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LADOT Looks to Riders for Ideas on How to Solve Budget Woes

By Eric Richardson
Published: Tuesday, September 29, 2009, at 12:28PM
Prep Ed Fuentes

A DASH bus is prepped outside Disney Hall to kick off last year's Late Night DASH holiday pilot, which was privately funded.

Facing a $23 million budget deficit in 2010, the city's transportation department is looking for input from those who use its DASH and Commuter Express lines. In a message posted on its website and inside buses, the department tells riders that "your LADOT transit service could face fare increases, service reductions or even elimination."

There are no easy answers when it comes to transit funding, especially in a tough economy.

LADOT's transit services are largely funded out of Proposition A, a 1980 ballot measure whereby voters approved a half-cent sales tax for transit improvements (much like 2008's Measure R). A portion of that revenue went to local agencies to fund transit operations.

Flush with a new stream of cash, transit agencies like LADOT added numerous new services. The first Commuter Express route was rolled out in late 1985, as did the Downtown Area Short Hop (DASH) buses. They replaced an RTD-operated minibus system launched in the 1970s.

Routes outside of Downtown were added in the early 1990s.

In recent years, though, Prop A revenue has failed to keep pace with the growing cost to provide service. LADOT is projecting a $23 million shortfall in 2010, and a $260 million gap over the next 10 years.

Not helping matters, the department doesn't receive Metro-managed state "formula" funds for many of its Community DASH routes because of agreements made decades ago.

So why not raise the DASH's cheap $0.25 fare, just 1/5 that of Metro? While the department is considering the idea, LADOT transportation planner Phil Aker said it is important to keep in mind that many DASH routes serve highly price-sensitive communities. The system's highest ridership is on the Pico Union Community DASH, and even in Downtown the DASH E provides a critical link to transport garment workers from City West to the Fashion District.

Plus, said Aker, a quarter isn't really out of line when you consider the length of DASH trips. Metro's average ride length is approximately four miles, while the average DASH rider travels just 0.9 miles.

This isn't a budget situation that is going to be solved by massaging schedules to trim a trip or two. "We're talking about significant cuts in whole programs," said Aker.

Before they do, though, the department wants to hear from riders. Those interested can leave their comments online or call LADOT at 213-455-0880. Comments will be used to form recommendations that will be taken to City Council.

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