Monday, December 20, 2010

Metro Board Report for November/December 2010

Can the Regional Fare System Move Forward?: This month found the Executive Management & Audit Committee receiving not one, but three staff presentations on fares, and the only reason I don't use the “left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing” analogy is that there would need to be a third hand. You do the math:

  • Regional Fare System Plan – The “stored value” function on TAP is scheduled to be operational by the middle of next year; conversion of remaining paper passes to TAP by fall; and conversion of transfers between service providers by the middle of 2012.

  • Future Fare Structuring – 90% of passengers surveyed want a way to purchase a day pass on Metro's buses without needing to have a TAP card first; 53% of fare payment is now on TAP, and only 22% in cash; almost half of passengers say they would pay a premium for rail, but almost two-thirds (64%) say they would pay a premium for more frequent service; slightly over half prefer service reductions to fare increases; and 57% would pay more for unlimited use over a two hour period, provided it included use of non-Metro service. One proposal now being floated would charge a 25-cent premium fare for Rapid, 50-cents for rail, and 75-cents for express service.

  • TAP Status – 45% of all TAP loading transactions take place on buses (that's a lot of day pass sales!); paper TAP cards are coming (but the staff report doesn't say precisely when) and a “dual-use” TAP card (whatever that is) is being developed.

Small wonder that, after all of this confusion, Directors Ara Najarian, Diane DuBois, Pam O'Connor, and Antonio Villaraigosa put forward a motion that staff has to resolve “remaining issues” with the municipal operators before the Board adopts the formal implementation of the Regional Fare System Plan. Seems to me that there a lot of those to be addressed …

Oh, What Havoc a Simple Change Order Hath Wrought: A design revision on the Sepulveda Pass widening project to realign Mulholland Drive and its bridge over the 405 turned into the policy debate from hell as the Construction Committee found itself dealing with Director Mark Ridley-Thomas' belief that “the entire culture of change orders needs examining.” Chiming in was Director Gloria Molina, who sees everything in the light of the problems the Red Line had during construction more than a decade ago and deemed staff answers to her questions “insufficient.” Eventually, the entire matter ended up going to the entire Board for discussion … where it passed under the consent calendar! (Note to the uninitiated: The consent calendar is a governmental parliamentary process in which items already heard in committee can be approved by the Board without reopening public discussion. So in this case, it seems that all the hand-wringing in committee was for naught.)

Words Fail Me In Trying to Explain This: Every time Metro contracts to purchase new buses, there is a competitive bidding process, and the successful bidder always includes options to purchase additional buses under the contract without having to renegotiate the price. The reason for this is a hedge against inflation to Metro, which is important when you consider that a bus costs somewhere in excess of $650,000. So why did Director Ridley-Thomas try to squash the execution of the last option on the current contract with North American Bus Industries, apparently not able to read in the staff report that this was not a new procurement (he misstated the approval of the purchase as a “sole source provider contract”), nor to understand even after CEO Art Leahy and Chief Operations Officer Lonnie Mitchell explained that? Ridley-Thomas kept calling for a competitive bid process, claiming that exercising an already bid contract option “embraces an anti-competitive environment.” Either the deputies to the Supervisor from the Second District aren't doing his homework for him, or he is ignoring his own deputies' research. And I doubt it is the former.

Even the Bus Riders Union Is Right Sometimes: The BRU, well-known as being the loudest voices against the operation of a transit system that balances scarce resources against service needs, raised their voice to support the Wilshire Blvd. Bus Rapid Transit Project, even siding with Metro staff against the opposition from condominium owners along a short stretch of Wilshire in the Westwood area (the “Westwood Homeowners Association”) who somehow think a rush-hour bus lane will ruin their piece of paradise. After a lot of public comment, much of it from the homeowners and their representatives claiming they know more about traffic flow than LADOT's traffic engineers (who urged the segment to remain), the project EIR was approved, without the disputed segment, to move forward to the required design and approval by the Los Angeles City Council and the County Board of Supervisors.
As for the BRU, Director Zev Yaroslavsky told them: “The last thing we want to do is deliver a project that is dead on arrival, because there would never be another bus lane, anywhere else, after that.” To which the BRU worries that removal of the segment will set a precedent for other neighborhoods to ask for their own exemption. Like I said, they're right sometimes.

The Latest “Stop the 710 Extension” Tactic Backfires: Director Najarian introduced a motion to have the funding estimates for the State Route 710 “gap closure” project updated, which caused the usual amount of confusion. The anti-710 forces lauded the motion, then proceeded to attack the project on the usual grounds, as if this was a motion to pass the EIR; the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments, in the form of Alhambra City Councilmember Barbara Messina, opposed the motion and expressed their desire for the project to move forward (wait … I thought Alhambra was opposed to the project … I'm getting soooo confused by this debate …); Director José Huizar tried to pull rank using his real world occupation as a “land use lawyer” to counter Director Molina's assertion that the EIR would be the determination of the route; and the Eagle Rock Neighborhood Council delivered a resolution opposing the project, as if that mattered.
After Director John Fasana amended the motion to include all Measure R-funded projects, Director Richard Katz asked if that would include projects that are already in the process of seeking state and federal funding, which resulted in Deputy CEO Paul Taylor cautioning against the creation of “incomplete cost estimates”.
The whole mess will come back to the Board in February, with staff estimates of schedule impacts to all projects of such a move. And we are left to wonder why it takes so long to get anything done ...

5th and Flower Station Update: In our last printed version of this column (the November So.CA.TA newsletter), we reported that the Regional Connector project is moving forward minus this station, which would be only three blocks north of 7th St./Metro Center. Staff was directed to enter into discussions with the various downtown business interests to see if private interests would at least finance a study on whether private financing would be available to construct the station, since they were the loudest objectors to the station being removed from the EIR. Now comes word that 14 business owners and the Central City Association all expressed interest, but no willingness to open their wallets … which prompted Director Fasana to state the obvious: “Willingness to fund a study is an indicator of the station's potential worth, and if there is none, we should leave it as it was approved last month.” This, of course, did not placate those business interests, who unsuccessfully tried to lobby the Board in public comment to put the station back in the project anyway. Guess the handwriting on the wall wasn't big enough for them to read.

Quote Of The Month: Chairman Don Knabe, in response to perpetually clueless gadfly Arnold Sachs' objections to the approval of funding an option for twenty more of the new safer Metrolink passenger cars (“push-pull makes this not work, and automated train control won't work if the locomotive isn't in the front”): “You should have been at the press conference, Arnold.”
Sachs is also the person who claims that Metro's debt policy is “get the money, don't build anything, raise the fares.” I guess he didn't notice the Red Line, the Orange Line, and the Gold Line Eastside Extension, all of which were completed in the past dozen years.

Next Metro Board Committee Meetings: Wednesday and Thursday, January 19 & 20.
Next Metro Board Meeting: Thursday, January 27.