In a county designed for motorists, Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez delves into the life of Carmen Mendoza, a Bell Gardens resident who relies entirely on public transportation. Her 15-hour days consist of a total of eight buses. She takes two of her children, Andy, 14, and Nicole, 11, to two different schools and also goes to work. After school, Andy attends soccer practice and Nicole takes dance lessons. Mendoza chose schools outside of where she lives because she wants her children to have a better education and more opportunities. She and her husband did not complete school in Mexico and she wants it to be different for her kids. While commuting on buses for such long distances has its disadvantages, Mendoza highlights how it allows her to be together with her children. Furthermore, if her kids went to schools in their neighborhood, she said, they would have too much idle time.
In a Q-and-A between Patt Morrison and Michelle Mowery, the senior bicycle coordinator at the Los Angeles City Department of Transportation, Mowery reveals some pieces of the puzzle of how LA is taking steps forward to better accommodate cyclists. Mowery compares how Copenhagen is similar to LA and how fourth graders in the Netherlands receive bike education. She says a grant is in progress that would take such education to high schools, similarly to driver’s ed. Other goals for the city include a mile grid (where, regardless of location, people would be within one mile of a bikeway) and implementing roundabouts instead of speed humps that the city no longer funds.
The largest toll road network in Orange County has sold $2.3 billion in bonds to refinance three toll roads. As a result of the bond issue, drivers will be required to pay tolls until 2053 instead of 2040. This comes at a time when fewer and fewer people use these roads and while the agency’s debt is increasing. The California state treasurer’s office released a study in July indicating that the toll road network could default on its bonds issued in 1999 if its debt wasn’t refinanced. Doing this would protect the agency’s credit rating and reduce the increase of toll fees.
The Federal Communications Commission has taken a step in possibly lifting the ban on cellphone use during flights. On December 12, the FCC approved a “notice of rule making,” meaning the agency will take comments from the experts and the public before it officially decides on the issue. Should the ban be lifted, however, it will still be up to individual airlines to decide whether or not to allow passengers to use cellphones. Despite these recent talks, the CEO of Delta Air Lines said calls would not be allowed on Delta even if the policy is changed. Another option would be for airlines to prohibit calls but allow texting and web browsing. Southwest Airlines went ahead to say it would not allow calls but would provide passengers Internet service from takeoff until landing; United Airlines is in the process of considering input from its passengers but will keep calls banned on planes for now; American Airlines has not yet taken a stand on this issue.
Airlines will also need to install technology that will ensure calls don’t interfere with cell tower communications. Critics say allowing calls while in flight could pose threats to safety, as terrorists may communicate with one another or trigger explosives. A 2012 survey of Delta passengers also showed travelers felt that voice calls would take away from their experience rather than enhance it.
Four New York taxi companies that overcharged drivers to lease yellow cabs have agreed to a $1.25 million settlement. Medallions mandatory to operate taxis in New York cost an exorbitant amount of money, which is why most drivers lease them. New York’s Taxi and Limousine Commission estimated that the average driver’s income in 2012, before social security and taxes, was about $125 per day. Because drivers are not considered employees, they are not subject to minimum wage, overtime, and other labor laws. The commission began regulating how much companies can charge drivers earlier this year, and the fines charged to the four companies are the first under the agreement. A total of $746,000 will be returned to drivers who were overcharged, and the companies will pay $500,000 in fines.
Many people travel to see loved ones during the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. During last week’s rainstorm, three separate bus accidents in the Inland Empire occurred on wet highways, one involving Riverside Transit Agency Line 27 on Route 74 between Hemet and Perris, two involving casino buses along the 15 Freeway in Corona just south of the 91 Freeway and Pala Mesa in San Diego County. More recently, a separate wreck occurred on the I-10 in Baldwin Park which involved a casino bus.
All of the collisions are under investigation and should serve as lessons for all of us planning to travel during the holidays. Drivers should be extra careful on the roads and allow plenty of extra time. Also, if you are drinking, do not under any circumstances drive.
As an aside, for folks who happen to be in the Redlands area during the holidays, several local small businesses have pooled resources together to fund a program where people who may have had too much to drink can get a ride home for free or reduced cost in lieu of taxi travel. The Responsible Redlands Safe Rides Home Program will be available now through New Year’s Day. According to local reports, San Bernardino County District Attorney Mike Ramos praised the program.
LAX remains a lightning rod of controversy when it comes to its souring relationship with Inland Empire officials. The latter blame the continuous decline in passenger traffic at Ontario Airport to alleged mismanagement by Los Angeles World Airports, which operate both airports. LAWA retorts that the drop in traffic reflects similar situations that are transpiring at other region-level airports across the nation. To quell the quarrel between the two groups US Senator Dianne Feinstein wrote a letter to LA Mayor Eric Garcetti asking LAWA to work with the City of Ontario and find ways to stop the drop in passenger numbers and counter indifference by airlines to launch services to and from Ontario Airport. In another controversy, the success of a lawsuit filed by the City of Los Angeles against contractors who are accused of building a shoddy runway at LAX may very well depend on what airport officials knew and when they knew it.
In the meantime, passenger traffic through LAX during the holidays is expected to rise by 8% over last year. Ongoing construction related to the modernization of the airport promises to make things even more problematic. Also, a recent study concluded that, while low-cost carriers entering a market lead to lower fares, the same actions also hinder on-time performance, which undoubtedly translates to more frayed nerves. While most passengers will resign themselves to the frustrations of air travel during this time period, some may be tempted to express their sentiments in a less than merry fashion. To wit, airlines are asking countries to come together and change international laws so as to address unruly behavior by passengers. Most laws today place special focus on hijacking but ignore the current realities of passengers lashing out at crewmembers and fellow travelers.
The Los Angeles Daily News editorial board took time to opine on certain transportation developments. In response to last week’s news of the benefits residents near Expo Line experience with newfound rapid transit, an op-ed noted that the study must be taken with a grain of salt. Quoting transit critic Adrian Moore, the op-ed warned that while the results of a study regarding travel habits for said residents is indisputable, it is unreasonable to build so much rail transit to change the habits of commuters on the same level. Thus, transit proponents must continue refining their message in order for Angelenos to remain bullish on rail expansion, even if most will not use it regularly. In a separate editorial, the Daily News praised the speed with which Metrolink is installing positive train control throughout its network, in contrast to what is happening elsewhere, but expressed concern that the high cost of doing so will burden the private railroads who must pay for the upgrades.
A report released by Boston Consulting Group reveals that natural gas is saving US households between $425 and $725. Practices such as hydraulic fracturing have allowed the access of natural gas that formerly was otherwise trapped. The same report states that savings could reach $1,200 or more by 2020. Additionally, 30% to 50% of savings companies gain through lower energy bills are passed onto consumers. However, the environmental costs of hydraulic fracturing were not discussed.
To summarize recent events, the proposed statewide HSR project has only about 50% of funds necessary for the initial phase of the project. This figure, however, could be optimistic as estimated costs may actually be higher. With such a huge gap in funding, Governor Jerry Brown has proposed the use of cap-and-trade tax revenue to close the gap. However, this option could be opposed by many voters and violate high-speed rail bond covenants as it may not be a legitimate source of capital. In any case, supporters of Caltrain electrification assert that their particular project, which is funded by a portion of Proposition 1A funds, is still on track.