Thursday, November 29, 2007

Going to a Really Long Metro Board Meeting So You Don't Have To

It is refreshing to go to a transit agency board meeting where everything isn't decided in advance and actual discussion of issues goes on. Back in Jersey, most decisions are made before the meeting starts, and other than listening to the advocates complain, the meetings are all done pretty quick.

Today's meeting was anything but quick, starting at 9:30 and ending at 2. There was a lot discussed, but the main issues were increasing the subsidy to the Expo Line, changes to Rapid Bus 770, HOT Lanes and putting in turnstiles at Metro stops. I'll discuss each issue in the order they were discussed.

1) A new $145 Million for the Expo Line


Both this and the changes to Rapid Bus Line 770 were originally part of the consent agenda but were removed at the request of some board members.

Because of increases in the cost of steal, cement and other construction supplies, it is now estimated that the construction of Expo Phase 1 will cost $808.3 million, $145 million more than what was budgeted.

Officials from Beverley, Santa Monica, West Hollywood and Culver City began the public testimony by praising Expo Authority, MTA and anyone associated with the project.

That didn't sit well with members of the Bus Rider's Union (pictured) who were incensed that months after raising fares to cover a less than $35 million operating short fall that Metro could find the Capital funds to finish Phase I of Metro. BRU members didn't pull their punches, accusing Metro of being "liars," "thieves" and "Indian Givers."

Also testifying was Damien Goodmon of Fix Expo who wondered why Metro can find money to finish Phase 1 but can't find a lot less money to put in a grade separation at Dorsey High School.

The debate between Commissioners was equally fierce with Mayor Villaraigosa chiding the rest of the board for seeking to act in such haste and the Expo Board for so badly overspending. The Mayor noted that the Gold Line didn't run this far over and (confounding people with calendars everywhere) that project was constructed at the same time as Expo Phase 1. "Where is the fiscal responsibility of this board?" Villaraigosa thundered.

The other board members were not amused by the Mayor's grandstanding. County Supervisor and Metro Commissioner Don Knabe grumbled that "Hard questions were asked at committee level." Commissioner Zev Yarolasky noted that the same problems that are putting Expo over budget have also put LA's Police HQ 75% over budget.

After the budget increase passed unanimously (with another $112.3 million going towards the much less controversial ACE project) Commissioner Burke tried to lighten the mood by joking about how they don't need to grade-separate in Santa Monica because people are smarter up there...and the crowd turned ugly. It was like one of those jokes made on a talk show that everyone watching knows is completely overboard with the jokester just seems clueless. Board Chair O'Conner, channeling her inner Jay Leno, quickly moved on to the next issue.

2) Excepting Rapid Bus 770 from parameters specified in the consent decree.
Ok, excuse me if I get anything wrong here, this was a tough one for me to wrap my hands around. Basically, Metro staff wanted to exempt the Rapid bus Line 770 in the Eastside from the consent decree between Metro and the BRU. Metro can't cut service on lines with certain ridership levels as part of their court agreement with BRU from the 1990's. However, Metro was allowed 5 exemptions at any given time.

Staff wanted to use one of its exemptions here because it is going to increase service on its Rapid Bus route, so it wanted to decrease service on its regular route. There would be a net loss of off-peak seats available, but that shouldn't be a problem because those seats aren't full now and they can always adjust the schedule if they're current projections understate ridership.

BRU members claimed it wasn't just bad policy (commuters who ride the 770 were out in force) it was illegal because the line hadn't been running for more than a year.

I'm not a lawyer, and I haven't read the consent decree...so I'll just finish by saying the Metro Board passed the motion to exempt 770 unanimously.

3) Here Come the HOT Lanes?

State officials in New Jersey act like it will start raining fire on the sinners and the Rapture will come if HOT (High Occupancy Toll) Lanes were ever added to the Garden State Parkway or the New Jersey Turnpike. Which is why I've been pleasantly surprised that I've heard HOT Lanes discussed in meetings in two consecutive days and only one elected official (Councilman LaBonge, yesterday) expressed disapproval.

Basically, a driver is charged a premium to enter HOT Lanes but is guaranteed a congestion free ride on that stretch of highway. By adjusting the price to meet demand, one can basically be guaranteed a congestion free ride. Today Metro passed a prelimnary plan to have a one-year congestion pricing demonstration plan to hopefully qualify for federal funds needed to do the conversion. If the FHWA selects LA's project to be funded, we can expect to see a conversion of HOV Lanes on the I-10 (El Monte Busway), I-110 (Harbor Freeway Transitway), and I-210 between the 605 and the 710. We can also expect to see future lanes now designated as HOV Lanes (carpool lanes) re-designated as HOT Lanes.
I also expect that if the Feds. don't come through, these plans are going to double as dust collectors on someone's shelf.

Of course, even though a final plan isn't near ready and public outreach hasn't even been thought of, the elected officials in the room were already squabbling over how the money raised could be spent. Despite this disagreement, the proposal was moved forward by a unanimous vote.

4) Lets Add Turnstiles...


Good news everyone! Metro has found a way to dramatically increase its revenue from Subways...its looking at installing turnstiles at its train stations. Despite the high cost of $10 million needed to install the new turnstiles, independent consultants assured the board that the revenue increase would far outweigh any initial cost.

Among the unimpressed were every member of the public (Why don't we reward transit riders by assuming their honest, asked one BRU member) that testified and Commissioner Richard Katz. Katz proposed that if these turnstiles were such money makers, we should pay the people that install them only with new revenue generated as a result of the new turnstiles. Unsurprisingly Katz's motion drew no second.

Later in the debate it came up that much of the savings would be a result of not needing as much security and reducing Metro's contract with the sheriff's office. Katz's retort was that security aren't just there to collect tickets, and a human will make him feel more secure than a turnstile any day.

The motion to draft a (no-bid) contract for the turnstiles was passed 11-1.

6 comments:

LAofAnaheim said...

So..Expo got the $145 million?

DAYMEN said...

Yes. Expo got its funding increase.

Justin said...

Its a little disturbing that there is a $10M project to install turnstiles that is going out no bid.

Is the study that was done to show that the revenue increases will more than offest the costs been made public? Do you know where we could find them?

Dana said...

I was amused the BRU made sure to take a picture of their placard waving. Sure to turn up in their next mailing to donors...

Dana said...

Justin, the report is posted on the MRA website: http://www.metro.net/board/Items/2007/11_November/20071115EMACItem27.pdf

Anonymous said...

Here is a link to the Metro staff report on the gating, which includes the consultant's figures as to how the costs will allegedly be offset by increased fare revenues AND the elimination of fare inspection officers:

http://www.metro.net/board/Items/2007/11_November/20071115EMACItem27.pdf

Warning: HUGE (103 pages long) file!