Running MTA by decree ignores reality
Agency can't add buses fast enough to meet demands of court ruling

Op-ed article, Daily News, March 14, 1999

The latest "victory" claimed by the Bus Riders Union is yet another sad example of what happens when those who do not understand transit operations attempt to govern a transit agency by decree.

It is painfully obvious -- and has been from the start of the battle between the BRU and the MTA -- that neither the BRU nor special master Donald Bliss have any knowledge nor any realistic vision of transit in a metropolitan area.

First and foremost, the "overcrowding" the BRU has expended so much energy trying to alleviate is not unusual for any transit system in any large city. (I'd hate to see their reaction to rush hour buses in New York City.)

The MTA could spend itself into oblivion trying to comply with this standard -- and possibly leave Los Angeles without its primary regional transit system in the process -- and still not achieve this unrealistic goal.

Congestion on our region's busy streets and freeways is a large factor in buses simply being unable to operate on-time, and when buses operate off schedule, overcrowding results because passengers are no longer properly spread among the scheduled bus trips. Yet we never see the BRU lobbying the Los Angeles Department of Transportation for dedicated bus lanes on busy streets like Wilshire and Ventura boulevards, and when it comes to removing buses from our congested freeways, they decry efforts to use the expanding Red Line subway -- which never operates off schedule -- to replace service between the Valley and downtown.

In fact, at last Saturday's public hearing, the BRU went on the record as opposing the MTA's plan to have express lines that now frequently get stuck in Hollywood Freeway traffic end in Hollywood with transfers to the Red Line, even though that plan would both improve passengers' ability to get downtown on time and free up buses for redeployment on busy local lines to try to alleviate overcrowding. Simply put, the BRU does not look beyond its own narrow vision to see what is best for the region.

What the BRU and Bliss need to realize is that simply ordering MTA to acquire more new equipment does not mean the agency can actually do so; there are fewer than a half-dozen manufacturers of transit coaches suitable for MTA operation, and those manufacturers have a finite capacity for supplying equipment. Even if MTA was somehow able to eliminate the 18 to 24 months between an order being placed and the manufacturers being able to deliver, there can be no reasonable expectation that 532 new buses can be delivered by June of next year.

Further, MTA is only able itself to "make ready" one bus per day for use (installation of fare boxes, programming of destination signs, applying exterior decals) and, even working weekends, it would take every single day between now and Bliss' deadline to have those buses in service. Since those buses cannot begin arriving tomorrow, this ruling is unrealistic because it cannot be implemented.

It is time for Judge Terry Hatter to not only overrule this mandate, but to also appoint a new special master who has knowledge of transit operations out here in the real world, so that reason and reality dictate the future of our region's transit.

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