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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…


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…


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…


Open Thread: Metro Considering Bus Stop Thinning In Network Plan

Metro is looking to thin many of its bus stops as part of its proposed bus service reorganization.  Photo: Fred Camino/Metro Rider

Metro is looking to thin nearby bus stops as part of its proposed bus service reorganization. Photo: Fred Camino/Metro Rider

As part of its big bus service re-organization, now called the Strategic Bus Network Plan (SBNP), Metro is proposing “stop thinning,” which basically means eliminating numerous bus stops that are too close to each other. According to a recent Metro staff report [PDF] the SBNP is “expected to be presented to the Board for approval in October or November 2015.” When I analyzed Metro’s proposal in July, it was still very much in draft form, with contradictory and unclear components.

My go-to transit expert Jarrett Walker calls stop spacing “the endless, thankless, and essential struggle.” Walker reports that the U.S. generally has stops closer together than in Europe and Australia. He favors thinning stops to rationalize stop spacing primarily because “if you can get people to gather at fewer stops, you get a faster service.” Additional benefits Walker cites are improved health from walking, and “[f]ewer stops also means more people at each stop, which improves personal security and also justifies better infrastructure.”

With Metro’s bus operations budget flat, and population growth and car traffic increasing, if the agency does nothing, then bus service will deteriorate over time. Thinning stops appropriately can help to keep buses moving.

On the other hand, there are trade-offs. Some legitimate, some less so.

It is critical to maintain access for people with disabilities. In a review of Metro’s proposal published at KCET, D.J. Waldie raised this point, remarking that “stop thinning — at least a 1/4 mile spacing between stops — will require the elderly, the disabled, and riders with small children to walk further on sidewalks that require more than a billion dollars in repairs.”

Most resistance is somewhat less legitimate. Again from Walker: “Politically, though, stop removal is hard. People whose ride will be faster usually don’t make a lot of positive comments when such things are proposed, but you do hear from people who are going to lose their stop, and their neighbors and friends.  So these proposals often get beaten down.”

Read more…


A Peek Into Metro’s Frequent Bus Network Proposal

Metro's APTA review makes a lot of recommendations can balance the agency ... Photo via Wikimedia

Metro is proposing major bus network changes, and they might be a good thing. Photo via Wikimedia

Metro is currently considering some pretty big bus service changes. Basically Metro is considering a cost-neutral scheme that would eliminate multiple relatively low-performing bus lines and would add more frequent service on a core network. More details below. Overall it looks like a step in a positive direction, though the devil may be in the details.

And the details are few and far between.

Though Metro has released a very basic presentation [PDF] with some maps and lists, the proposal seems to be in flux. Metro’s maps and lists don’t match. There are a lot of questions left unanswered.

How Metro’s Proposal Came About:

In March, Metro received the recommendations from an American Public Transit Association (APTA) review by a national panel of transit experts. On the operations end, the APTA review recommended more frequent bus service on a sparser network. The review also recommended more space between bus stops and a greater “load factor” (more people per bus) on somewhat crowded peak-commute-hour bus service.

The APTA recommendations dovetailed with changes that were already being considered. Metro convened a “Blue Ribbon Committee” (BRC) which reviewed Metro staff’s development of a bus service reorganization plan, called Metro’s “Draft Transit Service Policy” [PDF].

What’s In Metro’s Proposal:

To date, no full thorough documentation of Metro’s proposal has been made available, so the public has to read between the lines of Metro’s slideshow summary [PDF]. Calwatch posted a good summary of the proposal at Reddit.

On balance, the overall proposal has “no additional hours” of bus service. So where Metro would add more frequent service on many lines, it would subtract the same amount of service from other lines.

To evaluate how well bus lines are doing, Metro developed a metric it calls Route Performance Index (RPI.) The higher the RPI, the better the line is performing. RPI combines three measurements:

  • how many people use a line (passengers/service hour)
  • how far people travel on a line (passengers/seat mile)
  • overall operational cost (net cost/passenger)

These values are normalized so that a score of 1.0 matches the overall average. Better Institutions obtained a full RPI listing for Metro’s 140 transit lines (though the list does not include rail or BRT, and buses on Wilshire Blvd are now considered BRT). Metro’s highest ridership line, the 254 on Vermont Avenue, scores an RPI of 1.69, while the agency’s worst line, the 607 in Windsor Hills-Inglewood, scores an RPI of 0.27. According to Metro, lines with an RPI less than 0.6 “are subject to remedial action.”

Metro's proposed frequent bus network. Image from Metro presentation

Metro’s proposed frequent bus network. Image from Metro [PDF]

Where Bus Service Would Be Improved:

According to Metro’s “BRC Recommended Network” map, the following bus lines would run more frequently. Read more…


Metro Piloting Fast, Convenient All-Door Boarding on Wilshire Rapid Bus

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

Metro’s all-door boarding pilot is underway. Metro staff in orange vest in foreground. Photos: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Metro is in its third week of an all-door boarding pilot at two stops on the 720 Wilshire Rapid Bus line. Riders can take advantage of all-door boarding mornings westbound at Wilshire/Vermont and afternoons eastbound at Wilshire/Westwood.

Streetsblog checked out how it was working this morning, and it looks great!

Here’s how Metro’s trial works:

Signage and Metro staff are on hand to explain the pilot. Today it appeared that many riders boarding the 720 had already figured it out, so staff did not have a lot to do.

Riders validating their TAP cards at temporary stanchions.

Riders validating their TAP cards at temporary stanchions.

Temporary TAP stanchions have been placed at locations corresponding to all three bus doors.  Read more…


How a More Inclusive Bike Week Can Help Move Us toward “Bike Life”

Stalin, Hugo, and an apprentice at the Watts Cyclery keep Watts moving for as little money as possible. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Stalin, Hugo, an apprentice, and the Watts Cyclery kitty keep Watts moving for as little money as possible. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

“I can honestly say my faith in humanity has been restored today,” Joey said Wednesday as we popped his back tire back on his bike and I packed up my patch kit. “If I ever see you in the street again, I promise I’ll pay you back somehow.”

His declaration was quite sincere. He was worried that his boss was going to be upset at how late he was. He was still 20+ minutes away from the tire shop on Western where he worked, on foot, and he didn’t have fare for the bus or train on him. He was kind of bummed because the bike was new, too. A car making a hard right without warning had tossed both him and his previous bike into the air. He managed to walk away from the incident OK. The bike, not so much. He couldn’t afford to see this one damaged.

“I don’t even know what I hit,” he had said when I first spotted him walking his bike along Exposition Blvd. “I had been watching for glass…”

Glass wasn’t the issue this time. When we flipped the bike over and took a look at the wheel, we found a twisted industrial staple that I ended up having to yank out with my teeth after the embedded section broke off inside the tire.

“Here,” I tossed him my patch kit. “Grab one of the smaller patches and the glue while I find the hole in the tube.”

“Cool,” he nodded. “I was just going to fix it at work [with a patch for car tires].”

The imperfect fix he had planned did not surprise me. Like the majority of the folks whose tires I’ve stopped to patch in South L.A. (something that happens, on average, every other week), he was riding out of necessity, and something as basic as a popped tire could impinge on both his budget for the month (it’s a $6 to $8 fix at local shops) and his ability to get from A to B in a timely way.

Joey was fortunate in that, aside from the cheap and slightly-loose-on-the-rim tires, his bike was rather solid. Too many of the lower-income commuters I’ve spoken with are not riding on such reliable steeds.

Such as the youth whose crank kept coming loose at inopportune times and causing him to fall over in the street, occasionally in front of cars. Or the youth on the road bike with broken brakes who was wearing holes into the bottom of his shoes after he resigned himself to braking Fred Flintstone-style. Or the numerous men and youth whose rims have been damaged by collisions with cars but who couldn’t afford new wheels. Or the school kid whose rim snakebit his tube beyond repair and who cried on the phone when his mom said that was the end of his days of biking to school. Or the young man whose valve detached from the tube when we tried to fix his flat and who got a loaner tube from a friend on the condition he try to scrape together the $3 to buy one from a nearby sidewalk bike vendor as soon as possible. Or Watts resident Marcus, who had been able to convince a dollar store owner to sell him a patch kit for the $.88 he had in his pocket but who then had no way to pump up the tire. He called me at 11 p.m. a week later, from near Ted Watkins park, stranded with another flat. Was I in the area? He was afraid he wouldn’t be able to traverse the last 15 blocks home safely that night.

The struggle very low-income commuters face in maintaining bikes that were never in great shape to begin with is so bad that the owner of the Watts Cyclery even found himself having to create layaway and monthly payment plans for people who desperately needed a bike or a fix, but couldn’t pay for it upfront.

Despite the many odds they face, low and very low-income commuters consistently comprise a significant proportion of the total commuter cycling pool. And many more would likely bike, provided they could either easily/cheaply access solid bikes or get their existing bikes up and running again.

Which is why it is so unfortunate that Metro’s approach to bike week isn’t more reflective of their experience. Read more…


Metro Installing Polycarbonate Shields to Protect Bus Operators

Metro's new bus operator security barrier. In this photo the opaque black lower barrier is shut. The upper transparent barrier is open. All photos: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Metro’s new bus operator security barrier. In this photo, the opaque black lower barrier is shut. The upper transparent barrier is open. All photos: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Numerous speakers at Metro’s press conference this morning went to great length to assure the public that “the Metro system is safe.” Nonetheless, the speakers focused on the number of crimes, foremost including assaults on bus operators, that take place on transit in Los Angeles. Metro reports that operators were assaulted by passengers 138 times in 2014.

“We’re fighting back,” proclaimed Metro Boardmember and Lakewood City Councilmember Diane DuBois.

Today’s press event focused on the on-bus hardware. Metro has been installing closed-circuit television monitors since November, 2014.

Today marks the beginning of the agency’s roll-out of new polycarbonate safety barriers.

These barriers don’t photograph all that well. Read more…


Krekorian and Garcetti Tout Metro’s New 405 Freeway Express Bus Service

Cutting the ribbon on new Valley-Westside bus service. Left to right: Metro CEO Art Leahy, Mayor Eric Garcetti, Councilmember Paul Krekorian, and SFV Metro Service Council Chair Michael Cano. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Cutting the ribbon on new Valley-Westside bus service. Left to right: Metro CEO Art Leahy, Mayor Eric Garcetti, Councilmember Paul Krekorian, and SFV Metro Service Council Chair Michael Cano. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Starting this Sunday, Metro is introducing its new Valley-Westside Express bus line that takes advantage of the recently-widened 405 Freeway’s new high-occupancy vehicle lanes. The new line runs from Pacoima to Westwood, with stops at the Van Nuys Metrolink Station and the Metro Orange Line’s Van Nuys and Sepulveda stations. The full map of the new service is after the jump below.

Metro Board members celebrated the new service at a press event this morning at the Metro Orange Line Sepulveda station.

Los Angeles City Councilmember Paul Krekorian proclaimed that the new service will make it “easier, faster, and more convenient” to travel between Los Angeles communities. Krekorian also pledged that this is “just one step of many for the Valley” and that he is committed to making the Metro Orange Line run faster and adding to its capacity, and “increas[ing] rail in the San Fernando Valley.”

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti recalled riding the RTD bus to West L.A. when he was growing up in the Valley. Garcetti touted the time savings on the new line, which is anticipated to save 20 minutes compared to current Metro bus service.  Read more…


What a Vermont Avenue BRT Line Could Look Like

Future Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) on Vermont Avenue could resemble Eugene, OR's EmX BRT line. Photo: ITDP

Future Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) on Vermont Avenue could resemble the Emerald Express BRT line in Eugene, OR. Photo: ITDP

At this month’s board meeting, Metro staff reported that they are hiring consultants to shepherd two Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) projects. Today, SBLA previews one of those: Vermont Avenue BRT.

For the uninitiated, what is BRT? Bus Rapid Transit is high-quality bus service running in its own dedicated right-of-way. It comes in a lot of flavors, but generally operates like a rail line. There are two BRT examples locally. The best one is the Metro Orange Line, which runs on bus-only roads in the San Fernando Valley. Arguably the Metro Silver Line is also BRT as it runs mostly in highway toll lanes. Read this Daniel Jacobson editorial about the potential for BRT to play key roles in L.A. County’s transportation networks.

Briefly, the other BRT project will extend from the San Fernando Valley to the San Gabriel Valley. Connections would include Burbank Airport, and the Metro Gold, Orange, and Red Lines. SBLA will cover this project more as it progresses.

The two BRT projects were given momentum by a July Metro Board motion [PDF] directing Metro staff to advance these projects, including developing a budget and timelines. The Metro Board re-affirmed the July direction in this October board motion [PDF]. This month, Metro staff stated [audio – item 70 at 3:04] that they are preparing scopes of work and that consultant contracts are expected to be awarded in early 2015. Metro Board chair L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti had pressed for Metro to pursue federal Small Starts funding for these BRTs, but Metro staff sounded pessimistic about that program, due to maximum funding of $250 million for each project.

The Vermont Avenue BRT project route has not been finalized, but it is likely to be similar to the current Metro bus lines on Vermont Avenue. Vermont Avenue is one of the nation’s highest ridership bus corridors, and ridership is second only to Wilshire. The Vermont bus lines extend about 12 miles from the Metro Green Line (at the 105 Freeway) to Sunset Boulevard, including connections with Red, Purple, and Expo Lines. Depending on funding and other constraints, BRT could run on some of all of this corridor, converting to express/Rapid service in unimproved areas.

Other alternatives might be under consideration, but the Vermont line is anticipated to be “center-running” (also known as “median-aligned”) BRT. Center-running BRT has been shown to be faster and safer, compared to running along curbs. For a great explanation, watch this fun Lego-animation video.

Here’s a quick tour of some center-running BRT systems up and running elsewhere:  Read more…