Roger Snoble Title:

Chief executive

Organization

: Metropolitan Transportation Authority of Los Angeles

Born:

1945, Oberlin, Ohio

Education:

B.S. in geography and M.A. in economic geography from the University of Akron, Ohio

Career Turning Point:

Working in urban planning and transportation while attending college

Most Admired Person:

Alt McDonald, bus and transit company owner who hired Snoble fresh out of college.

Hobbies:

Video editing (especially film logs of trips), raising fish, travel

Personal:

Married, two grown sons.

Lifelong transportation executive Roger Snoble takes the helm at the MTA during a rare period of stability, though plenty of challenges remain

Roger Snoble, who took over as chief executive of the L.A. Metropolitan Transportation Authority on Oct. 1, is the first chief executive in 10 years to take the helm of the regional transit agency at a time of relative internal and financial stability. He succeeds corporate turnaround specialist Julian Burke, who is credited with restoring fiscal health to the agency.

After working for transit companies and agencies in Ohio, Snoble joined San Diego Transit Corp. in 1974 as a planner and worked his way up the ranks to the top executive post. In 1994, he was named president and executive director of the Dallas Area Rapid Transit District, where he oversaw the completion of the first phase of a light rail network and expanded the bus fleet. This past June, the MTA board tapped Snoble to succeed Burke, awarding him a $295,000 annual salary. The events of Sept. 11 put a renewed focus on safety and security for the nation's second-largest mass-transit system. That was reinforced on Sept. 18, when fumes from an unidentified source forced the closure of the Red Line subway for three hours.

Question:

In the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, the Sept. 18 incident and the subsequent anthrax scare, what steps have the MTA taken to ensure the safety of passengers on the agency's trains and buses?

Answer:

We're training employees to look for unattended packages and any suspicious behavior on the part of our customers. And we're putting together a task force to look at these issues more closely.

But the biggest thing is we need to work more closely with the intelligence agencies, especially the FBI, so that we can learn very quickly from those sources about any threats we should guard against. We're also looking to expand the capabilities of our tunnel gas detection systems to detect biological and chemical substances.

Q: You have first-hand experience in Washington with the anthrax scare. What happened?

A: I was walking through all those buildings during those days (when anthrax was first discovered on Capitol Hill). When I came back here earlier this week, I had a test for anthrax let me tell you it was not pleasant and then I was put on antibiotics. I haven't yet heard back on the results.

Q: There's talk now about putting "sky marshals" on every plane. Will there be security forces on every MTA bus and train?

A: We already have undercover security forces on our buses and trains. I'm not going to tell you how they are deployed. Let's just say it's tough trying to guess who they are. We also have a good police presence: sheriffs, LAPD officers and our own security personnel. Having said that, we are looking at how we can redeploy uniformed officers to make their presence more obvious and reassuring.

Q: Since Sept. 11, there has been renewed focus on using the Metro Green Line to get to L.A. International Airport. But, as you know, it doesn't connect directly and you have to take shuttle buses to get to the terminal area. Will the MTA finish the job and connect the Green Line to LAX, and, if so, when?

A: We're getting started on working on a plan, not just for the Green Line but a comprehensive plan that looks at all the access issues at LAX. We're working closely with the airport and the mayor on this. Having gone through this before at Dallas and other places, I know it can be very productive; it will take some time, however. Probably in a year's time we'll have a plan.

Q: So how long will it take to connect the Green Line to the airport?

A: That's the most-often-asked question I've encountered so far since I arrived here. I can't say for sure how long it will take, but it will probably take longer than five years because there are a lot of issues to work through before we can complete it. It is a goal of ours, though, to finish that link. It was a lost opportunity not to have finished it when the line was built.

Q: With the MTA getting so much of its revenue from sales tax dollars, revenues are bound to fall as retail sales decline. So what is the MTA doing to deal with this expected shortfall?

A: We're looking at ways to reduce costs. This would be continuing the trend that Julian (Burke) began, reducing costs without reducing overall quality of service. John Catoe (the MTA's second-in-command) and I are really looking at every cost and driver that's in the place and seeing where we can reduce those costs.

We do have some reserves built up, so we can get through for a short period of time without too much of a problem. But we are looking at not moving on improvements as quickly as we might have.

Q: But local economic development officials are pushing for transportation projects to be sped up, to provide some economic stimulus.

A: Actually, I wasn't talking about the capital project side. We do have some flexibility there because there are still funds in the pipeline. Also, we just went to Washington to seek more transportation funds as part of that big economic stimulus package the Bush administration is drawing up.

I was talking about the possibility of slowing down improvements on the operating side if our revenues decrease. We may not be able to buy or operate as many buses as we had intended; we would have to defer those improvements.

Q: That surely is not good news to the Bus Riders Union and other advocates for more bus service. They are still upset with the MTA's attempt to get out from under that federal consent decree the agency signed back in 1996 to reduce overcrowding on buses. (A federal appeals court has just sided with them, saying the MTA must obey the special master appointed by the courts.)

A: We are not against the consent decree or buying more buses. We have already purchased the 248 buses that are at issue in that specific case the last 88 of those were put on the street on Oct. 1. What we're contesting is the authority of the special master in the future to order us to buy x number of buses, regardless of what that does to our financial condition.

Q: Just before you started, the MTA unveiled this plan to have so-called "smart passes" that would be transferable between local bus agencies. Can you update us on that?

A: Just last week, (Oct. 11), we signed an agreement with the City of Montebello. So now, if you buy a bus ticket in Montebello for their local bus system, you can use the same ticket to board an MTA bus and from there, you can go anywhere in the MTA system. And vice versa. We are now working on similar agreements with the Big Blue Bus in Santa Monica, the Foothill Transit System and the Long Beach transit system.

Q: What has been the biggest difference between the L.A. and Dallas transit agencies?

A: There's the obvious difference in size: the L.A. system is so much bigger than the Dallas system. But there is another difference: in Dallas, the business community really stepped up to the plate, committing both time and financial resources to making transit projects happen. Whether it was CEOs going with me to Washington to lobby for funds, or pledging to boost their rideshare efforts, there was so much more involvement from the business community there than what I saw when I was in San Diego. I haven't been here in L.A. long enough yet to gauge the business interest, but I have a feeling that to date, it has been more similar to San Diego than to Dallas.

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