Line 902 may well be the best example of elected officials deciding that they know more about public transit than those whose job it is to plan and operate same. It is also a good example of how elected officials will circumvent the process whenever it suits their needs.
On September 2, 2009, the Metro San Fernando Valley Governance Council was surprised to hear that Metro's corporate planning staff had been working for several weeks with Los Angeles City Council Districts 6 (Tony Cárdenas) and 7 (Richard Alarcón) to establish a new bus line to directly connect the North Hollywood Red Line Station, the Van Nuys Blvd. business district, and the communities of Panorama City and Pacoima. The new line was "proposed" -- more as to why that word is in quotation marks in a moment -- to travel via Van Nuys Blvd. between Glenoaks and Burbank Blvds., serving all local Line 233 stops along that stretch, then continue along Burbank Blvd. to North Hollywood Station, stopping only at Fulton Ave. (adjacent to Valley College Orange Line Station).
The new Line 902 was proposed to operate 12 minute service levels only during weekday peak periods, using resources provided by converting selected Line 233 trips, with 45-foot buses in a distinctive silver paint scheme, similar to the Orange Line's articulated buses. The buses used for Line 902 were originally purchased with a federal congestion relief grant for the Metro Silver Line, and the diversion of that equipment required the Silver Line to begin service using buses in the Metro Local (orange) color scheme.
Staff maintained that approximately the same number of peak period trips would be operated along Van Nuys Blvd., but that the use of smaller buses (Line 233 used 60-foot articulated buses) would result in a 14% reduction in seating capacity. Staff also admitted that the requirement to operate a 12-minute frequency on Line 902 would create irregular headways along Van Nuys Boulevard and "might be problematic".
Under questioning by the Council, Service Development Manager Mike Brewer said the 14% seating capacity reduction figure might have been miscalculated, but that was accompanied by a confusing explanation about the difference in the number of seats between the two bus types that seemed to instead support the figure.
Now as to why the word "proposed" was in quotation marks. The Council was informed that Line 902 would be implemented at the December 13 service change, with all day and weekend operation proposed for implementation in June 2010 after a public hearing in February 2010.The following three paragraphs are taken verbatim from the minutes of the Governance Council meeting:
Representative [Kymberleigh] Richards expressed dismay at how the proposal was presented as a fait accompli without Council input. She added that a realigned Line 156 or a Line 902 that observes only rapid stops could have also been considered. [General Manager Richard] Hunt acknowledged that the plan was not presented to the Council in a timely manner and added that the line offered an opportunity to provide an Orange Line express service that Council Representatives have supported in the past. He added that service development staff will observe the line, specifically how trip thinning on Line 233 might impact Line 233 riders south of Burbank Boulevard and said that the public hearing in February 2010 will give both staff, Council Representatives and the public the opportunity to inform Sector and Corporate Service Development staff whether or not Line 902 is a viable line for the Sector.
Several Representatives commented on how placing the Line 902 terminal at North Hollywood Red Line Station east of Lankershim, might cause confusion or safety-related issues for riders who cannot decide between waiting for Line 902 adjacent to the Red Line Station entrance, or running across Lankershim Boulevard to the Orange Line Station, west of Lankershim Boulevard, which is a high volume traffic generator, potentially causing an opportunity for conflict between pedestrians and motorists. Mr. Brewer responded that the Orange Line Terminal is already at capacity with 5 layover bays that are all in use by Orange Line buses during peak periods. He added that Line 902 might be better from a convenience standpoint for riders along the Van Nuys Boulevard corridor, but that with only 12-minute headway, a rider will more than likely choose to ride the Orange Line at rush hour, since it operates on a 4-minute peak headway.
(As we will see, Mr. Brewer was remarkably prescient.)
Mr. Hunt added that high ridership levels are projected on the Orange Line when the Canoga Extension opens in 2012. At that time, Line 902 may be needed to accommodate the increased demand for transit service to North Hollywood Station. The line segment between Van Nuys Blvd. and North Hollywood Station is where Orange Line ridership is heaviest (with over 2,500 daily boardings) and, at times, is already at capacity.
Line 902 did go into service on Monday, December 14, 2009. However, it ran into problems from the start:
(*-According to Metro's Stops & Zones Department, an "on-schedule" sign replacement for a new line can be completed up to five days after the line begins revenue service.)
A promotional brochure finally made its appearance at the beginning of the second week of operation, although its distribution was not concentrated on the Orange Line or the Van Nuys Blvd. services. This was surprising since the cover was worded in a way to get the attention of Orange Line passengers and the inside map and text were obviously designed to get the attention of Van Nuys Blvd. passengers.
The public hearing took place February 3, 2010; the only support for making the line permanent and expanding its operation came from Daniel Skolnick of Councilmember Cárdenas' office (no surprise; he also said that the line was "supposed" to be limited-stop, not local-stop, on Van Nuys Blvd.). The remaining comments either objected to the proposal or urged further study before implementation. Afterwards, staff backed away from the implementation of midday service, saying that "reallocating midday trips from Line 233 to Line 902 on a one-to-one basis may be an issue. Service on Line 233 is provided by [60-foot] articulated buses with a maximum loading capacity of 67 passengers per vehicle, while Line 902 service is provided by 45-foot vehicles with a maximum load of 55 passengers per vehicle."
At the March 3 meeting of the Governance Council, Kymberleigh Richards separated Line 902 from the rest of the service change decisions, saying that it was premature to consider making the line permanent after only three months of operation. She put forward a motion to continue the demonstration project for six months, with staff to monitor the ridership in and out of North Hollywood Station and provide monthly updates to the Council, and the line's fate to be considered as part of the December service change program based on the line's performance at North Hollywood (the motion specifically called for a load factor of .50 -- or averaging at least half-full buses coming and going -- in order for the line to be made permanent). Several other Council members agreed that the process appeared to be moving far too quickly, and the motion was approved unanimously.
In its first eight months of operation, Line 902's performance saw -- in the words of Mike Brewer -- "no appreciable change". For the first week of March, the average number of boardings at North Hollywood Station was 8.3 per trip, and southbound discharges averaged 11.8 (this was consistent, in Mr. Brewer's words, with numbers provided by Southern California Transit Advocates from their passenger counts on January 29). More recent numbers from all of March and April were nearly identical, as were those from So.CA.TA on May 28 and again on July 26. In addition, So.CA.TA also tracked passenger transfer activity from southbound Van Nuys Blvd. service in their second and third monitors and found that roughly one-third of Line 902's passengers transferred to eastbound Orange Line service ... even though they were already on a bus going to North Hollywood Station! (As we said, Mr. Brewer was remarkably prescient back when he announced the line's creation.)
After a further motion by Kymberleigh Richards to cancel Line 902 as part of the December 2010 service change program, the Governance Council rejected both staff recommendations (one to make the line permanent as is, the other to convert the line to Rapid service on Van Nuys Blvd.), which essentially would have cancelled the line. This placed staff in an awkward position; not wanting to go before the Metro Board of Directors with a request the Council did not support, they instead announced that a complete restructuring of the service in the Van Nuys Blvd. and Sepulveda Pass corridors would be part of the June 2011 service change program and would include a replacement for Line 902 which would be more in line with the original intent and with passenger needs. On that basis, the Council one month later entertained a motion by Richards to rescind the previous decision and continue Line 902 for an additional six months, pending the staff restructuring proposal.
At the December 12 service change, stops were added to Line 902 on Burbank Blvd. at Woodman Ave., Coldwater Canyon Ave., and Laurel Canyon Blvd., presumably to set the stage for the replacement service in June. But ...
Line 902's end came with a whimper, not a bang: At the December 1 Governance Council meeting, Conan Cheung (Metro's Deputy Executive Officer for Regional Service Planning) announced that there were "unresolved issues" with the Van Nuys Blvd. restructuring, which was now to be delayed to December 2011 (or later). However, because the Council only gave Line 902 a six-month reprieve, Mr. Cheung also announced that Line 902 would be cancelled -- with no direct replacement -- as part of the June 2011 service change program, restoring previous peak-hour service levels on Line 233 as of June 26, 2011. (The distinctive silver buses were moved to Division 9 for use on the Silver Line, as had originally been intended.)
The promised restructuring of service on Van Nuys and Sepulveda Blvds. took another three years to materialize.
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