The Mole reads the papers (and other things) so you don't have to
The Daily News covered the LACMTA's poor financial position(1) and its' $3 BILLION dollar 2006ー2007 budget along with the compulsory quote from Zev: “The agency [budget?] has more fat in it that has[already??] been identified”. Translation, not the fat that I want!
The budget shortfall is estimated to be $112 million which will be covered by drawing down the reserves to $66 million. Summing these values (112 + 66) yields $178 million which should be the initial amount of the reserves. The article also documents a cost reduction of $274 million in the CEO's office. Good grief, what more can the CEO need than his $300,000+ salary.
In one point they identified the highly paid head of the LACMTA, Roger Snoble as Noble and quoted him as saying (I have to take a break here until I stop laughing) the his agency is the country's “leanest”.
A Los Angeles Times piece(2), covers the same story with fewer and different numbers indicating a larger shortfall, i.e., $131 million. It cites an Orange Line ridership figure of “more than 18,000” daily. This differs from an earlier Daily News piece(3) which cites the current [Orange Line] “ridership” “… which now approaches the 21,000 mark,[daily? Weekdays?] not projected until 2020.”
Both articles talk about deferring bus (engine) maintenance which, to me, is false economy. A bus engine, if ignored, can move from being in need of repair to unrepairable, i.e., less costly to buy a rebuilt engine than to repair the worn out one.
So many numbers, so little time. Where do they come from? - especially those hard to quantify ridership figures.
The above makes an eloquent call for coverage of, at least, these accounting type matters in the Business Section(s). I wold think that with so much public funding going into the agency there would be a louder call for publishing the complete budget along with a professional analysis. We hear about so many failures at the LACMTA, the “Maintenance Software” failure which was covered once in the Times and then never seen again.
Here is an example which was extracted from your Mole's letter to Times . The original letter has been edited slightly and predates the Mole's Blog.
The article(4), as written was interesting. I found what was not written even more interesting. I suggest that the article should have been titled “Outside Auditors, MTA Spending Good Money After Bad. What is it that the LACMTA didn't understand about the four (4) internal audits which faulted the “M3 project”? It appears that they are “auditor shopping”, i.e., attempting to find someone who agrees that they are blameless and to assist in a damage control whitewash.
The issue would have been made clearer by an inclusion of more of the detail from the four audits. Perhaps, the reporter should have been supported by someone with an IT (Information Technology) background so that the article could better detail some of the problems which were glossed over with “Workers complain that the new software ...”. All readers can understand examples of “botching simple math”.
It is incredible to read that Mr. Brumbaugh, after spending almost $30 million, would say “Every day we are resolving issues [read problems] as they come about”. The very fact that they are encountering daily issues is indicative that the software is laced with bugs. Even more worrisome is the knowledge that these bugs are the “low hanging fruit”, i.e., fairly easy to find and fix, while the more subtle bugs may require a long time to identify, IF they are ever found.
Readers should be told what Spear Technologies has to say about what are apparently daily failures of their software. If I were to make a recommendation to LACMTA it would be to hire IBM to come in and conduct a “lightning review” of the project and come up with recommendations for going forward. This will result in an action plan and could result in Spear Technologies making refunds and/or cease billings until their product performs as specified. Spear Technologies web site touts their 3i product. I suspect that if and when the bespoke M3 project becomes a product, it will appear as Spear Technologies' 3M. If I am correct, LACMTA is funding a large portion of the development costs for that future product. Mr. Bernsdorf is correct, and likely was forced to retire when he stated that “M3's programming code was not being sufficiently tested ...” Daily bugs are proof of his assertion. Such a software product should still be in a laboratory undergoing systems test rather than being deployed into an organization where frequently its left hand doesn't know what its right hand is doing.
I firmly believe that the Los Angels Times should undertake an investigative series targeting the LACMTA as it did for King-Drew. This is a money wasting agency and Ms Lui's article AGAIN proves that point and shows that the LACMTA will spend money, good after bad!
Speaking of letters, here is the one I wrote to the Daily News last week. They wanted to edit it down to 125 words, so I asked them to do it for me and reference the Mole's blog so you could see the unedited letter. Here it is.
Re: Bartholomew, Dana, “Coach travel lures drivers” Daily News 27 Apr. 2006:
The piece(3) discusses the current Orange Line “ridership” which now approaches the 21,000 mark,[daily? Weekdays?] not projected until 2020. Where do these numbers come from?
Neither the LACMTA nor the reporter will publish the estimating technique(s) that are used by the LACMTA.
As I have repeatedly pointed out in my Blog, the Orange Line drivers do not maintain exact count as do drivers on all other lines. To me, Orange Line success would be signaled by an increase in fare collections system wide with a corresponding increase in fare collection for the Valley sector. I maintain that a certain percentage of Orange Line riders are those who rode the Ventura Bl Rapid Line, number 750, or other Valley lines which suffered cutbacks and now use the Orange Line.
There is the obligatory comment from Zev claiming at least partial fatherhood of the Orange Line. This time, however, Zev's inspiration came from Brazil, not the Miami Busway as was reported in the Los Angeles Times months ago. Perhaps the Brazilian system was not plagued with early accidents as was the Miami system and our own Orange Line. Then again, he may be trying to rationalize his junket, er, I mean, fact finding trip to Brazil. Was it around Carnival time, I wonder??
This article is balanced by citing complaints, like a quote from a former RTD executive, Tom Rubin. He says, “This is not a good investment of public funds. 'Rapid Buses would be faster, would have cost a small fraction [of that spent on the Orange Line] and for the same expenditure could have been put all over the Valley.” Bravo, Mr. Rubin!
There were also complaints from residents about noise.
It is hearting, but not too heartening, to hear that daily near-misses on the Orange Line are down from 200 during the first month of operation to only around two per day last month.
It is also time to restate my attitude towards the Bus Riders Union. ...
Although I applaud the BRU's (Bus Rider's Union) effort to improve area transportation, I feel and have always felt that they define their charter too narrowly. In limiting their concerns to buses they do a disservice to their constituents and to all users of public transportation in our region. My suggestion? Rename themselves the “Metro Riders Union” and learn about transportation systems so that they are conversant with the structure, organization and functions of a multi-mode transportation system. That way they could lend their weight to important issues in other modes (rail and subway) of transportation which they currently ignore other than to whine “It's not a bus”.
The Mole Rides Again - so that you won't have to suffer “land sickness” at the hands of a First Transit driver
I am riding a 333 Line bus, number 1380, driven by operator 16129, a slim Asian man. He punches expiration times into a batch of “Muni Transfers”, then taps his punch on a support bar to clear the chad (small pieces of paper that are punched out). The chad fall to the bus floor even though the trash back is within a stretch of his seat.
The First Transit drivers, as I have previously reported, are rough. This 232 bus jerks along, accelerate, brake, accelerate, brake ... Where are those little airline bags when you need them?
Urangoa, Rachel, “MTA won't raise fares for one year” Daily News 9 May 2006:3
Guccione, Jean, “No Fare Hikes in MTA Budget Plan” Los Angeles Times 9 May 2006:B1
Bartholomew, Dana, “Coach travel lures drivers” Daily News 27 Apr. 2006:1
Liu, Caitlin, “Outside Auditors to Review MTA Project” Los Angeles Times 22 Jan. 2005:B3