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TRANSIT-ZONE BACKERS MAY FIGHT NEW MTA GUIDELINES.

Byline: Douglas Haberman Daily News Staff Writer

Officials pushing a San Fernando Valley Transportation Zone said Thursday that they could end up fighting new guidelines the MTA is proposing to make it easier to create such districts.

Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials said the revisions are intended to foster the success of such a zone, which is under consideration by a task force representing the San Fernando Valley, Burbank, La Canada Flintridge, San Fernando, Calabasas, Hidden Hills, Westlake Village and the county of Los Angeles.

``We're not trying to slow anything down,'' said Michael Gonzalez, MTA deputy assistant chief executive officer. The changes are not meant to hinder the Valley zone but to ensure that all portions of the county have the best mass-transit system possible, MTA officials said.

But a Los Angeles Department of Transportation official helping to establish a Valley zone, which would take over 27 MTA bus routes, offered a mixed reaction to some of the new guidelines the MTA staff is proposing.

``I feel they should not be changing the rules in midstream,'' said James Okazaki, the city Department of Transportation's assistant general manager. An MTA board committee is scheduled to vote on the guidelines Thursday, and the full board could adopt them Feb. 25.

Backers of the proposed Valley zone notified the MTA in December of their intent to apply for zone status.

Gonzalez said the Department of Transportation knew changes were coming, though not what the exact changes would be.

The goal for the nine cities exploring a Valley transportation zone is better bus service at a much lower cost, Okazaki said. By virtue of local control, the zone would be more responsive to local demand, he said.

Gonzalez said under the proposed new guidelines the MTA would keep control over bus lines deemed to be of regional significance.

``What we want to prevent is the balkanization of transit,'' Gonzalez said.

Okazaki said it's too early to know exactly how the proposed new guidelines would affect the efforts to establish the Valley zone. Okazaki said he had not yet seen the suggested revisions nor met with MTA officials to discuss them.

Zone applicants must demonstrate a 25 percent savings over the MTA's costs, using one of several measures such as the cost per passenger of running the bus system. The zone keeps the money it saves.

The new guidelines propose a new cost-savings threshold of only 15 percent but require the zone to give half of the first 15 percent savings back to the MTA. Savings above 15 percent would stay with the zone. Okazaki wasn't impressed with that recommended change and said a review indicated that the zone could achieve at least a 23 percent savings over the MTA.

``If we could meet the 25 percent savings in the old guidelines, we could keep 100 percent of the savings,'' he said. ``That would be better.''

Also, the MTA guidelines would not allow a zone to charge fares higher than MTA fares.

Okazaki also questioned an MTA proposal to allow an existing operator to offer a counterproposal for restructuring services and costs once a zone is proposed. In the case of the Valley zone, the existing operator is the MTA itself.

``The idea is not to make the zone not happen, but to assure the winning proposal provides the most effective service at the lowest cost,'' said Michelle Lopes Caldwell, MTA deputy executive officer for new business development.

An independent third-party auditor would judge the competing proposals, Gonzalez said.

But Okazaki said if the MTA wanted to provide better service at a lower cost ``they've always had the opportunity.'' Instead of waiting for the Valley zone application, ``why couldn't they do that on their own?'' he asked.

For its part, the Valley zone could cut costs in a number of ways, he said.

Among proposals are the use of smaller and larger buses depending on demand. When demand is high on a given route, the zone could use 60-foot articulated buses while at times with lower demand it could run 30-foot buses or vans, Okazaki said. The MTA simply puts 40-foot buses on all streets at all times, he said.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 12, 1999
Words:695
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