Wed, Jun

The MTA.  Dangerous for Riders and a Waste of Money


LA TRANSPO - Irresponsible, unreasonable, uncaring, autocratic, unaccountable, arrogant, impractical, unhelpful, wasteful, bureaucratic, stubborn, misguided, wrongheaded, and imperial—these are a few words that describe the unelected Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) management. I said it; a lot more people should say it.

Tragically, there is now not one day that doesn't go by when there is not a murder, robbery, assault of a passenger, or an attack on an MTA employee. The lack of safety is shocking and predictable, as the political leadership of the City and the County of Los Angeles has favored defunding all forms of law enforcement and its consequences. That attitude, of course, has trickled down into the management ranks of the MTA, who have come up with incredibly dumb ideas like 360 transit ambassadors with no police powers to stem the flow of violence on the buses, trains, and terminals of the MTA. 

Due to Los Angeles's soft on crime and homelessness opinions, the MTA's “multi-level” approach to safety is not working. Crime between 2020 and 2023 grew by almost 55%, and violent crimes between 2022 and 2023 rose by approximately 11%. This is just the tip of the iceberg as most crimes go unreported, do the lack of enforcement and disregard for quality of life crimes in Los Angeles.

Approximately 6000 Homeless are thrown out of Metro stations and trains nightly, a study from UCLA's Institute of Transportation found. These homeless folks queue up with their belongings as early as 3:00 AM, waiting for the first train to pull into their station to get shelter inside the trains. They ride them all day, keeping themselves off the street. Building rail lines is the most expensive way to deal with homelessness.

While ridership may be up Since the depths of the pandemic, recent surveys have suggested that 30 to 40% of people would not ride the buses and trains if they had access to cars. It is not an exaggeration to suggest that riding a bus or train or waiting at the station puts one's welfare in jeopardy. Things have gotten so bad that even Mayor Karen Bass noticed. She ordered a surge of law enforcement inside the City's hundreds of buses and trains on May 16th. 

Another super significant issue is the MTA's budget. The MTA has a $9 billion budget. Yet fares only amount to approximately $147 million, representing 1.6% of the operating budget. The only reason the MTA is still solvent is that it has had four one-half-cent sales tax increases from propositions over the years. Funding the MTA, which most Angelenos don't use, with sales tax is why we have one of the highest sales taxes in the nation. Sales taxes are incredibly regressive. The MTA also receives numerous federal grants and state grants. However, more than this will be needed because costs increase every time the MTA adds a rail line. Everything the MTA does is affected by inflation, like the cost of cleaning, up 8.5%. The cost of law enforcement (inadequate), fuel, repairs, and labor are all going up. Which means they are going to want to raise our taxes again. 

In the eyes of the Metropolitan Transit Authority, trains are really cool. They're shiny and new. They cost a lot more to build and maintain. Leaving out the cost of building trains, they cost 2.5 times more than a bus to operate. Therefore, moving a rider one mile costs a lot more than it does on a bus. Building more trains reduces ridership. The more trains they make, the fewer buses the MTA can put on the street because trains are a black hole for their budgetary constraints. 

According to historical figures, ridership peaked in 1985, with 497.2 million boardings. Not wanting to let a slight improvement in numbers go unnoticed, the MTA crowed that total ridership reached 285 million boardings. This improvement is 43% fewer riders than in 1985. This is still way below the pre-COVID ridership of 370 million. For an agency that takes so much money from the State, Federal Government, Local government, and taxpayers, this is an automatic failure.

Metro also has a climate change problem. Due to the climate hysteria of our City Council and State Legislature, Metro has 2030 a mandate to convert an all-electric fleet of buses. Estimates for this change are $4.5 billion or half a year's total operating budget. Where is the money coming from? Can our electric grid even support more electric demand from AI, Data Centers, all-electric houses, and vehicle charging? Not likely without importing more costly electricity from neighboring States.

The MTA is overly ambitious in its projects, and nothing can be more ambitious than its plans for a monorail or subway line starting in the middle of the San Fernando Valley and going down through the Sepulveda Pass or below the Sherman Oak Hills to terminate in Westwood or at the Expo-Sepulveda train line. As of this writing, the MTA has $8 billion for this project. One would consider that the large sum of money but current costs for it finishing sometime in 2035 (doubtful) put the estimated price at $40 billion. This project is morphing into another failed project like the ill-fated bullet train to nowhere, where costs are now running over $100 billion. How much more will we have to pay in taxes for this delusion? 

The Sepulveda Transit Corridor project will create carmageddon traffic problems every day for a decade. Ultimately, it will not relieve congestion on the 405 but provide temporary shelter for more homeless. Who will want to ride it if it's not safe? If the MTA wanted to do something about alleviating traffic on the 405, which they do not, they would ask Elon Musk and his Boring Co. to dig a tunnel under the 405 for carpools, or trucks or for people who can pay exorbitantly high tolls for the privilege of saving a few minutes. At least the infrastructure for cars and trucks exists, which means significant savings maybe in the billions of dollars. Homeowners of Encino have proposed this several times, and as usual, any practical solution given to the MTA falls on deaf ears and blind eyes. For the effort, you receive an unhealthy dose of ridicule.

Phil Washington, the former CEO of the MTA, said the quiet part out loud when he stated that our system of roads in Los Angeles has made it "too easy for cars to get around. Therefore, we need to make it a lot more uncomfortable for drivers so that we can meet our mass transit goals”, which, in a worst-case scenario, might be over your dead body.

(Eliot Cohen has been on the Neighborhood Council, serves on the Van Nuys Airport Citizens Advisory Council, and is President of Homeowners of Encino. Eliot retired after a 35-year career on Wall Street. Eliot is a critic of the stinking thinking of the bureaucrats and politicians that run the State, County, and City. Eliot and his wife divide their time between L.A. and Baja Norte, Mexico.  Eliot is a regular contributor to CityWatchLA.com – [email protected])


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