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San Fernando
Friday, Feb 3, 2023
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When the Lines Do Not Connect

Beginning the day over coffee at a national fast-food chain, we chat with the store personnel scheduling manager Juan. Our conversation drifts toward his typical work day, and we realize that he puts an incredible amount of effort to get to work on time due to infrequent and dislocated bus service. From his home in Pacoima to the store in Sylmar, the trip is only 5.5 miles and 22 minutes by car. But to start his 6 a.m. shift, he must walk for about 15 minutes from home for three quarters of a mile to reach San Fernando Road, where he catches his bus – since a transfer to the bus is too unreliable. His bus trip is about 20 minutes to Roxford Street, where he then must walk another 10 minutes for the last half mile to the store. He generally arrives after 45 minutes, about double the driving time. And his story is not unique. Of his 65 employees, about 15 of them take Metro buses to the store, where shifts start on the hour at 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 a.m. What’s more, due to less Metro service on weekends, Juan, who is needed at 6 a.m., can only get to the job on Saturday at 7 a.m. and Sunday at 8 a.m. He can’t work at other nearby stores on Foothill or Glenoaks boulevards due to the lack of early-morning bus service. The transportation service is even more complicated for other units in the chain. The restaurant area manager told us that he has stores in Santa Clarita with plenty of qualified applicants, but lack of transportation keeps a high number from actually taking the job. It would be interesting to quantify the costs to our economy because of lack of access to work. Many manufacturing and telemarketing jobs start between 6 and 7 a.m. A normal San Fernando Valley bus commute can take up to two hours, requiring the worker to leave at 5 a.m. This hour of transit service is considered “Night Owl” and is available on only a few bus lines. Amid the media furor over the California High Speed Rail and other megaprojects, it’s easy not to notice the glaringly simple transportation issues right in front of us. Looking at the current transit map of the San Fernando Valley network of Metro bus routes, the intricate web of lines and colors suggest that access is not always an issue. However, insufficient service issues become clear when a rider attempts to board a bus either during off peak hours or for early or late in the day trips on a particular line and finds inadequate choices. Much of the network consists of only hourly service, which makes transfers on a service grid quite random and dependability of connections murky at best. If one were to redraw this Metro map showing only lines with early morning and late night service spans, allowing access to a variety of work shifts, few lines would remain. Lack of weekend service makes mobility to jobs even more challenging. This makes it difficult for transit-dependent employees to access jobs, becoming an economic issue for workers and employers. It is increasingly clear in urban planning research that the component parts of transportation planning and economic planning should be studied together instead of as separate issues. Access to job sites is nearly as important as concerns over job creation itself. Metro is considering placing a transit sales tax measure on the ballot in November 2016. Regardless of one’s views on tax measures to create new transportation options, the need to improve existing transportation service is obvious. These mobility issues are of concern to the business community of the San Fernando Valley area as it creates a barrier to transit users seeking to be dutifully employed in local jobs. The San Fernando Valley cannot continue to be shortchanged by Metro when it comes to allocation of funds, and the business community should work with transit advocates to see that bus service can get employees to and from work on shifts that match employer needs. Bart Reed is the executive director and Vicente Arellano is an urban planner with The Transit Coalition, a San Fernando Valley-based non-profit dealing with transportation and mobility issues, along with land-use planning and goods movement.

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