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 Stephen@ThirdEyeCreative.net)