County. And LA County’s population isn’t decreasing either. We are the most populous county in the nation, we are also the most densely populated areas in the nation if one considers how little land there is in LA County left to develop.

    It’s going to be a hard pill to swallow, but the old American dream of owning a big home with a large garden and a backyard with a family dog is not going to be ever achievable here in LA anymore. The best people can do today in LA is start living in high rise condos and that is the only thing that people will be afford as residents of LA County. Either that or the choice is to continue to remain as renters forever with rising rent costs as supply cannot keep up with growing demand. That is the truth everyone needs to accept.

  5. Funding is extremely important. It has been suggested that the sales tax should be increased. This is not a good idea, nor is it necessary. Sales tax is one of the most unfair taxes in existence, as it impacts the poor much more than the wealthy. The poorest person has to pay the same percentage as the wealthiest. One of the highest concerns of Metro is that of fairness, in both service and fares. Therefore, any funding attained through taxation should take into consideration whom it impacts the most. Certainly, taxes that reduce the amount of private transportation, such as increasing the gasoline tax affecting private vehicles, makes sense. One of the potentially most fair taxes is the progressive income tax. However, many people are not aware of how un-progressive it really is. Loopholes in terms of deductions abound. Most tax deductions serve only to allow the wealthy to legally cheat. The only deduction that really makes sense is that for charity.

    In terms of ability-to-pay, the progression rate is nowhere steep enough. The percentages indicate an increase in proportion to income, but this is not true in terms of dollars earned. In terms of actual numbers, the poor are paying far more than the wealthy. It is not the amount that is paid, but rather the amount that is not paid that determines what an individual retains. A poor person who pays 10 percent will have far less remaining than a wealthy person who pays 90 percent. But, even that is not the proportions that are imposed by our present income tax structure, the progression is nowhere near steep enough. And, if based on the amount remaining, it should not be linear, but rather quite shallow up into the “middle class”, after which it would should become more and more steep. This is for individual taxes. Corporate taxes, where companies pay payrolls, should take that into consideration.

    As a very visible spokes-organization, Metro is in a good position to voice these concerns. And, when seeking funding, Metro should consider whom the source of that funding is impacting the most, and the least.

    • Hmm. And yet a national sales tax proposal was being touted not that many years ago as the “Fair Tax.” (Which of course raised the question, “fair to whom?”)

      Of course, a sales tax’s disproportionate impact on the poor is somewhat mitigated by the fact that food (except for restaurant meals, a luxury) is exempt almost everywhere, and some states don’t tax clothing, either.

      Personally, I’d definitely like to see a gas tax hike, and I’d also like even more to see a hike in the ticket tax on all short-hop flights between cities that are connected by rail, as well as a tax on airline departures and arrivals in cities that could have direct, all-rail, single-seat airport-to-downtown connections, but don’t (and as far as I’m concerned, Boston does, with their Blue Line connecting directly with the terminal circulator bus, and SeaTac and Reagan do, with urban rail right to the terminal building, but DFW does not, because you have to take the remote parking bus , then connect with another bus, to get to TRE into Dallas or Fort Worth.)

      • DFW does now have direct light rail service to the terminals (at least, to Terminal A). The DART Orange Line takes about an hour to get downtown: sit on the east side of the train for some stunning views of the city.

    • “The poorest person has to pay the same percentage as the wealthiest.”

      You can’t really say much for the existing flat rate fare structure as well. The system resembles exactly that way under the current flat rate fare structure.

      The poorest who are the most reliant on Metro the most and the most largest users of Metro, end up paying the same $1.75 fare for trips that they are likely to do the most: short trips to the neighborhood grocery store and to the minimum wage jobs nearby. They are not likely to travel that far, yet they face the most brunt of constant fare increases that happens under the flawed flat rate fare structure system. Full flat rate fare increases that will inevitably happen, such as to $2.00, $3.00 so on hurt them the most, all for travels that do not require such long distances.

      This is opposed to the more well off Metro riders who only constitute a small minority of Metro riders, those who are able to afford homes out in the suburbs or even in neighboring counties, able to afford a car to drive to the Metro station, park for free, and commute over 20 miles to DTLA for the same $1.75 price, to a well paying job in DTLA. Even if fares are raised to $2.00 or $3.00, the fare increases are still affordable for them as they are able to make longer trips for a reasonably good price even at a fare of $2.00 or $3.00.

      For the poor who has an average of 3 mile trip and ends up paying $1.75, they’re ending up paying $0.58 / mi.
      The more well off who is able to travel over 20 miles and still pays the same $1.75 fare, they’re ending up paying only $0.08 / mi.

      If fare increases to $3.00 per ride,
      For the poor who has an average of 3 mile trip and ends up paying $3.00, they’re ending up paying $1.00 / mi.
      The more well off who is able to travel over 20 miles and still pays the same $3.00 fare, they’re ending up paying only $0.15 / mi.

      The poor (majority of Metro riders) subsidizes the rich (minority of Metro riders).

    • Not really true. Sales taxes do not apply to medicine, food, utilities, rent or public transportation, which is where the vast majority of poor people’s expenses are. If the poor want to waste their money on i-phones, drinks at the bar, or fancy clothes, they should have to pay sales tax just like anyone else.

      • “Sales taxes do not apply to…utilities”

        Incorrect. LADWP and So Cal Gas both adds a 10% utility tax to your bill. So Cal Gas bills may include local taxes as well.

        And there are additional “fees,” “funds” and “surcharges” like solid waste resources fees, state regulatory fees, public purpose surcharges, state energy surcharges, CA Advanced Services Fund, CA Relay Service and Communications Device Fund, California High Cost Fund – A (CHCF-A), California Teleconnect Fund, Emergency Telephone Users Surcharge Tax (911), and Universal Lifeline Telephone Service Surcharge. These are all the BS “fees,” “funds,” “surcharges,” and “taxes” that are levied upon the people. Add all these together, one can be paying $15-$20 in taxes or fees or whatever they want to call it for utilities.

        “waste their money on i-phones”

        By today’s standards, cutting off landline service and going only with smartphone is the more cheaper option. MetroPCS offers 2 lines for $50 for unlimited talk, text and data.

        When you go with a prepaid plan like buying a $50 airtime card at your local convenience store, the minutes used aren’t taxed wither.

        Cell phones aren’t elite status symbols anymore like in the past. For the most part, in third world countries, cell phone usage is high because of the cheaper cost of implementation.

  6. “We did it in Denver in 2004 and our success was largely due to our ability to bring people together. ”

    I have to question the optimism that the outcome was in Denver back in 2004 and Los Angeles in 2016 will be similar. For the most part, Denver doesn’t even resemble LA at all. Looking at LA County as a total, we have the largest population in the nation with a population density reaching London levels due to the limited develop-able land space we have or have had. And population isn’t decreasing and land size isn’t getting any bigger.

    In addition, 80-85% of Metro riders are below the poverty line and a vast majority of Metro riders do not travel that far. Those are additional considerations that need to be factored in for tax ballot. Do we want to tax ourselves so that more rail lines can be built that expand farther and farther out, while the core users of Metro do not see a need to travel within a 5 mile radius from their homes on a constant frequent basis?

    Furthermore, the political climate of today is even more divided and we have an even more divided population. We have pro-mass transit riders today who both agree that mass transit should be the way of the future, but disagree on how it should be done, ranging from keeping the honor system vs. enforcing fare evasion and keeping the fare structure with a fixed flat price per ride vs. moving to a variable one rate by distance traveled.

    Another key factor that makes it different from 2004 and 2016: the rise of the Millennials. They are indeed the most libertarian minded generation in the US today, the most educated, the most civic minded, and the most connected, and the baton will be passed, if not have already from the generation of Baby Boomers whose population is diminishing.

    Will Millennials be for a tax increase to fund Metro? Or will they rather see that Metro start making money on their own? The signs are not so easy as there have been many good arguments with great examples that Metro should be doing than continuously asking taxpayers for more money.

    • While a few surveys have been done that show the millennial generation is “libertarian minded”, they tend to be libertarians who lean left. Rather than libertarians from generations past that were more likely to lean right. These individuals, while stating they might consider themselves libertarian, have actually been voting quite differently. Most educated young people have been in favor of cap and trade, increased gas taxes, and tax revenue for active transportation.

      ***Also, less than 60% of Metro’s ridership is below the poverty line. It is, however, still quite a large percentage compared to other cities.