Amid protests and heated debate, the board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority on Thursday narrowly approved sweeping cuts to its bus service.
Plans call for nine lines to be eliminated in late June and for 11 to be scaled back through actions such as discontinuing weekend service. The changes will result in a total reduction of 305,000 service hours in 2012—about 4% of all bus hours—and will drop Metro’s peak operating fleet to about 1,900 buses.
“These are cuts, upon cuts, upon cuts,” said Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who cast one of six dissenting votes on the measure; seven board members voted yes. “The only way this system is going to work is with a first-class bus system and a first-class rail system.”
But Metro officials say they are still providing adequate service while making the bus system more efficient. They noted that there are alternative services within a quarter-mile of every line that will be eliminated or scaled back. Additionally, officials said that at least $9 million of the $23 million saved by the reductions would go toward making the remaining system run more smoothly.
But some worried that the savings were not substantial enough to justify the cuts.
“I need to see more evidence that the savings from these cuts make up for the cost to riders,” said L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who also serves on the Metro board.
Protesters, mostly from the Bus Riders Union, decried the cuts as an assault on those with low incomes and said people of color would be disproportionately affected.
The reductions come five years after a federal judge lifted a decade-long consent decree that gave a court-appointed special master oversight of how the agency managed its bus service.
Metro Chief Executive Art Leahy tried to allay the fears of some at Thursday’s meeting by guaranteeing that “this is not a proposal to go back to 1990.”
Leahy earlier said that ridership levels on buses headed into downtown each morning were “astonishingly low” and that the system was operating at only 42% of capacity.
Metro Chief Operations Officer Lonnie Mitchell also issued a letter to the Metro board saying that the changes are an effort to create a seamless network with other municipal bus systems and rail lines, such as the future Expo Line, and that “this program focuses on reducing excess bus capacity without leaving existing patrons stranded.”
Officials also plan to enhance service on more than 12 lines, and on Thursday the board approved the purchase of 700 new buses.