A plan to turn over bus service in the San Gabriel Valley to private operators was dealt a blow this week when Pasadena, the largest city involved, rejected the proposal as too risky and vague.
The Board of Directors, acting on the recommendation of the city's Transportation Commission, voted 6 to 1 against the plan Monday, saying that despite the promise of cheaper and more responsive bus service, there were too many unanswered questions.
"When you examine this proposal, the cost savings are questionable, based on their assumptions and merits," said Director Rick Cole. "And there is the potential here of real damage to the Southern California Rapid Transit District, which needs improvement, not dismemberment."
Endorsed by 24 Cities
The proposal for a privately run transportation zone separate from the RTD has been endorsed by the county and 24 of the 29 cities in the proposed zone, said William P. Forsythe, a county consultant who is serving as the plan's project manager.
Only Pasadena, Rosemead and La Puente have rejected the proposal. Monrovia is expected to decide next week and San Gabriel will not take a stand.
Forsythe said that the loss of Pasadena would have only a minor impact on the proposed San Gabriel Valley Transportation Zone, which can be reshaped to exclude the city.
Jeff Jenkins, a staff assistant to county Supervisor Pete Schabarum who devised the proposal, estimated that, without Pasadena, only 200 buses would be needed, instead of the 215 originally proposed.
"Of course we would like to have them in, but you can't hang your head and say the whole proposal is shot," he said. "In terms of the functioning of the zone, it can do just as well without Pasadena."
But others say that the rejection, because of the city's size and influence in the area, could have an impact on surrounding cities and the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission, which will make the final decision on the transportation zone.
"This means I will evaluate the proposal a lot more carefully," said commission member Christine Reed. "I'm surprised because I've been operating on the assumption that all the cities were supportive of this."
Rosemary Simmons, the mayor of San Marino, which has endorsed the plan, added, "None of us are really sold on the idea and we certainly will be delving into Pasadena's reason for rejecting it."
Allowed by State
The attempt to separate the San Gabriel Valley area from the RTD is based on state legislation that allows the county Transportation Commission to form a new bus district if service from an existing bus operator is inadequate, unresponsive or too costly.
Schabarum has said that RTD fails on all three counts, and has proposed turning over several local and express routes that serve the San Gabriel Valley to private companies that would bid competitively for the routes.
RTD would continue to run more than half the routes it now operates, as well as maintain all bus stops, provide route information and distribute bus schedules.
Forsythe said bus riders would hardly notice the change since the new zone would continue to operate the same routes, charge the same fares and use the same transfer points as RTD.
He added that because of competitive bidding and lower overhead, private bus operators would be able to cut the cost of bus service by as much as $14 million a year. He added that a separate zone would give local governments more control over bus service.
Pasadena's Transportation Commission Chairman Nancy Leon said that despite problems with RTD, the commission did not believe that a new district could provide better service.
One major concern was the city's lack of control over the new zone, which she said appeared to be geared to cities in the eastern part of the San Gabriel Valley.
Under Schabarum's proposal, the zone would be controlled by a five-member board made up of representatives from different areas in the San Gabriel Valley.
One Pasadena Member
Only one representative would come from the Pasadena area, opening up the possibility that any cost savings and service improvements could end up in other areas, she said.
"The worry is that it is a plan to benefit the eastern end of the valley at the expense of the west valley," said City Manager Don McIntyre.
Leon said the commission also saw no hard evidence that any money could be saved or that the new district could maintain the same quality of service provided by RTD, including reliability, timeliness and passenger safety.
Forsythe called the city's concern over control of the new zone "myopic" because, he said, the entire San Gabriel Valley has only one representative on the 11-member RTD board.
Forsythe added that similar plans have been successfully implemented in other areas in the country, including Snohomish County in Washington state, and in Dallas, and show that private bus companies can provide cheaper and better service.
County Transportation Commission member Marcia Mednick said the commission now must analyze the proposal to see if it is feasible to operate it without Pasadena. She added that Pasadena could still join the new district in the future.
"It's an idea whose time has come to be tried," she said. "Change is something people tend to look at with trepidation. But it could very well be that a year from now when we get up and running, Pasadena may want to join in."
The Pasadena board agreed to continue monitoring the proposal and may join later if a pilot project scheduled to start in June in the Pomona area is successful.
The board also agreed to begin exploring the possibility of starting its own transportation zone in the west San Gabriel Valley.