Friday, March 26, 2010

CityWatchLA - Mayor’s 30/10 Vision: Is Metro Up To Task?

CityWatch, Mar 26, 2010
Vol 8 Issue 24

Mayor Villaraigosa recently traveled to Washington DC to drum up support for the "30/10" plan that would enable the LA Metro to put 30 years of Measure R Transportation funds to work on an accelerated 10 year schedule that would a bring a dozen mega-projects to life within the decade.

All that is needed is federal backing for the creation of a Transportation Bank that would then loan billions of dollars to the Metro based on the anticipation of sales tax revenues from the future. Voters approved the Measure R ½-cent sales tax last year but the typically long term nature of transportation planning, funding, and construction meant that many voters would not see the Measure R projects become a reality. The "30/10" plan would change that. And, in addition, would produce jobs now.

This is the kind of vision that could change the landscape of LA County in many ways, not just in terms of improved connectivity but also by stimulating employment and improving the community economically and environmentally.

The tough question is not "Can the Mayor pull off the funding coup?" The really hard question that nobody is asking is this, "Can the Metro bring a dozen mega-projects to life within the decade?" It doesn't look good.

1) The Metro's own staff doesn’t believe in the Metro.

Based on results, often harsh but always fair, the Metro's own staff are less likely to walk, bike, ride the Metro's bus or rail system or car-pool than the general public.

What is it about going to work for the Metro that prompts them to engage in behavior that is at odds with the mandate of the Regional Transportation authority?

Approximately 7% of the general public rides the Metro but only 1.6% of the Metro staff takes advantage of the free Metro pass and then puts it to work.

If nothing else, having 9200 staff members ride the Metro would offer a supreme opportunity for oversight and feedback but somehow the Metro can't even convince its own staff to "Go Metro!"

2) The Metro's customers don't believe in the Metro.

Whether it's the zoo-like gates, the illusory TAP cards, the erratic service, the behavior of bus operators on the streets, the inter-departmental confusion or the painful Board meetings, Metro patrons have plenty to complain about and the Metro's own survey reveals that the Metro serves people who simply have no other choice.

Granted, that's a huge simplification and there are plenty of satisfied Metro passengers who travel regularly and effectively and without complaint. Unfortunately, they are not in the majority and that is the simple test that the Metro can't pass.

When the majority of Metro passengers ride because they have a choice, not because they have no choice, then and only then will the Metro have a system in place that should be super-funded and taken wide. Until then, slow down and focus on the details.

3) Metro’s commitment lagging.

The Metro's commitment to a multi-modal transportation system is lagging behind that of the Federal and State government, leaving in doubt the Metro's ability to bring a robust and comprehensive list of mass-transit projects to life in 10 years. In fact ramping up the funding and the schedule would be the motivation for cutting the multi-modal corners even more dramatically.

The Metro must commit to supporting all modes of transportation, beginning with those who walk. Pedestrians turn into Metro customers if they can access the system but that requires a commitment to walkable streets. Are the standards in place?

Cyclists are gap connectors that increase systemic capacity but their ability to become Metro customers depends on simple accommodations including access to rail cars, functional racks on buses and bike parking at Metro stations, the holy grail of cycling! "Is there any room left for the cyclists?" has been the Metro's approach to bike planning for too long. That must change.

4) Lack of oversight.

The Metro's lack of oversight and casual approach to the details are causes for slowing down the process, not accelerating it, and now is the time to implement systemic changes in the way the Metro engages in the business of planning, building, and operating our regional transportation system.

From blocked emergency exits to homeless encampments to safety hazards to malfunctioning equipment, the Metro's inability to accept feedback and respond effectively allows the system to muddle along, desensitizing patrons and normalizing mediocrity.

From bike paths to escalators to security cameras to intercoms, the Metro should be in the business of checking, double-checking and ensuring a high level of performance, not simply offering excuses. Unfortunately, offering excuses is the Metro's current strong suit.

The Hollywood & Vine Red Line Station is considered a "flagship" station which makes it especially unfortunate that ribbon cutting on the W Hollywood, LA's largest Transit Oriented Development caught the Metro off-guard.

Only now, after repeated calls from the public, is the Metro attempting to engage Operations, Planning, Security and Real Estate to ask the tough questions such as "Who has the little key for the toilet paper dispenser?" and "Where do the LAPD have authority and where does the W Hollywood security have authority and where do the LASD and the Metro Transit Police have authority?" along with the popular "Where do the cyclists park their bikes?"

This project has been in the works for over a decade and it is only after the ribbon cutting that the Metro responds to complaints and actually conducts a site survey to evaluate their responsibilities and their shortcomings.

5) Not talking to authorities.

The Metro's inability to synchronize with local authorities, municipal transit operators, law enforcement departments, developers, property managers, and with itself is a cry for intervention, not for funding. LA County will have a Comprehensive Transportation System in place when a passenger can ride smoothly throughout the region without having to pay over and over again, experiencing the shortcomings of a Balkanized environment that leaves casual passengers and tourists scratching their heads and wondering "Why can't we get along?" Is there nobody (C'mon Tony!) that can pull it together?

Funding the Metro now with 30 years of anticipated Measure R proceeds would be like offering the Hatfields and McCoys moonshine and guns.

Now, more than ever, the Metro must engage in a diplomatic mission that results in a regional ticketing process that integrates all transit operators.

Now is the time to synchronize the local authorities so that effectiveness is the goal and competitiveness is ended.

Law enforcement must end the petty "blinders" approach to responsibility that results in enforcement gaps and confusion on the streets.

The Metro's Real Estate department must take responsibility for the performance of its development partners and not simply execute contracts and walk away from the communities that suffer from TOD failure.

But most of all, the Metro needs to get it together and stop the inter-departmental game of hot potato that occurs when a customer makes a complaint.

A recent call regarding the missing bike parking and lack of maintenance at the Hollywood & Vine Station was sent from Bike Planning to Real Estate and back to Bike Planning and then to the Sheriff and then back Real Estate and then to Operations. The Mayor's staff got involved and suggested taking it to the Metro Board.

Is it any wonder the Metro Board hears petty complaints? No one else can handle them!

The Mayor's 30-10 vision, if funded, has the potential to change the way LA moves. But only if the Metro is able to rise to the occasion and become the requisite partner in greatness that can match the big vision with a big commitment to the details.

At this point, the vision is in place, the funding is in play, and it's up to the Metro to rise to the occasion.

Go Metro! Or, Metro be gone!

(Stephen Box is a transportation and grassroots advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at


Anonymous said...

Absurd anti-Metro ranting at it's worst, your article is simply a hash of hate. This is the second largest transit agency in the nation - I suppose you could do a better job with your blogging talents. Metro could create separate construction authorities if need be to finish these projects. It won't be easy or pretty, and there will be lawsuits and people screaming, but isn't that always the case in Los Angeles?

Chris L said...

Maybe I'm missing something, but what's with the railing again Metro's "zoo-like gates"? I've never been on a metro system that didn't have gates, and I've used many systems in many cities. In fact, I think its kind of absurd that LA's Metro system doesn't have turnstiles on their gates. What's to stop people from walking right through the gates without paying? How can a system sustain itself if it cannot enforce people paying to use it?

I must be missing some key piece of info here...I just moved here a couple months ago...please enlighten me.

SoapBoxLA said...

Anonymous, thanks for reading and for joining me in identifying areas that will need to improve if the Metro is to get in position to actually execute the 30/10 plan. I'm sorry that you perceive it as anti-Metro, it's actually in sync with a Board resolution from December directing the CEO to report on the Metro's capacity for the 30/10 plan.

Chris L, "Zoo-like gates" are the ones that don't open. There are two stations in particular on the Red Line that are a problem for a cyclist who needs the larger gate. NoHo has the cumbersome gate that forces the cyclist to take the elevator, Civic Center doesn't have the wide gate, forcing the cyclist to carry the bike over the gates.

In brief, things should work. This isn't a philosophical comment on gates vs. no gates, it's simply commentary on the fact that from the gates to the TAP cards to the ability to move from one operator to another, the Metro has quite a bit of distance to cover if it hopes to achieve mediocrity.

Schedules so outdated that 20% of the buses run hot? Elevators and escalators in such poor shape they guarantee life-time employment for the repair crew.

Self-evaluation is the beginning of greatness, it's the Metro's opportunity to start now and to work to improve.

btw, the gates are still offline, they are poorly designed and those in wheelchairs suffer first. Exits should exist and be free of obstacles. The current system is beneath Zoo-like.

As for other cities, San Diego, San Jose, Portland, Seattle are all gate free. The honor system is quite common. Budapest, Munich, Berlin, Melbourne all have variations of "Self-Service, Barrier-Free Fare Collection." Of those systems with turnstiles, they are commonly complemented by staff who enforce, assist, and maintain facilities.

User1 said...

"Funding the Metro now with 30 years of anticipated Measure R proceeds would be like offering the Hatfields and McCoys moonshine and guns."

HAHAHAHAHA...... so true! These guys can't even maintain and spit shine what they got. How are they going to handle extra lines? The Blue Line could easily be setup with notices of when the next train is coming. They have the electronics in place already, yet we're in the dark about knowing such important info as this. The current turnstiles addition going on is a good indicator on how things will be handled in the future. Example is an electronic tap reader that is being assembled on the floor between the Green Line and the Blue Line at the Imperial Station. They're in the middle of assembling this thing and they have the electronic card reading part just laying there on the floor. It's been there for a few days now. If I had a cam I would have taken a pic to show the complete disregard for equipment. And finally, how hard can it be to adapt to three cycle racks instead of two on the buses? Any desire to switch from the board? My bet is on this is no. I'm with Mr. LA on this rant against the Metro. These guys could do alot better by just hiring people that use the system. That's at least a start.

vito said...

I think the critique is a bit harsh. Metro has faults like all transit agencies, but is by no means a horrible agency. I've lived in a lot of places and am pretty impressed with Metro.

While it is important to push Metro to improve and to point out where they lack, I don't agree with many of your criticisms.

* Homeless people are everywhere in LA, why wouldn't they by on Metro's property too? If I were homeless, that's where I'd go. Let's work with city and county health agencies to help them. That's not Metro's job.
* Why should Metro be given the blame for all of LA's woes? Why not blame the City of LA, the LADOT, Metrolink, the LAPD, the zoning boards and the urban planners? Rather than rant, we should provide construtive criticism and offer some solutions.

I admire your work and activism though. When you run for mayor, I'm sure to vote for you.