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MTA Library May Be Casualty of Cutbacks

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Nestled in a corner of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s towering headquarters is a little-known collection of books that chronicles Los Angeles’ transportation history--its triumphs and its unfulfilled promises.

The MTA library, however, now faces the same fate as the unfunded rapid transit systems whose studies fill its shelves.

The library’s funding has been cut from the proposed $2.5-billion MTA budget, unveiled Wednesday by transit chief Julian Burke, who said that the agency needs to focus on its “core business” of improving bus and train service.

Burke said he hopes to find additional savings to avert a 10-cent fare increase this year. Funding is provided to start work on extending Blue Line platforms to relieve crowding on the Los Angeles-to-Long Beach line, deploy “ambassadors” to assist passengers at heavily used bus stops and continue replacement of the aging bus fleet. But the proposed spending plan calls for increasing the wait--from 12 minutes to 15 minutes--between trains on the lightly used Green Line.

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Burke, who warned last fall of a projected $90-million deficit in the new budget, ended up sending the MTA board a balanced document. “We are right on track in turning this operation around and having it live within its means,” he said in an interview.

Later, in a talk to MTA workers, Burke said he has cut his own $180,000 annual salary by $2,000 a month, and he compared the agency to a Timex watch. “We’re still ticking,” he said.

The budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 calls for, among other things, an additional 112 layoffs at the MTA, no pay raise and loss of take-home cars for high-paid executives--as well as a $240,000 cut in funding for the library.

Visitors to the library, which is open to the public, can find a picture of “Star Trek’s” Mr. Sulu (a.k.a. actor George Takei, who served on the board of the old Southern California Rapid Transit District), a 1915 study to build a Los Angeles subway and a shovel used in the groundbreaking for the subway 71 years later.

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In all, there are 30,000 books, plus photos, videos and memorabilia from the MTA and its predecessor agencies, including jars of tokens, bus passes dating back to 1890 and fossils unearthed during Metro Rail construction.

This is the place to bone up for the transportation category on “Jeopardy.”

Did you know, for instance, that one segment of the subway was to be called the Orange Line but the name was dropped after Orange County objected?

Dorothy Peyton Gray, the library services manager for a decade, tells visitors that Robert Widney built the city’s first rail line, propelled by horses in 1874. “Rumor has it that his wife complained of difficulty in getting around when she went shopping for her hats,” she said.

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The library has a large collection of materials relating to the 1,100-mile Pacific Electric Red Car system, described on a map as the “one that got away.”

Much of the library collection consists of technical studies, such as reports on highway traffic noise, that librarian Gray said is critically needed by transit planners for designing and operating public transit systems. The facility has received calls for information from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Hungary.

Bob Post, a history professor at the University of Maryland who has used the library, said: “There’s lots wrong with the MTA, but the library isn’t one of them.”

The library has what could be called a sci-fi section--volumes on rapid transit systems that were never built: a monorail (1954), the Downtown People Mover (1978), the Sunset Coast Line (1976), and of course, the ambitious $183-billion, 30-year plan (1991) that promised a network of rail lines across Los Angeles County that now won’t be built because of the same cash crunch that threatens the library.

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Library supporters hope to get a reprieve from the MTA board of directors, which must approve the budget.

The Federal Transit Administration’s office of research management expressed its concerns in a letter: “We recognize that MTA management must make some difficult choices, but we hope that it will not be necessary to sacrifice the library.”

Burke, however, said his priority is to improve bus service. Funding is included to install on 510 buses so-called window guards “made of special materials that defy graffiti” or are easily replaced when they are defaced.

Bus rider advocates have accused the agency of moving too slowly to comply with a federal consent decree to reduce overcrowding on buses and have vowed to complain to court-appointed “special master” Donald Bliss. The MTA contends that it has complied with the court order.

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A public hearing will be held on the budget June 18 at the transit authority’s headquarters near Union Station in downtown Los Angeles.

Times staff writer Jeffrey L. Rabin contributed to this story.


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