The following Monday, at Jackson’s urging, the opposing parties locked themselves up overnight in the Pasadena Hilton. That did it — the sticking points on work rules were cleared. And about a half-million local people, who’d been getting to work — if at all — via long walks, borrowed bicycles, improvised ride sharing and costly cab trips, finally had back their trains and buses.
That was the only certainty in the strike’s aftermath. The two big questions outstanding this week were, first, what will now happen to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority?
The MTA’s future — at least in its present form — may not be a long one. On Monday, state legislators moved in on the troubled entity like hyenas around a limping hartebeest. Testimony before an ad hoc legislative-committee meeting downtown disclosed that the MTA had already saved at least $14 million of the $23 million it sought from its workers simply by not paying the strikers for a month. It also emerged that the agency has been spending like a drunken deckhand on such amenities as a million dollars’ worth of strike-oriented PR work and broadcast ads, not counting more than $800,000 additional paid to outside public-relations firms, plus $232,000 for its costly strike headquarters in Pasadena. The total given for such outlays was $2.5 million; all of a sudden, the United Transportation Union’s contention that in the overall $10 billion MTA budget, there had to be $23 million in waste made terrific sense.
Later, at a Pasadena news conference she co-hosted with state Senator Richard Alarcon (D-Sylmar), Assemblywoman Gloria Romero (D–East Los Angeles) accused the MTA of both union busting and profiting from the strike. Alarcon, who as a Los Angeles councilman was once an MTA board-member substitute, characterized the organization’s actions up to and during the strike as typical of “the arrogance I’ve observed in the past.” Both argued that the MTA’s contract demand for part-time drivers was part of a secret plan to split up the system.
Alarcon also repeated his vow legislatively to transform the present MTA organization by replacing Mayor Richard Riordan’s and other board appointees with generally elected members. Would this change make the ever-ailing transit colossus more responsive to its ridership? Hard to say. But it’s worth recalling that the last time the Legislature meddled in Los Angeles County transit-authority restructuring, it created the very same MTA the Sylmar legislator now proposes to tear down.
Meanwhile, a vital, long-term transit question was not aired. This was, how much had the strike damaged the MTA’s fundamental goal by getting tens of thousands of people who’d just begun commuting via the MTA’s Red Line and high-speed bus routes back into their own automobiles?