By Noel T. Braymer
I was able to attend the LOSSAN Board meeting on August 23rd in San Diego at the Board Room of SANDAG. The final selection of an agency to take care of the administration of the reorganized LOSSAN Joint Powers Authority was the main order of business and took up most of the time and caused the meeting to go later than scheduled with some work left unfinished.
The SANDAG Boardroom during the August 23rd LOSSAN Meeting.
One pleasant note at the start of the meeting was the appearance of Jacki Bacharach of Rolling Hills in Los Angeles County. Jacki Bacharach recently stepped down after over 30 years of service on the boards of different agencies concerned with rail service in California. She had served on the Board of LOSSAN from its beginning in the late 1980’s up until this year, The LOSSAN Board gave recognition of her work of many years at the start of the meeting. RailPAC President Paul Dyson on behalf of RailPAC also presented Jacki Bacharach with a plaque to express its appreciation of her years of service for Passenger Rail.
Above is a picture in San Diego of RailPAC President Paul Dyson presenting Jacki Bacharach with a plaque from RailPAC thanking her for her many years of work for improve Rail Passenger service.
The three agencies competing for the contract were MTS, the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System which operates the San Diego Trolley Light Rail service, many of the bus lines in San Diego County and owns several miles of railroad in San Diego County. OCTA, or Orange County Transportation Authority controls almost all road construction, Toll Roads, transit bus service as well as ownership of non-BNSF LOSSAN trackage in Orange County. OCTA is also involved with funding, construction and promotion of LOSSAN service particularly Metrolink in Orange County. The third agency was LA Metro which like OCTA controls both road and railroad construction in Los Angeles County and much of the bus transit as well as the large and growing rail transit service including construction of many miles of new service in Los Angeles County.
MTS had a proposed budget as part of the start up of $9,450,722 with a staff of 12. OCTA had a proposed budget of $13,384,839 with a staff of 8. LA Metro’s proposed budget was $20,001,983 with a staff of 13. Much of the difference between the budgets of the MTS and OCTA was the MTS had no money budgeted for marketing while the OCTA had assumed $2.7 million for marketing. OCTA has a smaller staff proposed for day to day operations of LOSSAN but planned to use its more of its own staff on an as needed basis rather than hire more employees just for LOSSAN.
I can only speculate, but I think the higher budget estimate of LA Metro was the primary reason LA Metro was knocked out of the running. I think the fact that MTS has no direct experience operating intercity rail service and limited contact with Amtrak and Metrolink worked against their bid. Orange County Transportation Authority’s proposed budget was in the ball park and had more experience dealing with the BNSF, Amtrak, Coaster and Metrolink.
Los Angeles County put up a fight to try to win the contract for LA Metro. Many issues where gone over several times and there was a call to delay the vote for 2 weeks to spend more time studying the question before selecting the winner of the contract. The proposal to delay the selection was brought to a vote and rejected. When the final vote came it was mostly all the other counties voting against Los Angeles Metro.
The way LOSSAN Board votes under its new by-laws is odd because there are only 10 votes but more than 10 representatives of different local agencies voting so you can get fractional votes. For example San Diego County has 2 votes but 3 voting agencies so each gets a 2/3 vote. It takes 6 votes to carry a motion. Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego Counties each get 2 votes a piece while San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Ventura and Riverside Counties each get 1 vote a piece. Clearly to get an agreement for the new JPA the smaller counties didn’t want LA to dominate LOSSAN like it can the board for Metrolink which Los Angeles has more votes than the smaller counties.
In fairness to Los Angeles County they made some important points in their presentation that should be considered. All the presenters pointed out how great and experienced in administration they were. Most of what they presented as their best points had to do with administration or some would say bureaucratic skills and experience. Los Angeles County was the only one to bring up the issue of vision. Of insuring that the different services serving the LOSSAN Corridor worked together. Or of the importance to the LOSSAN Corridor of the run-through tracks at LAUS soon to start construction. In particular Los Angeles made the point that LOSSAN had be in a position to set standards and keep track of the quality of service of Amtrak on the Surfliners and be in a position to demand that Amtrak meets these standards. For that Los Angeles County insists that a new contract between Amtrak and LOSSAN be negotiated for operation of the Surfliners.
The impression I came away with from this meeting is that the most important job for LOSSAN is not which agency wins the contract for LOSSAN administration. Much more important will be the naming of a permanent executive director for LOSSAN. Much was said at this LOSSAN meeting about how the Capitol Corridor JPA was the model used in planning the new LOSSAN JPA. What was not mentioned was the leadership at the Capitol Corridor JPA in the form of its first Executive Director Eugene Skoropowski.
Skoropowski had the vision, energy and willingness to fight to improve rail passenger service and operational efficiency. For a short period after he stepped down at the Capitol Corridor Mr. Skoropowski worked for LOSSAN as a consultant. He organized tasks and goals, set deadlines and delegated work to LOSSAN agency member employees. More things got done in that short period of time when Mr. Skoropowski was under contract than at any other period in LOSSAN history. But after his contract was over and he started a new job in Florida where he had moved things have slowed down at LOSSAN. Much of this in recent time has been tied up organizing the new Joint Powers Authority for LOSSAN.
Now is the time to set the tone and start working on the railroad. LOSSAN has a great deal on its plate. We need trains of all services to connect with each other. We need joint seamless ticketing so passengers can easily transfer between trains which are near to each other at the stations for transfers. We need more direct rail service which won’t require as much transferring to take full advantage of the future run-through tracks an LAUS. We need all stations on the corridor to have plentiful, easy to understand information at the stations about the trains, how to catch the right train and station services as well as a pleasant atmosphere. We need to increase ridership and revenue while improving efficiency and keeping fares attractive. We need service that will get people around all of Southern California and the rest of the State quickly, frequently and pleasantly. Trains should be operated for the convenience of the passengers, not the operators.