Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, expressing fear that a major shake-up of local public transit would endanger federal funds for Metro Rail, said on Wednesday that he opposes a merger of the county's two big transit agencies.
In testimony before the Assembly Transportation Committee, and in stronger words afterward in a hallway press conference, Bradley generally defended the Southern California Rapid Transit District and the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission. Both are under attack by state and local government officials, some of whom are calling for a breakup of the agencies.
The RTD runs the county's big regional bus system and is building and will operate the Metro Rail subway, scheduled to start service in 1992. The Transportation Commission allocates state and local funds to the RTD for other local transit projects, does planning, sets overall county transit policy and is building a light-rail system from Long Beach to downtown Los Angeles, with a start-up date set for 1990. The RTD will operate the trolleys on that line.
Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted to recommend consolidation of the RTD and the county Transportation Commission. A consolidation measure, creating a Metropolitan Transit Agency, has been proposed in a bill by Sen. Alan Robbins (D-Van Nuys), which faces its first committee hearing in Sacramento next week.
Bradley told the committee that the county transit commission, of which he is chairman, opposes combining the commission and the RTD into a single agency. Then, speaking to reporters, Bradley reiterated his opposition and added that he favors "the same institutional structure with some minor modifications."
That appeared to put him at odds with the chairman of the Assembly committee, Richard Katz (D-Sepulveda), a reorganization advocate who had opened the hearing by saying that Los Angeles County suffers from "too many people trying to make decisions" and from the conflict of two big agencies each having the power to build rail systems.
Asked what he thought of Bradley's comments, Katz said, "The mayor is obviously part of the status quo and he has been involved in this for several years."
Bradley said his main objection to a merger is his fear that elimination of the RTD would mean a new agency would have to renegotiate financing contracts for the Metro Rail subway project with the federal Urban Mass Transportation Administration. That agency, a foe of the project, has supplied money reluctantly and only under orders from Congress and the courts.
The federal transit administration has signed a contract with the RTD to provide $225.5 million for the 4.4-mile first segment of Metro Rail, a subway from Union Station through downtown Los Angeles to Wilshire Boulevard and Alvarado Street.
Eliminating the RTD and having the Urban Mass Transportation Administration negotiate a contract with a new agency "would be an ideal opening for someone in Washington who would like to see our funding disrupted," Bradley, an enthusiastic subway backer, told reporters.
President Jan Hall of the RTD Board of Directors agreed. "If they see a chink in our armor, the chink will get wider," she told the hearing.
But federal transportation spokesman Ivan Scott said in a telephone interview from Washington that the agency's legal office told him that if the RTD is replaced by a "legally constituted agency, they could do business."
However, Scott said, the lawyers added that an agreement with a new agency would have to have the same provisions as the current one with the RTD, including a no-cost-overrun clause insisted on by the Urban Mass Transportation Administration.
"Our position is that we had to be dragged kicking and screaming into it (the Metro Rail project)," Scott said. But he added that the agency is "not going to use a technicality to withhold" funds from Metro Rail.
Bradley was in the minority. Most witnesses favored a form of consolidation and even RTD President Hall said that "we are not wedded to the RTD." Prof. G.J. Fielding, a transportation expert at the University of California, Irvine, said, "Los Angeles needs to simplify agencies to make coordination manageable."
Robbins, however, said he believed that in the end, Bradley would support some form of transit reorganization.