Weekly Transit eNewsletter
Tuesday, May 15, 2007
Volume 3, Issue 20

Welcome to The Transit Coalition weekly newsletter! Our organization participates in meetings with key decision makers and community leaders and our goal is to keep you informed on the latest developments in the transportation scene across Southern California.

You Know You Want To: Next Tuesday is The Transit Coalition Dinner Meeting, featuring Expo Line Construction Authority CEO Rick Thorpe. See Upcoming Events below for details.

Spillover and High Speed Rail Must Be Saved:
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger unveiled his revised budget proposal, which includes a further slash of transit funds, cutting $1.3 billion statewide. Metro CEO Roger Snoble signaled that this would force the agency to scale back on capital projects. Metro stands to lose $230 million under the proposed budget. Snoble and other officials will head to Sacramento and lobby to restore the funds. (A chart comparing the proposed budgets released in January and May is available.) Please read an explanation and benefits of the Spillover account courtesy of Cal-PIRG, and learn how you can help!

The governor also plans to increase the budget for the California High Speed Rail Authority to a mere $5 million, despite recently expressing a change of attitude toward the project. The San Gabriel Valley Tribune published an editorial supporting the project. Take a look at this letter in support of HSR, courtesy of Bay Rail Alliance, so that you can inform yourself on the importance of this project and write your letters to elected officials.

Fuel prices are reaching record highs across the nation. Southern California motorists had some relief with a small drop in prices, but overall they are still 12 cents higher from the same time last year, standing at an average of $3.45. Worse yet, gas expands with heat and thus inflates the amount of gallons purchased. Motorists this summer will actually pay more for even less fuel than what was paid for. Drivers in California could be paying as much as an additional $480 million due to this phenomenon. The increases are already placing a strain on the budgets of low-income families.

Have you noticed how state legislators are largely mum on the issue? According to an op-ed appearing the Los Angeles Times, many elected officials collect campaign funds from oil companies. Schwarzenegger alone amassed a total of $665,000 from Chevron, according to advocacy group oilwatchdog.org. In any case, motorists are responding by increasing their use of public transportation, motorcycles and bicycles.

So, once again, interest turns to alternative fuels. Would you believe that you can already purchase a natural gas car and fuel them at 1,500 locations across the country? Yet no one is buying these cars. Consumers have largely ignored them, while corporations and governments who buy the cars do not go far in promoting them. Meanwhile, air regulators and Rio Hondo College representatives gathered in Diamond Bar to display emerging fuels.

Metro continues to absorb much criticism for its fare increase proposal. However, this time around, criticism also turns towards the Bus Riders Union, who denounced the increases in a previous op-ed. Two letters to the Los Angeles Times blasted the BRU for needlessly adding race and class issues to the discussion, while another one acknowledged that a fare increase is long overdue based on experience. Metrolink CEO David Solow reproached the BRU for making race-based claims against the commuter rail system.

Advocates of Bus Rapid Transit believe their technology is being drowned out by rail projects. Proponents claim that BRT offers the same comfortable ride with buses that are more environment-friendly than electric rail and costs far less. According to advocates, they are being out-lobbied by rail proponents, citing that there is a lot more money to be had from rail projects than from BRT.

Grade crossing regulations threaten to hinder plans for transit-oriented development in Santa Clarita. Long Beach will decide whether to explore building a streetcar system that would connect its downtown with Cal State Long Beach. In Georgia , Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle will deliver a transportation proposal that leaves out rail, a move that may erode his support. In Houston , anti-rail sentiment remains strong as officials try to replace voter-approved light rail proposals with BRT.

Amtrak Coast Starlight sleeping car passengers from now through the end of summer can enjoy complimentary digEplayer XT devices. These portable screens allow users to view movies and play games. The pilot program will form part of major Coast Starlight enhancements in queue.

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Some San Gabriel and Inland Empire officials wish to form their own council of governments to bring home funds for local projects. Some are particularly disappointed that the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments is giving too much attention to the 710 Freeway tunnel. Efforts would include lobbying for the Gold Line to Montclair , according to proponents.

U.S. Congressmember Susan Davis (D-San Diego) plans to offer a military bill amendment intended to stop the San Onofre Toll Road (State Highway Route 241). Specifically, the amendment would undo a previous decision that allowed the Navy, which owns the land but leases it to the state for use as a park, to grant toll road operators easements within the park. Fellow Congressmember Loretta Sanchez (D-Garden Grove) offered support for the amendment, which drew the ire of the road-centered Orange County Register editorial board. The Daily Breeze gave a summary of the progress made in stopping the toll road.

Detouring onto environmental issues, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa unveils a proposal to reduce carbon emissions 35% below the 1990 level. Automobile use is one of the largest contributors of greenhouse gases in the region. Much of the plan proposes reducing its use by expanding the regional rail network and developing areas around transit hubs. However, the plan did not outline how it would fund the improvements. Meanwhile, researchers revealed that smog increases the threat of wildfires, since increased nitrogen from the air accelerates plant growth while other pollutants stem root growth.

Meanwhile, U.S. President George W. Bush announced that he has taken action to reduce gasoline use by cars by 20% in 10 years while regulating emissions. The development comes as the Supreme Court recently decided that carbon dioxide is a pollutant that can be federally regulated. Critics believe this is a stall tactic to delay California (and by virtue other states) from employing their own regulations.

Also, residents in Santa Monica remain divided over how to provide parking for businesses. Rialto residents and business leaders are eager to benefit from the completed Route 210 Freeway, which will open later this year. (If you wish, come to a ribbon-cutting event on Saturday, June 23, where you can walk on the freeway before it opens. Visit Play on the 210 for details.) Nationally, Los Angeles is spared from housing the rudest drivers in the country: That dubious honor goes to Miami for the second year in a row.

Burlington Northern Santa Fe unveiled a revised design for their Southern California Intermodal Gateway in the Port of Los Angeles , which calls for the purchase and use of newer and cleaner tractors, creating an "urban forest" and building soundwalls. Residents are taking the proposal with a grain of salt, believing that pollution would be worse if more trucks hit the road. BNSF argues that the new plan could take as many as 1 million trucks a year off the roads. Meanwhile, the Long Beach Press Telegram published an article summarizing the 95-year history of the Port of Long Beach.

What seems like something straight out of a telenovela, the head of a business group who claims mineral rights in Punta Colonet , Baja California , accused the Mexican government of threatening him and his family to drop his claim. The federal transportation undersecretary refuted the accusations, believing claimant Gabriel Chavez is trying to get a better deal for the site of a proposed megaport.

In our human interest section (quite a change from that last paragraph, eh?), the Los Angeles Times took a sentimental journey to the Grizzly Flats Railroad in San Gabriel . Acclaimed Disney animator Ward Kimball built and maintained the miniature railroad, which inspired Walt Disney himself to build a railroad around his theme park. With the passing of Kimball in 2002, however, the Kimball family is dismantling the tracks while donating the trains to outfits such as the Orange Empire Railway Museum .

Here is a list of other recent developments:

May 7 : A bill that would expedite Metrolink service to

Perris Valley stalled in the state Assembly Transportation Committee. Assemblymember John J. Benoit pulled the bill after it became evident that the Committee would vote against it. The bill would have allowed the Riverside County Transportation Commission to allow one firm to design and build the project, yielding time and cost savings. Union representatives opposed the bill. Metrolink, which already has the authority to issue design-build contracts, will move the project forward. You can learn more about the project at www.perrisvalleyline.com.

May 8 : A grand jury faulted the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) for not moving swiftly enough to improve grade crossings in time for 30-minute Metrolink service in 2009. The grand jury also noted the agency still has no policy to establish "quiet zones". The panel recommended the OCTA to launch a rail safety program that would educate the public before the train expansion is completed.

The LA/Palmdale Airport held an open house that featured the first landing ever of a commercial jet liner at the airport. United will fly two roundtrips a day with the aircraft between Palmdale and San Francisco International Airport, where travelers can connect to dozens of domestic and international flights. Palmdale Mayor James Ledford took part in the ceremonies, which served mainly to promote the service among Antelope Valley residents. Service on United will start on Thursday, June 7.

May 9
: Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa appointed Gina Marie Lindsey as the new executive director for the Los Angeles World Airports. Lindsey has managed airports in Seattle and Anchorage , Alaska , before she became a lobbyist in Washington . Among other things, Lindsey handled a controversial, $3 billion airport modernization at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport .

May 10 : Transit Coalition Executive Director Bart Reed testified before the Senate Appropriations Committee in Sacramento on the value and importance of funding CA HSR. There were a number of leaders who joined in key testimony to support the rail project. The committee graciously listened to testimony of the various groups and officials and expressed thanks for showing support of the project. The group of supporters then adjourned to the hallways for a quick caucus and members left to educated various elected officials and their staff.

Reed adjourned to the offices of Jo Linda Thompson, a legislative advocate heading the statewide support coalition for high speed rail, where he was briefed on the latest efforts and strategies to get the project funded in FY 08 budget. Following the briefing session, Reed returned to the capitol for a series of meetings with staff of numerous elected officials to discuss project merits and potential funding concerns for the upcoming budget.

The federal government awarded $15 million to boost security at the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles . Grants totaled $445 million nationally for infrastructure, including $200 million for ports.

May 11 : The Metrolink Board unanimously voted to increase fares on the commuter rail system. Part of the adjustments included scrapping the existing zone-based fare system and replacing it with distance-based fares. The increases will take effect on July 1 of this year, 2008 and 2009. Visit the Metrolink website for the new prices and more information.

May 14 : Reed and RailPAC President Paul Dyson attended the Orange County Transportation Authority Board meeting. Both spoke to the board about the importance of the upcoming 30-minute rail service in Orange County . The two also had discussions with CEO Art Leahy about a Board action requesting the consolidation of the three rail operators along the LOSSAN corridor and giving consumers more options. Also, the Board voted to spend $1.2 million for a study on congestion relief for the I-5 south of El Toro.

The Sherman Oaks Neighborhood Council featured a discussion on the upcoming Metro fare adjustments, featuring Metro Board member Richard Katz, who gave a brief background scenario and told of numerous efforts to avoid fare increases. Katz called upon audience member Bart Reed to clarify and elaborate on questions asked by the audience.

Bike To Work Week : This week, MyGo inaugurated a rebate program for users of electric bicycles and Gold Line trains in Pasadena , just in time for the festive week. This Thursday, May 17, is Bike To Work Day. Metro will offer rides at no cost to those who use a bike (or at least bring a helmet) to the bus or train. LADOT Commuter Express, Beach Cities Transit, Commerce Municipal Bus Lines, Gardena Municipal Lines, Long Beach Transit, Montebello Bus Lines, Norwalk Transit, Santa Clarita Transit, Torrance Transit, and Whittier Transit also will offer no-cost rides to bicyclists who use transit for part of their commute day. To cap it off, CityLites will host the 4th Annual Inner City 21 and 5-Mile Bike Tour Festival and Carnival in Jesse Owens Park at Century Blvd. and Western Ave. on Saturday, May 19. Call (323) 280-0288 or see this flyer for more information.

Upcoming Events : Downtown Regional Fare Forum: Saturday, May 19, 10 a.m., Board Room, Metro Headquarters, One Gateway Plaza (adjacent to Union Station), Los Angeles .

Consider attending our monthly Transit Coalition Dinner Meeting on
Tuesday, May 22 - 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at Philippe The Original, 1001 N. Alameda St. Los Angeles CA 90012 . Expo Line Metro Construction Authority CEO Rick Thorpe will be the speaker. ( Map.) We hope to see you there!

Metro Special Board Meeting: Thursday, May 24, 9:30 a.m., Board Room, Metro Headquarters, One Gateway Plaza (adjacent to Union Station), Los Angeles .

Orange County Transportation Authority Board Meeting
: Tuesday, May 29, 9 a.m., Board Hearing Room, 600 Main St. , Orange .

Exposition Metro Line Construction Authority
: Thursday, June 7, 2:30 p.m., Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration, Board of Supervisors Hearing Room 381B, 500 W. Temple St. , Los Angeles .

Angeles Chapter Sierra Club Transportation Committee:
Thursday, June 7, 7:30 p.m. Angeles Chapter office, 3435 Wilshire Blvd, Suite 320 , Los Angeles.

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Contact Us:
We welcome your thoughts and comments on our new electronic newsletter. Please write us:
Bart Reed, Executive Director
Numan Parada, Communications Director

About The Transit Coalition:
The Transit Coalition is a 501[c](3) non-profit whose goal is to increase Transit Options and Mobility in Southern California by mobilizing citizens to press for sensible public policy to grow our bus and rail network.

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