MTA Division 8 logo San Fernando Valley
Transit Restructuring Study
MTA Division 15 logo

In 1989, the San Fernando Valley Summit Group, a group of business and community leaders, cities and elected officials and their staffs convened by then-RTD Director Nick Patsaouras to discuss key transportation issues and solutions for the San Fernando Valley, began discussions of the need to restructure transit service in the area. The San Fernando Valley Transit Restructuring Study (SFVTRS) was an outgrowth of those discussions. The goal of the study, a collaborative effort of the City of Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT), the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), and the County of Los Angeles Department of Public Works, was to identify a reliable service delivery system which has as its objectives to attract new ridership, increase the quality and amount of service offered, incorporate service capabilities of various providers, retain existing ridership and conserve costs.

In September, 1994 the study's proposed recommendations were presented to the MTA Planning and Programming Committee with the commitment that an implementation plan would be presented to the full MTA Board for its consideration in November, 1994.

The study took a "blank slate" approach to restructuring the bus system in the Valley. This approach presented an opportunity to change any and all elements in the system while placing a high priority on supporting existing ridership needs and maintaining the successful components of the system. To this end, there was an extensive public participation program (46 public meetings to receive input in the initial phase and 27 meetings to receive public comment on the draft proposals in the final phase), a detailed assessment of the existing bus service, and an analysis of unmet transit needs and both the existing and potential transit markets.

SFV service map 1994

The SFVTRS recommended retention of the grid-based route network for much of the Valley, realigned around "hub-and-spoke" transit centers around the periphery of the region where timed transfers could take place between lines. In addition, east-west routes were proposed to be joined to north-south routes to provide continuous service without transfers.

The six transit centers identified in the SFVTRS were Universal City Red Line Station, Burbank Metrolink Station, Sylmar/San Fernando Metrolink Station, Cal State University at Northridge, Chatsworth Metrolink Station, and Warner Center. A seventh transit center, in the Sherman Oaks area, was removed from consideration during preparations for the MTA public hearing on January 14, 1995; however, the destination sign "Sherman Oaks Transit Center" was used briefly in 1995-96 for lines terminating at Van Nuys and Ventura Blvds. (The rationale for eliminating that transit center was that there was no government-owned property in the area that could be used and real estate prices in Sherman Oaks, being among the highest in the Valley, made purchasing a location for a transit center prohibitive.)

RTD had already realigned some service around Metrolink to the Chatsworth and Burbank Stations when those opened October 25, 1992. MTA also increased service to Burbank Station on January 26, 1994, after the Northridge earthquake, and made service realignments to the new Sylmar/San Fernando Station when it opened March 7, 1994. All of these realignments were taken into account in the creation of the SFVTRS.

Around the periphery of the Valley -- primarily in the northeast region around Sylmar and San Fernando and the area west and south of Warner Center -- the grid network was found to be difficult to maintain, and service was proposed to be restructured into "community-based services" such as fixed route shuttles and "check point deviation" circulators that would deviate from the fixed route to penetrate into the community.

For the most part, only minor changes were proposed for service in areas where travel patterns were focused. These areas were identified as Van Nuys/Panorama City, North Hollywood, Universal City, the Burbank Media District/Central Business District, downtown San Fernando, Sherman Oaks, Sun Valley, downtown Glendale, and Warner Center.

In developing the implementation plan, MTA staff reviewed and analyzed the consultantís proposal on a line-by-line basis. The analysis focused on the proposed service modifications for each line, the inter-relationship of the lines as well as the cost and ridership impacts. Based on the analysis, some of the consultant's proposals were modified including extending some shortlines, changing layover or turnaround loop locations, modifying equipment requirements, and implementing minor route changes to mitigate impacts on passengers, etc. Some proposals were eliminated due to the area being adequately served by municipal operators.

The first phase of the SFVTRS, involving 15 MTA lines and one LADOT line, was implemented June 25, 1995. The second phase, involving four MTA lines, was implemented December 10, 1995. An additional line based on a SFVTRS proposal was included in the New Service Program which was part of the consent decree between MTA and the Labor/Community Strategy Center, and was implemented February 16, 1998. The SFVTRS was also used for reference in the Metro Red Line Bus/Rail Interface in 1999 and 2000 (although little of the SFVTRS proved relevant in that program). LADOT used one proposal as the basis for a DASH line in January, 1999 and implemented part of another proposal in April, 2004; MTA revived one SFVTRS proposal in its June, 2005 changes in preparation for the Metro Orange Line. Other than a short-lived experiment with route-deviation "smart shuttles" between 1997 and 2001 by LADOT, the rest of the SFVTRS was never implemented, although it was used for reference in the Metro Connections restructuring of 2006 through 2009.

There are several reasons why the SFVTRS stalled after an optimistic beginning.

Shortly after the second phase was completed, the MTA board of directors approved the contracted operation of three lines within the San Fernando Valley, effectively locking in their routes (except for minor rerouting) for a minimum three-year period beginning in December, 1996. This created a "domino effect" as it prevented fine-tuning of the first two phases, because two of the contracted lines were identified by MTA staff to be included in alternate alignments to the SFVTRS, and even if a line was not under contracted operation, its restructuring could not be implemented if it required major realignment of one of the contracted lines. Sadly, the MTA board has shown a willingness to continue contracted operation of those three lines (they approved new five-year contracts in 1999, and again in 2005, after extending those contracts to match the end dates of some "new service" shuttle contracts, and continue to routinely approve replacement contracts) despite problems with performance by the contractors, on and off, over the years. In 2006, when Metro Connections restructuring began, a surprising announcement was made that contracted service could indeed be restructured (and even brought back to in-house operation). While that did not happen during Metro Connections, more recent service change programs are doing just that; the June, 2011 changes included bringing half of Line 96 back in-house, and replacing contract Line 634 with an extension of in-house operated Line 230.

A number of the proposals which tied corridors together -- such as extending service on the northernmost east-west streets to Warner Center via the westernmost north-south streets -- were the subject of the most negative comments at the January 14, 1995 public hearing and were subsequently removed from the program with the staff notation "no longer supported due to adverse passenger impacts".

There was also the matter of Cal State Northridge Transit Center. Early in the SFVTRS implementation planning process, CSUN offered MTA a parcel they owned at the corner of Zelzah Ave. and Prairie St. which they had been using for faculty parking after the 1994 earthquake destroyed the parking structure on Zelzah. However, during public scoping meetings for the proposed transit center, NIMBYism reared its head and the resulting backlash caused University officials to withdraw the offer, even though there was strong support for the transit center among CSUN students. It was not until 2010 that CSUN itself announced plans to construct a transit center on the opposite side of the campus; in the interim years, MTA had to shelve all proposals that involved "hubbing" at the University.

Similarly, Warner Center Transit Hub was not formally put into operation until the inauguration of Metro Orange Line service October 30, 2005 and therefore only limited changes to service in that area were made as part of the SFVTRS.

Ironically, another reason was that the lead agency for the study -- LADOT -- delayed its implementation of most restructuring of the lines recommended for its operation. So the restructuring of any MTA line which required LADOT to simultaneously realign service was also delayed. Almost none of the LADOT-operated service was implemented; the exceptions were one MTA express line being replaced by a LADOT Commuter Express line in the first phase and the aforementioned "smart shuttle" experiment, the "New Service Program" line (which did not, as proposed, replace a MTA line), and the nine-year-delayed change to one line.

Beyond those factors, nothing happened regarding SFVTRS implementation for close to five years; in 1998, then-Los Angeles City Councilman (later State Senator) Richard Alarcón, frustrated by the apparent lack of activity in improving service, started the process of creating a "transit zone" similar to the Foothill Transit zone in the San Gabriel Valley. This had a dual effect on implementation; first, LADOT -- being the lead agency for a zone application -- refused to further consider any SFVTRS proposal, and second, MTA staff could not implement any restructuring of lines, other than around Metro Red Line service expansion, until the zone application was approved or denied (or withdrawn). In an attempt to solve a labor dispute between MTA and its bus operators, Governor Gray Davis signed SB 1101 (which extended MTA collective bargaining to transit zones in Los Angeles County) into law on September 30, 2000; proponents of the Valley zone had indicated they would withdraw their application if that bill became law, but didn't. The zone application was finally withdrawn after MTA created the service sectors (officially, the zone Interim Joint Powers Authority voted to dissolve itself as of February 27, 2003 -- the date the MTA board of directors confirmed the appointees to the sector Governance Council), but before Metro SFV could have implemented any further SFVTRS service changes they would have had to create revised proposals and hold new public hearings, since more than eight years had passed since the original January 14, 1995 hearing. Consequently, as noted above, most of the non-implemented SFVTRS proposals became useful only for review as part of later service change programs. (The sectors were subsequently dissolved in 2010, although the Councils were retained and still exercise jurisdiction over service changes in their local areas.)

Over the years, much of what did get implemented has been undone; for easier reference, we have created a separate page showing the SFVTRS concepts that were implemented and subsequent changes.

(Senator Alarcón, meanwhile, authored Senate Bill 18, to restructure the MTA board of directors; he later pulled the bill from consideration, and when re-introduced the bill was amended in committee to the point where it no longer resembled its original intent.)

Disclaimer: Kymberleigh Richards was involved with the SFVTRS beginning in late 1993 as a contributor to the draft version for the public hearings in mid-1994, and from 1995 until 2000 as an informal (and unpaid) consultant to the MTA Service Planning Department in the creation of the 1997 staff proposals and in restructuring service around the expansion of the Red Line. In 2003, she was appointed by the City of Los Angeles to the Metro San Fernando Valley Governance Council and continues to serve in that position.

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