Foothill Transit Keeps Adding Bus Lines Despite Legal Challenge by RTD Unions

Times Staff Writer

The Foothill Transit Zone, after triumphing over legal challenges by two unions of bus drivers and mechanics, added a new route this week and announced plans to take over five more lines by the end of September.

Nonetheless, the transit zone still faced continued opposition from the unions, which this week filed a request asking the California Supreme Court for an emergency stay that would block the addition of the routes.

In spite of the court action, Foothill Executive Director William P. Forsythe said everything was going "very smoothly" midway through the first day of service Monday on the El Monte-Pomona line, formerly run by the Southern California Rapid Transit District.

Foothill President Judy Wright, a Claremont councilwoman, said: "We really feel we're offering better, more responsive service and for less money."

The transit system, a three-year experiment authorized by the county Transportation Commission, plans to take over as many as 20 of the 54 RTD lines in 20 cities in the foothill area of the San Gabriel Valley. The system contracts with private companies to run the lines, which are being operated with exactly the same routes and same stops as those of the RTD.

But at 85 cents, Foothill's fares are 25 cents less than RTD's.

The new bus system began service with express runs from the eastern San Gabriel Valley to downtown Los Angeles in December, 1988, and in January, 1989.

So far, Foothill has withstood legal attacks from two unions representing 7,000 RTD bus drivers and mechanics. Besides filing this week's request for a stay, lawyers of the Amalgamated Transit Union and the United Transportation Union also have filed a formal notice they will appeal the Superior Court decision that permitted Foothill to operate.

In July, a Superior Court judge ruled against the unions' challenge to Foothill's creation. Later, judges in Superior Court and the Court of Appeal denied the unions' request for a temporary injunction against Foothill.

"It's not true privatization," United Transportation Union lawyer Lawrence Drasin said of the Foothill experiment. He maintained that subsidies to Foothill from the county Transportation Commission far exceed those given to RTD for the same routes.

Foothill's Forsythe discounted the unions' complaints and the attempts to obtain a stay, saying he believes the transit zone will prevail.

Wright also said that Foothill "purposely phased in (the takeover) to have as little effect on the union drivers as possible." She said that, partly through staff attrition, the impact should not be severe on RTD workers.

Foothill's new El Monte-Pomona line, known as 178, serves El Monte, Baldwin Park, West Covina, Valinda, Woodside Village, Walnut and Pomona. Queen of the Valley Hospital, West Covina Fashion Plaza, Mt. San Antonio College and Cal Poly Pomona are on the line's route.

Next Monday, Foothill plans to take over RTD's Line 185, which connects Hacienda Heights and Montclair. Stops on that route include South Hills Center, the colleges in La Verne and Claremont and the Montclair Plaza.

Lines 274 and 276 will be run by Foothill, starting Sept. 5. They pass through Industry, La Puente, West Covina, Covina, San Dimas and Glendora, including stops at Citrus College and Azusa Pacific University.

On Sept. 11, Foothill will begin operating Line 280, which will cover areas from Rowland Heights to Azusa. Two weeks later, on Sept. 25, Foothill will take over Line 187, which runs from Pasadena to Pomona, including stops at Pasadena City College, Santa Anita Race Track and the City of Hope Medical Center.

Eventually, the bus system may be operating as many as 111 buses, according to Wright, the Foothill president.

Thomas K. Bourke, a Foothill attorney, said he hopes the bus system will be able to last beyond the three-year experimental stage. "We've got a great incentive to do a good job," Bourke said.

San Gabriel Valley community leaders have complained about RTD service and pushed for a locally operated bus system such as Foothill for years.

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