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Carolyn Flowers - 4/3/09

Friday, April 3, 2009 - Noon to 1 p.m.

Metro Chief Operating Officer

Carolyn Flowers

Live chat transcript:

Question: Good morning Carolyn. Thanks for joining us today. Let's start out with an easy question about a difficult job: What does it take to run one of the nation's largest bus operations?

Answer: Well, I'm not exactly working alone. It takes a dedicated and committed team to deliver service in one of the most challenging and complex counties in the country. There are more than 8,000 skilled and professional workers in Metro Operations -- operators, mechanics, service attendants, store clerks, customer information operators, transportation planners, security, supervisors and managers that keep public transportation moving. We are a huge operation -- more than 2,500 buses in our fleet (most are now clean fuel) and we serve a service area that covers more than 1,400 square miles, with about 1.3 million boardings on our buses on an average weekday. I feel lucky to be part of the team and being able to serve the people of Los Angeles County.

Question: My husband used to take bus 315 fr Belford Av - LAX transit. What happened is this line became 715 but this is not replacing 315. Now it's not easy for him to go to work. He had to take several buses to LAX. May I request 715 on Belford? There are passengers from the apartments on Belford depending on 315 to Norwalk and LAX. I would appreciate if you would have 715 on Belford. If you need signatures from these bus stop I would be glad to wake up early to take signatures from passengers. Rorrie de la Vega

Answer: One of our objectives is to increase the speed of the system for passengers. The Manchester Rapid Line 715 is a faster service because it has fewer stops. Metro Rapids only stop at intersections with high demand, and unfortunately Belford does not meet the criteria for a Metro stop. Your husband could consider Line 42 from La Tijera Blvd and Airport Blvd or from Manchester and La Tijera. Line 42 serves the LAX City Bus Center. I hope this assists you. You can also consult our customer information line for trip planning information

Question: h ello, I'm wondering how long it will take to get the pass. I applied for the bus pass from the school 22 days ago. thank you. Walter Lopez

Answer: Gee that seems like a long time to me. Schools are in charge of passes. You should contact your college administrative office to find out what could be causing the delay.

Question: Is the MTA working on an express bus along the 405 fwy? Something from Sylmar Metrolink station to UCLA with minimal stops. Manuel

Answer: We are working on point to point bus services as part of the Measure R funded projects. Measure R has a SFV I-405 connection but in the current plan it is envisioned that this would extend from Sepulveda park and ride of the Metro Orange Line to Westwood.

Question: Why are we still dealing with tokens? Tokens should have disappeared from Metro a while back. Can the amount per token be placed on a TAP or debit card? Tokens got to go. I appreciate your efforts in running a good transit system. Thank you. Christina Corrales

Answer: We are in our smartcard (TAP) program over several months. The initial fare media being transitioned are the paper passes. We will evaluate the transition of tokens after the conversion of the paper passes.

Question: The last Strike crippled the city and stranded thousands of us, commuters. Has MTA resolved the contract negotiations this time? Tim

Answer: In the last negotiations in 2006 we did not have a strike. We entered into a interest based negotiations approach which resulted in successfully negotiating new contracts prior to the expiration of the agreements. We plan to use the same process again. We will be starting negotiations next week with our largest unions. Our expectations are that we will have this completed before the expiration of the contracts on June 30.

Question: Are you ordering any new buses this year? Jean A.

Answer: We sure are. The Metro Board just approved the purchase of 41 new clean-air CNG buses to be used on our Congestion Reduction demonstration project, which will launch in late 2010. The buses will be assigned to a new Bus Rapid Transit Line which will operate in HOV lanes along the I-10 El Monte Busway and the I-110 Harbor Freeway Transitway. The project will test pricing strategies to help cut down on traffic congestion and maximize freeway capacity.

Question: I am newer to riding the bus. I would like to know if there are procedures to check on the performance of the drivers in collecting fares or limiting the # of people safely allowed on a bus. Daily, people get on in back, or push past in front not paying the fare, and drivers don't take the time to collect the fares from these folks. Everyone needs to pay the fare, or not ride. You will not reduce your profits by removing these people, as they are not paying anyhow. Krysti Agosta

Answer: This is a big problem when lines are crowded and we also worry about this issue. We have to approach it from the perspective of enforcement through undercover rides by law enforcement and through technology changes that will provide the capability for off-board payments similar to the Orange Line. In the meantime, we will focus on improving fare enforcement through deployment of the Sheriff's Department, which  monitors our lines.

Question: What is the economic impact for your organization to shift into eco-friendly buses?

Answer: Our fleet is already eco-friendly. Over 97% of the fleet, over 2,500 buses are fueled by compressed natural gas. We also just took delivery of 6 gasoline hybrid buses. It is really not about the economic impact, although the CNG fuel is cheaper than diesel. It is about the environment and our contribution to reducing the carbon footprint.

Question: Do you have any job openings? How can I apply? Albert in Van Nuys

Answer: We're always hiring operators and mechanics and service attendants. To apply you can come down here to Metro's Gateway Headquarters or you can go online to and click on Jobs at the top of the page. We also have a Bridge program with Valley College that helps prepare potential candidates for the bus operations training program. For information on Bridge go to

Question: What are some of your "green" initiatives?

Answer: Besides the CNG buses, we have installed solar panels at several facilities. We recently opened a Gold LEED bus facility. We have a sustainability policy. We have initiated two pilot Energy Management Systems, one at a bus division and the other at a rail. Our service reduces air pollution in Los Angeles County by an estimated 76 tons per day.

Question: Why is Metro converting to TAP? Jeff

Answer: We had to replace our aging and antiquated fare boxes so we took the opportunity to catch up with the 21st century and introduce smart card technology that offers many benefits to our customers, including the ability to recover the fare value of their cards if they are lost (providing they are registered) and, eventually, lead to seamless travel among different public transit carriers in Los Angeles County, while reducing fare evasion.

Question: I love the Orange Line. Is it going to be extended. Alexander

Answer: It will be extended to Chatsworth by 2012. Groundbreaking for the four-mile extension down the Canoga Avenue right-of-way will be in June.

Question: Many public transit agencies, such as Washington D.C. Metro and NYC, have recycling bins in their subway systems. I see a lot of newspapers, bottles and cans stuffed into the trashcans of Metro subway and light-rail stations. Why doesn't Metro have recycling bins in its subway and light-rail stations? Ross Rivas

Answer: Our custodial staff does go through and recycle the bottles and cans. As part of sustainability efforts we will continue to review these types of suggestions.

Question: I have been very pleased with Metro coverage in my area (by UCLA) and use the Metro trip planner to plan out my trips, but I was just curious if and when Metro routes will be integrated with google transit. This would increase ridership and simplify the world of public transit for people that would otherwise drive (mapping their directions on google maps), as well as to people like my sister who have iPhones that work splendidly with google transit in cities like New York, but not in LA. Chris Meehan

Answer: We are working on this. Stay tuned

Question: Do you see a new generation of vehicles in the mix for Metro's future Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) services? Will there be significant technological advances (e.g. to help combat global warming) with these vehicles? Howard A. Smith

Answer: We have recently received hybrid buses. We also have composite buses which are lighter. We continue to look at new technology to improve our efficiency.

Question: I am a student at Glendale Community College and have a vehicle. I use the bus to commute to school and back. I am concerned that another rate hike will push me into my car, and so the same to many others. My questions is are you still planning to raise fares in June 2009, and if so, are you going to raise them as high as originally planned? Joseph

Answer: No, there will not be a fare increase in June 2009. Our Board has deferred the fare increase as part of the November voter approved passage of the Measure R 1/2 cents sales tax for transportation improvements in Los Angeles County.

Question: Will the Silver Line be like the Orange Line or is it a different type of "line"? Zach

Answer: For June 2009, we will establish the basic service structure of the Silver Line,  which provides service from El Monte along the I-10 and connects to the Harbor Transitway via downtown LA. As part of the Express Lanes project, we will be adding BRT amenities, such as station improvements, new buses, off-board fare payments and additional security enhancements like the Orange Line.

Question: Will the President's stimulus plan offer anything for bus riders? Martha

Answer: That money is for short-term construction projects but bus riders are benefiting because Metro will use a portion of its funds to rebuild buses, purchase new buses and expand facilities that will keep the fleet in good shape.

Question: The 740 line....I call in and complain a lot. On Tuesday, I waited over 30 minutes for it. And while I was waiting at least 4 745 buses came and went. What can be done about this? I work at City Hall and have decided to use the bus to save money and time in parking, but I tell ya, I am about to go back to driving. Thanks. Veronica Hendrix

Answer: I apologize for the inconvenience because we certainly want you as a customer. I am going to refer this issue to the South Bay bus sector to investigate. Someone will get back to you.

Question: What will Measure r cover or do? Yvonne Del Gado

Answer: Wow, we plan to do a lot! It will provide funding to expand our rail and bus service as well as our municipal operators. In addition it will fund highway improvements and also provides for infrastructure improvements. There is also an element that will go directly to the 89 jurisdictions in Los Angeles County to improve traffic signals, pedestrian/bicycle amenities and road repairs to name a few of the projects.

Question: I had a really great bus driver last week. How should I file a comment or a complaint? Carol

Answer: The best way is to send them to or call 1-213-922-6235. Thanks. We do want to hear from our customers.

Question: Ms. Flowers, I commute to downtown LA weekdays. I have missed the train on more than one occasion because the lines were long or one of the ticket dispensers were not working. I do not need a $62 pass because I spend $50 per month. I had hoped that the Tap Card would allow me to load $50 and then I could breeze on by the line. I'm sure I'm not the only commuter inconvenienced by this. Are there any plans to accommodate commuter needs of others like myself? Wanda Hall-Raphael

Answer: Yes. One of the next phases of the TAP program will be to allow stored value (cash) on your TAP card. Each time you enter a bus or train station, you will TAP your card and the fare will be deducted. We hope to have this implemented by the end of the summer.

Question: Do you take the bus to work? Lee

Answer: I try to take transit as often as I can. I use both the bus and the rail system. This gives me a first hand look at the operation.

Question: What kind of technology does Metro use to keep bus riders safe and secure? Dave

Answer: We have high-tech surveillance cameras on the buses and at rail stations. And we're working to improve lighting at bus stops, as well. And our Bus Operations Center is standing by 24/7, to assist bus operators with any problems they report. And our buses all have GPS so we always know where they are.

Question: Carolyn, thanks for your hard work. Could you let us know when Metro will implement Google Transit? Every other major city's public transit system uses Google Transit. Will the new CEO (from OCTA) also implement Google Transit?

Answer: We are getting a lot of questions about Google. We are working on it. Stay tuned.

Question: I’m sorry to say that half of the questions appear to be submitted by Metro staff. I thought this was supposed to be a live chat yet my question is being ignored. Will Metro stop honoring MetroLink Train passes? I take a Metro bus after I reach my LA destination. Tom McGranahan

Answer: These are all publicly generated questions and we are here live working on the answers. In response to your question, we will all be waiting for the Metrolink Board decision on their fare changes to determine our next steps.

Question: When will the installation of the Ticket Turnstiles start construction? Will it be similar to the New York Style Turnstiles and when do you think it will be completed? Ryan M.

Answer: The first turnstiles will be installed in the Mariachi/Soto Station on the Gold Line Eastside Extension in June. The remainder of the gates will be installed over the next year.

Question: That's all the time we have for questions. Any final words, Carolyn?

Answer: It has been a pleasure to answer your questions and to find out your concerns. I look forward to being able to do this again in the near future. Thanks for joining us.