Thursday, May 30, 2024

Metro service reductions, due to labor shortages, could have massive effects in LB and beyond

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Danny Hom, Long Beach native and Chair of Metro’s Gateway Cities council, depends on a handful of bus lines from Metro’s network of services, specifically the 128—which runs along Alondra Blvd. from Cerritos to Compton—and the 460—one of Metro’s largest lines that can connect Disneyland employees all the way to Downtown L.A.

And his concerns over not only his personal ability to maintain accessibility but that of the entire Gateway region—stretching from Long Beach to the northernmost tip of Pico Rivera—will have even more difficulty accessing their jobs, family, and life’s everyday needs.

Dropped into a preview of the Metro Board’s upcoming meeting, the Board will receive and file a staff report on future bus and rail reductions, with a motion to consider that those reductions not continue past June of this year, all due to a dire staffing shortage that has been exacerbated by the pandemic.

The reductions are set to begin Sunday, February 20—and while those reductions are being asking to be viewed from an ‘equity-centric lens,’ there is one thing that is clear: Cuts to one part of the system weaken it as a whole, since life is not a one-line ride everyday.

“Authorities at Metro are moving to slash service significantly for our buses and trains—and I am very opposed to this,” Hom said. “And with at least seven heavily used lines passing through the Long Beach area every day, we’ll all feel the negative impacts for as long as this temporary reduction hurts us.”

Those seven lines? Two run on weekdays only and five run seven days a week.Hom’s opposition has been echoed by other Board members, especially Mike Bonin, who called the option a “horrible choice,” particularly given the proposal will see a 10 to 12% reduction systemwide.Hom is not dismissive of the staff shortage because he is not afforded to be: Metro’s staff shortage is incredibly dire, with the authority’s acting COO of buses, Conan Cheung, and acting COO of rail operations, Bernard Jackson, stating the system needs 558 bus drivers and 28 rail operators.

Per the staff report, Cheung and Jackson’s staff listed these main reasons for the shortage:A high turnover rate, with some 378 drivers and operators leaving or being removed from their jobs since July 2021.From sickness and family medical leave to injuries and COVID-related absences, absences have increased significantly.

Promotions and transfers have also increased, with 45 drivers and operators moved into other roles. Needing staff to maintain rail and project support has led to a shortage of drivers and operators actually on the road or rails.On top of this, bus cancellation rates have skyrocketed: While pre-pandemic bus cancellations occurred at one to two-percent rate, they have jumped and hover between 10 and 15%.

While the staff shortages have been what Hom calls an “open secret”—the Board openly recognized service issues back in February of 2021—he surprised because this “is the first time the Metro staff has really revealed that direction they’re going in.

“They haven’t even officially told me, and I’m the head of the Gateway Cities/Southeast Cities service council… I want to add a little personal perspective here: Metro’s lack of hiring and retaining enough drivers to give us full service has been impactful for the full duration of the pandemic.”

The most impacted? Communities of color, economically disadvantaged communities, and communities that depend most on public transit. Metro’s response to this disproportion is to view the reductions through an “equity-based perspective,” something both Hom and Cheung, who expressed difficulty with executing during this month’s earlier meeting to the Board.

“I am all for equity but I am opposed to service reductions, period,” Hom said. “I feel that the way they would approach equity in targeted communities—likely pulling away from communities where jobs, hospitals, and the sort lie but the people traveling to them don’t —won’t help much.”

For example, Hom fears Metro staff might prioritize keeping the buses they scheduled in place on Vermont and Normandie in L.A., where the community is largely people of color, facing both economic hardship and systemic racism that has affected their lack of transit. But by cutting bus service outside of those communities in the name of equity, like many services closer to the farther parts of the Gateway Cities, the network will diminish as a whole and further disconnect these people from places they need to be. In other words: Life is not a one-line bus ride.

“People on Vermont Avenue need to go to their work, to hospitals…,” Hom said. “And people from outlying communities need to come to L.A. There is a need to be in multiple places—and it makes me particularly vigilant in standing against all service reductions. My fellow bus riders need to speak up.”

Metro’s Board meeting will meet this Thursday at 10AM and can be viewed online through Metro’s website.

Brian Addison
Brian Addison
Brian Addison has been a writer, editor, and photographer for more than a decade, covering everything from food and culture to transportation and housing. In 2015, he was named Journalist of the Year by the Los Angeles Press Club and has since garnered 25 nominations and three additional wins. In 2019, he was awarded the Food/Culture Critic of the Year across any platform at the National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards.

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