Proposed RTD Fare Hikes Derided as 'More for Less'

Times Staff Writer

A relatively small but adamant crowd of riders and public officials turned up at an RTD hearing Saturday to denounce proposed bus fare increases ranging from 12% to 32%. Instead of increasing fares, most of the speakers said, the RTD should eliminate fiscal mismanagement and improve service.

"It would be unconscionable to ask for a rate increase at this time from those who depend on your service," said John Heilman, a West Hollywood city councilman. "What you are trying to do is ask low-income consumers to finance what are essentially management problems."

Added Kelly McConnell, chairman of the Los Angeles Council of Unemployed and Homeless: "Don't expect people to pay more money for less service. This a deplorable situation."

RTD officials say the increases are necessary to help offset a projected $26-million shortfall next year due to increased costs coupled with government subsidy levels that have not kept pace with inflation.

Under the proposed new rates, regular and student fares would go from 85 cents to $1 and fares for elderly and disabled riders from 40 to 50 cents. In addition, the proposal would increase the cost of regular monthly passes from $32 to $36; elderly and disabled passes from $7 to $9; elementary and high school passes from $12 to $15, and college passes from $15 to $20.

The proposal would also increase fares to special destinations such as Hollywood Park and Santa Anita by 50 cents and eliminate 19 express and local routes deemed too costly to operate effectively.

RTD board members say they plan to decide next month on the proposed fare increases that, if enacted, will take effect on July 1.

"The bottom line is that we have a district that is stretched to the gills," said Jan Hall, president of the Southern California Rapid Transit District's Board of Directors. "Federal and state subsidies haven't increased, and something's got to give."

Many of the 50 speakers who testified, however, saw the matter differently, blaming the district's financial woes on what they described as its own fiscal irresponsibility. Among them was former Rep. Bobbi Fiedler, a longtime RTD critic, who blasted the district for, among other things, spending too much money on advertising to bolster its public image, allowing management costs to rise unchecked, failing to curtail crime on buses and suffering sagging ridership due to the poor quality of the service provided. Over the last four years, according to figures provided by the RTD, general administrative costs--totaling $108 million in 1986--have grown 56%. And a recent outside audit by the Transportation Commission found that between 1982 and 1985, expenditures on wages and salaries for the central administration of the bus system grew 54.7%, more than twice the system's overall increase in costs.

"It's an outrage," Fiedler said. "There isn't a corporate board in the country that, if it had a record like that, wouldn't be fired. First (the RTD board) ought to get rid of (General Manager John A.) Dyer, then they ought to resign en masse."

Interviewed during a break in the hearing, Dyer dismissed Fiedler's remarks as bluster. "She's been (saying) that for years," he said.

Denying the charges of fiscal mismanagement, he characterized the district's financial situation as identical to that being faced by rapid transit districts throughout the country and alluded to internal cost-saving measures--including layoffs and reductions in overtime and absenteeism--which, he said, had already eliminated much of the projected deficit. "The public has gained enormously from our cost-cutting measures," Dyer said.

According to district spokesman Marc Littman, the hearing, which drew about 150 people, was one of the least-attended RTD fare increase hearings in recent memory, a fact he attributed at least partly to Saturday's rain.

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