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Bus Changes Draw Criticism : Transportation: Valley riders say proposed route overhaul will lengthen their commuting times. They ask the MTA to reconsider parts of the plan.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A plan to restructure the San Fernando Valley’s bus routes, the system’s biggest overhaul in 20 years, drew sharp criticism Saturday from riders who say the changes will significantly increase their travel times or complicate their commutes.

Speaking at a packed public hearing in Van Nuys, many bus riders asked transportation officials to reconsider at least portions of the plan.

“This proposed restructuring of the San Fernando Valley bus system does not sit well with the working and minority people of the Valley,” said Charles Thomas of North Hollywood.

“We must take the bus to work, to shop, to the doctor’s office, to the baby-sitter’s.”

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Under the new “hub-and-spoke” plan designed to serve major employment centers, several underused bus routes would be canceled while others would be absorbed into more popular lines. Sacrificed would be the traditional “grid system,” which followed north-south and east-west routes.

About 5,200 riders throughout the Valley would be affected by the changes, outlined in a report by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority that was unveiled last fall.

“The goal of the study is to improve service,” said MTA spokesman Mark R. Dierking.

But nearly all of those who spoke at the hearing said the proposed changes would worsen their bus commute. The nearly 80 people in the audience often broke into applause as speakers challenged MTA officials.

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Charles Conrad of Mission Hills rides the bus each day to Pasadena, where he works. Currently the trip takes three hours round-trip. But under the new plan the line that he travels on--549--would be canceled, and Conrad’s commute time would double, he said.

“Essentially, if you cancel that route, I will travel six hours to work seven hours,” he said. “That’s the only direct route I know of.”

Student Tamara Roust rides line 549 from Pasadena to UCLA everyday. If the line is canceled, her commute time will increase by two hours, she said.

“I propose that you give this line another chance,” Roust told MTA officials. “Please mount an aggressive ad campaign.”

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Roust and others said ridership on the line has increased in recent months and would increase even more if more people were aware of its existence.

The hearing also drew residents who own cars and take advantage of the MTA’s Park and Ride stations, the lots where patrons can leave their vehicles and then catch the bus.

Donald Cunningham of Agoura Hills presented a letter signed Friday by passengers on line 423. The letter expressed the riders’ opposition to plans to eliminate what they say are heavily used stops, as well as some stops at Park and Ride facilities.

“The changes would eliminate stops at every Park and Ride facility in the entire 101 Freeway corridor west of the Encino Park and Ride, while adding numerous stops with no identified parking available,” Cunningham said. “We think the changes are going to seriously degrade the service we get.”

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Many of the speakers accused the MTA of cutting services to bus riders as a means of financing its rail program.

“These cuts are going to happen,” said Chris Niles, an organizer with the Labor / Community Strategy Center, which brought a lawsuit against the MTA last year for raising bus fares.

“You can be guaranteed. This is just the beginning. The MTA is trying to fund a rail project that it cannot afford,” Niles said.

Some of those attending were part of the Bus Riders Union, organized by the Labor / Community Strategy Center.

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“If we work together, we can make can change,” Niles said. “You have to come together and organize.”

Comments from the hearing were documented by a court stenographer and will be incorporated into the MTA study, Dierking said. The study and the comments from the public will be presented to the MTA board in February.

Saturday’s hearing was the culmination of a two-year study, a collaboration between county and city agencies, that included several community meetings.

Still, MTA officials said they were caught off guard by the level of criticism from Valley riders.

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“I was surprised that some of the people here didn’t come out earlier,” Dierking said. “I was surprised people still have a problem with the study.”


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