Transit executive promises compassion for homeless

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Wave Wire Services

LOS ANGELES — County transportation officials will approach unhoused people with compassion and dignity, new CEO Stephanie Wiggins announced July 7.

Under my leadership, we will pursue new and more effective ways of addressing homelessness,” Wiggins said during the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s State of the Agency event. We will collaborate with our city and community partners and social services.”

Wiggins said she feels law enforcement should not be the first point of contact with homeless individuals on the MTA system but should serve to provide support for People Assisting the Homeless outreach teams, which function as the primary contact in outreaching to unhoused individuals.

The PATH teams consist of mental health clinicians, formerly homeless individuals and other key staff to help the unhoused find temporary or permanent housing services and link them to other much-needed services.

Wiggins — who became the first woman to lead the agency in June when she replaced Phil Washington, who retired — also announced that she will establish a youth council to “elevate the perspective of young riders in the conversation about our future.”

She added that there are only about 66,000 student TAP cards being used, about 4.7% of the county’s K-12 population.

The untapped potential of student riders is high,” she said.

Wiggins said she hopes that engaging with young people and incorporating their input into the system will help create “a system they can be proud of, one they want to ride and [be] personally invested in.”

The announcement comes after the MTA Board of Directors in May tentatively advanced plans for a 23-month pilot program that would make buses and trains free for students and eventually for low-income riders. The board is seeking more details before implementing the plan.

I believe the focus on initiatives like the youth council and our fareless initiative are about making decisions that impact riders today and far into the future,” Wiggins said.

Wiggins also spoke about more general goals for the MTA, including transforming it into a first-choice transportation option for Los Angeles County residents, similar to London, Paris, New York and Washington, D.C.

In those cities, it’s just what people do,” Wiggins said. “Public transportation is their obvious choice. I want Angelenos to think that way.”

Wiggins added that she wants the system to be a world-class experience in time for the 2028 Olympics, when people from all over the world will visit the Southland.

During the July 7 event, Mayor Eric Garcetti, the outgoing chair of the MTA board, officially passed the gavel to incoming chair Hilda Solis, who also chairs the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.

This is the first time in our history that both the chair and CEO are women, and I always say sometimes some lucky men sneak through but if women just ran the world, we’d all be better off,” Garcetti said.

Solis also used her address to outline her goals as chair, and she called for building more affordable housing near transit lines to prevent low-income and vulnerable communities from being displaced.

The MTA Board of Directors voted June 24 to update its joint development policy to prioritize building 100% income-restricted housing on unused MTA-owned land.

As of January, the MTA’s joint development team had completed 2,200 units of housing, 34% of which are considered affordable, according to the MTA website. It defines “affordable housing” as units for people who earn 60% or less than the L.A. County area median income.

Solis said that the MTA will be acquiring additional properties over the next few years for construction staging, new stations, parking lots and maintenance facilities, and she added that the department should explore how to build affordable housing on those properties “parallel with major capital projects instead of as an afterthought.”

Many bus riders have an average annual income of just $18,000 a year,” Solis said. “These are the residents that need affordable housing the most. By increasing transit service and tapping into affordable housing projects, we can help prevent displacement of vulnerable communities and give support to riders that need it the most.”

She also called for re-imagining the MTA’s highway program, saying that traditional highway widening projects pollute neighborhoods and cause displacement.

Just look at the communities of Boyle Heights and unincorporated East Los Angeles — the 101, the 10, the 5, the 60, and the 710 — all these freeways plow through these neighborhoods and were intentionally built here at the height of the federal highway investment. These tangles of freeways displaced thousands of residents and they divide neighborhoods and concentrate pollution in these communities,” she said.

Solis called for using highway investment dollars to benefit all people who use the roads, and she noted that MTA board took action in June to allow Measure R and Measure M funding to be used for projects that support cyclists, transit riders and all who use the road along with motorists.

Solis’ other goals include expanding transit service, especially for buses that service low-income riders, returning service to pre-pandemic levels by September, and making service faster, more frequent and more reliable.

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