As the RTD’s 1,950-bus fleet plies the streets of Los Angeles, vandals slash, cut and rip at the buses’ foam-cushioned seats--damaging about 700 a day, causing $400,000 in damage each year. At stops, they jump onto bumpers and, in front of helpless drivers, scratch the windshields with knives.
RTD officials said Saturday that vandalism has become so bad that some service may be halted. In the meantime, the district has decided to replace the cushions with hard plastic seats.
About once a day, a bus has to be taken out of service because its windshield is marred to the point where the driver’s vision is obscured, said John Richeson, associate general manager for the Southern California Rapid Transit District.
Out Clean, Back Marred
“We’ll send a bus out cleaned and serviced in the morning and it will come back in the evening looking like it has never been cleaned,” Richeson said, adding that the cleaning solvents used to remove graffiti also strip paint from the buses.
Richeson said efforts will be made to work with the community and law enforcement officials to stem the damage, but lines particularly hard-hit may be terminated. The issue will come up for discussion in September, he said, if a plan adopted by the district’s board of directors Thursday fails to reduce the damage.
“The cost is just getting to be astronomical and the damage is worse,” Richeson said.
He said the problem is no longer just keeping the buses clean--it’s keeping them safe as well.
The district’s new program includes a hot line and cash rewards for passengers who report abuse. But officials stressed that they do not want drivers or riders to confront any of the often knife-brandishing vandals. A police task force will also be expanded from three officers to 10.
“The graffitists continue to come up with new methods to get their job done every time we come up with a new way to stop them,” he said.
Starting this summer, the district will replace the padded seats on 60% of its buses with plastic ones. The $3-million effort is expected to save upholstering costs, but it will mean less comfort for passengers.
“It is a hard seat; there is no doubt it is a harder seat,” Richeson said. “Not anything like the 2 1/2 inches of cushion we currently have.” The seat replacement on 1,355 buses is expected to take almost three years.
Four hundred buses have been in service for nine months with the new quarter-inch thick plastic and cloth pad, and little damage has been reported, Richeson said.
“Of course, the minute we say that, someone is going feel challenged,” he said.
The district’s anti-graffiti drive has become more expensive in the last four years, with more than $8 million now budgeted annually for the effort, eight times what it first cost.
So far this year, 75 bus-defacers have been caught, most in police stakeouts. The offenders were cited and fined $250.
Frequent riders say the new seats may be fine for short jaunts but question their comfort on longer rides.
“For someone coming downtown every day it’s going to be a pain,” said Steven Troy, who had taken a bus Saturday from his home in Reseda and was waiting for another on Spring Street .
But he didn’t think the new seats would deter vandals: “They’ll start coming on the bus with drills now.”