With billions of dollars set to flow into its coffers over the coming decades, leaders of Metro painted a rosy and optimistic future for the agency and for transportation in Los Angeles County Wednesday at an annual State of the Agency Report event at Union Station in downtown.
Metro chair and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, CEO Philip A. Washington and L.A. County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl — who is set to takeover as chair in July — all outlined a vision where Metro will not just improve transportation but also help the county make headway in the areas of education, housing and homelessness.
Fueling the glossy future Garcetti and the other leaders predicted is Measure M, a sales tax approved by voters in 2016 to fund transportation projects for decades.
Speaking to a packed crowd of over 200 Metro employees and transit supporters at the old ticketing concourse at Union Station, Garcetti called Measure M “the largest infrastructure initiative in this country’s history, times two.”
Metro’s mission, he said, are “a testament to your work and our collective vision, but that trust must be earned each year. We must show the public that their tax dollars — $120 billion dollars in the next 40 years that we will spend of Angelenos money — is indeed well spent.”
Garcetti also said he envisioned a future where “the tents are down and the housing is up, a place that brings people together from across this region,” references to Metro’s efforts to build housing projects on agency-owned land and to increase services for the homeless, including the deployment of outreach teams in subway stations and trains.
Metro oversees a variety of transit projects in L.A. County, including subways, trains, bus lines and freeway express lanes, but it also in recent years has branched out to include a system of bicycles and van pooling.
Metro is governed by a 13-member board made up of elected officials from around the county and one civilian member, including the mayor of Los Angeles, several Los Angeles City Council members, the five members of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and representatives of some other cities, including Glendale, Long Beach and Inglewood.
“It is the most powerful, most important agency that is the least known I think in Southern California, one that every day moves them to their families, to their jobs, to their communities, and is constantly itself on the move, looking for ways that we can rethink what is a transportation agency about,” Garcetti said.
During a promotional video, Washington described Metro as “not your grandmother’s” transit agency, due to the multi-faceted approach it is taking, including the recently announced plans to open a boarding school in South L.A. to train students for jobs in the transportation industry.
“Our children and grandchildren will look back on what we did with Measure M, and they will look back and salute us for conveying and educating the public that transportation is an ongoing need and we must continue building the infrastructure that we need in the country,” Washington told the crowd.
Garcetti also talked about Metro’s goal of converting its entire fleet of buses to zero-emissions by 2030, an initiative that has proven to be one of its biggest challenges.
A recent investigation by the Los Angeles Times found that a major supplier of electric buses to Metro, BYD Ltd., has provided vehicles with a record of poor performance and mechanical problems, including that the first five buses BYD sent to Metro were pulled off the road after less than five months of service.
Garcetti made no mention of the BYD issues while promising the 2030 goal will be met.
“We can do it. I know it seems scary, it seems way out there. For those of us who maintain the system now it was a big enough jump to go to natural gas, but trust me, we will be able to get to zero emissions,” he said.
Garcetti and Kuehl also pointed to the 28 by ’28 initiative adopted by Metro, which has set the goal of completing 28 major projects by the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles. Some of the projects are scheduled to be completed by then, but some will require funding that has not been secured.
“I feel so happy and optimistic about the present that I am feeling very fortunate to be chairing this board in the coming year,” Kuehl said.
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