Letter to the editor, Daily News, July 12, 1997
(Portions of my original letter omitted from publication are highlighted in underlined italics.)
While Vasco de Sena may well find a number of people who agree with his assessment of the MTA, his solution to the cross-Valley rail line question shows a considerable lack of knowledge of the discussion that has taken place within the editorials page of the Daily News.
It is not "that simple" to remove the middle two lanes of a freeway and construct a rail system. The MTA does not own the right-of-way to those freeway lanes; the state does. I doubt that Mr. de Sena will find CalTrans willing to give that up. Even the recent introduction of diamond lanes to several area freeways were additions, carved out of center median space where it was available.
Second, it will cost even more to build such a rail system. As proof, look at the Green Line, which was constructed along a dedicated right-of-way on the Glenn Anderson Freeway.
I would like Mr. de Sena to ask any private-sector company if they could construct such a project at a cost that would allow its operation at a fare structure comparable to MTA's $1.35 per trip. The answer would be no, because only public works projects by a government agency can receive the construction and operating subsidies necessary for a reasonable fare.
There is indeed "no reason why" full privatization of transit service could not happen -- provided you want to forego affordable service in order for the private company to turn a profit. Just because it can work in Mexico or other countries, with coercion from the International Monetary Fund, does not mean it would also work in a service area as large as Los Angeles County. Even the limited amount of privatization the MTA has done, by contracting for service on a baker's dozen Metro Bus lines, has not yet resulted in the kinds of savings that had been hoped for.
A much-deserved cross-Valley rail line can eventually be constructed, but only if the politicians and well-meaning but uninformed citizens will leave the MTA alone long enough for it to regain the respect of those in Washington and Sacramento who have the power to restore the level of funding necessary for it to be constructed.
That includes not trying to bring pet projects like rail down the center of freeways when the MTA already owns an ideal right-of-way along the Burbank-Chandler corridor. Muddying the waters will only increase the chances that the federal government will reject the MTA's response to their request for a clear, defined plan to provide both bus- and rail-based transit over the next decade.