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Pam O'Connor - 5/21/08

Wednesday, May 21, 2008 at noon PT

Metro Board Chair
Pam O'Connor

Live chat transcript:

Question: Hello, Pam. We heard you just got back from Beijing, China. What are your thoughts about traffic and air pollution there compared to Los Angeles?

Answer: Visiting Beijing really put things into context ... while we, too, have traffic congestion (though not as bad as Beijing) we have put in place a public transportation framework of rail and buses, and a plan to grow this network to help ease traffic congestion -- and to improve environmental and air quality. Our efforts to date to improve air quality and other environmental initiatives have made a difference -- we have blue skies in LA County ... hard to find a blue sky in Beijing. But like Beijing we anticipate more people and jobs so we need to grow our network and to do that we have to come up with the resources -- the funds -- to make it happen. What are your thoughts about how we do that?

Question: Hi I am deaf and I have bus pass and cityride coupons. My question is... how I can go from Wilshire/Vermont and LAX? I read a map and saw LAX... How? I plan to go there on Sunday, June 15th. Will LAX area included bus close on Sundays? Thanks, Rochelle

Answer: Destination LAX... Get on the Red Line subway and take it to Union Station and there you can take the airport Flyaway bus to LAX. You can also go to metro.net and check out the "trip planner". Hope you have a good trip.

Question: Will there be a provision for those driving Zero or Super-Low Emission vehicles (electric or CNG) to continue to drive in the HOV lanes? It would be a shame to prioritize rich drivers in gas-guzzlers over those who have already invested in alternative energy. It would be criminal for Los Angeles to discourage future alternative fuel development and discount cars already contributing to reduced greenhouse gas emissions in one fell swoop. Please don't make it all about the almighty dollar. Janet

Answer: Allowing hybrid, low emission or zero emission vehicles driven by solo drivers into the HOV (car pool) lanes was seen as an incentive for folks to purchase such vehicles. So, people who are lucky enough to easily buy a new car were provided with additional incentives. Now there are waiting lists for hybrid vehicles!! The car pool lanes are at capacity and their purpose is to move higher occupancy vehicles. On another note, while it's important to move toward cleaner fuel vehicles, even the cleanest car requires energy to build all the spaces needed to park it!

Question: How do you see toll lanes being cost effective? (I have lived in Chicago and think of Dallas during a light rail construction and Boston) when I think of construction, signage, outsourcing a collection system and other expenditures how soon would taxpayers see this option become self sustaining or cost effective? Erin

Answer: The main purpose of the demonstration congestion pricing project is to better manage traffic flow on our congested highways -- the carpool lane would flow at a guaranteed speed of 45-50 mph and there is evidence that speeds would improve in the other lanes because of the improved transit that will be provided and by folks choosing to travel off peak. Toll revenues would be plowed back into the corridors where it was generated to further improve transportation options.

Question: I definitely support toll lanes and taxes-it's the only way we can afford to expand our emerging transit system. Obviously, there is not enough revenue currently to have the levels of transit that we want-I would pay more to be able to have really good mobility-it's the only way the BART system that even LA car drivers love and revere ever was built. Allison

Answer: What can I say...I agree! To the naysayers, I point out it's a demonstration project. We need to find new ways to manage and optimize our transportation network.

Question: If we vote for the half cent sales tax, how can we be sure the money will be spent on transit improvements? We tried this before with the bond issues last November. Jean

Answer: The ballot measure that is envisioned for LA County will specify projects. And remember that the monies would be locally controlled, by the county (not the State).

Question: Can public/private partnerships really help make traffic go faster? A building can't give me a ride... Thx, Jim

Answer: There are several kinds of public/private partnerships. Some are related to joint developments that are close to transit and help create communities and public places. Other kinds of public/private partnerships have to do with construction and sometimes, operation, of transportation facilities. Metro is working on establishing guidelines and criteria for such partnerships and is open to new ideas.

Question: Ms. O'Connor, Has anyone considered the idea of reversing some of the lanes on the freeways during rush hour like they do in other cities? Why not use the resources we have with a smaller investment to make it an effective alternative? Thanks! Cindy T.

Answer: Here in Los Angeles County, unlike other areas of the US, the use of our highways are bi-directional...that is, there isn't a single direction that takes precedent. Metro and Caltrans have looked into this for select highways, but the cost of modifications and efficacy were not worth it.

Question: Metro Rapid has been frequently touted as one of the most successful public transit projects in our nation. Yet, although many corridors don't yet have Rapid Bus service, and many of the more advanced features of original Rapid concept have yet to be implemented in those that do, in the Draft 2008 LRTP there are no plans for expansion of the Metro Rapid program in the Constrained Plan or in either Tier 1 or Tier 2 of the Strategic Plan. Why is this? D. Malcolm Carson

Answer: We have funding in the "funded" portion of the proposed Long Range Transportation Plan to complete the 28-line Rapid system. The Orange Line is also to be extended to Chatsworth. We would like to do more if funding becomes available. Other features of Rapid bus programs are dedicated lanes and one is proposed for Wilshire Boulevard from the Santa Monica border to downtown LA (and I think it should go through Santa Monica, to the sea--bus lane to the sea!!).

Question: I love the TAP card that I have. Will the TAP cards be accepted by Muni buses by the end of this year?

Answer: Like lots of things...it's phased in. Culver City already has it in place and others are coming along. I don't have the schedule in front of me, but like you, I think the sooner the better.

Question: Do you think that high oil prices will help ease traffic in major cities?

Answer: It might just nudge more people to try public transit and other options such as carpools and vanpools.

Question: Will you ever consider charging congestion charge as they do in London to help reduce traffic.

Answer: That type of congestion charging is the "cordon" model where an area is cordoned off and cars that come in are charged a fee. It's in place in London, Stockholm and other cities. The individual cities of LA County have the land use authority to institute such a program, so it's up to them.

Question: I would love to see the Harbor Transitway better utilized. I think it would be great to see Metro Liner's, like the ones used on the Orange line stopping at the stations and turning it into another Metro line. Your thoughts?

Answer: Metro offers express service on the Harbor Transitway...however, passengers want to come straight to downtown LA. If future numbers of passengers grow and are interested in other destinations along the Transitway, service could be expanded. Thanks for "imagining" new ideas!

Question: All of the projects on the LRTP sound great! But how can we build them faster? I'd love to see Metro busy building lots of lines at once.

Answer: That's what I thinkā€¦and many others that I talk to. Funding is the biggest challenge. A 1/2 cent sales tax along with other funding opportunities will help us build the projects, accelerate the schedule and pay to operate.

Question: Why are we imagining a traffic-free future instead of a car-free future? Or at least a future where a car is not a requirement for living? It seems unrealistic to think that a city the size of Los Angeles will ever be free of traffic, seeing as how all large cities suffer from terrible auto congestion. I don't want cars to move faster, I want to live in a city where it doesn't matter how fast the cars are moving because I can get around without one!

Answer: And not all congestion is bad. In my town, Santa Monica, I expect that it will be congested on the 3rd Street Promenade on Saturday nights because lots of people want to be there. The key, as you point out, is to have options for people to get around and not have to rely on a car (and then having to find a parking place). Having a range of options, heavy rail, light rail, buses, bike lanes and support facilities, car-sharing stations, taxis, as well as good urban planning that encourages development along transit corridors can go a long way to creating better mobility.

Question: I love the 450x bus, but it's hard to find a ride home from work at 6:30pm. Is there anyway to add just one more route at 6:45pm?

Answer: There are no current plans to expand service, but on a semi-annual basis, service is assessed and if there is passenger demand, the lines can be restructured to provide service. Please attend the South Bay Sector Governance Council meetings to provide your input. The schedule of meetings can be found at metro.net.

Question: Will carpools & vanpools still be allowed in the carpool lanes for free? The carpool lanes on the I-10 are already pretty congested and this can only make things worse. If the lanes are more congested or carpools have to pay to use the HOV lanes, won't that discourage carpooling which should be a key component of transportation in the Southern California region? Rod

Answer: It is envisioned that vanpools, with their high capacity of occupants, will be free, as will buses. Regarding carpools, this is a policy issue that has to be discussed such as the threshold number of people in the car...the bottom line is for the toll lanes to be moving at 45-50 mph.

Question: Can the new rail information system in the Red Line stations be expanded to all rail lines as well as bus stops? Also, will it display more train related information in the future?

Answer: There are plans for additional information at rail stations. But we need additional funds to expand it to bus stops. This "next bus" technology could be accelerated if new sources of funds, such as that generated from a new sales tax, happens. In the meantime we are looking at technology that would provide "next bus" info via mobile phones. (you can currently get next bus info on internet-enabled mobile phones for the Rapid buses.)

Question: What do you see as the biggest political obstacles to getting congestion pricing implemented in Los Angeles County?

Answer: Well, as humans, we have a tendency to resist change, especially on new ways to deal with traffic. Congestion pricing is relatively new...it has worked in other areas as close as Orange County and San Diego County. Public education is critical and we are working on that.

Question: why are there no timetables in the metro rail stations that show the last train running or even the intervals of arrival? Alex

Answer: The problem with timetables is that the schedules are changed to address rider needs and printed timetables would get out date but new electronic monitors will have the capability to display the current time table. You can also find info about the last train at metro.net.

Question: Pam, we're out of time. Any final thoughts for this month's chat?

Answer: We live in interesting and challenging times and we're at the tipping point on traffic congestion. But if we work together to imagine and then find ways to make it happen, we'll have a more mobile future. Thanks for joining me in this live chat...aloha...