Bus Rider’s Union: Metro Bus Service Barely Passes (Updated, 5:29 P.M.)

8_27_09_the_BRU.jpgFor more from today’s press conference, check out the LA Streetsblog Flickr page.

<editor’s note: Metro provided a response to the BRU Survey which can be found just before the jump. Also, since we already have a thread where people make their feelings clear on the BRU, can we try and keep the comments focused on this survey and related issues?)

As promised, the Bus Rider’s Union rallied at a press friendly-event earlier today and released the results of the "rider’s report card," a survey of over 3,000 bus riders on lines throughout the city. The results were not great for the MTA. The survey shows that if Metro was being graded by its bus riders, it would be in danger of being held back.

Breaking down the results further, those surveyed gave Metro a "D" on "On Schedule," "Overcrowding," "Fares," "Frequency of Service," "Weekend of Service," and "Accessibility." Metro received an "F" for its "Night Service."

One way to look at survey results is to compare the positive responses, the "A" and "B" grades against the "D" and "F" results. In every case, the results were overwhelmingly negative. On schedule had a 24.8% positive response to 44.2% negative. Overcrowding was 23.9% positive compared to 45.8% negative. Affordability, 14.4% to 66.8% negative. Frequency of service is 14.5% positive to 66.2% negative. Weekend services was 12.7% positive to 67.8% negative. Night services were 11.4% positive to 69% negative. Last, accessibility was 18.6% positive to 57.5% negative.

Ouch.

What is the BRU’s prescription for this performance? Why it’s the Clean Air and Economic Justice Plan, which demands that the MTA roll back fare increases, spend more money on increasing bus service instead of highways and train service, and an end to service cuts. The Plan provides an alternate plan for Measure R funds than the one passed by the voters that would divert many of the highway, heavy rail, and light rail project funds to bus expansion and fare stabilization.

Meanwhile Metro has responded that they are comfortable with how their passengers feel about bus performance even while emphasizing Metro CEO Art Leahy’s commitment to improving bus service.

… improving on-time bus performance is one of Art Leahy’s priorities at Metro. The agency is making steady progress improving on-time performance. Over the last year, for example, on-time performance increased by 10 percent (65 percent in July 2008 to 72 percent in July 2009). While that is an improvement, more efforts to improve bus performance and service reliability will be made.

However, a June 2009 Metro survey of 15,800 systemwide riders conducted by L.A.-based Applied Management and Planning Group found that 80.6 percent of respondents were satisfied with Metro Bus service. The survey also found that 73 percent of respondents agreed that buses generally run on time (within five minutes), and 73.3 percent reported that Metro Bus service is better now than last year.

The survey cards will be mailed to three members of the Metro Board so they can see the results first-hand. The Board Members targeted are Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, and L.A. City Councilman Jose Huizar.

Esparanza Martinez explains why Metro did so poorly on the survey and why they need to do better.

"The MTA has a thirty year plan to increase the number of cars on the street by expanding the highways and prioritizing costly rail construction…but they don’t have any money to operate the rail system…

…The MTA is basing their plans on a survey they did a couple of months ago that shows that people want highway projects and rail projects. Now we have 3,000 postcards that challenge that conclusion. Even stronger than that we have an actual proposal for the MTA that will ease the economic crisis that is not going to get better and will only get worse as the environmental crisis gets worse."

Based on the response to the BRU’s announcement in yesterday’s "Today’s Headlines," I was prepared to ask BRU about their methodology. Instead of summarizing their methodology, you can hear the explanation from Manuel Criollo, one of the BRU’s lead organizers, and Julian Lamb, who was in charge of the survey project, below. Criollo and I are talking at the start of the clip, and Lamb joins us about two-thirds of the way through.

[audio:http://la.streetsblog.org/wp-content/pdf/ManuelandJulianBRU.mp3]
  • “The Plan provides an alternate plan for Measure R funds than the one passed by the voters that would divert many of the highway, heavy rail, and light rail project funds to bus expansion and fare stabilization.”

    —————

    Yeah. Good luck with that.

    Let’s just watch and see Metro roll back the clock and rewrite Measure R after the voters approved it. “Sorry we cannot build that Purple Line folks. It’s “racist”.” Let’s see the supporters of the Foothill Gold Line agree to divert funds from their project for more 40 foot buses.

    I look forward as a transit dependent rider to continue standing up and being counted as someone who will not let the BRU continue to claim to speak for me.

  • Erik G.

    Measure R would not have passed if it did not have the freeway projects.
    Measure R would not have gotten my vote if it did not have rail transit projects.

    From: http://www.thestrategycenter.org/campaign/clean-air-and-economic-justice-plan-measure-r

    “Over the next 30 years, $8 billion is slated for buses in Measure R, plus an additional $700 million from President Barak Obama’s Stimulus Package.”

    I know Damien asked us not to bash the BRU in this thread, but they can’t even spell the President’s name correctly!!

  • DJB

    That survey method would make a statistician cringe. You’re supposed to get a representative sample of the bus riding population, not hand pick specific lines to ask people questions on. The lines should be selected at random.

    You should also randomly select the time (or times) of day you survey people, and randomly select the people on the buses that you survey.

    Also, is the sample size large enough? Are the questions being phrased in “neutral” language? Does the survey staff know more than just English and Spanish?

    An even better method would be to study one line at a time and get opinions from randomly selected riders at randomly selected times of day that are tailored to that particular line.

    It’s an interesting project, but it’ll require a much larger, and better-thought-out effort to produce information worthy of trust.

  • The MTA’s survey, which used a professional survey firm, has more likelihood of being credible. It would likely fail any academic survey methodology. It primarily uses a convenience sample because the BRU didn’t want to go out to the hinterlands to give the survey out, even though there are plenty of bus riders there.

    The question on fares getting a D is laughable since MTA has one of the cheapest base fares of any transit agency in the country, and a below average monthly pass cost. Measure R bans a fare increase for the students and seniors the BRU is allegedly concerned about for the next four years, which basically lets any senior 62 and up ride a bus most of the day for 25 cents per boarding, and keeps the student pass at $24 a month for a long time. In addition, with the TAP card, now you can get weekly passes at more locations than before, since every rail ticket machine now sells a weekly pass.

    The on time performance is horrible, but great attention should be paid for the number of EARLY buses. I recently discovered since interesting document posted to Scribd: http://www.scribd.com/doc/14037876/Overview-FY09-Q2 The bottom line is that on many routes, buses run EARLY 20% or more of the time. Strong discipline that uses the ATMS to identify drivers who regularly operate early, integrates the computer to sound warning bells when the driver is about to leave the timepoint hot, and actually FIRES drivers who leave a stop early, or leave their originating terminal late, is essential to get performance up.

    But, it is highly unlikely that the BRU will be marching into MTA headquarters demanding that they do something about the early bus problem, or demanding that the labor contract be modified to allow managers to discipline or fire employees based on the metrics gathered through ATMS. The funny thing is that MTA employees are not considered civil service employees; there is no “Civil Service Commission” or anything like that. Just the union contract, and MTA’s historic unwillingness to tangle with the union, has caused the situation to be this way.

  • nancy Avila

    The BRU did a great job on the survey of bus service quality in L.A. the F grade that the night service recieved is right on point. much more can be done to improve bus services in L.A. but oh No the MTA has a plan to increase bus fares every year for the next 30 years. The MTA Board has voted to reduce bus service by 120,000 hours, That translates into bus drivers being laid off, less buses on the streets, overcrowding, and poor quality bus service overall. Is that what the future of our public transportation is going to look like. scarey!

  • Wad

    Calwatch, thank you very much for posting the operating characteristics of Metro buses.

    Everybody should look at the document. It’s 162 pages, but it shows on-time percentage, bunching reports and complaints and commendations.

    This reporting is much more detailed than similar reports put out a few years ago. Metro used to have the RTD habit of reporting this information by trunk lines, not the lines used by the public. (Example: If you wanted to know the on-time percentage of Line 37, you’d have to look at Line 14; or if it was a limited-stop bus, you’d have to look at its parent local line.)

  • Spokker

    “but oh No the MTA has a plan to increase bus fares every year for the next 30 years.”

    And they should. We pay one of the lowest base fares in the country. Try Sacramento, where the base fare is $2.25. Go outside our borders to Canada where the base fare in Toronto is $2.75 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toronto_Transit_Commission_fares).

    Coincidentally or not, their bus service is being improved over the next few years, which will provide *at least* 20 minute headways on all routes during the day and 10 minutes on 21 key lines (http://www.metro-magazine.com/News/Story/2009/08/TTC-proposes-10-minute-bus-service-for-key-routes.aspx).

    As it stands, Measure R froze fares for one year while fares for seniors and the disabled were frozen for five years.

    If that doesn’t get an A+ on fares I don’t know what does.

  • The big problem with MTA’s service is its lack of frequency and unreliability. Routes that manage to get 10-15 minute service during the day, like the 76, drop down to hourly service. From the spreadsheet I found above, over 30% of owl trip observations found the bus leaving EARLY. Again, forcing someone to wait for an hour just because the bus happened to leave the stop 5 or 10 minutes early is unacceptable, and those drivers should be fired. The problem is that most riders don’t know if the bus is early or late, because there is no GPS tracking of buses available to the public.

    As for fares, it is true that MTA is going to raise fares 20% every 2 years until they get to a 33% farebox recovery ratio. This means at least 2, and probably 3, more fare increases until they get to that point. Still, the projected fares in 2011 (prior to the passage of Measure R) approved at the fare increase hearing in 2011 was base fare $1.80, day pass $7.25, monthly pass $90. That would achieve 33% recovery in 2007 dollars.

  • Dana Gabbard submitted the following which I accidentally deleted:

    A survey can be useful to highlight key service related issues. Rescue MUNI in San Fracisco annually has been doing one for some years now, and has been vocal about when things are better and when they are worse.

    http://www.rescuemuni.org/2005survey/2005results.html

    I’ll give the BRU credit for taking on such a daunting project. It is not difficult to find credible that this constituted a lot of work by several dozen of their members.

    Metro reports a lot of statistics about complaints and reliability and it would be nice to have a means of testing their validity with an independently gathered set of statistics.

    http://www.metro.net/board/Items/2009/07_July/20090715OPItem41HandoutA.pdf

    Of course how well the BRU survey repsents a representative sample is a key issue for whether their results represent statistically significant data. Also what is the benchmark people are using to make these determinations? It sounds awfully subjective to grade schedule adherance etc. with a B or C with no sense of what those grades mean. Years ago some business association in the San Fernando Valley did some sort of survey of service expectations for transit. It found people expected to only wait a few minutes (my memory is 10 minutes) for the bus to arrive and that they would have to walk no more than 2 blocks to reach a stop. If that is what you expect a lot of service would get poor marks.

    My beef is the rather illogical attempt to shoehorn advocacy of their DOA Clean Air and Economic Justice Plan for Measure R as the solution to what properly is a discussion that should be about service improvement. The Plan is full of impractical pie in the sky stuff that is politically DOA and not taken seriously by anyone. In some form they have been pushing it for 15 years and have had zero progress–so it is a waste of time to speak of it as any reasonable remedy to the results of the survey.

    How do we get better service and more service? One possible remedy that is practical would be to press the Metro Board to allocate some of the Measure R bus improvement funds to provide more on street supervison (known in the trade as TOS) that is focussed on improving bus performance and service reliability. That could occur fairly quickly and I think produce solid results.

    In a letter to the L.A. Weekly years ago a former member complained they are very myopic on the service issues they discuss versus those to be shunned (in his case racist and rude drivers)

    http://transit-insider.org/bru/speakout.htm

    With enough buses running everything will be better is a stupid prescription if the root problem of service quality isn’t being addressed. Metro needs to be held accountable, and employees who don’t do a good job need retrained or even let go. A culture an management that tolerates sub-standard service seems the real culprit and should be fixed. This survey isn’t being used to address that key issue. Which is a pity.

  • I sort of felt under-qualified to write this story. See, I really only used to take the bus to get a connection to rail but opted out once I was in good enough shape that I could beat the bus (when you factor in having to wait an undisclosed amount of time) on my bike more times than not. I haven’t rode a Metro Bus since Bike to Work Day in 2008.

    I guess you could say that I flunked Metro since I opted out, but I didn’t think that would be fair to Metro staff or to the thousands of people that choose Metro buses everyday to belabor that point. The bike works for me to either get all the way into Downtown or connect to a Metro rail line. And that’s great for me. I push cycling because I think it would be great for a lot of other people that don’t consider it for themselves.

    And in a lot of ways, I get the BRU’s point. There was a part of me that struggled for a long time on whether or not to support Measure R precisely because the people with the lowest carbon footprints (pedestrians, cyclists, bus riders) were seeing the least out of it. Eventually, I supported it (whole-heartedly), but I certainly get that you can be for car-alternatives and still have fought Measure R.

  • It is true that anyone walking or biking saw little benefit from Measure R, because there were no restrictions on how local return money is spent. Most cities are spending the local return money on repaving streets, since the State keeps holding the gas tax hostage, and the gas tax is what’s used to pay for street paving.

    But as for bus riders, they can just look around to other areas and see the dramatic service cuts going on in Sacramento, San Jose, San Francisco, and Orange County and see that Measure R has preserved a lot of service. If Measure R hadn’t passed, it is likely that the equivalent of all Sunday service would be gone today, and the equivalent of all service after 6 pm would be gone next year. http://metroriderla.com/2008/10/08/measure-r-or-massive-service-cuts/ Yes, 120,000 service hours are going to be cut in June 2010, but they are trying to do more trip thinning and less of the massive chopping of routes. Art Leahy is trying to do more in improving on-time performance, although I still feel that no one at MTA has the balls to outright declare a war on early buses and start firing drivers that leave their timepoints early. Plus, the fare freeze has saved the regular monthly pass user $156 this year. That covers the tax increase for $30,000 in spending, and is not chump change.

  • Erik G.

    @ Spokker, that base fare on the TTC is CDN$2.75 which is presently US$2.52

    From the Wikipedia article you linked to:

    “The basic TTC fare is valid for one continuous journey of any distance on regular-fare routes, including all changes of mode or vehicle required”

    So, we have a low fare, but it is in combination with perhaps the most draconian transfer policy of any major urban area in the Industrialized world.

  • Phil Murphy

    Early this year I chose to try DASH service from Gower and Waring to the Hollywood/Vine Red Line stop to ultimately catch Amtrak. Posted signs said service ran every 20 minutes. After 45 minutes and no bus, I called a friend to take me directly to Union Station before I missed Amtrak. Regular DASH riders also waiting had commented how normal such delays were. Before my ride arrived, a DASH bus did show up, with a second one right behind it. How foolish the second driver didn’t compensate by slowing down to create better arrival times. Surely they already knew they weren’t remotely close to whatever their timetable was, and how dumb to run two busses back to back after already being at least 25 minutes behind schedule. A shame for the transit system in the second-largest city in the country.

  • DJB

    Just out of curiosity, does the BRU just focus on MTA? Some of the other transit agencies I’m familiar with around here tend to have even lower fares (Long Beach Transit – $1.10, Culver City Bus – $1.00, Santa Monica Transit – $.75, and of course the DASH lines, which cost $.25). It’s true that many other parts of the country (e.g. northern CA) tend to have higher transit fares. Our low fares are probably the result of our notorious air quality.

    I really think it’s more useful to evaluate things on a line-by-line basis. Some lines may need no improvement, while others may need a lot of improvement. Also, we can’t forget about land use: transit needs density to thrive, so lets not act shocked when suburbs have bad transit service, especially at night and on weekends.

    The ironic thing about advocating for lower fares, is that lower fares increase ridership while producing an uncertain effect on the total revenue collected by the transit agency (this depends on the elasticity of demand for bus rides i.e., by what percentage ridership increases for every 1% decrease in fares).

    Higher fares would reduce crowding, but also reduce access to the transit system. Lower fares would increase access but exacerbate crowding. Either option could reduce or increase total revenue collection depending on the elasticity of demand for transit rides.

    If transit is viewed as a necessity by most of its riders, a 1% fare increase will probably decrease ridership by less than 1% and total revenue will go up.

  • What I find fascinating about the bus service in LA is that the quality of service differs vastly depending on what neighborhood you are in. South Central, South LA, Compton, Watts, get some of the most horrible, random, late bus service on the planet, but before 9am it runs ok.

    In the Crenshaw area I have no idea why the 210 can’t run on time, that’s just crazy. It’s like torture, because people will be there and everyone will be asking everyone what time it is even though everyone has a phone and then people start asking everyone else do they know what time the bus is coming.

    The Manchester bus into Inglewood seems kind of random the times I took it.

    On the Eastside the busses are very crowded, but they run pretty good, at least better than in South Central. I can set my watch on the 76 or 45, 251.

    If I’m going around the area where there is a two or a four I don’t even have to take a schedule the service is so right on it.

    Around Wilshire and K-town the service sometimes is ok, but sometimes its not and that shouldn’t be considering that it is a major transfer point for lots of people.

    Night service unless you live along Sunset is pretty pitiful. I don’t understand why on the Eastside the busses start running once per hour, but at least the bus will come the few busses that run in South Central or Watts sometime don’t even show up.

    It just depends where you are. For the most people who are working class or low income the busses that service their area runs pretty horribly (except on the eastside which they don’t run better than the Hollywood area but alot better than South LA’s busses.) When I lived in Los Feliz and worked in Hollywood I never knew the busses sucked, because I had great service. When I had to start going to Watts, South Central then I started seeing some more insanity, when I moved to Boyle Heights then I started noticing other little quirks.

    One odd quirk is the Echo Park Dash that is the best running Dash outside of downtown. You will never walk faster than that bus. I can always get to place walking faster than waiting for the Dash.

    The BRU just focuses on the MTA, because rarely if you take the bus do you get out of the MTA service area. I have taken the Foothill, Santa Monica, Compton Renaissance, Torrance Transit, Glendale Bee, but I’m way out of the ordinary. The average person that rides the bus goes the same place everyday and come home at the same time every day. They live in LA county METRO services almost all of LA county and the smaller lines you can just call the customer service department and get a human on the phone that will answer your question.

    Once I was going to take the Silverstreak from a different location. I got on the phone told the lady I couldn’t find the bus stop. She stayed on the phone and directed me how to get there (in very detailed instructions) and made sure that I got there and then put me on hold to make certain the driver would be there to pick me up. This would never happen with Metro.

    Browne

  • Mr. Newton, thanks for re-posting the comment. I thought it was gobbled by the computer I was using at the time.

    I wonder if the sort of problems browne reports means instead of Metro as a whole that the focus about service problems should be on the Sector
    Governance Councils. They are supposed to be providing oversight of service quality. I’d suggest asking questions when they have their annual meet and confer later this year.

    http://socata.net/12.html

    Are the problems because some yards do a better job than others? I don’t know if any resource–the BRU survey or Metro’s various reports–answer that to any useful extent.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Los_Angeles_County_Metropolitan_Transportation_Authority#Bus_Divisions

    Some parts of L.A. County Metro and the local munis overlap–such as in Montebello or Santa Monica. In parts of Torrance and Long Beach the muni is the only transit sevice provider. DASH in some cases can be useful to getting from where you live to where you shop, etc. It is really dependent on where you live and work whether you rely just on Metro, Metro and the local muni or just the muni.

    BTW, I am just getting caught up with my Metro Board meeting staff report reading and ran across this examination of what would be needed to close the enterprise fund deficit w/o using Measure R funds. A base fare of $2.75 and similar increases for passes? That would be devestating for many riders on tight budgets as it is. So I wonder who on the Board wanted this report and what is their agenda?

    http://www.metro.net/board/Items/2009/03_March/20090318F&BItem11.pdf

  • DJB

    Really, you think the K-town bus service is just okay?

    I think it’s great. The service is really frequent on Wilshire, Vermont, and 3rd streets for example. It’s so frequent that it doesn’t really matter if the buses are coming on time or not, because another one will be along shortly (I’m a particularly big fan of bus 204 (Vermont Ave.), which is one of those extra long ones and never gets less frequent than once every half hour on weeknights, even around 4AM).

    The problem I’ve seen in this neighborhood is bus crowding (not always, but sometimes). So, you could raise fares or make some other part of the transit system worse to allocate more resources to these lines and alleviate the crowding.

    Anyway, I think one take away from this is that anecdotes aren’t enough. These lines should be systematically studied by multiple groups with results tailored to each line in a way that shows the public that a statistics book has at least been cracked open while designing the studies.

  • On a positive note, I have been very happy with Big Blue Bus service and Culver City Bus service too. I’d happy pay $1.25 if that would buy more frequent and later and night service.

  • Fallopia Simms

    The BUS dRIvDERS Union.

  • “The BUS dRIvDERS Union.”

    I debunked this claim months ago. And to this day no evidence suopporting it has been offered. Zero.

    http://la.streetsblog.org/2009/03/19/bru-how-about-a-stimulus-for-bus-riders/#comment-4854

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