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MTA Pins Hopes on New Recovery Plan

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Infinitely flexible and forever unfinished, that Zelig of public policy documents, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s fabled “recovery plan,” emerged in a new guise Tuesday with promises of yet another study designed to appease Eastside lawmakers who are disgruntled by deferral of their subway project and proposals for increases in bus and rail fares intended to placate skeptical federal transit authorities.

MTA chief Julian Burke’s blueprint even has a new name--it’s now a “restructuring plan"--but the bulk of his initiative is aimed at convincing Washington that the agency is serious about closing a projected budget deficit that, with typical MTA precision, is thought to hover somewhere around $40 million and would fall to $25 million if the proposals are adopted.

The latest revisions to the plan come as Mayor Richard Riordan and Los Angeles County supervisors, all of whom are members of the MTA’s board, travel to Washington to brief federal officials on their latest effort to turn the agency around.

Burke’s proposals range from cutting the size of cleaning crews at MTA’s towering headquarters to what is sure to be a controversial 10-cent hike in the $1.35 bus fare. A distance-based or zone fare, charging rail commuters based on how far they travel, also was proposed.

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The MTA chief’s new inch-thick plan proposes studying new ways to bring mass transit to more areas, including the Eastside, the Mid-City and the San Fernando Valley, within MTA’s funding limitations.

The statement is aimed at alleviating the discontent of Latino elected officials who are upset about uncertainty over transit improvements on the Eastside while subway construction to the Valley remains on track.

The study, to be completed by October, will examine construction of busways, Chicago-style elevated rail lines or subway extensions on different routes or in shorter segments.

Along with a proposed 10-cent increase in the cash fare, officials are considering raising the price of a 90-cent token by a dime. The increases could take effect as early as Nov. 1 if approved by the MTA board. The cost of a monthly pass would remain unchanged for at least another year.

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The cash fare was frozen by a 1996 federal consent decree, but transit officials say that they are permitted to adjust the cash fare this fall in line with increases in the consumer price index.

But Constance L. Rice, counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, suggested Tuesday that a fare increase could face a court challenge.

“I can’t imagine permitting a fare increase to go through when they have done nothing but let the bus system sink into a pit,” she said.

Legality aside, past fare increases have touched off protests from bus riders, including one that brought out police in riot gear.

A zone fare was proposed for the rail system, but officials provided no specifics on its possible structure.

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In all, about 150 recommendations were put forth by Burke’s staff, ranging from reducing the fleet of cars available to agency executives to more aggressively seeking money for the right to advertise and film movies in the Los Angeles subway.

The recommendations are the product of so-called workout teams established by Burke. The teams submitted detailed reports, but officials refused to make the documents public.

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“We deserve some credit,” Allan Lipsky, MTA deputy chief executive officer, said Tuesday. “This was an opportunity to look into every single corner of this organization to see where we could cut costs, increase revenues and improve service.”

MTA workers would share in the pain under some of the proposals. More layoffs appear likely. And, noting that it has become common practice in organizations in “financial distress” for top management to contribute to budget savings, the plan says that executives earning in excess of $100,000 could be required to give up perks and, possibly, some of their salary.

The plan suggests a tougher approach to fare cheats as well. If bus drivers collected just two additional cash fares per day, the MTA would realize $1 million more a year, the plan says. A 1995 audit by the agency’s inspector general estimated that $2.2 million annually is lost from passengers boarding buses without paying the full fare. Drivers, however, have expressed concern for their safety in confronting fare evaders.

The plan also notes that the agency can do a better job of combating misuse of bus transfers, noting that the MTA last year collected about 1.3 million more transfers than it sold, resulting in $1.8 million in lost revenue. Transit officials recommend installing machines to issue transfers instead of allowing bus drivers to do it.

MTA must produce a financially sound plan if it hopes to secure $100 million in federal funds in the new fiscal year for the North Hollywood subway extension and to free up $61.5 million allocated to the Metro Rail project last year.


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