Inglewood expands free trolley service

imageInglewood residents were relieved on Monday when the city’s free trolley service added an additional seven daily stops throughout the city. This expansion follows a year-long protest by city residents to keep the service from being eliminated by budget cuts.

The I-Line Trolley Route was approved for termination one year ago, due to required expense cuts. Since Sept. 2009 residents of Inglewood have petitioned to both continue the service and add new stops at shopping areas.

“This new trolley route took a lot of work to bring about,” said Mavis Pilar, Inglewood resident and frequent user of the I-Line transportation service. “Last year the city wanted to remove it altogether, but they don’t realize the number of people in this city that get around by this free transportation.”

The current annual cost of the program is $107,000, according to the city’s Finance Department. About $65,000 of the expense is covered by grant funds, said Sabrina Barnes, the Parks, Recreation and Community Services director.

Six stops were eliminated from the old route because “no one used them,” said Inglewood City Councilman Eloy Morales, Jr. in an interview. “Now, I hope we can continue to offset the costs and encourage as much ridership as possible.”

After city staff conducted surveys, studied proposed routes and received recommendations from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), City transportation and GIS engineers, the City Council approved the continuation of the I-Line Trolley Route, according to Sabrina Barnes, The Inglewood City Council approved the motion to keep and expand the shuttle on Aug. 10.

The route’s new configuration takes approximately one hour. It includes seven new stops, including one in the business district on Century and Crenshaw, and on Pincay Drive to accommodate Carlton Square and Briarwood. Other stops include Prairie and Hardy, Century and Doty, Century and Club, Century and Village, Crenshaw and Hardy, and 90th and West Carlton.

“We basically let them know that they need to cut funds from other places, and not from our daily lives and our paychecks. Because without that service, a lot of us would be stranded. How do they think we get to work?” Pilar said.

“I am glad that we did the surveys,” said Morales. “They showed that I-Trolley really works.”

The I-Line Trolley Shoppers Shuttle Service began in 1986, providing free transportation for all ages on a fixed route that connected shopping areas, public service agencies, the Inglewood Senior Center, five senior housing complexes, and connection points to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) bus service. Since its beginning the length of the route has been modified five times in response to citizen petitions.

The Service is funded by City Proposition C funds and Proposition A Incentive grants from the MTA. These funds are purposed for parks, recreation and community services, senior transportation, contract services and general transportation.

Since the I-Line is granted by the MTA, the association’s staff has been involved in setting up data collection and reporting systems to evaluate the new route. They have also worked with the Public Works Department in acquiring and installing new signs, and producing road work needed to accommodate the new stops.

A statement released by the Inglewood Parks, Recreation and Community Services Department estimated a cost of $1,500 for new signs. This is the only major additional expense created by the new I-Line Trolley Service route.

Free Trolley service operates Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to noon, and from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Each loop begins and ends at the Inglewood Senior Center, located at Vincent Park, 330 Centinela Avenue. Signs displaying the number to the trolley dispatch office are posted at the stops to offer easy access to information on the trolley’s location.

Free MTA trips for Los Angeles students

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced a new policy today that would allow students in Los Angeles County to ride MTA transit for free during the day.

“Schools throughout Los Angeles County are struggling with severe budget challenges, and cutting field trip transportation means less opportunity for students to take advantage of museums, programs, and events outside of school buildings,” Mayor Villaraigosa said, as quoted in a press release. “This is especially true for low income students whose families do not have the resources for alternative transportation.”

According to a press release from the Mayor’s office, the MTA “will not suffer an increase in operating costs because service is already running.” No revenue would be lost because “students would not otherwise be riding transit during school hours without this policy.”

Funding transportation for school field trips has been a constant impediment, say some L.A. teachers, especially during budget cuts.

“Our students are missing out on educational experiences because we have no funds to bus them on field trips. Access to Metro rail and buses will open a world of opportunities for learning beyond the classroom,” said Santee teacher Trebor Jacquez, as quoted in the press release.

According to Villaraigosa, MTA buses and trains have unused capacity during school hours, making free transit for students a “win-win” policy for the MTA.

The proposal will be put to the MTA Board at its meeting on Dec. 9, with plans to implement the system by the end of January 2011.

Labor unions deliver Easter cheer to at-risk children in South LA

Union leaders and volunteers from the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor gave Easter baskets to more than 200 children in need at the Children’s Institute in South Los Angeles on Friday.

An MTA bus carrying Easter baskets and, of course, life-size Mr. and Mrs. Easter Bunny, arrived at the Children’s Institute early Friday morning. All of the volunteers were wearing matching lavender shirts, some sporting stylish bunny ears and a cottontail.

Elated children, some wearing glittery paper bunny ears, gathered around Mr. And Mrs. Bunny as they sang songs and did the bunny hop. The Easter bunnies gave each child a basket filled with goodies–Barbie’s, my little ponies, racecars, motorcycles, crayons, sidewalk chalk, handballs and candy.

For the past 14 years, the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO’s Community Services Program and the United Way of Greater Los Angeles have distributed Easter baskets to homeless and abused children at more than 30 locations in the greater Los Angeles area. This is their ninth year at the Children’s Institute. Union leaders and workers come together to donate their time and resources to organize, fund and carry out the Easter event. More than $20,000 was raised to fund this year’s Easter events.

The Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO is the second largest labor council in the country, representing more than 800,000 workers in over 350 unions. The Federation’s mission is to fight for good jobs that rebuild the middle class in Los Angeles.

Armando Olivas, the Western Regional Director for the Department of Labor Participation and the United Way of America, started the program in 1995 when he realized the only time of year the community came together to help children was Christmas.

“I thought that it would be a good idea to have another project for children because we don’t want them thinking that we forgot about them,” Olivas said. “So we came up with the spring project. We were naive in the beginning because we thought we would get a couple hundred baskets and drop them off but it just grew.”

Now the program donates more than 2,500 baskets to more than 30 locations across Los Angeles.

“Every year it’s renewed and you have a feeling of giving to somebody and it touches your heart,” Olivas said. “The first time we came out here the Easter bunny was in tears at how appreciative the children were.”

Olivas’ 8-year-old son, Matthew, described the event as “heartwarming.” He has been attending the annual Easter celebration for many years, but this year he joined the festivities as a volunteer, helping to bring joy to less fortunate children on Easter.

“Homeless children get what they want and they now have a good thought in their hearts,” Matthew said.

Glen Rosales, a Metro Mechanic Union Representative, said in his six years participating in the program, the best part is seeing the children smile.

“We did Miller Children’s hospital [Long Beach] and there was a little girl maybe 18 months old with cancer…and she ran down the hall so fast to hug the bunny,” Rosales said. “You think you’re having a bad day then you see something like that and it’s all worth it.”

According to Director of Communications for the CII, Lizanne Flemming, the Children’s Institute was founded in 1906 when the first female probation officer in Los Angeles, Minnie Barton, started taking women who were jailed or on the streets into her home. The program evolved over the years into an organization that makes sure vulnerable adults and children are taken care of. Their main emphasis, she said, is on children who have experienced some form of trauma.

“As the employees, it’s magical for us. We drop what we’re doing and greet the volunteers and you see the kids and the joy is just contagious,” Flemming said. “You can’t help it and the excitement when two big bunnies come into your play yard, it doesn’t get better than that.”