Sunday, November 13, 2011

Metro Board Report for October 2011

October was a rather boring month at Metro this year, with very few tricks or treats. Nevertheless, there were a couple of matters worth reporting on …

The Saga Of The Metro Rail Gates, Chapter XXVIX: Not surprisingly, the experimental locking of the fare gates at selected stations is quickly becoming a case of the left hand not always knowing what the right hand is doing, with the usual micro-managing tendency of the Board trying to be a third hand.

No sooner did a limited test (see last month’s column) end than the Board, in its infinite wisdom, want to expand the test to rush hour and to heavily used stations such as 7th Street/Metro Center and North Hollywood. (It was only because of concerns about the high Metrolink transfer rate at Union Station that Director Zev Yaroslavsky removed that station from the motion before it was voted on.) And, since the motion included a request for a report on types of fare media used, the discussion quickly turned toward TAP.

Not surprising, Metro’s Chief Communications Officer, Matt Raymond – who somehow got saddled with this albatross when he wasn’t looking – reports that the major stumbling block is still the non-Metro operators. According to a matrix displayed during his report, Metrolink is still “in discussions”, Gardena Municipal Bus Lines is installing equipment but only for cash purses (no passes), Santa Monica’s Big Blue Bus is still working on issuing a contract for TAP installation, Torrance Transit has installed TAP equipment but not actually using it, and LADOT is still in the process of installing the equipment (how many years has it been since they started?). But the real slap in the face is Long Beach Transit, which issued a contract for the equipment but subsequently pulled out of the program.

These revelations led to some pointed questions from Director John Fasana, such as when discussions will take place about the disparity of fares between agencies and how to create a seamless passenger experience. Raymond didn’t give direct answers, saying only that these are “policy decisions”; CEO Art Leahy said he hopes some of the issues will be resolved within the next year, but I’m not holding my breath.

Director Diane DuBois, providing an excellent example of stating the obvious then ignoring all other relevant facts in drawing a conclusion, said that fare checks and gate locking force more people to purchase a ticket, and that this would lead to revenue increases. That was rebutted by both Leahy and gadfly John Walsh, who reminded her that there would also be increases in expenses, primarily from the need to have station attendants once (if?) the gates were permanently locked.

And the expanded gate locking tests were approved, despite Director Richard Katz’s comment that “it would be nice to know what the previous results are before we approve going forward”. But being outvoted on fare gate-related matters is nothing new to Katz by now.

I Guess We’re At The Point Where All You Have To Do Is Say “710” And The Arguing Starts: In the discussion over the hiring of the firm that will prepare the environmental impact report (EIR) for the 710 freeway extension, the city of South Pasadena tried to make Metro’s legal decisions for them. They did so by claiming that a recent state law (AB 751) gave Metro the authority to remove the surface route from consideration before the EIR process. When told that the law only gave cities more power to act after an EIR was issued, Katz then asked the city’s attorney if there was case law that would reassure the Board they wouldn’t get sued; the attorney’s response cited “guidelines for alternative analysis” but gave no direct answer to the question.

This was followed by the No On 710 people, who still think they are going to bully Metro into dropping the whole project, offering their legal opinion that a 1973 injunction against considering the surface route still applies, 38 years later; this was followed by those wonderful folks at the National Resources Defense Council claiming studying the surface route “is a waste of time and money because it won’t be considered in the end”.

When asked by Fasana for his opinion, Leahy said keeping all the options going into the EIR process would prevent someone suing because the option they didn’t like was kept when others were removed. And so, despite everyone’s usual unsuccessful efforts to make the project go away, the process moves forward, with the only “no” vote coming – predictably – from Director Ara Najarian.

We’re The City Of Beverly Hills, And We’re Too Rich To Be Pushed Aside By The Facts: The long-awaited report on tunnel safety and fault investigation was released and the news was not good if you are in any way connected with the governance of Beverly Hills; it turns out that there is a fault zone right where the City wants the future Century City Purple Line Station to be located in order to avoid tunneling under the Beverly Hills High School campus. And guess where it’s not a good idea to build a subway station?

The Planning and Programming Committee received an oral report and overview of the presentation by a panel of experts, who were followed by a report from an independent review panel which included one name familiar to anyone who has tuned into local television news after an earthquake, Lucy Jones of the U.S. Geological Service. To no one’s surprise, they found the report to be credible, factual, and compelling … which of course led the City to complain bitterly that they hadn’t gotten to see the report in advance of the meeting. Antonovich sided with them, calling the withholding of the report until the meeting “irresponsible” … but then, he never did like the idea of spending money to extend the subway.

You can read the whole thing for yourself, including the presentation given to the committee, at

Is This Renaming Really Necessary?: For reasons that were supposed to be made clear in his six-page motion, Antonovich pushed through changing the name of the Operations Committee – a name which has served through the entire 18 years that MTA has existed – to the “System Safety and Operations Committee”. While I don’t disagree with keeping a focus on safe operations, changing the committee name doesn’t change what Metro does about safety. Indeed, system safety has always been among the top issues that committee deals with, and changing the name is, well … kind of silly.

I read the entire motion, several times, and while Antonovich’s efforts to improve the “safety culture” at Metro, including evaluating existing efforts with reports and recommendations, are well-intentioned, the motion also (in addition to renaming the committee) calls for a review of the agency by-laws to determine if promoting safety is “the Board’s top oversight role and the agency’s top priority”. Excuse me, Mr. Supervisor, but Metro’s top priority is providing public transit service. While safety has to be a part of that, your motion has made it sound as if that is a secondary role (and I guess all those Measure R projects that Mayor Villaraigosa has been trying to accelerate funding for aren't a high priority either?). I can hardly wait for the day when someone proposes cancellation of a bus line – Line 204 on Vermont Avenue comes to mind – because the presence of criminal elements makes it unsafe to ride!

Besides, if it’s that important a role for the Board to play, you should have renamed the Executive Management Committee instead.

Quote Of The Month: Richard Katz, trying to get the presenters of the tunnel safety and fault investigation report to not rush through the presentation: “Could you slow down? I’m trying to understand this and I’m having to take notes in crayon!”

Next Metro Board Committee Meetings: Wednesday and Thursday, November 16 & 17

Next Metro Board Meeting: Thursday, December 15 (rescheduled as usual, due to Thanksgiving always falling on what would usually be the meeting date)