Sunday, January 16, 2005

Bus line changes spark debate
MTA plans to scrap lines, boost busway
By Lisa Mascaro - Staff Writer

Faced with a massive budget shortfall, the MTA plans to eliminate some long-standing bus routes to provide frequent service on the Orange Line across the San Fernando Valley along with new connector lines intended to bring more passengers to the busway.

The plan -- one of the first steps that Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials intend to take to modernize the system -- has upset transit advocates. They say doing away with routes like the Roscoe Boulevard and Sherman Way express buses in order to fund the Orange Line and beef up connections to and from the busway stations will make service worse.

But MTA officials say funding cuts give them no alternative.

"What we have today is this: Our expenses are going up, the population of Los Angeles County is increasing, the ridership on our system is flat," said MTA's Deputy CEO John Catoe.

"We need to do something different. We're transferring (resources) from nonproductive service to a line we think is going to be very productive."

But transit advocates say the Valley needs more bus service -- not less.

"It's a drastically sad rearranging of the deck chairs," said Bart Reed, executive director of The Transit Coalition. "I fail to see how it's going to feed more customers to the Orange Line, and it's going to seriously disenfranchise some people who are used to the services."

The MTA's Valley Governance Council will hold a Feb. 16 public hearing on the proposed changes. In all, 12 lines would be changed, three would be eliminated and three others -- including a Reseda-Westwood express bus and a Pierce College shuttle -- would be added.

The changes would take effect in June; the $330 million Orange Line is scheduled to open in late summer.

The Orange Line expects to have buses running every six to eight minutes along the former rail route between North Hollywood and Warner Center.

The proposed changes would give the MTA money to improve service on the connectors -- north-south buses that, in some cases, now come only once an hour. The improvements would allow Orange Line riders to catch a connecting bus at least every 30 minutes.

Plus, new lines would include the Reseda-Westwood express, an all-day shuttle around Pierce College and a Metro Rapid bus on Sepulveda Boulevard.

"The big weakness of the Valley transportation system is that the north-south routes aren't very frequent," said Coby King, chairman of the Valley Governance Council.

Many say the success of the Orange Line hinges on the connector lines.

"Can we reallocate resources to the north-south routes to feed them in, so people can go where they want to go more quickly?" King said.

The original plan called for the MTA to add bus service in addition to the Orange Line, but the agency's massive budget shortfalls changed that.

The MTA is $40 million over budget this fiscal year, and a recent report projects more multimillion-dollar shortfalls to come.

Part of the funding problem is the result of a court order last year requiring the agency to put hundreds of additional buses on the city's streets in order to alleviate overcrowding.

Now, the Valley and other areas across Los Angeles County are being asked to make cuts to support the new line.

Catoe said that while some riders may suffer because of the service cuts, he believes more riders will ultimately benefit.

"To say we're robbing other (areas) to do the Orange Line is not true. We have 'x' resources. What we're doing is, systemwide, building a system that makes sense.

"What's going to come out of this thing is really a far better transit system."

The changes are part of a bigger MTA effort expected to be rolled out this year to replace the old grid system with a "hub-and-spoke" system, centering on community transit centers in places like Warner Center.

For example, one of biggest proposed changes with the Orange Line calls for eliminating the cross-Valley express buses on Roscoe and Sherman Way. Instead, the MTA proposes a new Reseda-Westwood express route that would take riders from the Northwest Valley to the Westside.

Those who took the Roscoe or Sherman Way buses could now take the local buses or could simply head south and join the Orange Line.

But transit advocates say that's too drastic a cut. Some Valley Governance Council members indicated at a meeting last week that losing both those lines might be too much.

King said he hopes to hear from the community at the upcoming public hearing.

"It's obviously going to be a huge change in how the bus system's going to work in the Valley," he said. "The proposals they've made are a series of ideas that are now open to discussion."

Lisa Mascaro, (818) 713-3761


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