9 Ways Metro's New CEO Can Revolutionize Los Angeles Transit

Image via army.arch *Adam*

From Curbed LA, by Ian Grant / Curbed Staff, March 12, 2015:

Earlier today, the Metro board of directors voted to have Phil Washington, former general manager of Denver's Regional Transportation District, succeed Art Leahy as Metro's CEO, effective no later than May 29. Washington was confirmed in a unanimous vote, after being courted by Mayor Eric Garcetti's administration for the past year. Under his direction, the Denver RTD has built out its rail system through funds provided by the voter-approved FasTracks program, a tax increase in the vein of Metro's Measure R. Washington has a strong resume, but he's got a lot to do here in Los Angeles, so we thought we'd help him out with some suggestions. Here are nine big ideas we hope he'll pursue, because Los Angeles deserves it:

Pass Measure R2

The original Measure R, the half-cent sales tax increase approved by 67.22 percent of voters in 2008, is directly responsible for the massive recent expansion of LA's rail system. Metro's got a lot more planned, but in 2012, Measure J, a 30-year extension of Measure R, came up half a point short of the two-thirds majority needed for a tax increase. The board of directors is considering whether or not to go back to voters with another tax increase in 2016. Getting Measure R2 on the ballot and passed by voters needs to be Washington's top priority; without money, nothing gets built.

Keep fares affordable

Last September, Metro raised fares by a quarter, to $1.75, in the interest of stopping or slowing a rapidly approaching budget deficit. That $1.75 covers less than 30 percent of the total cost of one ride, making LA's one of the most subsidized transit networks in the nation. The easy solution is obviously raising fares again, but with low-income folks making up 90 percent of Metro's ridership, that's neither possible nor fair. Washington needs to find a way to keep fares affordable for Metro's users while keeping the budget balanced. Measure R2 would go a long way toward helping.

North/south rail in Central Los Angeles

The Expo and Purple Lines, when completed, will make east/west travel a lot easier in South LA and the central city, and the Crenshaw Line will give the transit-dependent Crenshaw corridor an efficient way to get from the South Bay to the south edge of the central city. But moving any further north than Exposition remains a challenge, at best. Transit riders are forced to transfer from rail to buses that further clog perpetually congested streets like Vermont, Western, La Brea, and Fairfax. A north/south line from Exposition to Sunset would solve a lot of problems for a lot of folks, whether they're stuck in their cars or taking transit. An extension of the Crenshaw Line north is one possibility, and what ever happened to the Pink Line through West Hollywood??

Real rail in the Valley

The San Fernando Valley is home to almost 20 percent of the population of Los Angeles County, and yet it has just two (two!) rail stations, at the tail end of the Red Line (and the dedicated Orange Line busway, but it's still a busway). The situation is unlikely to get any better any time soon; none of the under-construction lines come close to the Valley. Governor Jerry Brown lifted the long-standing ban on surface rail in the Valley last summer, making it possible to build a cost-efficient line once again. A number of plans are in the works—the East Valley Transit Corridor along Van Nuys Boulevard, a conversion of the Orange Line to rail, an extension of the Red Line north to Bob Hope Airport in Burbank. Now, again, Metro just needs the money.

Rail through the Sepulveda Pass

Come on.

Get under-construction lines open

At present, Metro has five rail lines under construction—the Gold Line Foothill Extension, the second phase of the Expo Line, the Crenshaw Line, Downtown's Regional Connector, and the first phase of the Purple Line extension. When all the ribbons are finally cut (expected date: 2023), LA's rail network will be close to double the size it is today. Getting these lines open as soon as possible, with a minimum of delays and cost overruns, is extremely important in introducing a wider range of Angelenos to public transportation.

Modernize and expand fleet

Metro began receiving the first of 550 brand new buses last year—they're the ones with cool white LED signs; procurement (a great deal of which is funded by Measure R) continues this year and a new round, which may include all-electric buses, begins in 2016. But LA also needs new rail cars; many of those running on the Blue and Expo Lines are close to 30 years old at this point, and there simply are not enough in the fleet to cover all the new lines. The first of 78 new cars was just delivered for testing last year.

Cell service and WiFi underground

Consistent internet access borders on a necessity in 2015; drivers have it, so why shouldn't train riders? (Not that drivers should use it!) Metro is scheduled to have the first segment of access, from Union Station to Seventh/Metro, up and running later this year (WiFi in May, cell service in August). The rest of the system should be done as quickly as possible. A Twenty-First Century transit network deserves a Twenty-First Century transit experience.

The little stuff

There's a whole lot more in the works or under consideration: a pedestrian tunnel between the Red and Orange Lines in North Hollywood; a pedestrian bridge over Lankershim in Universal City; a connection between Seventh/Metro and the under-renovation The Bloc shopping complex Downtown; $1.2-billion dollars of upgrades along the Blue Line; an expanded Pico Station that was to be a part of AEG's now-dead Downtown NFL stadium plan; the desperately-needed connection between the Crenshaw Line and LAX. Taken together, all these bits and pieces will result in an easier, more pleasant transit experience.