Los Angeles County’s transit agency decided Thursday to buy 200 new buses as part of an ongoing effort to improve service under a federal court agreement, even though bus rider advocates wanted more than double that number.
At a special meeting, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board of directors unanimously approved the purchase of 94 60-foot articulated Metro Liners, 100 45-foot coaches and six hybrid buses that run on gasoline and electricity.
Though the final price has not been determined, MTA officials said the acquisition would cost more than $100 million.
L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who is chairman of the MTA board, said the additional buses are the minimum needed to give commuters the service they deserve.
The MTA now has about 2,600 buses in its fleet, handling more than 1.25 million boardings a day throughout the county.
Since 1996, the agency has been operating under a federal consent decree requiring it to expand and upgrade its bus operations. The court agreement resulted from a lawsuit brought by community groups that accused the agency of favoring rail projects in wealthier areas over bus service in poorer ones.
MTA officials said Thursday’s decision brought the authority into compliance with orders to expand bus service issued over the last two years by Donald Bliss, the special master who oversees the consent decree.
However, Manuel Criollo, a representative of the Bus Riders Union, said the decision to buy 200 new buses did not go far enough to ensure compliance with the court agreement. His group spoke out against the purchase proposal during Thursday’s meeting. Criollo said the organization would ask Bliss to review the decision.
“They should buy 450 buses,” Criollo said. “MTA has been expanding its fleet by prolonging the retirement of its buses. If you prolong the life of buses, they are more likely to break down, their reliability is reduced and overcrowding increases. This goes against the legacy of the consent decree.”
Criollo also criticized Villaraigosa, who has made improvements in public transit a major goal of his new administration.
The mayor “sided with each recommendation made by MTA staff,” Criollo said.
Villaraigosa disagreed, saying that the MTA has more buses that are clean and new. If the special master recommends that the agency add buses, the mayor said he would comply.
MTA officials said bus service was vastly superior today than 10 years ago. The agency has purchased 2,100 new buses, put an additional 550 buses into service and added almost 1.3 million hours of service a year. The agency also has created new express lines, such as the Metro Rapid.
On Thursday, the board decided to add a new express line to connect the El Monte Transit Center, Cal State Long Beach and the Long Beach Veterans Affairs Medical Center. The service will use the carpool lane on the 605 Freeway.