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Pam O'Connor - 1/23/08

Wednesday, January 23, 2008 at noon PT

Metro Board Chair
Pam O'Connor

Good afternoon Los Angeles! And thanks for joining us today. We originally planned to talk exclusively about congestion reduction pricing and we will start our conversation on that issue. But we've received so many interesting comments and ideas on how to pay for new transportation projects, we decided to expand it a bit to get more of your creative advice.

Like other transit agencies around the country, Metro anticipates a massive funding shortfall to keep moving and building. ($60 billion is what Metro estimates is needed to pay for essential highway and transit projects to keep Los Angeles moving!) And as we have all heard from Sacramento of late, the State is also operating in the red.

So today let's just dream about ways we can create a better future. What are your ideas for dealing with our traffic? And where do you want the Metro Board to go looking for money for projects to ease that traffic? Should it be a half cent sales tax? Public/private partnerships? Toll roads? Parking fees?

Tell me what you're thinking. And when you send in your questions, include your name and city, if you like.

As you know … I'm Pam from Santa Monica!

Question : Does congestion reduction pricing apply to all freeways? How does congestion reduction pricing work? Roger

Answer : Good morning, Roger. No, congestion reduction pricing isn't being considered for all highways. We would like to test it for a year starting in summer 2009 on the I-10 El Monte Busway, the 110 Harbor Freeway Transitway and the 210 from the 605 to the 710. We'll look at the results and decide whether it's a good idea for LA. But I have to tell you it has already proved to better manage traffic in various places around the world … like London, Stockholm, Singapore, Minneapolis, San Diego, and Orange County. It works by encouraging drivers who don't want to pay the rush hour toll to commute at different times of day, or to take mass transit, or to telecommute.

Question : Rather than punish carpoolers by making them pay for carpool lanes, how about expanding the non-car options in LA and Orange County? What plans are in store for expanding rail, light rail, metro, or other non-fossil fuel based transportation options? Marc

Answer : Hi Marc. I'm so glad you asked! For starters, Metro -- we cover LA County but not Orange -- has all kinds of programs for improvements aimed at expanding non-car options in LA County. This June, we'll complete our 28-line Metro Rapid Bus network. We're on schedule to open the Gold Line Eastside Light Rail extension in 2009. And we'll open the Exposition Light Rail line to Culver City in 2010. Our long-range plan includes an extension of the Expo Line to Santa Monica, a transit line along the Crenshaw corridor and an extension of the Orange Line busway to the Chatsworth Metrolink station. We're also working to speed up buses along various arterials. For example, we’re working with the City of Los Angeles to put a bus only lane along Wilshire Boulevard (and I think we need a network of bus only lanes!). We continue to fund bicycle and pedestrian improvements all over the county. With Caltrans we expect to add 89 lane miles to our carpool lane system including on the I-5 north, I-5 south (connecting to Orange County -- and Metro has been working more closely with OCTA -- Orange County Transportation Authority -- on our common issues), the I-10 east of the I-605, SR 60, I-405 and other locations. And we continue to fund and expand Metrolink service which serves a five county area.

Question : Please don't change a system that rewards good behavior to one that rewards only those that have money. CJ

Answer : We certainly don't want to do that, CJ! The goal is to make the carpool/vanpool lanes run faster so that it's actually worth it to use one … rather than to have to sit in traffic in one like all of the other lanes. And to encourage people to try new modes of travel, like mass transit. Even hopping on the bus or train one day a week (and driving the others) would significantly impact the environment, if we all did it. Add that to the good practice of car and vanpoolers and we could be headed not just for faster freeways but better air quality. I recall seeing some data that shows that roads with variable pricing on HOV lanes help the other lanes move more efficiently. Over the next few months Metro's Congestion pricing Task Force will be discussing the range of issues and reviewing the Congestion Pricing feasibility study as it moves forward.

Question : Pam, when is metro going to expand park and ride facility in the San Gabriel Valley area? i take line 487 from San Gabriel to Downtown LA by 7:00am, there is no more parking available at del mar station. my second question: i am a proponent of converting the i-10 to toll roads? let's get it done. it will be awesome if the toll line does not stop at 605 freeway. can you make sure that this toll road is compatible with fastrak? Soon Kim

Answer : Hi Soon Kim. There actually are plans to put additional parking into the El Monte joint development as well as add Flyaway service at that location. Stay tuned for a time line. But remember there are many rail stations that are well served by transit and these are not going to be good candidates for park and ride. Thanks for your willingness to try a new idea that should help expand mobility options in Los Angeles County. If the HOT (high occupancy Toll) lane concept works we plan to extend it east of the 605 freeway once carpool lanes are built on the I-10 and SR-60 freeways. As we work over the next year to put together the technology to make this work we will definitely look at how to make the toll lane compatible with fastrak. Thanks for suggesting it!

Question : Will we ever see our buses tracked on the internet so the bus rider can see if it's running, where it's at, if it's already passed my stop. It would be a nice feature and help reduce wasted time waiting on a bus and help plan an alternate route. Maybe we could even get an email when our bus is near. It could save some of us a lot of time waiting in the rain or hot sun or rushing to catch a bus that may be late or even running. Mike

Answer : Great idea, Mike! In fact, Metro is working on the entire web site, including adding more real time features so that our patrons can access information that's vital to them. Bus arrival times are at the top of the list. Also, I hope that some of the internet services that can give you driving directions will develop a system where one can get directions using transit options! Thanks for asking.

Question : What happens if there's an emergency on HOT lanes and there are barriers that prevent us to escape? We need to get out and we can't be trapped. Safety first. Roger

Answer : Roger, you're absolutely right. But let me reassure you that there are no plans to put any barriers along the HOT lanes. We will use electronic readers to identify cars entering the HOT lane and bill drivers accordingly. The HOT lane will be separated from the mixed flow lanes by yellow lines like the carpool lanes are today. And if you think about it, the limited access highways themselves already have barriers -- they can only be accessed from the periodic on/off ramps. That's why Caltrans is a partner with Metro …to ensure the highest standards of engineering and safety.

Question : Can the Metro day pass be used on any of the metro rail lines? Manuel

Answer : Thanks for your question, Manuel. Yes, you can use the day pass on any Metro rail train or Metro bus and it's good for the whole day you buy it. Especially if you're making a few trips or changing trains or buses a couple of times it can be a real savings. It can be used for long or short trips anytime that day! You can buy a day pass from the machines at Metro Rail stations and also on Metro buses.

Question : Pam, why did Metro decide to stop reimbursing Metro pass holders to ride LADOT Dash, and Commuter Express Services? Monte

Answer : The change actually goes back a couple of years, Monte. In 2002, Metro introduced the EZ Pass, which became the regional pass payment for riders transferring from one operator to another. At that time we discontinued the Long Beach/Metro and Foothill/Metro joint passes and the Dash agreement should have been terminated at that time. We kept it around as long as we could but in the end, finances caused us to discontinue funding the transfers.

Question : The most exciting option for Phase 2 of Expo to me is a proposal from the City of Santa Monica to study Colorado Blvd. as opposed to Olympic at the terminus. Will this be determined by the Board the same time the mode and route is chosen? Roger

Answer : Hi Roger, I'm glad you're excited about Expo Phase 2. As a Westsider, I am, too! Here's the background from Expo staff: The Expo Authority Board approved studying a Colorado alignment. And the City of Santa Monica will be doing its own planning and outreach on this option. So that's what we know right now … and I am very happy about the possibility of Expo running on the street in Santa Monica. There are many examples of Light Rail running in street-car mode in vital urban areas such as Portland, Oregon and downtown San Jose. Now you know as much as I do. I hope that helps.

Question : Will you lead the effort to put a new local transportation sales tax on the ballot this year? If we don’t get a sales tax increase, how will Metro raise the money it needs for new highway and transit projects?

Answer : Well, I sure will work hard to support new funding options...but it's going to take a coalition of folks to lead the efforts. At Metro we're looking at the possibility of such a measure--and other options--as well as looking at the potential for public-private partnerships. There will be a number of milestones on the way and choices...and your input and support will be crucial.

Question : I go to USC and use public transportation. There have been a number of times when I have to wait for the blue line to get to the red line in time to miss it, wait for the red line to get to the gold line just in time to watch the gold line leave. When all is said and done, I’ve spent 45 minutes simply waiting for the light rails. Is Metro considering implementing a synchronized system? Shaun

Answer : Hi Shaun. In a perfect world we strive to make sure that all connections are seamless and our system is synchronized. However, things do happen that can delay train service. I'm sorry for the problem. I'll pass your concerns on to our rail operations folks. They are constantly working on new and better schedules … particularly connections. And as noted in another answer, Metro is continuing to work at systems that will let the user get arrival information via devices such as mobile phone, etc. As our ability to gather data and disseminate it via information technology grows every day, we continue to find ways to get that information into the hands of transit users.

Question : If Metro's goal is to reduce carbon emissions, why punish carpoolers by converting carpool lanes to toll lanes? If extra revenue is needed, why not collect tolls from all freeway users, but retain the carpool lanes as they currently exist? Shouldn't Metro support carpooling? Please do not go ahead with plans to convert carpool lanes to toll lanes. Joanna

Answer : Hi Joanna. The intent of congestion pricing isn't to punish carpoolers. Metro is a huge supporter of carpooling and in fact provides billions of dollars to construct carpool lanes. We also have a department that works constantly with major employers, offering carpool incentive programs. Metro also provides subsidies to people who form vanpools. The problem is that many of our carpool lanes are running at or over capacity during peak hours and are not (or won't in the near future) be providing any speed advantage to carpoolers. Our hope with congestion pricing is to better manage our highway lanes -- to make the system work more efficiently and optimally. We think toll lanes will keep the lanes running at 50 miles per hour. And any money collected -- although this is far from a huge money-making tool -- would be used to increase other transit options along the corridor like van pool subsidies and add more freeway express buses to help everyone move better … especially those who use transit or carpool.

Question : Could congestion pricing possibly be effective with only 1 lane? The carpool lane is already congested during rush hour. This idea seems like a non starter. D Winter

Answer : Hi D Winter. Unblocking the carpool lane is exactly what we want. So to research, Metro has been working closely with Caltrans on this issue and both agencies feel that congestion pricing can be effective with only one lane – especially as a demonstration project -- just to see how the concept works. Certainly we like the flexibility of having two lanes in each direction, as is the case on the Harbor Freeway Transitway. With only one lane, however, the goal will be to get enough people to switch to non peak hours or to vanpools and transit so that the lane moves at a consistent 50 miles per hour. As you note, many carpool lanes are already congested during rush hour, which points out the fact that they’re not a great inducement to future car pools. Plus, the freeway buses are getting stuck in those same congested lanes. So we need to try some new concepts.

Question : It seems unlikely to me that the desired result of toll roads is to reduce congestion. It does however appear to be nothing more than a fund raising effort for highway maintenance. If the State had not misused gas tax funds earmarked for highway maintenance in the first place a toll road would not be on the table now. This plan puts yet another unfair burden on the motoring public. Jim

Answer : Hi Jim. You make a good point about tax funds earmarked for highway maintenance and transit not ending up there. And yes, I know that toll road lanes sound like a great burden -- particularly on top of gas prices that don't seem to have any limits -- but that's why we want to run a test. We want to see how it works and who is impacted most. The goal is not so much to make big bunches of money -- because it won't (although we will take what is collected and use it for transit improvements along those corridors) -- but to squeeze better efficiency out of the lanes and frankly, people will have to give more thought to their driving habits and to the choices they make about travel. We continue to work to build the transit network and the range of choices -- bus or train or join a van or carpool. And we continue to work with cities and the county to ensure that bus stops and rail stations are multi-modal with choices that include both public transit and private options (car-sharing, biking).

Question : Please consider the exemption of motorcycles from any potential future tolls for using the HOV lanes. Why? Motorcycles are currently the best method of reducing congestion on our freeways, aside from public transportation. You can fit 4 or more motorcycles in the space one SUV takes. The construction of a "Motorcycle Only" lane would be better. It would encourage many motorcyclists who don't currently commute to do so because of safety concerns. Thank you for your consideration. Tom

Answer : That's a very good idea, Tom. I don't know that anyone has studied it but you make several good points. I will pass them on to our experts who are exploring the concept. And if we could get a network of dedicated bus lanes on streets, they could be shared by bicycle riders. Thanks!

Question : Have there been any studies to use moving barriers to take advantage of the lesser traveled opposing traffic lanes? That would provide for more capacity and utilize the lesser traveled lanes. I see this scenario in the morning and afternoon on the 10 fwy between the 710 and 57 fwy. I believe the concept of moving barriers exists, I thought I saw something like that in boston, but am not positive about that. Charles

Answer : Systems that change the number of travel lanes based on inbound and outbound traffic patterns are used in other cities (Chicago's Lake Shore Drive, Washington D.C.'s Rock Creek Parkway) as well as here in Southern California (exiting the Rose Bowl, for example.) That works well when there is a single location (like downtown Chicago) that's more like a hub system. But we're an area with many hubs. We also know that for relieving traffic on some roads -- like the 10, the 710 and the 57 -- this type of lane wouldn't be practical because of the large number of bridges with bridge posts that are fixed and can't be moved. But maybe some other highways would be more efficient with such a model. I'll have to find out more about it.

Question : Hello Pam... A few transit funding strategies that probably need to be implemented are for one raising the sales tax just like Orange County did with Measure M. Another idea is using advertisements in subway/light-rail platforms and stations. Quite a few metro systems in European cities use advertising to earn additional funding. I've seen it in London, Berlin, Vienna, Milan, Seville and Madrid. Here's an example of how they do it in Berlin ... William

Answer : William...Thanks for the link to the web site, I'll have to check it out. Metro recently approved a new contract for advertising in our stations and on trains and buses. We anticipate between $22-29 million per year generated in new advertising dollars. There are different opinions about whether or not to have advertising, but as you note there are many good examples worldwide of blending the need for commerce (and the culture of the area is expressed in ads!) balanced with aesthetics. Always a challenge!