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Metro Operations Update: Operator Pay Raise, Another Motion to Restore Service Later

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Last week, Streetsblog reported that Metro is proposing cutting 10+ percent of transit service. The temporary cuts are in response to a COVID-triggered bus operator shortage that is making service unreliable for riders and difficult for operators. The matter will be discussed further at this Thursday's meeting of the full Metro board.

The situation remains somewhat fluid, but some details are emerging on how the Metro board intends to respond to the current operations issues. Those details are in a Proposed Temporary Service Reduction presentation and a board motion by directors Holly Mitchell, Hilda Solis, Mike Bonin, and Eric Garcetti.

The bad news is that a temporary service reduction of at least ten percent appears inevitable.

As noted in last week's coverage, bus and rail service cuts are poised to start Sunday February 20.

Metro staff anticipate that the cuts would reduce canceled bus runs to five percent. Before COVID, about one to two percent of runs were canceled. From mid-December through mid-January, about ten to fifteen percent of runs were canceled, with fourteen lines experiencing over twenty percent of their runs being canceled. The situation is worst in low-income communities of color (which Metro calls "equity focused communities," or EFC).

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Over twenty percent of runs were canceled on fourteen Metro bus lines - via Metro presentation
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A year into the staffing shortage and the board's direction to restore service, Metro is planning to use the power of the purse: Metro will raise bus operator salary.

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Metro buries the lede: the fourth bullet item announces that Metro will pilot increased operator pay - via Metro presentation
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Metro will increase starting operator hourly pay from $17.75 to $19.12, for a six-month pilot period starting next month.

Note that Metro's finances are not a problem. Sales tax revenue continues to be stronger than anticipated. Metro also received at least $3 billion in federal COVID relief funding designed to keep transit operations from falling apart.

Intended to somewhat steer cuts away from the worst possible outcomes, the Mitchell motion calls for:

    • restoring bus service to pre-COVID levels by June 2022
    • including funding for pre-COVID transit service levels in the FY22-23 budget
    • various staff report-backs on how Metro is doing at restoring service, with an emphasis on prioritizing service in equity focus communities

What is perhaps saddest about the motion is that it takes its place in a line of (unmet, ineffective) recent board motions directing Metro to restore service.

    • January 2021: restore pre-COVID service by June 2021
    • February 2021: restore pre-COVID service by September 2021
    • January 2022: restore pre-COVID service by June 2022

Clearly Metro staff are treating these board directions as suggestions, not mandates.

Transit advocates are urging the board to take action that goes further than what is included in the Mitchell motion, starting with suspending fare collection - which Metro recently resumed after pausing it during the first twenty-one months of the pandemic.

Alliance for Community Transit (ACT-LA) Advocacy Manager Alfonso Directo stated, "ACT-LA doesn't support any reduction in transit service." "We're disappointed that Metro hasn't taken immediate actions, including continuing fareless and all-door boarding, to address the real adverse impacts of the ongoing pandemic that's unjustly impacting bus riders' economic stability and public health."

A demand letter, so far signed on by thirteen community groups, urges Metro to suspend fare collection immediately. Advocates are also asking for transparency regarding what transit service has actually been operating, which services have been canceled, what lines are impacted, and how service is being allocated and prioritized. Advocates are also urging Metro be more forthcoming with information on: why an operator shortage has persisted for so long when the agency is in good fiscal condition, and how federal COVID funds will be allocated.

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