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Los Angeles Mayor Takes Metro Gavel, Will Focus on Safety, Homelessness, Ridership Boosts

Published on Monday, July 24, 2023 | 5:34 pm
L.A. Mayor Karen Bass via Facebook

Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass took the gavel Monday as chair of Metro, saying she and the transit agency’s board will focus in the next year on strengthening public safety, further addressing homelessness on the system and pushing for ridership to return to pre-pandemic levels.

“Today, hundreds of thousands of Southern Californians depend on Metro to go to work, to go to school, and to go to their doctor’s appointments. Metro is truly an essential service,” Bass said during the annual “State of the Agency” address, held at Union Station.

“But for Los Angeles to thrive — in fact, for Los Angeles to survive in the future, Metro cannot be mostly a system of last resort. It must be a system of choice. We need more Southern Californians to view and use Metro as their first choice for transportation.”

Bass noted that ridership is up 16% to nearly 900,000 boardings every weekday, a sign of recovery from a pandemic-era downturn. But she also acknowledged that overall ridership remains down — with the drop coming disproportionately from women, who report they do not feel safe.

The new chair — who took the gavel from outgoing board Chair Ara Najarian, a Glendale city councilman who completed his term — also emphasized a need to provide more resources targeting safety issues related to mental health or substance abuse.

On the topic of public safety, Metro will deploy additional officers across the B (Red) and D (Purple) lines, which are the lines that experience the most assaults.

In May, the board approved a $9 billion budget for fiscal 2024. Ahead of that approval, Metro officials had emphasized public safety as the agency came under close scrutiny due to high-profile crimes on or near the transit system.

The budget includes $290.5 million in public safety, and supports the agency’s Reimagining Public Safety Framework — “a multi-layers strategy for enhancing public safety” on the system.

Though Metro extended its law enforcement contracts with the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department and the police departments of L.A. and Long Beach, the board also moved forward to develop a feasibility plan for an in-house public safety department. Metro is aiming to present the plan to the board in January 2024.

According to Metro, over a six-year period starting in 2017, law enforcement contracts cost the agency approximately $911.9 million.

“We have an opportunity to create a department that from its inception is integrated within a holistic approach, one that ensures that we respond urgently to crime, prevent crime and deliver necessary outreach and services,” Bass said regarding Metro exploring an in-house public safety department.

Homelessness is another key issue Bass said she aims to further address over the next fiscal year, which runs through next June 30. She noted that almost 50 people died on Metro’s system this calendar year. Many of them were unhoused.

Metro will be increasing its homeless outreach teams to a total of 24 that will work in partnership with community-based organizations to develop homeless navigation hubs and conduct outreach to move people out of the agency’s system into stable housing, she said.

Bass also discussed plans to “take full advantage” of surplus and underutilized land to jumpstart Metro’s joint development program, which is intended to increase Metro’s production of housing units. The goal will be to reach 10,000 units of housing by 2031, with half of the units being income- restricted.

In his remarks Monday, Najarian gave an overview of Metro’s accomplishments in the past fiscal year, which included opening the long- awaited Regional Connector; the opening of the K Line, a light rail system connecting several South Los Angeles communities; the launch of the agency’s ambassador and Go Pass programs; and several efforts to improve public safety.

The connector added three underground stations, and allows riders to travel between Azusa and Long Beach, and between East L.A. and Santa Monica, without transferring.

“The Regional Connector transforms the way Angelenos travel through downtown Los Angeles and connects more people with the broader Los Angeles County region to more places that they want to go,” Najarian said.

Metro officials said more than 300 ambassadors conducted nearly 52,000 customer interactions, reported nearly 1,200 cleanliness issues, 270 elevator and escalator issues, 250 graffiti incidents and 170 safety issues.

In addition, Najarian discussed projects Metro continues to work toward, such as the C (Green) line, which would connect more of the South Bay from Redondo Beach to the Torrance Transit Center; LAX Metro Transit Center; and the east San Fernando Valley Light Rail project, a 6.7-mile segment connecting the communities of Van Nuys, Panorama City and Pacoima.

Metro is also investing in higher levels of service frequency and reliability and cleaning. Officials have announced plans to run trains on the B and D lines every 10 minutes by September, and increase the frequency of bus and light rails systems by the end of the year, too.

In addition, Metro allocated $201 million in cleaning efforts to fund 10 roving cleaning teams, hire 24 more full-time custodial staff and hire up to 50 temporary part-time custodial staff dedicated to the B (Red) and D (Purple) lines.

Metro CEO Stephanie Wiggins thanked Bass and Najarian, as well as the rest of Metro’s team, for their partnership. She said Angelenos are enjoying a “revitalized” system that “reduces congestion and traffic fatalities, and helps fight climate change.”

“So, this all feels very different to me. It’s a change from the last few years when we’ve been battling illness, fear and division,” Wiggins said.

Wiggins reiterated that the 2028 Olympics will present an “immense challenge,” but even more an “epic opportunity.” She said she aims for the games to be “car free,” adding that Metro will open a major transit system “every year between now and 2028.”

“By 2028, thanks to the support of L.A. County voters through Measures R, N and M, we’ll have 130 miles of Metro rail, 121 stations, 75 miles of busway and bus rapid transit and more than 100 miles of bus priority lanes, and we’ll have the cleanest bus fleet ever,” Wiggins said.

Wiggins also said Metro will continue to reach toward its “moonshot” goal — to revolutionize the way L.A. moves and establish Metro as the preferred choice of transportation.

“But most of all, reaching our moonshot goal requires commitment from our 11,000 Metro employees and to continue to put people first,” she said. “We need to listen to our customers to learn from them and act fast to meet their expectations for a world-class transportation service.”

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