Sunday, March 13, 2011

Metro Board Report for February 2011

February 24 was not the most exciting of Metro Board meetings, with a lot of routine business and very little that required significant discussion. So we'll just hit the highlights:

Oops, It Looks Like Those Gates Probably Weren't Worth It: The monthly update on the TAP program brought forward the widely-known but little-discussed fact that the fare gates still operate unlocked (although now a red light flashes if you go through one without TAP-ping) because of delays in getting all of Metro's passes onto TAP. This, of course, means that fare inspections are still being done manually by Sheriff's Department personnel, many months after the gates were installed.

Director Zev Yaroslavsky, who is well-known for barely controlling the loss of his temper when things get out of hand at Metro, asked "we spent $54 million on gates we can't lock, because we didn't address the conversion issue? We've 'evolved' to the same system as before, but with an extra barrier!" That was followed by Chairman Don Knabe saying that "everything we were told at the time turned out to be wrong ... if we had known this, there wouldn't have been support for it."

Chief Communications Officer Matt Raymond, around whose neck the albatross of TAP and fare gates currently hangs, says it would cost $20 million a year to have station agents during all hours of Metro Rail operation, at all gated locations. Calling that "absurd," Yaroslavsky has now called for a full report on the matter.

(You know, guys, Director Richard Katz and I tried to tell you this was a bad idea in the first place ...)

Incidentally, at the Operations Committee meeting, Director John Fasana asked Commander Pat Jordan of the Sheriff's Department Transit Services Bureau if those flashing red lights were helping with fare checks. Jordan's response was that more fare evaders are caught when inspections are done at the exit points of their trips, not at the entry points. Of course, the lights are ineffective with that strategy of catching offenders.

And speaking of TAP, a staff report on the municipal operators concerns regarding the program included a fascinating matrix of what they feel are the numerous remaining stumbling blocks toward getting full countywide usage of the fare card.

The Answer On The 710 Tunnel Cost Is ... Incomplete?: It turns out that Deputy CEO Paul Taylor was omniscient when he warned that Director Ara Najarian's motion in December on the I-710 tunnel would result in a staff report containing “incomplete cost estimates.”

Said staff report used the similar tunnel in Seattle for which bids were recently received, which prompted Najarian to ask why Boston's "Big Dig" wasn't used for comparison instead. The reason, according to Metro's manager for real estate management and development Roger MoliƩre, is that Boston's project transferred risk to the public-private partner, which prevents direct comparison to Metro's proposed project.

That answer wasn't good enough for Najarian who -- despite CEO Art Leahy's statement that staff did its best to comply, Director Fasana declaring the report "responsive," and Director Gloria Molina declaring in exasperation "we haven't even chosen a route yet!" -- insisted that the report be redone "with a full-cost estimate, on the longest possible route, with all additional costs, and comparing the per-mile cost with Boston." Meanwhile, the anti-tunnel forces raised their usual objection to the entire project, in their apparent belief that this project will somehow go away if they keep protesting it.

And so we still wait to see what the answer is to Najarian's question. Or even if we know what the question really is.

And Here's What's Going On In Washington & Sacramento: As usual, when dealing with federal and state transportation funding, it's always a good news/bad news situation. The good news is that President Obama's proposed budget contains $569 million in transportation funding, half of which would go to public transit, and $400 million set aside for the New Starts program. The bad news is that the California Legislature is getting cold feet about the swap of the sales tax on gasoline for an increased sales tax on diesel that would go to the state Public Transportation Account; some legislators are now floating a proposal to remove the sales tax on diesel as well and increase motor vehicle fees instead, which would eliminate transit funding from the mix. No one is yet commenting on whether or not the state's transit agencies would use recently-passed Proposition 22 to challenge such a move.

Quote Of The Month: During the discussion on the 710 tunnel project, Director Najarian said at the outset that "I'm not saying the report was dishonest" ... only to turn around several minutes later and say "we are selling this report as a lie to the public." Well, Ara, which is it?

Next Metro Board Committee Meetings: Wednesday and Thursday, March 16 & 17.
Next Metro Board Meeting: Thursday, March 24.