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Group Hopes to Beam Us Up, Out of Traffic

Times Staff Writer

It looks like Disneyland’s popular monorail ride. It travels with the ease of Star Trek’s Enterprise or Dick Tracy’s magnetic-levitation vehicle. Its backers boast that it will make all Southern Californians neighbors. But will it get off the ground?

Promoting this ultimate answer to California sprawl and freeway crawl is a group of businessmen turned dreamers who call themselves Southern California Monorail Project--a name which has been shortened to SCMP.

SCMP, which operates out of offices in Newport Beach and Beverly Hills, plans to weave the mishmash of today’s public and private transportation systems into a single, smoothly running whole to serve the commuter with efficiency, the tourist with style.

Flagship of this ambitious plan to make sense out of the chaos of the region’s public transit is The Beam--a monorail vehicle that backers hope will someday travel at impressive speeds on a spine of elevated guideways, bringing the cities and towns of Southern California within minutes of each other.

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An ironic twist to SCMP’s game plan is the location of the translucent pylons of the monorail system along the center medians of Southern California freeways and major streets. Monorail commuters on their unimpeded trips can look down upon the sight of their less-fortunate peers caught in the snarl of traffic below.

Craig Hendrickson, chairman and chief ramrod of SCMP, admits that the ultimate aim of the project is to woo Southern California motorists out of their cars and off the highways.

“We don’t want to replace the freeway,” Hendrickson said, “but we think we have a better alternative.”

Hendrickson, who turned 34 on Saturday, founded SCMP in 1983 with downtown Los Angeles developer Graham Kaye-Eddie. Since then the brain trust has grown to 17, including science fiction writer Ray Bradbury, conservative political activist Christopher Huntington and others from the legal, architectural and engineering fields.

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And their project has grown to a national, even international scope, he explained. Future plans will be formed in SCMP computers for links with San Francisco, Seattle, Salt Lake City, Denver and points east. Next, who’s to say that the system might not spread its high-speed lines to Vancouver, Juneau, Montreal, Mexico City, Caracas and Rio?

Projected Timetable

Meanwhile, back in the 20th Century, SCMP pledges to have the first 1,000 miles of its six-county Southern California system in place by 2010, and the group plans to put in 250 or so miles of it by 1996.

Routes for the elevated super-shuttle network have been fairly well set in Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino, Riverside and Ventura counties, but San Diego County was an afterthought. Proposed San Diego routes follow major freeways or proposed San Diego Trolley routes and are likely to be changed when local folks have a say in the matter.

“We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from San Diego but we haven’t had the time to meet with the people involved,” Hendrickson said. He doesn’t expect to run into the problems that his private, nonprofit corporation has faced with transit districts to the north--Los Angeles’ RTD and the Orange County Transit District--where local leaders have bristled at the prospect of being superseded by a regional super-agency, and a private one at that.

Hendrickson concedes that a truly regional transportation district can’t be implemented unless everyone marches to the same drummer.

To accomplish this, SCMP plans to put a statewide measure on the June 5, 1990, ballot which, if successful, will add a half-cent to the state sales tax in the six affected counties and will hand the funds over to SCMP, whose board would become a powerful Southern California transit authority.

To cement its power, SCMP plans to initiate a one-fare “passport” system that will provide passengers with a cashless way to pay for all forms of transportation--taxi, bus, dial-a-ride, monorail, shuttle van--and receive an itemized bill at the end of the month.

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Towing the Line

Aside from convenience to commuters, the system will give SCMP ultimate authority over all the area’s varied transportation providers. If a firm is accepted into the passport system, it must meet the standards and follow the rules of the transit authority. If it doesn’t, it faces the fate of today’s “gypsy” cab and jitney drivers, forced to pick up the crumbs left by the organized systems.

“If the other systems don’t meet our standards, we might put in a competitive system offering better service, and run them out of business,” Hendrickson said. He stressed that such a move would probably never be implemented, but it would ensure excellence, “something better than the garbage that local transit agencies are putting out now.”

As a benign dictator, SCMP would coordinate the many transportation systems, doling out funds to upgrade some of the links needed to form a smooth-operating system feeding into the portals (he doesn’t like them called stations) of the monorail guideway system.

High Speeds Projected

The projected monorail fare, including shuttle service between portals, is $1.50 to $4.50 for a one-way ride. Initially, speeds of 100 m.p.h. will be usual. Eventually, when magnetic-levitation technology becomes feasible, speeds of up to 400 m.p.h. will be possible.

Imagine a 15-minute trip from San Diego up to the Magic Kingdom in Anaheim. But then, why go? The fun ride that delivered you would be more of a thrill than Disneyland could provide.

Hendrickson has the tunnel vision of a true zealot. He is frustrated with the present mass transit systems that go from one place to another but link up with nothing, creating no regional pathway. Bus lines now make U-turns at city and county borders; cab companies slice up their territories into a patchwork quilt of service. Few of the major transit systems link up their routes and schedules to mesh with competitors.

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Although his dreams may seem as if they came from another planet, his methods are quite down-to-earth. If the SCMP initiative is approved in 1990, Hendrickson and his group will have better than $1 billion a year in tax funds to spend on their space-age project and other cooperating Southern California systems.

Will the San Diego Trolley remain? Hendrickson is confident that it and other efficient transit systems in the county will not only survive but will prosper. Without a local transportation infrastructure, The Beam will not function, he said. The Beam (as in “Beam me up, Scotty” in “Star Trek”) is the name selected for SCMP’s showpiece monorail spine.

When the system is complete, he said, “nobody in Southern California is going to live or work farther than four miles from a portal; no major population center, shopping center, stadium, arena or business complex would be bypassed.”

Hendrickson is convinced that he has finally found a way to woo Southern Californians out of their automobiles.


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