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Transportation Alternatives for Southern California (1976)

edited by
Peter Gordon and Ross D. Eckert

Conferenced Proceedings of a Symposium Sponsored by:
The Institute for Public Policy Research Center for Public Affairs University of Southern California

April 12, 1976

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction to the Online Edition Peter Gordon January, 1998
  2. Rail Transit for Southern California: An Expensive Mistake Peter Gordon, Ross D. Eckert
  3. Riding the Sunset Coast Line John W. Dyckman
    Discussion - Harry W. Richardson
  4. The Case for Rapid Transit: Before and After the Fact Martin Wohl
  5. The Case for Bus Rapid Transit in Los Angeles Martin Wachs
    Discussion - Morris Pardue
  6. What Did We Give Up With the Big Red Cars? George Hilton
    Discussion - John Rae
  7. Giving the Plan a Bottom Line, Suggestions for Adding Cost-benefit Comparisons to the California Transportation Plan Ward Elliott
    Discussion - Aurelius Morgner
    Discussion - Robert C. Ellickson

Introduction to the Online Edition
By Peter Gordon January, 1998

It has been more than 20 years since my colleague, Professor Ross D. Eckert (deceased since 1994), and I decided to arrange the symposium that produced the papers and comments that follow. These papers were never published. They are worth reconsidering because of the current state of local transit service.

Ross and I were not the first to be skeptical of rail transit for Los Angeles. We did believe, however, that enough relevant research had accumulated for a useful airing of views to take place. We almost took it for granted that we would, thereby, inform the local policy debate and, perhaps, help the region to avoid a big mistake.

I would say that we were less than half right. The Sunset Coast Line transit proposal was defeated by the voters in 1976. It is not possible to say that our conference prompted this result. In fact, the Sunset Coast Line was just one of many rail transit proposals put before Los Angeles voters over the years. They had defeated them all but finally supported the one placed on the ballot in 1980 (in the form of a dedicated sales tax).

The various plans that followed this victory gave us the rump rail transit system that is now being abandoned. As the authors of the following papers had predicted, ridership would be low, costs would be high, the enterprise would be a waste. Yet, they had no way to predict the amount or the scope of waste. In a nutshell, since 1985, transit use in Los Angeles county is down by 30% whereas several billions of dollars of rail capacity have been added! L.A. transit planners have spent upwards of $7 billion in capital and operating subsidies while losing approximately 100 million (net) transit boardings per year. This is a 10-year average. Roughly, $7+ per boarding has been spent to remove about 1 billion such boardings. The resource transfer has unquestionably been regressive. All of this took place while the county's population grew by about 12%. The details of this fiasco are available at I leave it to others to decide what our experience suggests for the power of ideas when there is pork on the table

The authors' affiliations noted throughout these pages are those that were effective at the time of the symposium.

Source: Transportation Alternatives for Southern California Conference Proceedings of a Symposium The Institute for Public Policy Research Center for Public Affairs University of Southern California April 12, 1976

Copyright 1998 University of Southern California School of Policy, Planning, and Development

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