METRO’S FOLLIES--Metro and I have a problem. Maybe it is because Metro has dropped the word Transportation from its name as well as Authority.
They just seem to be one giant conglomeration or mega-corporation out to enrich themselves with this slimed down moniker devoid of any meaning or context. Just another giant sucking sound for tax money-cash in the Megalopolis we live in. The word Metro means a huge city. Maybe they changed from Metropolitan Transit Authority of L.A. because they actually do transit so poorly they no longer seek to be identified with their primary mission? (Photo above: Elon Musk’s idea for a transportation tunnel.)
Of course, my problem with “Metro” is a little more granular than just a grandiose meaningless name. It has to do the fact that I am forced to interract with them daily. For 12 years, I commuted from Encino to Westwood by car. Before the 405 was improved, it would take 20 to 25 minutes. Now that it has been widened and diamond lanes put in and the Skirball entrance and exit reconfigured and moved against critics’ best advice, presto-change-o it takes 45 minutes. Of course, Metro “optimized the timing of the lights on Sepulveda Blvd to make sure Sepulveda Blvd. was just as slow as the 405. When I asked Metro’s representatives about this, I was told don’t worry they are monitoring this. Phew, I should be glad they are not trying to make it any better.
Other problems I have with Metro is they seem hell-bent on making Los Angeles worse. Have you ever been stuck on the 10 past Monterey Park on a Saturday? There are 2 or 3 empty lanes on the left side of the freeway. Nobody is in them. Those lanes are a toll road, and you need a transponder to go on them. Depending on the time of day and demand, it can be an expensive proposition. Metro monitors these lanes given all the antennas, sensors and cameras they deploy hoping to administer substantial fines to any driver without a transponder that would bolt into these lanes to save time. It seems nobody does so we all sit and idle and spew “dreaded” greenhouse gases into the atmosphere while Metro monitors the situation and meets out collective punishment.
Metro would like us to ditch our cars. Therefore, Metro has no real interest in helping Los Angelenos move about efficiently on our Freeways. Metro’s strategy is collective mass punishment. Dished out by increasing drive times in torturous traffic. Their hope is abominable drive times will inevitably ebb the flow of diminishing Metro Bus and Rail Ridership, Metro’s collective brain-trust must think this. I can imagine these policies being hashed out in secret boardroom meetings with $100.00 Silver Water Decanters and a bunch of suits justifying their existence and consulting fees.
I don’t understand why we continually fund Metro’s incompetence. Metro budget was $6.1 Billion in 2018. Their own budget documents state that they are excited about “Measure M’s new revenue stream.” Which will be the funding sources for new rail projects. Why did we give them this river of money, when existing rail traffic on this new rail system is in decline when bus ridership since 2013 has fallen at least 20%? Since 1985, Metro has spent $25 billion building a rail transit system that now performs 110 million trips a year.
At the same time bus ridership has fallen by 220 million trips since 1985., dragging down overall transit ridership by 21 percent. Metro’s, NYC subway envy doesn’t just hurt bus riders; it costs Taxpayer the big bucks. Only the figures I am about to show you could make sense to a public agency and the legislative bodies that fund Metro. While Metro is enjoying a river of money from a Measure M. It cost our transit agency a meager $4.54 in subsidies for a bus passenger trip, kinda small potatoes when a rail, travel per person is subsided at $25.74. If a person is commuting back and forth please from home to work and home again, double these figures. Metro's fetish is for rail which sucks the life out of its own fleet of Buses which get older and slower and less reliable. With the predictable result of forcing back commuters into that Green-House machine the car. One Metro official even complained that they can’t compete with “cheap-gasoline.” As it cost me $50.00 bucks to fill up my car, call me a piker I don’t see that as cheap or a bargain. Especially when one considers the awful state are roads are in and the expense of keeping an auto roadworthy.
However, maybe the real reason why Metro’s Rail Lines are losing ridership is people don’t feel safe given the crime and amount of Homeless people riding the rails. Many people have shared their experiences with Homeless Humans on the Metro and the filth they leave behind. This is probably exacerbated by Metro’s “enlightened” policy of no bathrooms in terminals and stations. (I understand these 2 sentences will create a backlash from Homeless advocates. However, this essay is about Metro’s policy and not how to help the Homeless.)
This brings me to the next and maybe their greatest folly to date Metro’s, Sepulveda Transit Corridor Project. Metro’s genius for spending taxpayers fund inefficiently will be in full display as the project is over budget before the first spade of dirt is removed. Metro is studying the feasibility of various routes for a railroad line down Van Nuys or Sepulveda Blvd. and then down to the UCLA’s Westwood Campus and terminating at the blue line near the 10 freeway.
Having just attended one of Metro's recent dog and pony shows Metro left no doubt that a rail line will be built. Whether it is a good idea or a bad idea. Big projects like this are required to have an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) Metro’s slides go from EIR immediately to construction.
Only a Super Regional Agency would be this sure of their project speedily sailing past all objection. Besides being $4 to $7 billion over budget, think of all the new infrastructure that will need to be created. Where are the parking lots for the commuters who choose to use this rail line? Pro hint – none. Even Metro was worried about safety given that some of their over ground concepts block motorist visibility with massive cement pylons. A new rail yard and maintenance facility will need to be created. This will take up dozens of acres and force scores of businesses, warehouses, and Mon and Pop stores to close, for good. This forced relocation, really driving people off the land via eminent domain will be ugly and ruin lives and businesses.
The stations they propose connect to nowhere unless you are a UCLA student. The first stop after the going through the Sepulveda pass will be dead in the middle of UCLA Campus. Which means waiting for buses to get on to the Wilshire Corridor or taking a considerable walk, to a bus stop on Wilshire. The new rail line will end up on Exposition Blvd, what’s down there accept another railway stop? All this for $13 Billion, go Metro, go broke!
The thing that is most annoying to me is we may not even be asking the right questions.
I am curious how much Green House gases are going to be created by building a Rail Line or Monorail. Consider all the material that will need to be mined, and then refined, all the steel, all the copper all the plastic from petroleum, cement, and water used. How many tons of dirt will be hauled away, what about the emissions from those dump trunks? What about the particulate problem creating more unhealthy air? How many pollutants will the average passenger cost vs. a relatively low emission current auto? I do not think anybody knows. Point of fact Los Angeles exists for cars we have the existing infrastructure. Why not create a car tunnel under the Sepulveda Pass with exits on Wilshire, Olympic, the 10 Freeway, Venice Blvd., the 90 Freeway all the way down to the Airport? I bet if we gave $6 Billion from Prop M to Elon Musk, we could have a tunnel for cars, faster drive times sooner than anything Metro could come up with.
My vote is for Elon Musk and his Boring Company. I cannot put my faith in Metro’s vision when they lose $14.75 per passenger on average and ridership diminishes every year.
(Eliot Cohen is President of Homeowners of Encino and serves on Encino Neighborhood Council.)