During February’s meetings of the Metro Board of Directors, agency staff is preparing to deliver a recommended plan for restoring service that once again rejects a clear directive from the Board to “immediately” begin restoring bus service to pre-Covid levels.
Instead of following through on this promising turn of events, staff have produced a report full of excuses and obstructions, ultimately concluding that the pre-Covid baseline of 7 million annual bus service hours should not be returned to before the end of 2021.
While the Board acknowledged that it would take time to recruit and hire staff sufficient to resume pre-Covid bus service, staff present it as an insurmountable challenge. According to the new report, they can neither hire, train, nor even process the number of resumés that would be required to get more drivers on the road.
We view this excuse as unacceptable. Bus service is Metro’s business and these are extraordinary times. Metro riders have faced greater challenges than this every single day of the pandemic.
Perhaps most frustratingly, Metro staff seems determined to cast the NextGen plan to improve the lacking quality of service on LA’s buses as directly oppositional to increasing the frequency of buses on the road. NextGen was not adopted with the immense service cuts that were undertaken in the wake of the Covid pandemic in mind. Nor were those cuts part of an intended transition plan. Now that the cuts have been adopted, however, Metro claims that reversing the cuts would be “confusing” for riders.
It is important to remember how we got here. Bus riders, transit advocates, and the Board of Directors themselves had to rally to course correct decisions by agency staff that failed to consider the needs of riders.
In the January meeting of the Board of Directors, Metro staff proposed to allocate zero dollars out of an enormous unexpected surplus of sales tax revenue to restore the bone-deep service cuts that the Board had approved in the fall of 2020. The Board’s response to staff’s failure to prioritize riders was categorical.
Director Bonin said, “There is not a greater need than to begin to restore service.” He added that the failure to restore service for workers during the pandemic was a failure to meet “the demand of the moment.”
Director Hahn took Metro staff to task for having failed “to address one of the Board’s biggest priorities: restoring service.” She further highlighted the fact that bus riders are essential workers and that not just Metro but the entire region relies on bus riders. “Their work and dedication,” she said, is what has kept Los Angeles’s economy running smoothly, and not without cost to the workers personally. Hahn concluded, “Our riders need to be able to depend on us.”
Directors Dupont-Walker, Garcia, and Solis concurred on the intensity of need in low-income Black and brown communities during the pandemic, with Garcia adding that Metro has heard “time and again from riders” that frequent service needs to be prioritized.
Throughout that meeting, discussion returned to equity, which Metro has said is to be a primary focus for the agency moving forward. Directors noted repeatedly that the focus on equity must begin with increasing service.
Despite receiving numerous calls from members of the public about the direct impacts that service cuts during the pandemic were having on the lives of real people, staff has rejected calls for immediate relief for passengers. In the report, reference is made to postponing service increases until a full vaccine rollout has been achieved. Definitionally, this means Metro is refusing to consider resumption of pre-Covid service levels until the pandemic is at its end. This contradiction of the orders of the Board should not be allowed to stand. To read the excuses contained within this report is to be overwhelmed by the sense that Metro staff simply do not want to do what it takes to improve conditions for riders.
We hope that the Board will stand by its righteous rhetoric from January and reject the plan set forth by staff to delay restoration of service.