A bus schedule drew the biggest applause of the night at the second Valley Transportation Summit, held recently at California State University Northridge.
“We have committed to realigning our bus service with the class schedules in a way that makes sense, beginning in June of this year,” Metro’s Deputy CEO Stephanie Wiggins told the packed auditorium to a thunderous reaction.
Even though L.A. County voters approved an increase in the sales tax for transportation in 1980, and again in 1990, and again in 2008, the CSUN community of 50,000 — students, staff and faculty — remains coldly underserved. Among other problems, the night classes end at 9:45 and the last Metro bus is at 9:30.
Wiggins told the gathering that Metro just learned of this problem in October, during the last Valley Transportation Summit, but others contended that Metro has known for years.
Bus schedules were not supposed to be the hot topic of the evening.
The purpose of the summit, organized by state Sen. Bob Hertzberg, was to engage Valley residents about all the future transit projects that another sales tax increase will make possible.
Left unsaid: Some of the past transit projects need more funding.
Metro’s website lists 10 projects under construction, including the Crenshaw/LAX Transit Project, the Expo Phase 2 to Santa Monica, the Purple Line Extension (formerly known as the Westside subway), and the downtown Regional Connector Transit Project, which is supposed to connect the Gold Line, the Blue Line and the Exposition Line by 2020.
But money is tight. Last fall, Metro said the Regional Connector project needed $130 million more than expected and might miss its deadline for completion, putting federal funds in jeopardy. And Mayor Eric Garcetti has said the opening of the Purple Line Extension, scheduled for 2035, will be earlier to accommodate the 2024 Olympics, if funding can be found.
The proposed sales tax increase, headed for the November 2016 ballot, would raise $120 billion for transit projects by hiking the sales tax one-half percent and extending the 2008 tax increase a few decades past its 30-year expiration date.
Metro would immediately borrow the future sales tax revenue by selling bonds to investors, paying them back over the years as the tax money is collected.
Officials at the summit did not discuss how much of the $120 billion of Measure R2 money might be needed to complete the works in progress.
They spoke enthusiastically of someday converting the Orange Line busway to light rail, constructing a north-south transit line on Van Nuys Boulevard, and tunneling through the Sepulveda Pass to relieve traffic on the 405.
But the people in the audience had questions about ordinary bus service.
A woman who lives in Porter Ranch said she sees only “one bus that stops in front of WalMart” and suggested that a bus line from Porter Ranch to CSUN could eliminate thousands of car trips.
Others wanted to know why the Orange Line didn’t connect more directly to CSUN, why there weren’t more buses serving the northeast Valley, why it was taking some students four hours to get home from class, and whatever happened to the longer Orange Line buses approved by the state legislature last year.
Metro is still studying them, Wiggins said cheerfully.
Everyone on stage at the summit was cheerful. Behind them, an artist drew a colorful cartoon diary of the meeting on a long sheet of white poster board.
Hertzberg asked the audience to sign the poster, which he said will be a part of history.
So will some Valley businesses if the sales tax in Los Angeles County is raised again. People who drive west on the 101 freeway can start saving money at the Westlake Boulevard exit, where the sales tax in Ventura County is just 7.5 percent. That’s two percentage points lower than L.A. County’s rate will be if Measure R2 is approved by two-thirds of voters.
The two-thirds requirement remains a big challenge. How can officials persuade 66.67 percent of county voters to pay a higher sales tax for transportation — for the fourth time?
They probably can’t. They need the support of San Fernando Valley voters, but Valley residents want actual transportation, not fantasies and promises. People at the summit asked for buses that run more frequently than once per hour, on a schedule that accommodates early-morning and late-night jobs, in locations where a lot of people need transportation.
And with three sales tax hikes since 1980, we should have had that by now.