Transit for the System, Not for Passengers

If They Build It
If They Build It

Metro is cooking its books to support curtailing or canceling bus service in poor and working-class neighborhoods. That's just one of the troubling conclusions reached by Tom Rubin, former CFO of the Southern California Rapid Transit District, predecessor to Metro (aka, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority).

Story continues below

According to Rubin:

The numbers crunched by Rubin show that Metro provides cost-effective bus service with passenger loads that compare favorably with other large city systems. All transit systems, of course, subsidize the cost of carrying passengers, but Metro's subsidies per mile and per passenger are not excessive by comparison with other systems:

So why has Metro cut hundreds of thousands of hours of local bus service since 2009, after the federal consent decree mandating service levels ended? Again, according to Rubin:

"Construction before transportation" drives what Rubin believes is Metro's skewed formula for determining if bus service on a particular route should be reduced or terminated.

Metro's formula is complex - accounting for many factors - but it results in what Metro says is a single number that measures the viability of a bus route. Metro calls that number its "Route Performance Index" or RPI. Rubin figures that Metro has selected an arbitrarily high RPI standard so that bus service can be cut:

Metro kills bus routes meeting performance standards that other major systems regard as acceptable, even superior. Why? Because Metro's construction projects - and the public money spent and the favors Metro collects and doles out - benefit the politics of transit more than passengers, who only want to get to work and back with a modicum of dignity, comfort, and reliability.

And there's another reason. Fixed-rail systems - unlike bus routes - have acquired powerful new advocates: big landlords and speculative builders who are deeply embedded in the city's development-by-any-means culture. Rail is the new Midas touch that converts a developer's under-performing chunk of strip mall into the site of a multi-story "transit-oriented development." With the city's density bonuses, tax breaks, and relief from parking and other requirements, TOD is giving the old L.A. development machine new life.

Eliminating buses to build rail would be less of an abuse if Metro was better at making rail work. But compared to its bus fleet, Metro's rail service isn't performing as well as it should. According to Rubin:

Even worse, Metro's "construction before transportation" culture is building itself into a crisis, Again, according to Rubin:

With the complicity of politicians, developers, and the construction industry, Metro has managed to make good bus service look bad and made limited rail service look like a good deal to taxpayers. Metro's reasons have little to do with moving passengers and a lot to do with keeping L.A.'s development machine well oiled.

The image on this page is adapted from materials that are in the public domain.

We are dedicated to providing you with articles like this one. Show your support with a tax-deductible contribution to KCET. After all, public media is meant for the public. It belongs to all of us.

Keep Reading