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Tuesday, Sep 26, 2023


By NATHAN BROGIN The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) recently reported that traffic congestion-related delays collectively in the L.A. Basin and the Bay Area alone cost the economy of California $8 million per day. This should be a red flag to the California business community. A closer examination of the data available suggests that those delays are more realistically $28 million to $30 million per day, or roughly $6 billion per year. Those are real numbers representing our congestion problems. We in business understand that we must either proportionately absorb that expense as a cost of doing business or mitigate it in some way. In either event, the absorption of that additional overhead by the business community means that another factor is impacting our ability to compete with offshore manufacturers or out-of-California companies. This issue is further complicated and becomes more significant when you factor in that Southern California will have an additional 7 million persons in the next 15-20 years, who will be living here, will need to get around, and will be exacerbating the congestion problem, according to the Southern California Association of Governments. And unless we do something quite significant about our congestion problem, congestion and its related impact on the cost of doing business is going to get a lot worse. So why aren’t the agencies, which are mandated with the responsibility to manage such issues, and secure the position of business’ transit needs, doing anything about it, such as investing into capital projects? More specifically, why aren’t potential congestion solutions such as bus transit corridors, as an example, being implemented in areas such as Mid-Wilshire, East Los Angeles, and the San Fernando Valley, where they are drastically needed and can be significantly beneficial? Los Angeles County, which is responsible for those areas, just doesn’t have the money for new capital projects. And the predominant reason it doesn’t have the money is because the county Metropolitan Transportation Authority has been mandated by a court settlement decree (consent decree) to improve and maintain the levels of bus service in specific “transit-dependent” communities. I must ask, at what cost and to whose benefit? I could not respond any better than did Marilyn Grunwald, who at a recent Valley Transit Summit stated, “Since no one walks in L.A., everyone is transit-dependent.” Let me cite a scenario that is fairly representative of the issues involved and more clearly begs the question. Five young men who are minimum-wage earners work in the same location. Each takes public transit two miles to work for collectively 10 miles twice a day. A business owner who owns and operates the small manufacturing facility in which the five young men work lives in a suburban community 20 miles away from the business. Should the transportation-related investments be made to assure that the five young men will have adequate bus service, or should the money be spent to build more rapid transit systems and freeways to assure that the business owner is able to access and operate his business in a timely and competitive manner? Most of us would probably say that we should do both. But the reality is that we don’t have the money to do both, at least not to any great extent. Additionally, we can’t do one to the exclusion of the other; they’re both important. Yet, in an attempt to comply with the underlying intent of the consent decree to improve bus service in specific areas, the MTA is being mandated to comply with every superfluous goal, subjective interpretation, and unattainable service level contained in the consent decree “wish list.” In response to the court consent decree, and in an effort to meet the intent contained in that agreement, the MTA is eliminating current plans for high-cost capital projects such as rail systems, and has opted to improve bus service only. But while doing so, little or no capital investment is being made in support of business. A closer look reveals that it is impossible for any agency to comply with all the terms and conditions set forth and agreed to in the consent decree. The MTA made a mistake by agreeing to the consent decree in the first place, because the MTA cannot jump over the moon. In my view, the MTA has one of three choices: either it can ignore the consent decree and get into a worse set of circumstances, it can comply with the consent decree in its entirety (in which case no one but a limited number of riders would benefit by the investments), or it can renegotiate the agreement to make it more balanced with reality. If a significant effort and commitment is not made in support of those many small manufacturers and business owners who employ a few entry-level wage earners each, then those small businesses (which are credited with creating 75 percent of all new jobs) will be forced to seek, and be attracted to, environments and opportunities more supportive of their investments and goals. The ultimate irony for those who inflexibly demand the continued enforcement of the current consent decree may be that those five young men will have no jobs to ride the bus to every morning. The choices to address both sides of these important issues may be immediately played out in the courts and in the public venues of elected officials, but the effectiveness and sensibility of those decisions will be most clearly indicated by the ultimate barometer the business community and its actions. Nathan Brogin is a principal of the Brogin Cos., and has served on numerous transportation boards.

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