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Pam O'Connor - 3/19/08

Wednesday, March 19, 2008 at noon PT

Metro Board Chair
Pam O'Connor

Welcome to our fourth live chat. Sorry to have missed you last month but I was on the road -- and taking mass transit -- in a variety of places and I have to say it was inspirational.

The Los Angeles region isn't the only metro area in the world with traffic congestion. And we are all living in the new carbon-constrained world as we combat global climate change.

There are innovative ideas and a range of projects under construction all over the world, but frankly, it's expensive no matter where it happens.So our chat topic today is timely. Here in Los Angeles County, we know gridlock—we sit in it every day. And, we know we need to continue improving our highways and expanding public transit.

We’re working on planning and building that transportation system with strong transit and a range of travel choices.So the question is: How do we afford it? Do we want to build and operate a 21st Century transportation network? If so, how do we pay for it!Even if all of us left our cars at home one day a week -- something that might just happen if gas reaches $4 a gallon, as projections suggest -- we will still need more buses and trains and better highways to carry us where we want to go.

And we still have federal and state governments that are too short of funds to give us much help.So, Los Angeles County, it looks like we'd be smart to start figuring this out. What forms of funding do you want? Where do you think the money should come from?

I'm Pam from Santa Monica and I'm ready to hear from you.


Live Chat transcript:

Question: when will the tap pass program be implemented on the big blue bus? Josh

Answer: It's been installed at Culver City and is being rolled out at Metro but I have to check with Big Blue Bus to get the update on their projected start.

Question: Do you and your colleagues read any of the Metro/transit blogs out there? There are a lot of people who really care about the public transit system in this city and have a lot of good ideas? Does Metro take these ideas into consideration?

Answer: I wish I could spend more time reading all the blogs and transit information that is out there! But alas, I have to work at my day job some of the time (and that's not Metro). But folks here at Metro scour the internet and other sources for feedback. And that's why we've started this Interactive Chat, which is a blog of sorts. And Metro has a blog at metro.net/imagine. It's the 21st century....

Question: so you'd rather see this forum be empty than post any questions that are a bit contented or controversial? is that it?

Answer: Hmmm....don't quite understand your question. The questions come in with peaks and valleys, some are more complicated than others, so on the fly, I grab a question to answer it. Of course, that takes a few minutes to compose and type the answer and then we post.

Happily, we get more questions than can be physically answered in the one hour...so all the questions that don't get answered "live" are answered, and posted, after the chat. So keep those questions coming and we'll eventually get them all answered.

Question: Hello. I and several other family members and friends are eagerly awaiting the Gold Line extension to Montclair and hopefully Ontario Airport. Can you please comment on the status of both phases of the Gold Line extensions? Thanks!

Answer: Metro's Long Range Transportation Plan is available at www.Metro.net and it includes the list of significant regional projects. There are more good projects than funding, so we need to grow the funding pot, so that transportation improvements throughout the county can get built faster.

Question: Why is Metro going with fare gates for the subway and light rail lines? It seems a waste of money, and that any functional gating system would require an increase in personnel, not a decrease as Metro has stated. What happens when the fare gates break down?

Answer: Gating is used all over the world for a number of reasons. Rather than a model with fare inspectors approaching patrons, the gating model has station agents and entry points where the fare is paid, so it's not more costly. In fact, almost $5 1/2 million is lost each year from fare evasion. The system that's been chosen should pay for itself in its 4th year of operation.

Question: What is the status of the plan for bus lanes from downtown to Santa Monica, as an interim measure until the subway-to-the-sea is built? Will they be rush hours only or full time? Will Santa Monica and Beverly Hills cooperate?

Answer: In about 3 years (2011) Metro hopes to be operating a bus-only lane on Wilshire from downtown Los Angeles to Santa Monica (about 12.5 miles) during the morning and afternoon rush hours...and it should improve travel times by about 25 percent with a dedicated lane and signal priority. Funding has been recommended in the President's proposed budget and we hope to get additional federal monies next year. Construction could start as early as the 4th quarter of this year.

Question: Does Metro have a long term plan to go greener and what are some of the initiatives you will be undertaking?

Answer: Metro has been a leader on going green with its fleet of clean fuel CNG bus fleet...but there's much more going on and a lot more to do. Metro just opened a new division building built to LEED silver certification, our first, we have a number of solar photo-voltaic installations, a renewable energy source, at three divisions now and are working on building another.

I started a Sustainability and Climate Change Committee to take a comprehensive look at the issues...the next meeting is on March 26. With the statewide implementation of AB 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act, there's a lot of interest. And in the future, state and federal monies may be focused at projects that address Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Vehicle Miles Traveled (the buzz words in sustainability) and Metro's long range transportation plan projects will help our region go greener.

Question: Hi Pam. What I want to know is if the Long Range Transportation Plan can really solve our traffic problems? Kathie G.

Answer: Kathie...the long range transportation plan's vision is to create a stronger network that includes rail and bus transit as well as to optimize our roads and highways, but there is no way to build a system that is traffic-free. That's why the plan includes options from reliable light rail to Rapid Buses, carpools and vanpools, bicycling, and new pricing models (like the potential congestion reduction priced lanes). In a world of increasing energy prices, growing concerns about global warming and carbon emissions, it will be critical to have that range of choices because, every day, each one of us has to do our part and our transportation choices do matter.

Question: What’s the most important project in the Transportation Plan? Are there new projects that are for sure going to happen? David

Answer: David...I'm sure everyone has their own favorite project (the one closest to your front door) but most of us travel throughout the region and so that network of transportation options is the foundation. We need to build on the framework of roads and highways complemented by quick and efficient bus and rail transit that is supported by bike and pedestrian amenities is what's most important.

Question: I wish you would make the wheelchair lifts work all the time. there are times I have to wait for two or three buses to get to my destination. Could you please let me know your thoughts on this? Lisa

Answer: Lisa...I understand your frustration, my mom used a wheelchair and we took the bus often. The newer, low floor buses are good because they come with ramps rather than lifts (the lifts are mechanical and can break). Metro is working to a totally low-floor (with ramps) fleet.

Question: My Idea is, as a Metro rider, where the funding should come from. Here are some examples; Raise Gas Taxes, Raise bus and rail fares, 1/2 cent sales tax increase, install smart parking meters, toll roads are Ok, but NOT for car pool lanes, P3's would be a great way to help finance more transportation options, but NOT at the expense of the environment The more different types of transportation that we have available, the better off we are. John

Answer: John there are a number of ideas popping up about how to raise the funds needed to build needed transportation improvement projects in out county. Right now at the State level of government, Assembly member Mike Feuer has a package of bills to enable county-wide funding measures to be placed before voters. It's important to tell your assembly member that you support those measures!

Metro is waiting to hear from the federal government for funding to begin a demonstration congestion reduction pricing program that has the potential to keep a lane of roadway moving at 50 mph, with added transit services. We need to try new approaches because the tools of the 20th century aren't working in the 21st century!

Question: Why were the trains not built with a way to carry bicycles other than folding bikes? Is there a way to retrofit? My husband would gladly bike to a train station, but what is he supposed to do at the other end of the train ride, when his bike is back at his destination? Frankly, it seems discriminatory to put cyclists in a position where they need to buy a special vehicle to ride the train. Are there plans to address this?

Answer: Metro trains and buses accommodate standard bicycles. Bikes are welcome on trains any time except during weekday morning and afternoon rush house (trains are too crowded with people then)...bikes can be taken aboard any time on weekends and many train stations have bike lockers. Almost all of Metro's buses have bike racks (that can carry 2 bikes). For more info you can call 213-922-2660. Hope you'll try taking your bike on Metro!

Question: Why is I-405 through the Sepulveda Pass excluded from the toll lane trial? Traffic on it is bad and the only alternative is a 1 hour ride on Metro Rapid 761. I know a few Commuter Express buses that could benefit from limiting cars from the I-405 carpool lanes; there's no choice through that pass as Metro has no plans to put rail in that corridor. Tony (Arleta, CA)

Answer: Hi Tony...it's because the northbound carpool lane hasn't been built yet. Both sides are needed for a reliable trial.

Question: Hi Pam: What is the status of the Downtown Regional Connector light Rail System? It could connect the Gold (w/extension), Expo (w/extension), and Blue Lines seamlessly through downtown, eliminating the need to transfer to the Red Line. What are your thoughts? Rob J.

Answer: Hi Rob, having a "regional Connector" through downtown L.A. is a project that ranks high on Metro's Long Range Transportation Plan...planning studies on possible routes through downtown are underway, but right now there isn't money to build it! As a county we need to figure out ways to pay for this and other important projects. Check out Metro's web at Metro.net/imagine and join the discussion with your ideas on the regional connector and ways to fund the network.

Question: It's nearly 1 p.m. Thank you, Pam!

Answer: Thanks everyone...I'll work on the answers to all the questions and we'll post them in the next few weeks. Looking forward to our next LIVE chat in April!! --Pam