September 30, 2009 - From the September, 2009 issue

Leahy's Deputy CEO Paul Taylor Returns to LA Metro

The change of senior leadership that occurred at LA Metro this year has resulted in the return of some former employees, one of which was Paul Taylor, who, having left Metro in 1989, has returned as deputy CEO. With voters having just approved new transit funding to address stifling congestion, TPR/MIR was pleased to speak with Taylor to contrast LA County's transportation challenges in 2009 with the issues of the past, as well as to learn more about the policies and projects that will dominate Metro's agenda for the next 20 years.


Paul Taylor

The last time TPR/MIR interviewed you was in 1989, when you were leaving Metro. You have come back now as deputy CEO. Compare and contrast the Metro you left with what you now have responsibility for as deputy CEO. What has changed?

The voters have entrusted a more half-cent sales taxes to Metro. There is a much bigger contract with the electorate. By virtue of that, Metro is a much more important part of the community. The infrastructure that we build, own, and operate is crucial to mobility.

In the mid-to-late 80s, we had the first bond money, a 400-mile rail system that we wanted to implement, and a bus system that was going to need reinvestment. Have we accomplished significant things since then?

We have. We have 73.1 miles of rail now. We actually have a mature urban rail system. We have a bus system that is more intensively used than just about any other in the country. That little old Long Beach to Los Angeles light rail line is the most heavily used light rail line in the country. And we have Union Station. Twenty years ago there was nothing at Union Station. Now, between the Red Line, the Gold Line, and the Metrolink, we have a constant buzz all day at Union Station.

We added the equivalent of the population of Chicago to metropolitan Los Angeles since you first left Metro. What challenges does that present when redoing a 20-year visioning process? What is the new burden on Metro with respect to congestion relief?

It's a funny thing-while we were sleeping, it happened. We have to get a lot more innovative-even more innovative than we have been. We must be very aggressive and timely in our actions. Basically, we have to forge partnerships with more entities than we ever have in the past. I am thinking specifically of Caltrans. Twenty percent of the Measure R money is earmarked for highways. We don't build highways; Caltrans builds highways. We need to forge an integrated relationship with Caltrans. I will put in a little commercial here for Orange County-over the last five years we forged a relationship with the Caltrans district within Orange County where we as the bankers and producers worked with Caltrans as the implementers.

Metro's long-range plan comes before the Metro board in October. What specific priorities of that long-range plan should our readers be focused on?

The central points we are going to show are exactly how we deliver on all of the commitments that were made in Measure R. One thing that we have discovered-not to our surprise-is that everybody wants their project to go first. There is a little bit of alchemy involved in trying to figure out how that works. We discovered that there is about two years worth of work that might have been done in preparing for Measure R-laying the groundwork and deciding on the priorities and the specifics of the measure-that were sort-of short cut in the run-up to Measure R. We are now trying to make up that time and that planning. That's the reason why it may appear that this long-range plan is taking its sweet time. But it is a very important consensus that we are trying to assemble among all of the various interests and stakeholders.

The challenge for every Metro chief executive over the last 25 years or more has been that every jurisdiction and every elected official wants their project to go first and, thus, there isn't enough money to go around. What is the alchemy required to satisfy the priorities in this county and still stay focused on providing new transit?

It starts with something very simple: to communicate to all of the parties in the game. Then establish a clear understanding of the goals of those entities. Then we must be overt and truthful about it going forward, don't hide anything from anybody, and be forthright. For instance, we project getting about 20 percent less sales tax revenue over the course of Measure R than we thought we would have a year ago. That has to make a difference as to how the program is delivered. We are developing the current long-range plan in light of that, but who knows what the future is going to hold. It could be that in a few years we find that we have a lot more that we thought we would. Or, it could be that we continue to see sales tax erode. We need to have a frank and open dialogue with all of the stakeholders through that process.

If former Mayor Tom Bradley were today the chair of the Metro board, would the 2009 long-range plan priorities be different?

Probably not a whole lot. The issues are pretty much the same as they were 20-25 years ago. It is always important to have leadership in the transportation arena. Mayor Bradley provided that. Mayor Villaraigosa has been providing that. The current chair of the board, Ara Najarian from Glendale, has expressed his commitment to be a leader and show the way on this.

Mayor Villaraigosa has championed the Subway to the Sea as his top priority. Is it the top priority of the board?

The board hasn't weighed in yet. That will be one of the things addressed in the long-range transportation plan. Whether it is the top priority or a top priority remains to be seen.

In the May issue of TPR/MIR, Art Leahy, Metro CEO, asserted that Metro is developing a very aggressive program in Washington to find money for rail starts. At a time when the federal transportation reauthorization seems to be a difficult thing to pin down, what might Washington realistically do to fund Metro's plans?

Historically, L.A. has been on the low end of what our size would indicate we ought to obtain out of the federal program. We know that we can do a lot more than we have been doing in terms of the sheer dollar amounts and the share of the program that we pull in. The other promise is that, while the authorizing of the program is being put off until next year, the program that comes out will be bigger than it has been in the past. Chairman Oberstar, of the House Transportation Committee, is proposing a 60 percent increase in the program.

A $500 billion, six-year federal transit program-Is that what you are expecting?

That is what I am referring to. Even if it's not that much bigger than the current program, it will be bigger and we will be more aggressive than we have been. Currently we don't have a project in the pipeline. That is something that our board finds to be unsustainable. There will be action on that along with the long-range transportation plan.

If the federal reauthorization is postponed a year, what does that do to Metro's budgeting and your planning?

It doesn't do a whole lot. The program will continue basically on the same basis as it has been. There is an appropriations process for the upcoming fiscal year that is about to take place in Washington. We have our requests in for that. It just means that the programs won't grow. Also, Chairman Oberstar has some interesting proposals for new kinds of programs. One would be a program to make direct grants that are fundable at the metropolitan level. Instead of how highway money comes through the states and the mass transit money goes to the metropolitan areas, this would be more flexible funding directly to the metropolitan area for multi-modal programs.

Does the rise of Congressman Henry Waxman to the chairmanship of the House Energy and Commerce Committee have significance for Metro? If so, in what ways?

It never hurts to have somebody who champions your hometown issues as a chairman of one of the most powerful congressional committees. But more specific than that, the Energy and Commerce Committee is where the legislation on climate change will originate. Because public transportation plays a major part in reducing greenhouse gasses, we have every hope that there will be additional resources provided for public transportation in that legislation.

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Former Metro CEO Roger Snoble helped found and fund Mobility 21, which hosted an event earlier this month. Can you talk a little bit about the value of the regional collaborations of our electeds and jurisdictions in helping Metro achieve its goal?

Mobility 21 is a voluntary organization that provides a focus for Southern California position on any number of things with regard to transportation. There have been some really major successes in the last year or so with respect to securing state funds through the Prop 1B bond program, the first being the Corridor Mobility Improvement Account (CMIA). There was a regional package of projects that went to Sacramento and was successful. Then there was the TCIF, the Trade Corridor Improvement Fund, which was even more successful in bringing together all of the interests around the "greater ports." Mobility 21 started small in L.A. County by bringing the business community together with the public sector. That structure has been propagated throughout the rest of the counties. That is very significant.

Many voters can't get their arms around why the bond measures that they voted for never flow the way it was suggested they would to benefit the works of Caltrans, Metro, the ports, and others, to deal with congestion relief. Can they expect anything different in the year or two to come?

Eventually that money will flow. It hasn't gone anywhere; it is just backlogged. At one point within the last year there was something like an $85 billion backlog of unsold bonds at the state level. Of that, several billion was for transportation. We are confident that the money will flow.

Metro is initiating congestion relief programs, including tolling, to manage demand and congestion mitigation fees to mitigate the impacts of new growth on regional arterials. How do such efforts fit into the long range planning and growing revenue needs of Metro?

At the current time we are not really counting on those revenues in our program but we know, also, that the program is going to grow. Those demands will strain our revenue. We are always looking for additional sources like that or through partnerships with private development interests who would like to perhaps take an ownership share in some transportation projects.

So public-private partnerships are on the table for Metro?

Most definitely.

You were one of the most trusted visionaries in L.A. County 20 years ago. You have come back but you have very silver-grey hair. What are the burdens of trying to implement a vision in metropolitan L.A. regarding transportation? What are the sleepless nights caused by?

Keeping everything in perspective and keeping what is most important at the head of the agenda. In my view, keeping the promises made in Measure R is first and foremost, and I have to remind myself everyday that that is what I come to work for. That's what everyone who works here should be concerned about.

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Can you give us a status report on the Gold Line East Side Extension?

The construction contractors are just about finished. We expect to start pre-revenue testing later this month. We will be opening to the public for service well before the end of the year.

Will the ridership be comparable to the Blue Line, the Red Line, and the Orange Line?

I believe that it will be. It is not as long as any of those lines but on a per station basis it will probably be even heavier than we see on the Blue Line.

Metro has just completed exploratory drilling for the Subway to the Sea and has been hosting public meetings regarding the draft EIS/ EIR. What have you been finding in that process?

Everybody is ready to go, and they are wondering what is taking so long. What takes so long is going through the process to line us up to obtain the federal money to build the project. Without federal money it would be very difficult to build.

What is happening in other transit corridors and proposed projects such as the Wilshire Bus-Only Lane, the Harbor Subdivision, the Crenshaw Corridor, and the Gold Line Foothill Extension?

The Wilshire bus-only lane is going through the environmental process right now. We expect that it will be completed and that project will move forward. With the Crenshaw Line, the draft environmental impact statement is about to be published. Public hearings on will take place in early October and the board will be asked to select a preferred local alternative before the end of the year. The Gold Line Foothill Extension is included in the long-range transportation plan for a revenue stream that will enable the authority that is responsible for that extension to get to work on the project next year and have it opened within a matter of three or four years. The Harbor Subdivision is in the category of projects not identified specially in Measure R, but for which we have some seminal planning work going on. The work on that will produce some results sometime later this year.

You mentioned earlier that Measure R is a game-changing source of revenue for Metro. Has the money started to flow from that tax?

The tax began collection July 1, and it lags by a quarter. There will be some small payments in the October through December period. The full payments will start shortly after the first of the year.

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