A new round of fare increases or cutbacks in service on dozens of bus lines may be needed early next year to make up for an anticipated $5-million to $7-million loss in federal revenue, the chief of the Southern California Rapid Transit District said Tuesday.
The proposed service cuts, including canceling some routes and eliminating weekend service on others, could affect about 5 million of the transit agency’s 500 million annual boardings.
“We know we do not have enough resources to (continue to) operate the entire system,” said John Dyer, RTD general manager, in an appearance before the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.
Bus routes that would be cut back are in virtually every section of the county. They were selected because they have low ridership and are unusually costly to operate, Dyer said.
He told the supervisors, some of whom have criticized the proposed service reductions, that raising the basic 85-cent fare by 5 or 10 cents would be an alternative to service cutbacks.
He also said that the service reductions could be lessened if cities and the county agree to contribute local funds to keep the lines going.
The RTD Board of Directors, which in July raised the basic fare from 50 cents to 85 cents because of a loss of local tax revenues, has been warning ever since that additional fare increases or cutbacks in service might be needed because of threatened reductions in federal transit subsidies.
Cut by Congress
Under budget targets already established, Congress has tentatively agreed to a 15% cut in next year’s transportation spending. A House version of the transportation bill approved last week maintains this year’s aid level for local bus systems. But concerns about the deficit in the Republican-controlled Senate, which is beginning to draft its own transportation money bill, are expected to lead to cutbacks.
“I can’t see transit being made whole at the expense of other things,” said one key Democratic Senate staff transportation specialist. “There will be cuts.”
The exact nature of those cuts will not be known until next month, when the transportation bill is expected to be finally approved. In the meantime, the RTD board has scheduled a hearing Sept. 28 to get public comment on the proposed cutbacks.
Supervisor Has Question
Supervisor Pete Schabarum, a longtime critic of the RTD, questioned whether the proposed cutbacks were necessary. He told Dyer that the transit agency, with a budget of $484 million and among the highest drivers’ salaries in the nation, could tighten its belt and absorb much of the federal revenue loss. “There isn’t any government agency that doesn’t have loose change floating around to the tune of 1% or 2% (of their budget),” Schabarum said.
Dyer said the transit agency has “already gone through that” by reducing administrative staff. Citing recent increases in the district’s liability insurance costs and increased demand on some routes that has accompanied the opening of school, he said, “There really is not any other fat.”
Two months ago, anticipating reduced ridership because of its higher fares, the RTD adjusted schedules and shaved service on half its bus lines. However, the RTD lost only 5% of its riders, rather than the 12% to 17% it forecast.
Regional Solutions Urged
Supervisor Ed Edelman, who has generally been supportive of the RTD, said it was “unseemly” to be talking about cutting back regional bus service when cities in the county have an estimated $150 million to $200 million in transit funds generated by the voter-approved half-cent sales tax increase. “We ought to look at regional solutions . . . we ought to be able to feed those funds into the RTD system,” he said.
He said it may be time to put a new ballot measure before the voters that would redirect more of the sales tax funds to the RTD.
If previous service cutback proposals are any indication, the upcoming hearings on the reductions will be stormy.
Under the RTD proposal, service on up to 51 lines would be cut. Monday through Friday service would be canceled on 18 of the lines with about 12,000 boardings daily. Saturday service would be cut on 22 of the lines involving 16,000 Saturday boardings, and Sunday service would be eliminated on 31 of the lines with 21,000 Sunday boardings.
One of the lines that could be eliminated runs along Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu.
“That’s all we’ve got,” said Sarah Dixon, president of the Malibu Township Council, a community group. Malibu residents and PTA groups will fight the elimination of the line because children use it to get to school and construction and domestic workers use it to get to Malibu.
“Because of the great difficulties we have with Pacific Coast Highway (congestion) it would be logical to have more bus service--not none,” Dixon said.
THE RTD’S DILEMMA
The financial problem: The RTD expects to lose up to $7 million in federal subsidies next year.
The proposed cut in service: To make up for the loss, if it occurs, the RTD wants to reduce or eliminate service on up to 51 of its least-used bus lines.
The proposed increase in fares: As an alternative to service cutbacks, the RTD wants to raise fares from the current 75 cents to 80 or 85 cents.
The proposed bail-out: The RTD is encouraging local governments to make up for the expected federal loss with enough local dollars to save specific bus lines.