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Proterra Unveils 350-Mile Range Electric Buses at APTA Conference in L.A.

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Proterra’s new Catalyst E2 electric bus parked outside the APTA conference. Photo by Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

At the American Public Transit Association’s annual meeting in downtown Los Angeles, electric bus maker Proterra unveiled its new Catalyst E2 transit bus. The Catalyst E2 electric bus is “named for its unprecedented Efficient Energy (E2) storage capacity.” According to Proterra:

[A]n E2 series vehicle achieved a new milestone at Michelin’s Laurens Proving Grounds where it logged more than 600 miles on a single charge under test conditions. Its nominal range of 194 – 350 miles means the Catalyst E2 series is capable of serving the full daily mileage needs of nearly every U.S. mass transit route on a single charge and offers the transit industry the first direct replacement for fossil-fueled transit vehicles.

Proterra manufactures these buses at plants in L.A. County’s City of Industry and in Greenville, South Carolina.

Los Angeles County’s Foothill Transit is among the nation’s early adopters of electric bus technology, with a planned all-electric bus fleet by 2030. According to Doran Barnes, Executive Director at Foothill Transit and new APTA board chair:

We just surpassed one million miles of revenue service with our battery-electric Proterra fleet, and we’re looking forward to many more miles to come. Since our first EV bus procurement with Proterra in 2010, we knew that zero-emission buses were the future of mass transit. Now, with the new Catalyst E2, this vision is a reality. We’re excited by the possibilities of an all-electric future.

Read more…

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Metro Service Changes Take Effect This Sunday, Including Fewer Night Trains

A side effect of additional "late night" train service will be to alleviate the strain on cars when Midnight Ridazz let's out (assuming the ride ends before midnight). Photo:##http://www.flickr.com/photos/garyseven/3138690971/sizes/z/in/photostream/##Gary Kavanagh/Flickr##

As of Sunday, Metro’s “More Trains More Often” nighttime initiative will be over. Photo: Gary Kavanagh

This Sunday, June 26, Metro will be making their twice yearly “service changes” to bus and rail service. This typically means minor cuts, often justifiable, but still incrementally making riders’ lives a little worse and incrementally contributing to declines in ridership.

Metro’s The Source has a fair summary of the agency’s latest round of transit service adjustments. As one would expect, the agency emphasized improvements:

  • All Gold Line trains will serve the entire new Foothill Extension. Since the new stations opened in March, they were only served by every other train out of Union Station, meaning trains to Azusa ran every 12 minutes. As of Sunday, peak-hour service to Azusa will be every 7 minutes.
  • Metro Rapid Bus line 744 night service has been adjusted to better serve Cal State Northridge.
  • Metro Bus line 230 night service has been adjusted to better serve Mission College.

The Source uses very neutral language to mention some nighttime service cuts for Metro rail lines. These cuts are generating some concern on social media. Right now, evening service (from roughly 8 p.m. to midnight) on the Expo Line and Blue Line runs every 10 minutes. As of Sunday, this will be cut in half to every 20 minutes. Some late night Blue Line trains also run shorter lines, ending at Del Amo Station. In addition, Red Line and Purple Line service for Friday and Saturday nights will be reduced from every 10 minutes to every 20. (Metro already reduced Sunday through Thursday night service to every 20 minutes last year.)

Relatively frequent night train service was introduced in 2011 as part of the Villaraigosa-era “More Trains More Often” improvements. This week’s changes effectively end that 2011 service expansion.  Read more…

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Quantifying Transit Ridership, Some Lessons from UCLA’s Transit Conference

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U.S. Transit usage has been largely flat in the U.S. since 2000. Source: Blumenberg presentation

Earlier this week, SBLA attended UCLA’s The Future of Public Transit conference. The one-day event was hosted by UCLA’s Lewis Center and Institute of Transportation Studies. Numerous speakers spoke on the evolving landscape for public transit and broader mobility – from Houston to New York to Los Angeles. This article recaps two of the more informative and more academic presentations on trends impacting transit ridership. There are no major surprises gleaned for folks who read Streetsblog and who ride transit in Los Angeles, but it is interesting to see data quantified to back up trends observed.

Manville on Driving vs. Transit Ridership

Michael Manville, Assistant Professor of City and Regional Planning at Cornell University, spoke on how recent driving trends have impacted transit ridership. In 2005, driving in the U.S. leveled off. It subsequently declined through 2014. Though there has been a recent uptick, per-person driving is still below 2004 levels.

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In the U.S., miles driven per person declined from 2005 through 2014. Driving recently rebounded to 2002 levels. Source: FHWA via @yfreemark Twitter (AADT is Annual Average Daily Traffic)

Does less driving mean more transit ridership? Manville’s prognosis is “probably not.”  Read more…

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Register This Week For UCLA’s April 27 Public Transit Conference

Click to find out more about UCLA's April 27 conference at the California Endowment in downtown L.A.

Click to find out more about and/or to register for UCLA’s April 27 public transit conference at the California Endowment in downtown L.A.

Time is running out to register for next week’s The Future of Public Transit, UCLA’s 9th Annual Downtown Los Angeles Forum on Transportation, Land Use and the Environment. The conference takes place next week on Wednesday, April 27 from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the California Endowment at 1000 North Alameda Street in downtown Los Angeles, one block north of Union Station.

The full list of speakers and sessions is available at the conference website. The keynote address will be delivered by Therese McMillan, Metro’s new Chief Planning Officer, who until recently was Obama’s Acting Federal Transit Administration head. McMillan will speak on “Public transit’s societal contribution: now and in the future.”

Other topics to be discussed include: Houston’s much-heralded frequent bus service reorganization, demographic shifts away from driving, youth and immigrant transit ridership trends, public-private coordination with ride-hail companies including Lyft, lessons from New York City, and CEO Phil Washington on Metro’s strategies for expanding ridership.

The registration deadline is this Friday, April 22 at noon. Register easily via Eventbrite. Regular tickets are $79; student tickets are $35.

After the jump, find the conference organizers promotional blurb. See you downtown next week!  Read more…

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This Week’s Metro Committees: All-Door Boarding, Bike-Share, Parking, More

Metro's all-door boarding pilot is underway. Photos: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Metro’s operations committee is expected to approve all-door boarding for the Silver Line BRT this week. Photo of the agency’s 2015 Wilshire all-door boarding pilot: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

This week’s big Metro announcement, expected Friday, will be the fall ballot measure expenditure plan. Some early Measure R2.1 outlines are already foreshadowed here and at the Los Angeles Times.

That expenditure plan will be huge news, but there is other important Metro business going on at Metro board committee meetings this week. Dollar for dollar, this week’s committee business may not match the budget for the November ballot measure, but, from ciclovías to bike-share to all-door boarding to parking to joint development, these agency decisions can add up to make a difference for the region’s livability.

Below is a run-down of key items on this week’s Metro committee agendas:

Planning and Programming Committee – today 2 p.m. – agenda

  • The committee is expected to authorize an all-paid parking pilot for nine rail stations. This is an excellent step to stop costly-to-provide free parking from hemorraging away Metro’s budget, and for managing parking to better foster equity, improve air quality, and encourage active transportation.
  • The committee will hear a proposal to discount Metro bike-share fares for low-income folks, seniors, and students. This should be one helpful step toward making bike-share service more equitable. More details here.
  • Metro is proposing to fund CicLAvia-type open streets events, similar to the agency’s prior open streets funding cycle. The overall allocation would be $4 million, with $2 million per year for Fiscal Years 2017 and 2018.
  • The committee will consider joint development plans for parcels at First Street and Soto Street in Boyle Heights, and at Fourth Street and Hill Street in Downtown L.A. (rendering below).
  • Additional committee items include the Union Station run-through tracks (called the Southern California Regional Interconnector Project or SCRIP), double-tracking a portion of Metrolink’s San Bernardino line, and evaluating a proposed Metrolink Station for Rio Hondo College.

Proposed 4th and Hill development in downtown Los Angeles

Proposed 4th and Hill development in downtown Los Angeles would retool Metro Red/Purple Line Pershing Square Station portal. Image via Metro

Construction Committee – tomorrow 9 a.m. – agenda Read more…

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What Factors Are Causing Metro’s Declining Ridership? What Next?

The Los Angeles Times graph of Metro ridership over the past 30 years

The Los Angeles Times graph of Metro ridership over the past 30 years

In my circles, there has been a lot of discussion swirling around Wednesday’s Los Angeles Times article, Billions spent, but fewer people are using public transportation in Southern California, by Laura Nelson and Dan Weikel.

The Times’ authors cast a disparaging light on recent downturns in ridership: “Despite a $9-billion investment in new light rail and subway lines, Metro now has fewer boardings than it did three decades ago, when buses were the county’s only transit option.” The article further asserts a number of causes for declining ridership including “a changing job market, falling gas prices, fare increases, declining immigration and the growing popularity of other transportation options, including bicycling and ride-hailing companies” and also immigration patterns and new drivers licenses for the undocumented.

The internet has already responded to the Times:

  • Steve Hymon at Metro’s The Source, responds citing national trends and touting transit’s promising future, though Hymon ultimately concludes that Metro can do better.
  • KCRW’s Which Way L.A.? hosted a discussion with Loren Kaye, Denny Zane, and Brian Taylor. Taylor blames a lack of agreement on policy goals that results in a “distorted” system that favors cheap car travel.
  • Railtown author Ethan Elkind notes that the Times graphic misleadingly emphasizes Metro’s 1985 peak ridership.
  • Jarrett Walker criticizes the Times for identifying an “accelerating” trend out of what is actually “very noisy” but largely flat ridership data. Walker emphasizes that the current one-year decline in ridership is not a “trend” yet; labeling it one is presumptuous.
  • Matt Tinoco at LAist echoes Elkind and Hymon and questions the role of changing demographics, including gentrification in L.A.’s core.
  • Eric Jaffe at CityLab points to new research that disputes the article’s claim, made by transit critic James E Moore that, “It’s the dream of every bus rider to own a car.”

At yesterday’s Metro board meeting, CEO Phil Washington asserted that transit ridership is cyclical and that L.A.’s decline is in line with national trends. He also stated that he would be responding via a planned Times guest editorial.

There are a lot of keystrokes already stricken on this, but, nonetheless, I’d like to weigh in with some ideas and some questions, and to further hear from SBLA readers on what you think. Like the Times list, I don’t think that there is one smoking gun cause, but plenty of interacting and overlapping factors that influence ridership.

Decades of government capital spending favor cars. Graph via Frontier Group

Decades of government capital spending favor cars. Graph via Frontier Group

Overall Investment – Transit vs. Cars

My first thought upon reading the article was to blame declining ridership on a disparity of investment between transit infrastructure and car infrastructure. The U.S., California, and Los Angeles continue a long pattern of spending huge budgets to support driving, and not so much for transit. Governmental regulations, including parking requirements, also require massive private investment to serve cars, with little to no provisions for transit. Collectively, we pay people to drive, and so people drive a lot.

I am skeptical that even Measure R’s significant transit investments will move L.A. County toward a greater transit share because Measure R also provides billions of dollars for highway and road expansion.

Yonah Freemark touches on these disparities in his study showing that light rail investment did not increase transit mode share. Read more…

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Metro Extends Silver Line, Boosts Rapids, Quietly Reduces Local Bus Service

Metro is thinning some bus stops starting this month. This one is located at 37th Place and Vermont Avenue. Photo by Axel Hellman

Metro is thinning some bus stops starting this month. This one is located at 37th Place and Vermont Avenue. Photo by Axel Hellman

Twice a year, Metro makes changes to its bus routes and schedules. Last week, the agency announced changes coming into effect this winter, including detours to avoid construction and minor schedule adjustments.

The most dramatic change is an extension of the Silver Line that will bring bus rapid transit to Carson and San Pedro. The former line 450 was folded into the Silver Line, re-branded as “Silver Line Express” service. The new Silver Line will offer more frequent service to San Pedro, and faster skip-stop service to passengers boarding in other areas.

There’s more than meets the eye to these changes. If you look through the new schedules, there are several unannounced cuts – and improvements – on various bus lines. These details were not included in the official announcement, brochures, or social media posts. Some riders who don’t closely study the timetables will see an unexpectedly long wait for their bus. Riders on other lines will find a pleasant surprise in the new service changes, giving them a faster bus ride or shorter waiting times.

In many cases, service is being cut on a local line, offset by a service increase on the corresponding Rapid line. For instance, Metro is cancelling 36 trips on line 45 down South Broadway, which is going to decrease the frequency of service. But the agency is adding 38 trips 745 Rapid, which services the same route. That route will now run every 12 minutes on weekdays, up from a 22-minute headway.

Similarly, Metro is reducing service local service on lines 4, 28, 60, 180, 181, and 204, while increasing service on lines 704, 728, 760, 780, and 754. The trade-off here is that passengers who board at local stops will see increased waiting times, but Rapid riders will have faster trips.

On lines 751 and 18, service is being increased with no corresponding shifts in service on other lines. Other lines, including the 207 on Western Avenue, will see buses run less frequently. On this particular route, service is being reduced by 10 percent. Local buses will run every 10-12 minutes in the morning rush hour, down from every 6-8 minutes.  Read more…

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Area Mobility Advocate Exhausted by Bus, Makes Decision to Buy Car

Erick Huerta checks his phone as he waits for the bus on Western Ave. at Exposition Blvd. At this point he has already taken one bus and one train and has been in transit for an hour and fifteen minutes. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Erick Huerta checks his phone as he waits for the bus on Western Ave. at Exposition Blvd. At this point, he has already taken one bus, one train, walked three-quarters of a mile, and been in transit for an hour and twenty minutes. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

What was I writing about, a woman wanted to know.

She had heard me explain to a gentleman passenger on the bus that, just because I had a camera with me, I was not also a model. Nor was I a stripper. I was a journalist.

That news seemed to have disappointed him. He had fond memories of taking fifty dollars’ worth of one dollar bills to the Gold Digger and “ballin'” as a young man. So much so that even when I explained I was interested in seeing more investment in the bus system so people could get to their destinations in a reasonable amount of time, he kept taking the subject back to the ladies of “extraordinary talents” that he had once known.

I turned to the woman that had asked the question, gestured toward my friend, social justice advocate, and noted Boyle Heights resident Erick Huerta, and said, “His commute.”

“Commute” did not seem like the right word to describe a trek that involved two buses, a train, just under a mile’s worth of walking, and anywhere from an hour and a half to two hours of transit time for one trip. Coming home was more of the same, adding as many as four hours to an 8-hour (but sometimes longer, as Huerta is in the non-profit world and there are often community meetings) work day. And that’s when service wasn’t held up because of a bus or train breakdown, something which happened far too often for his taste.

“It shouldn’t take me two hours to go 12 miles,” he said as we boarded the first bus at 8:08 that morning.

He’s right.

By bike, the commute takes under an hour. And when he’s gotten a lift in a co-worker’s car (or on a rare occasion, a very costly Uber/Lyft ride), it takes just half an hour.

It was so crazy getting a ride after work one day and realizing he had the time to meet a friend for dinner and just hang out, he said.

It’s the reason he has decided to buy a car.

Not to drive it every day, he reassured me. But to be able to have the option of doing so when he wanted to have time to have a life outside of work and commuting.

You see, Huerta has never owned a car.

Brought to the U.S. as a young child, his undocumented status meant that, until recently, he couldn’t get a driver’s license. And because of his status, the struggle to find stable work and even stable living arrangements, at times, meant that a car would have been out of reach, anyways.

Growing up, his family owned one car and it was mainly for his father to use for work and special errands, like runs to the grocery store. For everything else his family did and everywhere else Huerta needed to go, there was the bus.

And it kind of sucked.

Read more…

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October Metro Committee Meeting Updates: Bus Service, TOC, Measure R2

Metro's Transit Service Policy Update is summarized in this presentation [PDF]

Metro’s Transit Service Policy Update lays the groundwork for a frequent bus service network, expected in July 2016. Changes are summarized in this presentation [PDF].

The Metro Board of Directors held its monthly committee meetings this week, in advance of next Thursday’s board meeting. Below are a handful of news bits gleaned from this week’s committee meetings. Final decisions still need to be approved by the full board next week.

Frequent Bus Service Network

Metro’s System Safety, Security and Operations Committee approved a new 81-page “2016 Transit Service Policy” document [PDF]. The changes are summarized in this presentation [PDF]. The document primarily lays the groundwork for implementing the not-yet-well-defined Frequent Bus Network, also known as the Strategic Bus Network Plan (SBNP.) SBLA analyzed the draft network proposal in this earlier article.

There are two main policy changes in the new Transit Service Policy. Both were recommended in Metro’s March 2015 American Public Transportation Association review:

  • Increase Load Factor: Load factor measures how crowded buses are. Currently Metro has a single load factor for all bus service; buses (at least as scheduled/planned at peak) hold 1.3 times their seated capacity. That means that generally 23 percent of riders are expected to stand at peak hours. The agency is adopting a new standard that it characterizes as “wait a long time: get to sit down.” It is a more complex standard that takes into account frequency of service. Peak service load factors increase to 1.4, meaning 29 percent of peak hour riders can expect to stand. This is a somewhat delicate balance to strike. Transit expert Jarrett Walker emphasizes that maintaining a low peak load factor is costly. On the other hand, overcrowded buses can become so full that they pass by waiting riders.
  • Eliminate Bus Stops: Metro reports that, over the past five years, average bus speeds have declined from “12 mph to less than 10.91 mph.” One low cost way to address this is to eliminate stops, especially local bus stops that are close together. See this earlier SBLA article on the benefits of bus stop thinning.

As this earlier SBLA article outlines, many questions remain regarding the SBNP, especially regarding canceling lines that may be picked up by municipal bus operators, including Foothill Transit and Santa Monica Big Blue Bus. The timeline specified in the presentation shows Metro detailing service changes in December, and holding hearings in February 2016, for a planned implementation in July 2016.

Map of planned new North Hollywood to Pasadena freeway bus. Image via Metro.

Map of planned new North Hollywood to Pasadena freeway bus. Image via Metro.

New NoHo-Pasadena Express Bus Line

Metro’s Operations Committee approved $784,000 to fund a new North Hollywood to Pasadena express bus, connecting the Orange and Red Lines with the Gold Line.  The new freeway bus line will be called Line 501. It is expected to begin a 180-day pilot at the same time that the Foothill Gold Line opens in the Spring of 2016. The route roughly parallels LADOT Commuter Express line 549, which operates only on weekday peak hours. Additional details in Metro staff reports.

Read more…

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Foothill Transit’s Class Pass: A Universal Bus Pass Success Story

Last week, Metro Board Chair Mark Ridley-Thomas set things in motion for a universal community college transit pass program. Today SBLA profiles one successful local college bus pass program. Foothill Transit’s Class Pass is increasing ridership, helping solve parking problems, and giving students expanded and affordable mobility options.

Students boarding Foothill Transit Line xxx at Mount San Antonio College. Photo by Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Students boarding Foothill Transit Line 486 at Mount San Antonio College. Photo by Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

In March, the American Public Transit Association (APTA) released its annual aggregation of nationwide transit ridership trends. Though APTA figures [PDF – L.A. County Google spreadsheet] show that overall national transit ridership was at a 58-year high in 2014, the figures were not as promising for L.A. County. Metro ridership decreased 2.8 percent from 2013 to 2014. Metro is currently studying ways to reverse its decline, but the agency’s budget forecasts an additional five percent decline in fiscal year 2015-16.

Most of the municipal transit agencies operating in L.A. County also saw similar decreases in ridership. Examples include Long Beach Transit down 0.5 percent, and Santa Monica’s Big Blue Bus down 3.7 percent. Foothill Transit bucked the trend, showing a 3.6 increase in ridership.

What caused Foothill Transit’s ridership uptick? Expanded Silver Streak freeway bus service as part of Metro’s ExpressLanes program?

Foothill Transit Director of Marketing and Communications Felicia Friesema points to modest increases on a number of lines, including the Silver Streak, but the most substantive increases come from Foothill’s Class Pass program.

Foothill Transit’s Class Pass is an unlimited-ride student TAP card. Class Pass started as a trial at Mount San Antonio College (Mt. SAC) in 2013. At Mt. SAC, the pass is effectively free to students who ride the bus, with the program being paid for by all students through a $9 registration fee ($8 for part-time students.) The registration fee was approved by a vote of the Mt. SAC student body in 2014, making the program permanent.  Read more…