October 20, 2006 - From the October, 2006 issue

Board Member Gloria Molina Celebrates L.A. Metro's Multi-Modal Transit Successes

A sometimes-reluctant board member of the L.A. County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, County Supervisor Gloria Molina is not shy about criticizing Metro, but neither does she withhold praise. The latter abounded at a Sept. 20 presentation to the L.A. Women's Transportation Coalition in which she recounted Metro's early troubles as well as its recent successes, including its receipt of APTA's "Top Transit Agency" award for 2006. In the following excerpt from that speech, Supervisor Molina discusses Metro's accomplishments and looks towards future challenges, including the termination of Metro's federal consent decree.


Gloria Molina

I have been on the MTA since it was put together legislatively. If some of you know me, you know that it has been a very rocky relationship between myself and the MTA. Six or seven years ago I tried to get off of the MTA-maybe it was even longer than that-because it was so disorderly. I didn't understand where I fit or what I was supposed to do. It was crazy.

I found out legislatively I couldn't get off. I couldn't appoint somebody else, and I was forced to stay on there. The kind of disorder was a very awkward stage-growing pains. It was hard to believe that we were managing a system, let alone creating policy.

What's fascinating about that background is that we are about to receive an award from the American Public Transit Association – believe it or not –for being the number-one agency in the country. It is impressive because I was there for the very rough-and-tumble, Wild West kind of thing, where if you had seven votes you were king for the moment. That was a bizarre period of time. We have some ways to go in many respects, but we have made some outstanding accomplishments.

Our organization is on solid ground and moving forward. When the consent decree was first imposed, this board agreed that the goals that the consent decree wanted us to achieve were possible to achieve. We wanted to run effectively and efficiently and to meet the needs the transit-dependent and bus riders around the region.

We have not had the best relationship with the Bus Riders Union; they continue-whatever we try-to be adversarial. We hope to work cooperatively with them because we should have a bus system that works well. We're going to have a good transit plan in place; it's going to have to be multimodal, and we have to be committed to it. Of course how we get there is part of the tough work we do every day. I'm pleased that we're at least doing it in a more organized fashion.

We're doing an awful lot of studies for the future. I've been a part of the 710 study, which was very interesting because I love community input. I think it's valuable; we need to ask what people want and how they see things, but it also has to be done within the framework of reality.

The study should have a buy-in from the community, instead of just telling neighborhoods, "here's where we're doing it, this is how we're doing it, whether you like it or not." We can't incorporate everything a community wants, but we can accommodate them. We're getting much better at this. We're being more inclusive and doing much more effective outreach and we're trying very hard to communicate with the people we serve, and I think that's one of the reasons APTA is recognizing us.

We just approved a budget, and it includes a huge deficit, of over $100 million. This is a challenge for everyone on the MTA, and we don't know exactly how we're going to solve it. There are many ideas; some people say all we need to do is raise bus fares. Our revenue comes from various sources, and we appreciate all of that, but at the same time it's not enough money on the operating side. You hear about the mayor going to Congress and asking for more funds to construct more and more and more.

The reality is that if we can't operate it, there's no use constructing it. So we need to get our operations in order. We are working on some budget planning. Everyone from Roger Snoble through all the departments will be talking about holding the line, trying to bring down the costs, and trying to put a more effective system in place.

We're keeping our fingers crossed that we will come out of our consent decree soon. It is certainly the expectation of every board member that we will get out of our consent decree. The Bus Riders Union is working to make sure that the judge continues to hold us accountable to that consent decree, but everyone on our board recognizes and understands the value of the consent decree, at least as far as its goals.

We want to honor that and we will continue to honor many of the goals in the consent decree. Of course, we haven't convinced the Bus Riders Union, and I don't know if we'll convince Judge Hatter. But I am hopeful that if we can come out from under the consent decree that we can get on a track to bring more efficiency to our bus operations.

I'm nervous because I don't want the MTA or the board to say, "that's it! No more new buses. We're going to put all this money into construction." We have to stay on track, and the new Metro Connections program is hopefully going to be a mechanism to create more effective and efficient links so that we can meet the needs of bus riders.

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Very few people get on the bus in Santa Monica to go to Pomona; most people are traveling shorter distances, and we need to be much more responsive to their needs. Metro Connections is going to be a premier program, and we're going to see not only more effective and more efficient systems, but it's also going to give us a better idea of the kind of forecasting we need to do. While we always talk about planning in the area of construction, we also need to talk about the planning efforts we're making in bus operations. And that's the kind of planning that we can undertake if and when we come out from under our consent decree.

I'm very proud of the Eastside Gold Line. Of course, we've been waiting for it for 15 years. I had just joined the City Council when we got the full funding for the extension to the Eastside only to find out a few years later that it was taken away from us. And it was originally a subway, and now it's partially a tunnel and then it comes out above ground.

I'm upset with some of our board members who put the measure together to prevent L.A. County from having a subway system and making sure that Congress could not give us money for any of those things-remember them? But we're building our above-ground line on the Eastside and now that it's going to the Westside, they've changed their minds. It's very unfair. And every so often I'm going to sting them as much as I can because I do hold a grudge! But I'm still pleased that the Eastside line is going to be effective and efficient, and people will welcome it.

We're pleased that along the way the Orange Line was constructed, and we can do other bus lines like that. One of the biggest problems for all of us on the MTA is that we're also supposed to be operating as a whole. We should be taking care of the entire region as a regional system. But when you come to the MTA-you've seen us all operate, and I'm as guilty as the next person-we operate very single-mindedly, as if "that's not in my district, so I don't care."

Some of that mentality continues, but we're trying to operate in a more effective regional approach. But I am very pleased by how effective the Orange Line is, and I think it's a tribute to the fact that everybody who has to have a busway or has to have a railway can look at the Orange Line and see if there are other neighborhoods where this would work – where they have wide enough streets so that a busway could take over a couple lanes.

One of the biggest issues we're going to be undertaking is our long-range plan. That's that make-believe thing that we create every so often and fight about like crazy and nobody knows where the money's coming from and everybody puts projects on them and thinks there's some kind of order but there really isn't. But it's a very important document, and it needs our input every day. I would love for it to have no politics. That may be an oxymoron, but I'd love it to be nothing but a list of projects that need to be done to accomplish the transit goals of the entire region.

Right now there is a big battle with regard to the Gold Line to Montclair, and I think that's nuts! But I'm just one vote. I think it will be wonderful after we do so many other things, but not yet. And ridership is essential. It isn't about whether you have a powerful representative in the U.S. Congress; it is about what it means for the region.

I would love our long-range plan to do exactly that, and I have sent the staff to come up with criteria, and believe me, they are as intimidated as anyone about presenting it. They sort of threw it into the room and ran! They're worried that some politician is going to cut them off, and I understand. Hopefully we will come up with a priority list that will be honored by all of us, not only at the MTA, but also in the state Legislature and in the U.S. Congress. We would be much more effective.

It has to be fair and equitable, of course, but we do need to have a system that all of us can rely on. It would be wonderful if we brought that kind of common sense into the system and into policy-making. Then again, I'm not saying we take the politicians out of it; the bureaucracy has its own biases.

Of course the biggest issue for us in California is the major propositions, and we are crossing our fingers. Proposition 1B will provide $20 billion that is so essential. The state is growing, and we need to provide transportation and highways. We support that proposition; it's going to be tough to get the votes, but hopefully we'll all be advocates. And 1C, which puts together the money we need for transit-oriented development, is essential to succeeding with our transportation projects. Incentives for developers will be very helpful to us.

We need to convince voters that we need these additional funds and additional authority. We have to work for the whole and understand the entire region, and hopefully we will succeed as we carry out our ambitious goals.

I'm glad I didn't get off the MTA way back then, and I'm proud to chair the MTA. We have work to do, and we are prepared to carry it out.

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© 2021 The Planning Report | David Abel, Publisher, ABL, Inc.