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Merger Without Mania : Careful how you construct new transit superagency

With billions of dollars worth of new transit operations to put in place in Southern California in coming decades, the region clearly needs a guiding force to make certain the job is done right. That means a long overdue merger of Los Angeles’ two leading transit agencies.

The Legislature has set a Jan. 1 deadline for the merger to take place. It has also set a most important guideline: strict accountability. What Sacramento wants is a fail-safe system for letting Southern Californians know who to blame if the trains don’t run on time or the buses don’t run at all.

And so the policy boards of the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission and the Southern California Rapid Transit District meet today to talk merger. It’s quite possible that--after 15 years at each other’s throats--the agencies cannot produce the smoother ride into a rail-oriented future that Sacramento had in mind. But, given the huge stakes, they have to give it their best shot.

Accountability can be an elusive goal. The bill by Assemblyman Richard Katz (D-Sylmar) that forces today’s merger showdown seemed to define accountability as direct involvement by elected officials on a new super transit agency’s policy board. That sounds good, but the proposal likely to be approved seems vague and arguably deficient. At the last reading, neither the transit commission nor the transit district intended even to require attendance at policy meetings that would lead to such accountability.

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The leading proposal would also put one executive officer over a division operating buses and light rail, one over planning hundreds of miles of new or expanded lines and a third over heavy rail. Questions will be raised as to whether such a troika can ever be made to work.

The right people can make even a difficult system work; the wrong people can ruin even a fine one.

Sacramento must be aware that it still may wind up having to step in and ensure that both system and people are the best that Southern California can produce to run its crucial public transportation.


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