Foothill Transit Again Seeks Zone as RTD Wrestles with Money Ills

Times Staff Writer

The Foothill Transit Zone, stalled by litigation since July, is trying to move ahead by capitalizing on troubles recently encountered by the Southern California Rapid Transit District.

Since April, the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission has refused to release $9 million in monthly funding to RTD, which says it may cut service by up to 50% by January as a result.

Foothill Transit, whose June start-up was blocked by lawsuits from the RTD and its unions, last week renewed a request to the RTD Board of Directors to allow the transit zone to begin operations.

A Superior Court judge has placed an injunction on the Transportation Commission, the broker of the area's transit tax funds, preventing it from allowing the zone to take over two RTD lines without the RTD's approval. The RTD board has refused to consider earlier requests for approval of the zone, citing the litigation. But the board has agreed to reconsider the

Alternative to RTD

The transit zone, approved last year by the commission, was billed as a low-cost alternative to RTD for 19 San Gabriel Valley cities and the Southeast community of La Habra Heights.

Foothill Transit had contracted with Embree Bus Lines to operate service on two freeway express routes from Glendora and Diamond Bar to downtown Los Angeles, the first of 20 routes the zone was to take over from the RTD over a 2-year period.

William P. Forsythe, Foothill Transit's executive director, said that in light of the RTD's financial problems, the agency could ease its burden by agreeing to give up the disputed lines.

RTD officials have charged that the Transportation Commission, whose chairman is county Supervisor Pete Schabarum, created the financing crisis in an attempt to force the RTD to endorse the zone. Schabarum, a fervent RTD critic, first proposed the transit zone in 1986 and has remained a staunch supporter.

Transportation Commissioners have said the funds are being withheld from the RTD because the agency failed to abide by salary guidelines set by the commission.

"RTD officials have been making a lot of noise about being held hostage," Forsythe said. "Everybody is being held hostage now, and it's primarily over the actions that the RTD has taken."

Forsythe portrayed the dispute as a matter between the RTD and Foothill Transit's 20 member cities. "It's no longer the RTD versus Schabarum," he said.

Foothill President Don McMillen also denied that the zone is ganging up with the commission to put the squeeze on the RTD, but noted that the situation could cause the RTD board to rethink its position.

Close Vote Predicted

Charles Storing, the San Gabriel Valley representative on the RTD board, predicted that approval of the zone will be decided by a close vote of the 11-member board. The board originally voted 7 to 4 to table the matter, but it now has two new members, including Schabarum aide Jeff Jenkins.

"It could go both ways, 6-5 in either direction," said Storing, a La Puente city councilman.

Although La Puente declined to join Foothill Transit in favor of the RTD, Storing said the RTD board should honor the will of the zone's 20 cities and allow it to either succeed or fail without outside intervention.

Officials are seeking a local state legislator to sponsor a bill, allowing the zone to begin operations if the RTD does not consent.

The legal morass has left Foothill Transit with 25 idle buses, purchased for $2.6 million, and has disrupted plans for enlarging the fleet.

Began Pilot Project

To demonstrate its proposed savings, the county began a pilot project using several former RTD routes in the San Gabriel Valley. Foothill offers an 85-cent base fare, as opposed to the RTD's $1.10 base rate adopted July 1.

According to a report on the project by the Price Waterhouse accounting firm, the six lines have operated since December with a two-thirds decrease in passenger complaints.

Forsythe said the accounting report showed that the routes have operated at a savings of $1.5 million of what it cost the RTD, Forsythe said. The six routes, providing local service in Pomona and Claremont and two express lines to downtown Los Angeles, were dropped by the RTD late last year to cut costs.

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