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Letter to California leaders concerning Public Transit

by Chris Walsh Tuesday, May. 05, 2009 at 2:14 PM

Emphasizing California's lack of progress and implementation of public transportation, and how it is one of the rudimentary causes of the state's financial failures.

Have Orange County and California state officials made any effort to search for ways to cut costs in other areas, rather than make significant cuts to an already lacking public transit system for the county? As I mentioned in a letter to Congressman John Campbell, there was evidence that ridership was dramatically high on OCTA buses in recent years, due to high gas prices, and a flailing economy (“As of May 2008 the Orange County Register reported that OCTA’s Metrolink trains received about a 15,000 increase of riders within a 3 month period. The average income of riders in 2007 was ,232, and the average income of riders of its bus system was ,800. In August 2008, steep gas prices led many people to start taking the bus in Orange County. OCTA reported 6.2 billion bus boardings in July of 2008 alone, in a county with a population of 3.2 million.”). The Orange County working class, taking a yearly salary between ,000 to ,000, makes up a large part of OCTA's riders, especially in a time when the economy, as well as gas prices, is pinching their household purses. How would you propose that this economic sector of both Orange County and Southern California maintain their infrastructure without a means to adequately get to and from job locations?

Most jobs in the Orange County and Los Angeles metropolitan area are unattainable by those who depend on public transportation as it is. With the introduction of operation cuts, getting to current points of access will now become highly limited, and may induce an increase in unemployment in the county and surrounding areas. This will be a direct blow to California's already crippled economy. One year of cuts, and saving OCTA jobs is a great short-term solution, but the state and county are only applying short-term fixes to a long-term transportation crisis.

On OCTA's website, which was provided in a response letter from county supervisor Bill Campbell, it states that there is a demand for our nation's roads to be improved, as well as need for improvement to our transit system. I ask you to focus on the latter, in that if the county has acknowledged the need for transit improvement, why has OCTA decided to make cuts to an already lacking system, at a time when it should concentrate efforts on strengthening the economy? Instead Orange County should be rethinking its efforts to ameliorate and increase ridership, by boosting operating hours, so that the public feels they have many more options in getting from point A to point B. I have spoken with many riders, face to face, and one of their largest complaints with OCTA's bus routes is lack of frequency. Riders, tell me that they usually opt out of cheaper bus riding, because of the inability to catch a bus a more convenient time of day. I spoke to a rider from Santa Ana, who rode to Lake Forest every workday. His only option was to get on the bus at 6 am and arrive in Irvine at 7:30 am, for a job that doesn't start until 10 am. There is a large amount of business in the Lake Forest area, and yet it is so disconnected from efficient public transportation.

California for the most part has chosen to place more stimulus resources into roadwork projects. Improving roads is not the sole solution to our economic and transportation issues, because roads and the current public transit systems in Orange County do not provide access to the county's entire economic assets, and therefore does not put money back into state or county. A transit coalition report titled, "Dollars & Sense: The Economic Case for Public Transportation in America", found that for every dollar taxpayers invest in public transportation, it in return generates or more for the economy. It also stated that for every " million in operating investment yields million in increased business sales." These gains can be provided to state and local governments, to be placed back into roadwork projects, or to other municipal funds. OCTA could also put these types of returns into their rail projects, which would improve public transit two-fold.

In 2004, transportation planners came up with 13 potential remedies to the 395,000 cars a day on the I-405 freeway. Only one highlight of these remedies mentioned public transit improvements, by implementing a mass-transit route down the center of the freeway, with a light rail train. The freeway then, carried 395,000 cars a day. Then project manager for OCTA, Kurt Brotcke, said that the original freeway was designed to handle only 160,000 cars a day in each direction. This overload of traffic on the freeway has been said to cause cars to spill into the city streets, causing surface street congestion. "It's so congested people find it more convenient to jump off the freeway and take surface streets...", said Brotcke. If drivers are traveling from city to city via side streets, and not freeways, it is sadly evident that freeway transportation cannot be the single solution to solving Orange County's traffic problem. If drivers had more options to travel between cities, road traffic would be significantly decreased. (Lourie. 2004).

On April 30, 2009, Gov. Schwarzenegger, instead of putting federal resources towards mass transit projects, he placed 22.1 million dollars into repaving Interstate 80. Even though this is federally certified for road works only, Sacramento, never bothered to furnish any funding toward public transit anywhere in California. If this money could be allotted to the building of light rail, or increasing already available services like buses and trains, more jobs would be created: jobs that would extend throughout the U.S., and not just California. Instead money is funneled into paving already congested freeways, to a limited amount of workers of small construction firms, constrained to those within the state, and in addition does not even address the issue of environment. Schwarzenegger, stated himself that he was to make sure that "funding funneled through the state [would be] spent efficiently and effectively." Based on the data available on California's recovery site, the top two transportation spending directives and the most environmentally damaging elements of transportation are aviation, highways, bridges, and roads, at .8 billion. Mass transit spending is a mere .2 billion. In a report by Washington-based, Friends of the Earth, California is expected to spend 60.6 percent of federal transportation stimulus money on road work, and only 37.1 on mass transit. Apparently, the state of California is not serious about addressing the crucial issues that effect and harm our environment, and most importantly congestion and transportation problems. In summary this does not represent efficient or effective spending by the state. This of course needs to be recognized at the federal level also.

Wendy Williams, a spokesman for Omnitrans, a bus service operator in San Bernardino, said "if we build better transit systems, we will get more traffic on trains and buses (and less traffic on roads). We have an opportunity to shift gears towards more efficiently moving people by giving transit just a little bigger piece of the pie." (Begley. 2009). Some conservative thinkers feel that busses and trains may not be effective because so few people use it, but one cannot measure the use of a system that is receiving very little attention by law makers, and of course very minute amounts of funding in comparison to road work. OCTA is making significant cuts to its bus schedules, by up to 400,000 hours. No one is riding, because there are so few buses to ride, and not many other effective means of transportation in the county, because of mass transit cuts like this. Over the past three years, the state of California has slashed funding to mass transit by billion, at a time when ridership on buses and trains have skyrocketed, due to high gas prices, and economic fallout. (Begley. 2009). By funneling money into road work only, California faces the dilemma of not being able to wean itself from carbon-based fuel consumption, as more road development increases driving, and will eventually lead to higher gas prices and a higher demand on oil than it already has. Los Angeles' MTA CEO even stated back in 2004, that Southern California "cannot build [its] way out of congestion by building more roads and highways, It's essential [it] provide a broad range of transportation sources." (Mascaro. 2004)

California still can't manage to make its way out of budgetary constraints, and cannot seem to explain why it is always fiscally coming up short year in and year out. It is paying out heavily to unemployed residents, who are deadlocked into getting to and from jobs located in remote areas of major cities like San Diego, and Los Angeles, and everywhere in between (Orange County, specifically).

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