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It’s the End of the Line for Smart Shuttle

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

The popular Smart Shuttle vans that transport residents of some of Los Angeles’ poorest neighborhoods will make their final run Sunday, ending a four-year pilot program paid for by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

The MTA board decided Wednesday to stop funding the service, which carried about 2.7 million riders a year in the San Fernando Valley, South-Central L.A. and the Wilshire Center-Westlake district, because it was no longer providing service to residential streets as was originally planned, officials said.

In the last year, the shuttles were used solely on major MTA routes to help ease overcrowding on bus lines.

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“There were many different goals when the program began as opposed to what the program is doing today,” said Jim McLaughlin of the MTA. “It ended up being a bus route, and in that form it was not supported.”

The shuttle vans stop rolling today in the West Valley and Wilshire Center-Westlake, Saturday in South-Central and Sunday in the northeast Valley, the busiest route with about 1.2 million riders a year.

“The Smart Shuttle is going to be missed because it helped a lot of riders who didn’t have to wait for or stand on crowded buses,” said Phil Aker, a planner with the city Department of Transportation. “I’m disappointed that MTA doesn’t have the foresight to realize it’s a great service.”

The city is not interested in assuming the cost of the $2-million-a-year program, Aker said.

“The city’s goals are to go into areas where there is no bus coverage, not to saturate lines already in place, like Smart Shuttle does now,” Aker said.

The program, which began in 1997, was meant to test several new ideas in urban, small-bus travel. For example, the driver was supposed to be able to go off the main route to pick up passengers who called in to a central dispatch.

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MTA provided the money, which the city used to contract with four independent operators, officials said.

“I think it’s just really sad,” said Dave Daley, chief operations officer of Southland Transit, which operates Smart Shuttle in the Valley. “Too bad those MTA board people couldn’t realize they were canceling a good thing.”

On Van Nuys Boulevard and San Fernando Road in Pacoima, an elderly man waited Thursday afternoon for a Smart Shuttle to pick him up. He was surprised and disappointed to learn the shuttles would soon stop.

“So now I’m going to have to stand on the big buses,” said James Mapes, 71, of Pacoima. “That’s just fine. That’s just what these tired, old feet need.”

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