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RTD Warns of 50% Cut in Bus Service Over Funding Feud

Times Staff Writer

Riders of the RTD could see up to a 50% cut in bus service as early as Dec. 1 unless a festering $107.8-million funding feud between the RTD and the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission is resolved, RTD officials warned Tuesday.

At a press conference, RTD board President Gordana Swanson portrayed the situation as a crisis and accused the Transportation Commission of “disregard for the public good and a blatant abuse of power” in withholding the bus funds.

But Paul Taylor, Transportation Commission general manager, dismissed the RTD’s press conference as “heavy-handed negotiations.”

“It won’t come to that,” Taylor said in response to the RTD’s warnings of drastically reduced bus service.

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The RTD operates Los Angeles County’s bus system, while the Transportation Commission controls funding for all transit agencies in Los Angeles County.

At the root of the controversy--one of many between the warring transit agencies--is $9 million a month in transit sales tax money that the RTD has been expecting from the Transportation Commission. So far, $36 million has been withheld. If the Transportation Commission continues to withhold the funds throughout the year, the RTD would be short $107.8 million.

The commission, Taylor said, has withheld money because the RTD has not demonstrated that three current labor agreements comply with guidelines established by the county Transportation Commission. Those guidelines include certain management rights, require that client agencies retain the right to contract out services, and require that raises other than cost-of-living increases be tied to work performance.

RTD General Manager Alan F. Pegg said the three labor contracts ratified June 29 and signed June 30 “prevented a costly service disruption which could have included a walkout. Many considered these agreements among the best money-saving contracts in the district’s history.”

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Timing of Guidelines

A key aspect of the dispute is the timing of the Transportation Commission’s labor guidelines. Pegg maintains that the RTD, in executing agreements before July 1, is in compliance with the Transportation Commission’s pre-existing standards. The draft guidelines, Pegg maintains, were “announced” in April but not “issued” until July.

Taylor, however, said the Transportation Commission guidelines were adopted in April and were intended to cover contracts for the current fiscal year that began July 1, regardless of when they were signed.

“The RTD has to come to the commission and ask for the money with the appropriate documentation,” Taylor said. “I told Alan Pegg if they do that, I don’t think they’ll have a problem.”

Taylor said that of the 13 transit agencies that are normally entitled to sales tax funds from the Transportation Commission, only the RTD is not in compliance with labor guidelines.

Other Disputes

The funding dispute joins a succession of disputes between the two transit agencies. Among the others are a battle over who will build the second phase of the Metro Rail subway project.

The RTD’s Swanson called the Transportation Commission’s actions an outrage.

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“Senior citizens, students and people who depend on public transportation every day are being held hostage by a circumstance over which they have no control,” Swanson said.

Unless the Transportation Commission releases “the money they owe us,” Swanson said, the RTD may consider legal action.


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