710 debate, Uber losses, DTLA rail: HWR, Feb. 16

Good morning everyone! If you happen to be in Cocoon Coffee in Mason, Ohio, this morning swing by my table and say hello. Attentive Source readers know that I am dry-

Sorry you got stuck in L.A. area traffic once, dude. Next time maybe give transit a whirl.

docked in the Cincinnati-area every so often due to Parental Health Problems. I try my best to carry on my Metro duties, albeit as a telecommuter.

I was just chatting with a very nice bloke at the next table who lived for a time in So Cal and was griping about the traffic in LaLa Land. The funny thing, of course: Cincy folks drive everywhere! Many ‘burbs have little to no transit, sidewalks are often missing, six- or eight-lane wide arterial roads are routine and legions of farm fields are now strip mall parking lots.

So just stop the L.A. bashing, People of Cincy. And this: I was served a plate of Mexican food last night that could have only originated at a local dog park. Yes, that bad. ?

LAX People Mover update

Los Angeles World Airports is finalizing a deal that would build the people mover as a public-private partnership; the goal is to complete it by 2023. As it happens, Metro is also pursuing P3s as a way to possibly accelerate some of its projects.

The people mover will have three stations serving airport terminals and a station at Aviation/96th Street, where riders can transfer to/from the Crenshaw/LAX Line and Green Line, as well as bus lines. Metro will be building the Aviation/96th Station. Here’s a rendering:

Credit: Metro.

Art of Transit: I’ve been running around the past few weeks taking pics of 25-year full-timers at Metro (the agency turns 25 this year). Below are a trio of pics. See them all in this video

Leo Noya, Bus Operator, Division 8

Darron Daniels, Service Attendant, Division 5

Brenda Harris, Stop-Zone/Metro Clean Leader, CMF

Metro staff support a $6-billion widening of the 710 Freeway (LAT)

Metro Board to vote on $6 billion lower 710 freeway widening (Streetsblog LA)

Metro moves forward with plan to widen the 710 freeway (Curbed LA)

Would widening the 710 freeway help or hurt Long Beach? (KPCC)

Minnesota passing by

Cargo containers on a ship at the Port of L.A. Much of the freight in the ports ends up trucks and many of the trucks end up on the 710. Photo by Joey Zanotti, via Flickr creative commons. 

First things first — and with an eye on the Curbed LA headline: nothing has been decided on the 710 Corridor Project. The full Metro Board of Directors is scheduled to vote on March 1 whether to make alternative 5C — which includes a widening of the freeway between Long Beach and the 60 freeway — the “preferred alternative” for the project.

Two Metro Board Committees heard testimony on the item. Neither voted. They sent the item to the full Board without a recommendation and some doubts were aired. Supervisor Janice Hahn also introduced a motion that would significantly change 5C by adding a lane for zero emission vehicles. Public testimony ran strongly against the proposal. To wit:

The nut of this debate: the 710 was not built to handle the traffic it’s carrying, including the increase in trucks from the ports. No one — at least at this time — can force all that freight onto trains, even though there’s capacity to spare (for now). New rail yards are for their own reasons also controversial. The public is asking questions about whether freeway widenings help with traffic congestion — or just attract more traffic and increase emissions. One goal of this project is to try to separate trucks from cars to increase safety and decrease accidents that tie up traffic. Another goal is to invest $100 million into putting low-emission trucks on the road.

It’s a tough piece of public policy. On the northern end of the 710 — where there is a four mile gap in the freeway — the Metro Board voted last year to stop pursuing a freeway expansion and instead invest money in local road and transit improvements. The environmental studies for the 710 south project have been underway since 2008. We’ll see what happens on March 1, 2018.

Metro discovers a better West Santa Ana branch (Red Line Reader) 

The options that Metro staff propose for more technical study, including two new ones to the DTLA core and one to the Arts District.

Scott Frazier offers another thoughtful take on a Metro rail project in the works. This time it’s the Artesia-to-DTLA light rail line.

Earlier planning efforts focused on Union Station as the northern end of the line. But Metro staff this month are asking the agency’s Board to approve new options for further study that would end the line in the heart of DTLA or a new Arts District station.

Scott’s take, first on Union Station as a terminus:

Shoved in the armpit of two concrete rivers, nestled next to the largest prison complex in the entire country, Union Station will never be anything but a place to make transfers. There’s nothing wrong with that, except that transferring at the station is also fraught.

And his take on the possibility of the line running to the DTLA core:

With respect to those connections, the Downtown Transit Core 1 alternative hits all the must-haves. It connects to the Blue Line, to the subway at Pershing Square, and to the Regional Connector at Flower. It also would spread the congestion currently concentrated at 7th/Metro across three stations, helping to assure the long time stability of the downtown area transit network.

And Scott pointing the barrel of his laptop at the Metro Mothership:

This isn’t a common occurrence in Metro’s history. As planning progresses across the county, many lines (Van Nuys, Whittier, Crenshaw) are under constant threat of degrading into boondoggles hamstrung by failures to think far enough ahead. In this instance, Metro has admirably taken community feedback and turned it into an opportunity to improve a major capital project. All that remains to be seen is whether they can follow through.

One thing I’ll add about the two routes to the DTLA core. They seemingly would get southeast L.A. County residents to the DTLA job center more quickly and could also be an east-west transit solution to connect the DTLA core to the Arts/Industrial districts. We’ll see what the Metro studies find.

How $225,000 can help secure a pollution loophole at Trump’s EPA (NYT)

New truck bodies outfitted with old engines don’t have to meet the same lower emission levels as new trucks.

Proponents say the less-expensive trucks keep smaller trucking outfits competitive and preserve jobs. Opponents — including some in the trucking industry — say it’s a loophole based on shoddy science and political donations.

Bottom line: the loophole for worse or better isn’t helping air quality or public health.

Uber quarterly sales rose 61% to $2 billion amid heavy loss (Bloomberg)


“Despite a turbulent year for the ride-hailing company, sales were $7.5 billion. But the company also posted a substantial loss of $4.5 billion. There are few historical precedents for the scale of its loss.”

Some of the loss involved legal expenses and other financial moves. But still. There’s no doubt the product is popular, but the question must be asked: at what point do the Ubers of the world have to raise their prices?

This is exactly why Uber and other ride-sharers are pursuing self-driving cars. Cutting the cost of drivers might help with profitability, although I have to wonder about the costs involved in acquiring and maintaining a giant fleet of robot cars. In the meantime, the Ubers of the world know that keeping fares low is popular and allows them to undercut traditional taxis.

How much are these guys hurting transit ridership? Hard to say but I think it’s among the reasons that ridership has dipped across the U.S. (and at Metro). Of course, ride sharing can’t alone be blamed for ridership: there has been much attention lately on the UCLA study that found that car ownership in our region has surged, especially among lower-income residents who formerly took transit.



30 replies

  1. One pretty good way to force people to use rail would to stop increasing the capacity for the trucks for free for them.

  2. 100 million in maintainance and operations for two miles of rail is most certainly rent seeking behavior in a very Old world sense. They will undoubtedly have annual real maintanence and operations costs in the seven figure range, and they’ll pocket the remaining 90+ million in rent to themselves, ala the scheme in catch 22

    100 million in annual maintenance and operations! That is comparable to metros entire maintenance budget for a hundred miles of rail.

    • The $4.5 billion LAX contract includes refurbishment and replacement as well as maintaining the stations.

      Here was Metro’s proposed FY18 budget: https://media.metro.net/about_us/finance/images/fy18_proposed_budget_2017-05.pdf

      Metro’s rail operations budget was $519.6 million, of which maintenance $231.6 million.
      The budget does not include major maintenance like refurbishment and replacement in the maintenance total, which is instead put in a separate item, “operating capital” which was $388.6 million. So the annual operations and maintenance budget for the current rail system is $908.2 million, or $22.7 billion over 25 years; the annual maintenance budget, including refurbishment and replacement, is $620.2 million, or $15.5 billion over 25 years.

  3. On a per Mile basis, 5 billion for 2 miles is 2.5 billion per mile.

    Ca hsr is 400 miles, even if it cost 100 billion, it is still only 250 million per mile, or one tenth the cost building the airport connector.

    At a budget of 67 billion, it merely costs 168 million per mile, which means the airport connector is 14 Times more expensive.

    The massive 405 widening project cost merely a billion for twelve miles

    So the airport connector is a pretty egregious and over the top number. Even and especially if it includes LAWA Collecting rent on it for thirty years.

    Beside the point on all this, 600 million for an infill light rail station is a scandalous and outrageous number in its own right, as that is more expensive than pretty much any HRT subway station anywhere in the world.

    • To repeat, the cost includes 30 years of operation and maintenance and LAWA is not collecting rent — they are paying the contractor to design, build, operate and maintain the line. Obviously it’s very expensive. But I’m trying to stress that this is a project that is financially structured different than most.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

    • Factor in operating and maintenance costs for 25 years in the $4.5 billion contract. The $4.5 billion contract can be thought of as 2 contracts. $1 billion for the construction (with the contractor picking up the tab for $0.95 billion in construction costs) and $3.5 billion for operations and maintenance for 25 years:

      The details for the people mover contract are here:

      During the 5 years of construction, LAX will pay LINXS $1 billion, while LINXS will pay for the $950 million (or more) additional construction costs.

      For the next 25 years, the contractor will operate the people mover, and LAX will pay the contractor a fee per year to cover the current operation, maintenance and past construction/financing costs. The first year will be a $97 million payment (will increase in later years based on a schedule and with inflation).

      The Regional Connector EIR could be a point of comparison for the operating and maintenance costs. The EIR listed operating and maintenance costs for the 1.9 mile, 4 station subway in 2008 dollars on page 5 of this link (probably the closest comparison we have for the 2.25 mile people mover with 6 stations): http://media.metro.net/projects_studies/connector/images/Final_EIR/appendix_h_final_alternatives_analysis_report_part_11_of_14.pdf

      Heavy rail cost $116.11 million per year in 2008 dollars to operate and maintain. Over 25 years that is $2.9 billion in operating and maintenance costs.
      Light rail cost $264.20 million per year in 2008 dollars to operate and maintain. Over 25 years that is $6.6 billion in operating and maintenance costs.

      The people mover probably can cost a bit less to operate since it is automated and you do not need to pay drivers, and maybe what workers that are used are not employed by LAX and are cheaper. But if you do the math, you see that it is not necessarily a huge windfall for the contractor given the typical costs of operating a train line.

  4. Doh! I meant the airport connector, not regional connector!

    With the new cost of five billion for the airport connector, it will be the most expensive transportation project ever built in the history of humanity (on a per mile basis).

    Funny how it got to five billion, last cost estimate I remember it was around 600 or 700 million and we didn’t think it would get built because measure r only contributed like 200 million toward it.

    • Hi Adam;

      Los Angeles World Airports — not Metro — is building the people mover. Metro is building the new transit station at Aviation and 96th that will serve the Crenshaw/LAX and Green Lines, as well as buses. That project is in the design phase and has a budget of about $623 million. Here’s the project home page: https://www.metro.net/projects/lax-extension/

      The airport’s people mover has a budget of $4.5 billion and that includes payments to the contractor to operate the and maintain the people mover for 30 years — a cost not factored into publicly-built projects. I’m not sure about most expensive transpo projects on a per mile basis, but there are definitely more expensive transportation projects. The one that comes immediately to mind is the California high-speed rail project, which has a current estimated budget of $67 billion to go between L.A. and S.F.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  5. So I am reading correctly that the regional connector costs 1.95 billion, but if we do it as a p3 it now costs 5 billion because the private sector requires 3 billion in profits to participate?

    I thought the p3 were supposed to save money because the private sector outcompetes the public, but this just sound like costing three billion extra and the only reason we are wasting those three billion being we really want to give three billion to a private company for no reason whatsoever.

    This project is now costing as much as the entire twenty miles of the red and purple line! With two thirds of the budget allocated as guaranteed profits for a private company!

    That sounds like a terrible idea and a preview of the sort of horrific vampire approach (suck money out as profits that could build much more if invested in additional construction) to infrastructure in trumps America.

    Absolutely vile

    • The Regional Connector is under construction and is being built as a publicly-funded project, not a P3. The project’s budget is $1.81 billion.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  6. Since the 710 connector will never happen, how about the 110 detour with direct connect to 210 fwy (there’s a huge gap). Also, add an extra lane both ways from the 5 fwy to 110 fwy to 210 fwy. The 110 can benefit with 2 extra lanes both ways.

    • Hi Tim;

      I’m unaware of any plans to extend the 110 north to the 210. I think that would be politically difficult!

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  7. The downtown core option is a good idea! Connecting with 7th St Metro center would make more sense than Pershing Square station as there wouldn’t be a required transfer to the red/purple lines to get to WSAB from the expo/blue/gold lines if coming from the north or west. Hopefully this would still also allow for an eventual but logical extension north to Glendale via Silverlake / Echo Park and/or to a Santa Monica blvd. route that some have suggested.

  8. You’re right about the food in those parts (I’ve been to Mason). So monotonous. If I ever decided to move out there, my stomach would leave me and move back to L.A.

    • I hear you loud and clear. There’s some good grub down in the city but it definitely hasn’t made it out to the ‘burb s, where the chains rule the roost. At least I found a place that serves Stumptown coffee!

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

    • There’s good food in the Ohio Valley, just not Mexican! My brother says there’s now a good Mexican restaurant in Evansville, but I’ll believe it when I see it.

  9. Who says we can’t force shippers to use rail? If we can displace hundreds of businesses and homes, why can’t we insist shippers use trains and the Alameda Corridor instead? After all, that’s what is built for. I’ll bet if we told the trucking companies that they had to foot the bill for the 710 expansion that using the train tracks would look like a reasonable idea.

    • I am thinking that the truck lanes on the freeway won’t exist for another 10 to 15 years. By that time the trains might be at full capacity.

      Plus truck can go to places where trains don’t go.

      • True, trucks can go places where trains cannot, but this is a defined corridor, from ports to the rail yards. If trains are at full capacity then deal with that issue by using better signaling and other technological resources. History shows us that when we expand freeways in a few years that new capacity is eaten up by both trucks and cars. It’s time to break this vicious cycle.

        • Use truck carrying trains too. See “Rolling Highway” where in the world outside the USA trains carry trucks for short journeys, such as under the English Channel or through Swiss Alps tunnels. Even if it is just to Colton or San Bernardino, that’s a lot of trucks moved without widening I-710 and poisoning children.

  10. I say that if they’re not going to go to Union Station, then they MUST find somewhere downtown, near the “central core” of downtown and NOT in the “Arts District” to terminate this line. The Arts district makes no sense because there isn’t much, in the way of business arount it. The closer to the central part of downtown this line can terminate the better.

  11. I’m confused… it looks like a track but then the vehicles look like they have bus wheels. What’s the technology being proposed here? Is this going to produces a “bumper car” effect where the wheels are constantly hitting a track to keep them going in the right direction?

  12. Downtown Transit Core options are a no-brainer. So much more useful than routing to Union Station and will really provide a complete downtown transit system. Even if it costs a bit more money, Metro has to pick one of the Downtown Transit Core options to make a great system!

  13. For either the Crenshaw/LAX or Artesia Lines, we could call one the “Bronze Line”
    I mean, we have a Gold and Silver lines, so why not have a Bronze and Diamond line?