SGV Tribune

Montebello to spend big bucks to temporarily replace bus system

Questions have been raised about the safety of the Dial-A-Ride vans.

Montebello city will spend an extra $360,000 throughout the next month to temporarily replace its bus system with Dial-A-Ride vans as a result of the coronavirus crisis.

The city shut down its bus system, effective April 6, but it also hired Fiesta Taxi of Gardena, which runs Montebello’s Dial-A-Ride program, to have its vans take over the bus service, albeit on a reduced level.

City Council members originally approved the change on April 8. On Wednesday, they voted 4-1 to approve an amendment to Fiesta’s contract to pay as much as $360,000 extra through May 15. The city’s rate is $35 an hour.

“We’re doing everything we can to keep people safe and still provide services for our seniors and less mobile population,” Mayor Salvador Melendez said in a Thursday telephone interview.

City Manager Rene Bobadilla said he will bring the issue of how to proceed to the council at its May 13 meeting:¬†“I’m hoping by then we can have more clarity and direction from the county or state.”

Bobadilla hopes the city can get reimbursed  from the Federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, he said.

Councilman David Torres, who cast the lone no vote, said by email he is concerned about the accuracy of the number needed to sustain the program and its safety.

“Fiesta Taxi is doing the best they can to service residents, but there is zero social distancing when you have five people in a car,” Torres wrote.

“We should constantly be analyzing what we’re doing to stem the spread of coronavirus,” he said. “Previously the city manager said vans would be wiped down every time a passenger disembarks. Now that we know that is no longer feasible, what are we doing to ensure safety?”

The city is doing its best to make the vans safe, Bobadilla said by phone Friday. “All riders must wear a mask,” he said.

“When vans are empty, the drivers clean them, Bobadilla said. “They’re doing the best they can to make it as safe as possible. It’s not the best of situations, but we’re doing the best we can.”

Montebello is one of three Los Angeles-area bus systems to shut down. Carson and Monterey Park have shuttered their transit services.

Although ridership is down by about 70% like Montebello, Norwalk does not plan to cease operations, Jim Parker, director of transportation for Norwalk, said.

“We’re still taking folks to their essential services,” Parker said.

Both Norwalk’s and Montebello’s buslines include stops in Whittier.