MTA's sectors plan puts people first
Bureaucrats get lift from parochialism in Valley transit agency endorsement

Op-ed article, Daily News, October 3, 2002

As a long time transit advocate and daily user of MTA service, I disagree with the Daily News' condemnation of the MTA's new service sectors as "derailing" efforts to create an independent Valley transit agency.

In fact, the sectors prove the lack of need for a new governmental entity to run bus service.

For more than five years, county supervisor (and MTA director) Zev Yaroslavsky and his political allies have pursued the dream of creating a transit zone which would give them control of the Valley's bus service.

Those years have been filled with little more than pontification; by contrast, MTA chief Roger Snoble created the service sectors mere months after coming to the agency.

The Daily News fears that "shills for the downtown power elite" will take charge of the new sector governance councils, but the MTA board of directors has taken steps to prevent that from happening.

Missing from that argument is the fact that one-half of the sector council members must, by decision of the MTA board, be transit users who live or work in the area.

As MTA chairman Hal Bernson said during the discussion that preceded the vote, the councils will be responsible for making changes in transit service, and no one knows that service better than its users.

Bernson thus makes it clear that it will be the community advocates who have the best chance of appointment, meaning that there is a real opportunity to bring true responsiveness to transit service -- not just in the Valley, but in the other four regional sectors as well.

Bernson's comments came as he defended the one-half transit users provision in the face of Yaroslavsky's attempt to cut that requirement to one-third: Which sounds more supportive of improving service by involving the passengers?

Certainly not Yaroslavsky and his "independent transit authority" which would promise nothing more than a handful of elected officials continuing the "downtown power elite" mentality.

It has also been suggested that the sector governance councils would be little more than an advisory board. The fact is that the MTA board is giving those councils the authority to approve the sector's annual budget proposal; conduct public hearings; implement service changes to sector bus lines; approve and evaluate sector programs such as community forums; ensure compliance with the consent decree; and participate in meetings with the Authority's CEO, deputy CEO, and other sectors' governance councils and general managers.

That is decidely more responsibility than a mere advisory body would have.

When the MTA service sector governance policy -- containing the delegated authority outlined in the preceding paragraph -- is examined in detail, it becomes obvious that there now exists an overwhelming imperative to appoint individuals knowledgeable about transit service to the councils, rather than elected officials or political cronies -- most of whom rarely, if ever, use transit service.

State Senator Richard Alarcón, who chairs the State Senate Select Committee on the MTA, has said that the sector councils must "remove politics from the process of transportation planning" and the required representation of the transit-using public accomplishes that to a degree never seen before in local government.

By comparison, the now all-but-dead transit zone would have done little more than perpetuated the political control over buses.

Snoble should be praised for taking quick action to break up the bureaucracy and bring control to the local level, not attacked for killing politicians' dreams of a new bureaucracy.

The past five years have been filled with unfulfilled promises from those politicians; the sectors have the real capability to deliver meaningful results in less than half that time.

I have said many times that transit service is supposed to be about moving people, not about political control.

MTA's new focus mirrors that philosophy and will build a transit service model that will likely be adopted by other metropolitan areas in the future.

The sectors will not be a "meaningless layer of bureaucracy" but instead will be a meaningful move toward providing responsive, community-focused service.

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