LA County Transportation Officials Vow to ‘Restore Confidence’ in Transit

Screenshot of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti speaking after taking over as board chair of LA County Metropolitan Transportation Authority on Wednesday.

LOS ANGELES (CN) — Los Angeles County officials said Wednesday the region’s transportation agency will focus on restoring “the public’s confidence in transit,” even as it faces a nearly $2 billion revenue shortfall stemming from a drop in ridership during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The LA County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, an agency overseeing transit projects in the region, has seen a more than 70% drop in ridership across all public transportation after stay-at-home orders were issued in March.

The subsequent steep drop in fare revenue has led to a $1.8 billion budget gap and a change in ridership culture that the agency predicts it will only begin to recover from after two years, according to a Metro report to its board of directors.

“The entire economic picture has turned upside down with unprecedented speed,” the Metro report published in May said. “Recovery is anticipated to start gradually in [quarter one] of FY21, and may take up to 2 years to return to pre-COVID level.”

The regional transit agency operates modified rail and bus schedules during the pandemic, covers costs for extensive cleaning of transit vehicles and continues construction on transportation projects such as a transit line to Los Angeles International Airport.

Metro CEO Phil Washington said in a press conference Wednesday the nation’s focus must be on stopping the killing of black people by police, but for Metro, the focus should be on implementing an “equity framework” in everyday operations.

“The stay-at-home orders were necessary but had a devastating impact on our revenue. We hope to get some of that back through the CARES Act,” Washington said regarding a $1 billion federal grant arriving in the fall. “We’re gradually coming back up. We need to win back those riders and we will when it’s safe to do so. We need to restore the public’s confidence in transit.”

The agency currently serves around 450,000 riders per day – down from an average of 1.2 million before the novel coronavirus pandemic – but is seeing an uptick as the region steadily reopens, Washington said.

LA Mayor and new chair of Metro’s board Eric Garcetti said the agency must respond to the “triple threat” of an ongoing pandemic, an economic recession and protests against racism and white supremacy.

“We need to reimagine what it means to have just and fair society,” Garcetti said. “Our economy doesn’t work for enough people equally. With unemployment at 20% in some places, people might not be able to afford car payments and many have lost their cars. We need to be there so they don’t lose their jobs.”

Metro must ensure that reducing greenhouse emissions from vehicles — a key element in LA’s Green New Deal plan — remains a central focus in all regional plans, Garcetti said.

The mayor, who has faced calls for his resignation after backing police reforms in LA that don’t go as far as police accountability activists have called for, also said it is a “tough time” to be an elected official in the country.

“We hear calls for justice on our streets. We hear the fear and mourning of people who’ve lost loved ones and who wonder if they’re next,” Garcetti said. “We must refract racial justice through everything we do at Metro.”

Garcetti officially took the reins as Metro board chair Wednesday, taking over the position held by Inglewood Mayor James Butts.

In May, Metro released a 30-year, $400 billion transit plan proposing construction of at least 100 miles of public transportation infrastructure in the next 30 years and both the constructing and widening of highways.

The plan centers on reducing traffic congestion and reliance on automobile-based travel in the region.

“We need to shift the paradigm away from reliance on single-occupancy cars,” Washington said Wednesday, adding that the Covid-19 pandemic has led to changes in regional travel habits such as widespread telecommuting.

A study ordered by the agency to explore congestion-based fees as a traffic reduction measure is due next summer.

The 30-year plan also includes funding the construction of bike and walking paths, such as the LA River Project, which would fill a nearly 8-mile gap in a trail planned to stretch from the foothills of the San Gabriel mountains to Long Beach.

The regional blueprint is in the middle stages of a public review period that expires July 13.

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