Originally Published February 19, 2007
CSUN students dependent on public transportation may soon have to make alternate traveling arrangements.
Two buses going to and from CSUN may be affected by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s recent proposal to eliminate 13 bus lines and reduce the service of 16 others in Los Angeles County by June 2007.
MTA bus line 168, which runs from Lassen Street in Chatsworth to Paxton Street in San Fernando, may be cancelled completely, and MTA bus line 239 may no longer offer midday and weekend service, according to a recent memo released by MTA.
“How am I going to get to the Sylmar station?” asked CSUN student Franklin Ponce, while waiting for the 239 line midday service that takes him to the Sylmar Metrolink Station, where he takes a train to his home in Santa Clarita.
“Cutting it is not going to be beneficial to anyone,” he added.
MTA, which is a transportation planning, construction, funding and operating agency for Los Angeles County, said service changes would be made in an attempt to settle a $112 million structural deficit that it has incurred for the 2007 fiscal year.
MTA will make its final recommendations to the San Fernando Valley Service Governance Council on March 7 at the Marvin Braude Constituent Service Center in Van Nuys.
“Metro needs to operate more efficiently,” said Dave Sotero, a senior communications representative for the MTA.
Sotero said most of the changes are “reallocations of services,” meaning buses or certain bus service hours that do not have productive ridership numbers will be cancelled. Extra revenue and resources would then be freed up and transferred to other bus lines.
“We have passenger counting systems on our buses that tell us what bus lines have the most riders and which ones have anemic riders,” Sotero said. “The idea behind cutting some services midday and on the weekend is that if you have five or six people on one bus, it doesn’t make sense to operate that bus-line during those hours.”
The proposal to cancel the MTA 168 bus line has concerned the Northridge East Neighborhood Council, which issued a resolution in January that opposed the changes and encouraged other affected San Fernando Valley neighborhoods and the Los Angeles City Council to do the same.
“We want them to keep these lines going,” said Steve Patel, treasurer for the Northridge East Neighborhood Council. “We’re asking if they need further justification, let us know specifically what the problem is.”
Patel said when he attended the public hearing for the proposed service cuts, he noticed there were widespread service increases in major business hubs like Burbank and Hollywood. Meantime, said Patel, there were service decreases in “small, non-major business arteries.”
“I don’t want them to treat Northridge, Chatsworth or Granada Hills as a step child,” he said. “We pay into this thing so we deserve a fair share.”
Patel also noticed that members of the San Fernando Advisory Council Board seemed unaware that the elimination of 168 affected CSUN and Northridge Academy High School, which is located at the north end of CSUN.
Michael Brewer, San Fernando Valley sector service development manager for MTA, said bus line 168 was cancelled because its average passenger load was 10 people in a bus that can carry 48 passengers; in the average hour, MTA bus line 168 carried 40 passengers, “which means because of its performance, a red flag was raised to take a look at that particular line, which was at the point of no return,” Brewer said.
Some passengers of MTA bus line 168 disagreed.
“Every time I’m on (MTA line 168) there is always quite a few people on there, so right now I’m pretty shocked,” said Jessie Lomeli, a Pierce College student. “I see kids riding the bus home, and if they cancel this it will be a problem for all of us.”
CSUN student Jesus Cital agrees.
“I depend on this bus for school,” he said. “And I see a lot of students from Northridge Academy and CSUN, and workers who use it to get to their job.”
Cital said that when he takes the bus line at 6 a.m. to school and again at 5 p.m. to his house in Chatsworth, he always sees a bus full of passengers. “I guess I’ll have to wake up earlier to walk to a different bus,” he said with a grin.
Brewer said the service cuts on MTA bus lines 239 and 168 are part of a larger goal by the MTA beginning in June 2007 to trim their structural deficit by reducing 113,000 annual bus service hours in Los Angeles County, 20,000 service hours of which are the responsibility of the San Fernando Valley.
Brewer said that reduction is necessary because the costs of MTA’s bus services currently exceed revenues, which come from passenger fares and funding from the local, state and federal government. Brewer blamed much of the structural deficit on an October 1996 10-year-binding Consent Decree that came out of a litigation settlement between the MTA and a group of Los Angeles County bus riders.
The bus riders brought a civil rights suit against the MTA, alleging that the transportation agency was spending a disproportionate chunk of its budget on rail lines and bus systems that primarily benefited white suburban commuters at the expense of transit-dependent minority bus riders in urban regions.
One of the Decree’s orders required the MTA to increase the bus fleet to 2,500 buses in order to relieve bus overcrowding in Los Angeles County. As of December 2006, there were a total of 2,143 buses operating under MTA, according to an MTA budget memo.
“Those targets led to MTA operating more service than we were able to sustain (financially),” Brewer said. “We’re at the point where the Consent Decree ended in October of 2006 and it was necessary for the MTA to adjust its budget because it was unable to sustain the service levels that were in effect under the Decree.”
Manuel Criollo represents the Los Angeles County Bus Riders Union, an arm of the activist Labor/Community Strategy Center, which was one of the original backers of the Consent Decree, called the structural deficit “self-imposed,” attributing most of it to high-cost construction and light rail projects, at the expense of buses and bus passengers, who make up a little more than 90 percent of MTA’s passengers, and are predominately minorities and working-class whites.
Light rails are electric-powered vehicles that operate primarily on exclusive rights-of-way.
“When we started this fight, MTA was spending 70 percent of their entire ($3 billion) budget on (rail-line) construction projects,” Criollo said. “We’ve seen some gains under the decree in that instead of 30 percent, we’re about 40 percent. But that’s still not equal if bus riders are 90 percent of the riders.”
Criollo said that since the Consent Decree has been in force, MTA had begun expensive construction projects on several new light rails, such as the Exposition light rail line slated for completion in 2010 that will run from downtown Los Angeles to Culver City. A press release by the MTA estimated the construction cost for the new rail would be $640 million.
Criollo also said the union has heard rumors that the MTA will also raise bus fares. In April 2006, Roger Snoble, CEO of MTA, said that the budget was not sustainable and that fare hikes are possible. This could mean heftier costs for student passes.
“Eventually it has to come before the board and they are going to have to decide whether to provide for fair increases and by how much,” Sotero said.
The Bus Riders Union has appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to extend the Consent Decree. They have also called on Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who sits on the 13-member MTA board of directors, and MTA Board Chair Gloria Molina to take the service cuts and fare hike discussion off the current debate and future MTA plans.