Hd Buses In

L.A.'s Future

There was lots of celebrating among bus rider activists last week when a court-appointed official ruled that the MTA must get more buses on the streets and hire additional drivers and mechanics all in an effort to relieve the overcrowding that has plagued L.A.'s mass-transit system.

Certainly, the ruling was long overdue. Officials of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority have been dragging their feet for years on expanding the bus fleet despite being in violation of a requirement that no more than 15 people can stand on buses over a 20-minute time frame.

To their credit, the Bus Riders Union, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and other groups have kept after the MTA, arguing that the transit agency's anti-bus bias discriminates against mostly poor and minority groups who wind up taking the bus more frequently than anyone else.

So it appears that, like it or not, the MTA will be buying 532 new natural gas-powered buses over the next five years at a cost of more than $400 million. (That is in addition to the 2,000 buses that the MTA had earlier agreed to buy.)

But while increasing the MTA fleet improves the overcrowding issue, the prospect of so many more buses on L.A. streets isn't likely to help the area's overall traffic problems. Consider what it's now like to traverse parts of the city during rush hour: Buses jam up already-crowded thoroughfares, traffic grinds to a halt, and private vehicles dart in and out of lanes in order to get past the buses.

It's the kind of mess that transit officials once believed could be remedied by having a subway system. It was no doubt the rationale behind a recent MTA decision to cancel or shorten 18 bus lines that run near or adjacent to the Hollywood portion of the Red Line, which is set to open in a few months. If you have the subway, the argument goes, why do you need the buses?

The problem, of course, is that the drastically pared-down Red Line will not be convenient to most mass-transit riders. For all its flaws, buses remain the primary driver for L.A.'s mass-transit system.

Now, the MTA must learn to accept that reality starting with a system-wide strategy for accommodating more buses without creating citywide gridlock. There are some obvious opportunities, such as special-access busways, improved synchronization of stoplights, speedier systems to pick up and drop off bus passengers, and more-efficient road repair services.

We must admit that to come up with a multi-faceted transportation plan runs counter to the political instincts of many, if not most, MTA board members, whose idea of unity is getting a quorum for a board meeting. And yet, they are the ones who must ultimately take the lead. It won't come from the courts or the feds. And it won't come from a disengaged and mostly uninterested public, either.

There comes a time when leadership means taking charge of a problem no one else is willing or able to tackle. How awful must our transit woes become before the MTA finally decides to step up?

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