More Service Cuts Coming Before the End of the Year

6_8_10_bus.jpgIf I lived on Beverly, cancelling the 714 would make me bitter. Photo: biofriendly/flickr

Amidst the discussion of Metro’s impending fare increase previous
Streetsblog posting have noted even with additional funds from the
state along with the addition fare revenues Metro still has a deficit
and plans to close it (in part) with service reductions.

Now the details on these are becoming available. Metro is presenting to
the various Governance Councils
details on staff’s proposals for
service changes to be implemented in December. Public Hearings will be
held during the month of August at each scheduled Governance Council
meeting to receive public comment on the proposals. Following the
public hearing, staff will return in September to the Councils with a
report summarizing all public comments received along with revised
staff recommendations. The Councils will have the final say as to what
changes (if any) are to be implemented except that any proposed changes
to Tier 1 services, which include Rapid Bus, must come before the MTA
Board for its approval before they are implemented.

Kymberleigh Richards summarized the proposals in a posting on the
SO.CA.TA member board, which she has kindly given permission to
share below. It should be noted a number of the lines proposed for
cancellation have faced a similar fate in the past and ducked the
bullet. This is because the Councils generally have some wiggle room as
to what the package of changes they agree to consists of. Community
input has a large impact on what changes occur. In the coming weeks
Metro will gear up its publicity machine regarding the proposal
hearings, but I though it would be useful to provide an early heads up.

Lines proposed for complete cancellation:
168 (Lassen-Paxton)
177 (Sierra Madre Villa-JPL)
214 (Broadway-Main Loop)
220 (Robertson Blvd.)
439 (Downtown-LAX Express)
608 (Crenshaw Connection)
620 (Boyle Heights Shuttle)

Lines proposed for partial cancellation or restructuring:
202 (Willowbrook-Compton-

Wilmington) – cancel shortline trips
607 (Windsor Hills-Inglewood Shuttle) – run service only as a clockwise loop
625/626 (Green Line-LAX Shuttles) – combine into single line, truncate north of Imperial/La Cienega, 20 minute headway

Rapid cancellations:
711 (Florence) – approx. 2/3 of saved hours to increased 111 service
714 (Beverly) – same increase (2/3 of savings) to 14
715 (Manchester-Firestone) – same increase to 115
753 (Central) – same increase to 53
920 (Wilshire Rapid Express) – half of savings to increased 720

Rapid weekend-only cancellations:
750 (Ventura) – 2/3 of savings to 150
762 (Atlantic) – half of savings to 260
780 (Colorado-Hollywood) – 2/3 to 180/181

in the category of "oops, that wasn’t such a good idea after all", Line
287, which was extended over the route of Line 68 as part of the
Eastside Extension bus/rail interface plan, is to be cutback at
Montebello Towne Center, with the replacement service between there and
Indiana Station being provided by … extending Line 68!

Per the
San Fernando Valley council decision in March, Line 902 will also be
considered for cancellation … or another six month extension of the
demonstration … or making the line permanent … or making the
elected officials who thought it up ride it every day until they get
tired of it. (Yes, I made that last part up.) Apparently staff wants to
see the absolute latest bad ridership numbers before making a formal
recommendation, and will list it in the public hearing notice the same
way it was in the last one, which is "consider making demonstration
line permanent".

  • RIP 920. My friend called it The Magic Bus.

  • I thought the 920 should have been re-conceived as a Purple Line simulator, with a stop at Century City rather than Beverly Hills.

    There has been no one-seat ride from Wilshire/Vermont to Century City, which I think is a mistake.

  • Erik G.

    The morning commute with no 920 from Wilshire/Vermont to Wilshire/Westwood is gonna really suck.

    Is this more proof that no one at One Gateway actually rides the system?

  • LAMosca

    The 920’s assigned stops were terrible choices.
    Let’s not weep over a project that was destined to fail, and let’s not forget that there we STILL have the 720.

  • cph

    I would have #920 make all #720 stops between Santa Monica and Westwood, then the current stopping pattern to Wilshire/Western. The way it is now, it’s too inconvenient for many people west of Westwood to use, thence it’s relatively lightly loaded east of that point….

  • Ugh. Does anyone else feel a fundamental contradiction between these service cuts and fare hikes and all the 30/10 drumbeating that’s been going on lately?

    I feel lukewarm about the 30/10 plan because I know that it is an example of capital bias – that is, the tendency for politicians to support things they can cut ribbons on. Mayor V (and the Metro Board) are green-lighting enormous expenditures of public money on tunneling, widening, and rail cars, but they can’t find any money to fund basic operational needs like Rapid lines?

    The 30/10 plan will build a select number of routes that will affect a relatively small number of people. We could use the same amount of money to make changes that would truly transform ALL of Los Angeles – for the same amount of money, we could have bus-only lanes on every major road in the city, running every 2 minutes, with protected transfer stations and signal priority – oh, and free fares.

    I’m not really active in the transit advocacy scene, and I’m not a member of the BRU or anything, but it is time for us to have a discussion about the wisdom of these enormous capital projects at the expense of basic operations. Streetsblog is a big cheerleader for expensive, capital rail projects that tend to move affluent riders at high costs. There are real equity issues when those projects come at the expense of bus lines that go all across the city, and fare hikes that affect transit dependent riders.

    I would love to see Streetsblog and its readership put transit-dependent and car-free riders first and demand cost-effective operational improvements before shiny capital projects.

  • Also, @EricG and @LAMosca, they are talking about 902, not 920! The 920 is one of most heavily ridden lines in LA, and the 20/720/920 on Wilshire carries more passengers than any bus corridor in LA.

    @LaMosca, what is your argument that the stops are poorly chosen? I ride that bus regularly, and it is always full.

    In fact, the 20/720/920 are a good rebuke to the argument that buses can’t be the core of a world-class transit system. The buses are always full, the decreased headways have drawn choice riders out of their cars, and the travel times compete with driving.

  • Oh god, its 902, and 920! Apparently I can’t read.

    I bet one reason the 920 is getting cut is that its expensive to add peak-hour service, which the 920 exclusively runs. Adding peak-hour service requires buying more buses, hiring more drivers. Adding service during the off-peak costs very little because you already have the driver, and probably have to pay her or him for a full day’s work, and you already own the bus.

    Then again, its extremely hypocritical to consider cost when cutting bus lines and completely disregard cost when drumming up support for rail lines. How much is the Subway to the Sea going to cost, again?

    10 Billion dollars.

  • Erik G.

    Given the traffic conditions on Wilshire are horrendous even when parking is banned, give me the Subway over 920/720. Buses are not as fast and they are dangerously overloaded now. Good argument for buses as the “core of a world-class system”? No, its evidence that the subway should have been built to Westwood already, but is not thanks to Henry and Zev and their magic methane.

  • John

    Real big bummer about the 920, the best line especially for those with bikes!

    My rush hour East Hollywood to the sea commute took about 40 minutes, bike and bus, faster than any car.

    If they would have just added a Bundy or 14th stop the 920 would have been more useful and probably would have had more riders.

  • Joseph E

    @Herbie Huff:
    Metro currently spends about 1 billion dollars per year on bus and rail operations, to provide 8.3 million revenue service hours (one bus or train operated for one hour), at a cost of about $100 per revenue hour. 7.6 million of those service hours are in the bus system.

    Numbers are from this budget:

    The buses average 12.7 miles per hour in service currently (divide total revenue miles by total service hours), while the rail lines average 23.2 revenue miles per revenue service hour. If giving buses signal priority and exclusive lanes increased average bus speeds to 18 mph (which is the same speed as the Eastside Gold Line or the Blue Line on the street-running portion in Downtown LA), local and rapid lines included, you could provide 40% more frequent service for free, or you could eliminate fares on buses and still provide slightly more frequent service.

    However, you are suggesting running buses “every 2 minutes.” That seems a bit much; how about we run buses every 4 minutes, up from an average of every 12 to 30 minutes today (including less popular routes). That will approximately triple the miles, and even with the assumed much faster speeds, will cost an extra 1 billion dollars per year. Including inflation, that will be over $50 billion over 30 years, even with moderate 4% annual inflation in bus operations costs. The 30/10 rail projects will only cost 14 billion in local funds, and the state and federal government may pick up part of that cost as well:

    Now, I’m all for signal priority, proof-of-payment, and exclusive lanes for buses, due to the faster, cheaper and more reliable service. But that’s no reason to cancel the Purple line to Westwood, or the Regional Connector in Downtown. Buses are expensive to operate and have limited capacity to handle busy routes like Wilshire Blvd, Vermont Blvd, and paths thru Downtown LA. We should have more and better buses, but we need more trains too.

  • Nice to see vigorous discussion. And nothing is set in stone. Public input will have a role in the final shape of the changes (if any).

    One problem of the 920 is the imbalance in demand–it is heaviest to the westside in the a.m., from the westside in the p.m. Most equipment turns run as 720s so that line is forced to include non-artics in the non-peak direction which creates some capacity problems. Overall 720 ridership is much stronger so the best use of equipment is as 720s. Plus the time saving of 920 vs. 720 is minimal, at best. The 920 was an experiment pushed by Zev Yaroslavsky, searching for another transportation project to champion post Orange Line. The concept didn’t pan out and now Metro is ending it. Note Zev never made a big noise of taking credit for it as he still does for the Orange Line.

    I’ll save comments on the limitation of buses for my future piece on three transportation myths debunked.

  • The 439 is the only way to get to the Kenneth Hahn Rec Area. That is one park, LA doens’t want any car free people to visit. To enter you have to walk down a “highway” portion of La Cienega. Do we have to die to use a park?

  • “I would love to see Streetsblog and its readership put transit-dependent and car-free riders first and demand cost-effective operational improvements before shiny capital projects.”


    I’ll leave that to the discredited BRU.

    We need BOTH these capital projects and quality bus service.

  • JJ

    On the other side, the silver line page promisses service imrpovements in June. Whats going on with that?

  • Spokker

    “I’m not really active in the transit advocacy scene, and I’m not a member of the BRU or anything, but it is time for us to have a discussion about the wisdom of these enormous capital projects at the expense of basic operations. ”

    People voted for those capital projects. You would have had to convince 66% of the county not to vote for capital rail projects. And then you would have to convince them to put that money into operations instead. It should be noted that 20% of Measure R went to bus operations, including freezing fares for a year for everyone, and freeze fares for five years for seniors and the disabled.

    However, freezing fares is not the best way to improve ridership. Metro must be able to raise prices to deal with the rising costs of operating public transportation. It has one of the lowest farebox recoveries in the nation. Fares need to be increased on an even schedule so that we don’t get these doomsday scenarios where service is cut. The truly needy should be helped in some other way, such as vouchers or something. The point is that need-based assistance should not be rolled into fares.

    Of course, this requires coordination to end auto and parking subsidies. It’s quite a challenge.

  • Herbie:

    “I’m not really active in the transit advocacy scene, and I’m not a member of the BRU or anything, but it is time for us to have a discussion about the wisdom of these enormous capital projects at the expense of basic operations.”

    Your comments make it very obvious that you are very new to the discussion, so let me state the most important thing anyone who wants to seriously advocate for public transportation needs to know:

    Money that is specifically earmarked for capital projects — like the funds the voters approved in Measure R — cannot legally be diverted to operating service. Most operations-eligible funding is discretionary (but not all of it) but capital funds are not.

    This has been the fallacy of the BRU all along: They repeatedly spoke their mantra “if you stop building these projects you will have more money for bus service” but that was not true. The public, not knowing any better, bought into the lie, but the Metro Board and those of us who are involved in public transportation advocacy do know better.

    You also need to know that the state has, in recent years, diverted the sales tax on gasoline, which was supposed to be (per Prop 42) partially used as an operating subsidy for transit. This is why Metro — and just about every other transit agency in California — has been through multiple rounds of service cuts. You can’t run service you don’t have money to pay for, and when you have to make cuts, you cancel the service that attracts the fewest passengers.

    To wit: Nearly all of the proposed December service changes by Metro involve local lines that are on the agency’s worst performing list (fewer than 20 passenger boardings per service hour), which is the subject of an agenda item at next week’s Operations Committee meeting. Here is a link to the staff report for that item:

    The Rapid lines in the December proposals are all deficient either in time savings, amount of passengers diverted from the underlying local line, or average trip length. 920 is the lone exception, being considered only in terms of ridership compared to 720, but as my friend Dana already said, the concept didn’t work the way Zev had hoped when he proposed it and with 720 in need of increased service this is the only way to alleviate overcrowding on 720.

  • @Herbie–

    I wanted to take a moment to say kudos for starting this discussion. I’ve been following transit in LA for awhile, but the information the commenters brought forth has been super interesting to think about, and that would not have been possible had you not put forth your comment.

    Everyone, but especially Kymberleigh, Dana and Spokker — I know it takes time to write the type of comments that you have made, so I wanted to say thank you! I appreciate the background information that you’ve provided here, particularly for some of us who are newer to LA or at least the LA transit advocacy scene. Your words have been very welcoming, which is really nice.

    Thanks again,

  • I think we should be honest Herbie has a valid point about bus service improvement as to on near term real improvements to mobility and bang for the buck. But it gets complicated and isn’t a mere matter of “Let’s do it”. I am digging into the Wilshire BRT for a piece I am doing on it next week and the background stretches into the mid 90s. What seems straight forward and obvious isn’t always all that easy to do. Which can be frustrating at times.

    Sirinya, thanks for the kind words. None of us have all the answers. And I appreciate all the comments posted here, even the ones I disagree with. Sometimes the latter are the most educational in a see what the other side thinks kind of way.

  • Well I don’t see how the 920 can’t be considered sucessful. It’s packed to the gills when I ride it to and from Westwood. Also, the orange (slow)buses stop to often. Sometimes on every block. I get that it’s hard for some people to walk far for the bus, but seriously if you can’t walk a block, you should be using access transit or something for the disabled. If stops were spaced every 2 blocks at a minimum, no one on the route would ever have to walk more than a block to get to a stop. It’s not too much to ask someone to walk a block. It would be valuable for Metro to evauate how close stops should be.

  • On another note entirely, I have noticed that the 218 is using bigger buses of late.


    Everyone who is new to transit advocacy should go to Kymberleigh Richards superb presentation on transportation funding on her website:

  • revebleu, your packed 920s are mostly 45 foot buses. If we reallocate those service hours to addition articulated buses operating on the 720 we alleviate crowding on that bus with minimal impact on the 920 riders and for the same monies provide more capacity in the corridor.

    “Successful” is a relative concept in an era of constrained finances, etc. This is what Kymberleigh is referring to in her final paragraph.

    And if you 920 riders are really serious about saving your line, you’ll start organizing–do flyers and hand them out on the buses to encourage riders to attend the upcoming hearings or submit comments via e-mail. Like I said before, public comment will impact what happens. And thanks to me you now have enough of an early notice to get cracking in advance of the August hearings.

    Your’re welcome…

  • @Joseph E

    Your argument that buses are “expensive to operate” conflicts with the facts. According to Metro’s proposed budget for fiscal year 20011 the cost per hour in fiscal year 2009 was:

    Bus excluding Orange Line 125.93
    Orange Line……………207.64
    Light rail…………….393.37
    Heavy rail…………….319.95

    The Orange line BRT cost less per hour to operate than rail and all other buses are less than the Orange Line in operating costs.

    Cost per passenger mile for fiscal year 2009 is also mentioned as:

    Bus excluding Orange Line 0.63
    Orange Line……………0.46
    Light rail…………….0.46
    Heavy rail…………….0.38

    The above shows that the bus rapid transit Orange Line is equal in costs per mile to light rail in Los Angeles and the busy bus lines such as Wilshire Blvd, Ventura Blvd or Vermont Ave are much less in cost to operate than the Orange Line.

    As for your argument that buses “have limited capacity to handle busy routes like Wilshire Blvd’:

    The bus lines on Wilshire Blvd already handle 93,000 passengers a day which far exceeds the daily passenger load of any light rail line in Los Angeles. Metro anticipates that adding a bus only lane at peak hours will increase the amount of bus passengers on Wilshire Blvd by 15% for only a $30 million infrastructure cost. That makes the cost of rail look ridiculously over priced for what you will get in added passengers or cost per mile to build and operate.

    Another example is the Orange Line bus rapid transit (BRT) with weekday passenger count of approximately 23,000. The capacity of this 14 mile line according to Metro is about 40,000 passengers per day. That capacity is about what the current daily passenger count of the Green Line light rail is and the Green Line covers about 43% more miles than the Orange Line.

    The Orange Line construction costs per mile are about a third of what a light rail line would be and it can handle the current light rail passenger load per mile of the Gold and Green Lines.

    Adding rail lines has increased the costs of operating Metro and has contributed to rising ticket prices and bus service cuts to help pay for it which has in turn lowered the amount of riders overall.

  • Another example is the Orange Line bus rapid transit (BRT) with weekday passenger count of approximately 23,000. The capacity of this 14 mile line according to Metro is about 40,000 passengers per day.


    Which is why it should be upgraded to light-rail and extended east through Burbank, Glendale and Pasadena to meet the Gold Line.

  • Dennis Hindman

    Like many true believers you fixate on every fault of what you oppose and minimize the downside of that which you advocate. As I have often noted it is easy to work numbers that prove something when you already know what you are proving.

    Orange Line has an exclusive right of way, and only other such likely corridor for that is the Harbor Subdivision. Otherwise there will be no further BRT projects like it.

    You gloss over the severe constrains of the Orange Line. I believe that 40,000 figure involves platooning–basically having two artic buses run in tandem to double capacity while avoiding the constraints of the road crossings and LADOT traffic concerns. Running such service has many difficulties and make me question how useful the Orange Line is if it so quickly and firmly maxs out. Gold and Green lines have much ability to handle increased ridership–Orange Line will have to have very expensive grade separations if it was ever to have similar potential. Investing in a facility that lacks the ability to handle growth for the next 20-40 years is a poor use of resources.

    The bus lines on Wilshire especially in rush hour struggle to cope with the existing load. The extra capacity the bus lanes will provide is partly to make the current ridership be able to be more evenly spread. Reliability is as much the aim of Wilshire BRT.

    Buses are great and appropriate in many circumstances. But the bus can do it all ideology doesn’t reflect the arc of transit history and experience over the past 100 years.

  • Jerard Wright

    “You gloss over the severe constrains of the Orange Line. I believe that 40,000 figure involves platooning–basically having two artic buses run in tandem to double capacity while avoiding the constraints of the road crossings and LADOT traffic concerns. Running such service has many difficulties and make me question how useful the Orange Line is if it so quickly and firmly maxs out. Gold and Green lines have much ability to handle increased ridership–Orange Line will have to have very expensive grade separations if it was ever to have similar potential. Investing in a facility that lacks the ability to handle growth for the next 20-40 years is a poor use of resources.”

    Also by this standard the cost per mile of the Orange Line moves closer the cost for the regular bus lines because to move more passengers it requires more operating cost in the form of another bus and bus operator to handle the demand.

    “The bus lines on Wilshire Blvd already handle 93,000 passengers a day which far exceeds the daily passenger load of any light rail line in Los Angeles. Metro anticipates that adding a bus only lane at peak hours will increase the amount of bus passengers on Wilshire Blvd by 15% for only a $30 million infrastructure cost. That makes the cost of rail look ridiculously over priced for what you will get in added passengers or cost per mile to build and operate.”

    The bus lanes are needed for better schedule reliability however one cost that is overlooked is that to operate service on Wilshire corridor requires close to $40M a year, that does NOT include maintenance. To operate AND maintain the Purple Line extension to Santa Monica per the EIR documents is only $48M and there is significant capacity to spare for future demands.

    It also shows why Wilshire is one of the only corridors that is being built for heavy rail demand.

    Even with the LRT such as the Gold Line, once a critical project called the Regional Connector is built that would reduce the operating costs and significantly add more users through the corridor.

  • Dana Gabbard:

    Making the Orange Line rail would not change the situation of the not meeting up with the Gold Line. Advocates for rail lines such as you way over do the advantages and downplay the ability of buses to meet the needs. Bogota in Columbia has a BRT system that has a daily capacity of a subway.

    The Orange Line had a opening day ridership of 83,000 which shows that a BRT line such as the Orange Line can be made to handle a great quantity of passengers per day with very low costs to build and run.

    The Orange Line is unlikely to reach maximum capacity anytime soon since it’s at 23,000 a day now with a maximum of 40,000 a day. It’s going to be increased by another 4 miles which will increase it’s maximum capacity even more. The mention that it will reach it’s maximum capacity in 20-40 years is wild speculation as the line has been in operation for 5 years and is just past half maximum capacity.

    One of the downsides to a BRT is the negative feelings people have about buses in that they are used to them running at a slow pace on city streets. With the Orange Line Metro tried to change some of that attitude by making the bus’s grey like a train.

    The Orange Line does not have the benefit of safety gates to block traffic through entersections that light rail has so that created the need for Metro to increase safety by slowing down the buses to 10 miles an hour at most intersections. Buses are not inherently much slower than light rail. The much slower speeds of buses compared to light rail are the design flaws when the BRT is set up. Safety gates were not chosen by Metro due to the added cost and they didn’t want to impede automobile travel.

  • Dennis Hindman

    Dan Wentzel spoke of a conversion to rail of the Orange Line and extension east, not I.

    How is it I am pigeonholed as a rail advocate just because I am not a foaming at the mouth pro-BRT zealot? By the way I bet the riders in Bogota may not be as enthused with the its BRT as you are; over the years residents of Curitiba (the shining light of BRT) have complained about their system as slow and overcrowded despite all the glowing p.r. surrounding the system there.

    The opening day ridership of 83,000 is mis-leading because it entailed a special onetime retiming of signal lights and Metro grabbing every spare artic to make it happen. LADOT would never allow that sort of disruption to cross traffic occur on a daily basis. Plus the buses bunched running the crush loads and it was a mob scene overall. Not a bucolic vision of transit heaven in my view.

    The operational, practical, funding, social and political obstacles to what you so carelessly promote are mind numbing.

    The 40,000 figure is mis-leading. I had a chat with my friend Kymberleigh Richards of the Metro San Fernando Valley Governance Council and she informs me that number is the ultimate capacity reached by running full out service 20 hours a day. The Orange Line is already above peak capacity. Let me repeat that: already above peak capacity. That is why they are contemplating the platooning I mentioned. And as Jerard noted the need to do that to cope with increased peak use undercuts much of your cost and other arguments.

    The city wouldn’t allow gates. And never will. A train has the capabilities to carry more people through such intersections within LADOTs guidelines whether gates are involved or not.

    Frankly if you are pro-bus instead of touting the Orange Line get involved with the struggle for the Wilshire bus lanes. We advocates for it could use all the help we can get.

  • Then you should know that Bogota is now studying starting to upgrading to rail because the BRT system is no longer sufficient by itself.

    Mr. Hindman also conveniently ignores all of the positive aspects of the Purple Line extension.

  • Dennis:

    Dana Gabbard quotes me accurately, but I am thinking that perhaps I need to explain what he quoted so that you will not misunderstand and somehow believe we have made your point when we have done no such thing.

    The maximum design capacity of the Orange Line is a bus every 4½ minutes, which is what the line runs at peak (rush hour) periods. Any more frequent and the signal system will cause buses to catch up to each other somewhere along the line, which negates the benefits from scheduling the more frequent service.

    Your 40,000 capacity figure is only correct if the line ran the 4½ minute headways during all hours, including midday service (which presently runs every 10) and night service (which presently runs every 20). Adding service during those time periods would indeed create capacity … but that capacity would be available at a time when demand for service does not call for it.

    As Jerard Wright says, every additional bus comes with the cost of another bus and the operator. To add unneeded capacity drives the overall cost up without an offsetting return.

    Dana is also correct that it was not Metro who decided against crossing gates, it was LADOT. That same agency is responsible for the traffic signal timing that limits peak service to that 4½ minute headway (they are protecting the cross-traffic at the expense of limiting busway green lights).

    To be honest, to someone like myself who has been involved in public transportation advocacy for close to 20 years, your posts read like you decided upon your conclusion beforehand and then sought out facts that could be made to appear to prove your point. It is obvious to me — and to others here as well, obviously — that you did not even research your chosen facts well before using them.

  • Hey, good discussion! It excites me to come back here and see all this chatter. We’ve got a lot of experienced thinkers and advocates here at Streetsblog, that much is evident. I particularly appreciated how Joseph E crunched the numbers on my claim that we could run buses every two minutes. (Although I do think he and others miss an important point. Once we build these systems, we’ll also need to operate them, and those operating costs don’t figure into Joseph E’s calculus).

    @Kimberly @Spokker – I do understand that money is earmarked for specific purposes, i.e. that Measure R is dedicated to certain capital projects, and that federal funding sources may be dedicated to capital projects, or heavily favor capital projects. But it need not be this way. This is a political and psychological reality, I think. It’s more difficult to convince voters and outside agencies to fund operation improvements. Politicians, voters, and agencies seem to be more enthralled by capital projects.

    What I am saying is that we can change that, if we have a rich conversation about what works and what doesn’t in transit. Right now many of the public who voted for Measure R seem to vote with a very rudimentary understanding that “world class transit = rail.” I think that simple equation disregards a lot of good options, like busways like the Orange Line and Rapid bus service.

    Transit advocates have been very successful over the past ten or twenty years drumming up support for expensive capital projects. Cities all over the US built light rail lines at considerable taxpayer expense. But we have not seen a significant change in transit’s mode share, and new projects disproportionately serve the well-off.

    Given this history, it’s hard not to wonder what we could have done putting all that money into cheaper, less flashy, incremental improvements – like bus-only lanes, signal priority, decreased headways, and yes, reduced fares. Might we have made it possible for more people in low income brackets to live car free? Might we have attracted more riders? It’s obvious I believe transit should put the poor first and that transit can have the biggest impact by making car-free living possible for those citizens whose budgets are significantly broken by the necessity of owning and maintaining a car. But what should transit’s goals be? These are the questions I hope streetsblog readers with significant experience and expertise can weigh in on. And if the answer is yes, then I think “transit advocacy” around the country must begin taking a different tack.

    (data on transit mode share available here:

    Figure 5 is particularly disappointing.)

  • Herbie, you do realize that acknowledging the realities of Measure R having placed specific restrictions on where its money goes, then saying “it doesn’t have to be this way” in the next breath places you in a position of appearing to be out of touch with reality.

    Further, playing “what if” games about what has already been done, here and (as you point out) in other cities changes nothing.

    I attend the Metro Board meetings every month and report on them in the So.CA.TA newsletter, since the local media can only be counted on to send reporters when there is a “hot” (read “controversial”) issue on the agenda. And I will tell you that if you were to deliver an abbreviated version of your last post during public comment, you would lose their collective attention because you would appear to be a “wild-eyed dreamer”.

    To make a difference in the highly politicized world of public transportation, you must first know what restrictions the decision makers have in terms of their funding. Then you have to “get with the program” and address what’s really happening, not what you dream of happening.

    Then, when it comes time to update the long-range plan, if you’ve built up some credibility by showing you know what’s going on and provided intelligent input, you have a chance to influence the process.

    But the way you’re going about it will, I fear, lead to frustration on your part.

  • Oh, and regarding your comment:

    “… new projects disproportionately serve the well-off.”

    That is so far from the truth, I don’t know where to begin.

    Do yourself a favor and spend some time riding Metro. Local bus, Rapid bus, light rail, subway. Then come back and tell us how many low-income people of color you find there. They are the majority of users. A subway extension down Wilshire will serve a lot of those low-income people who presently can only get as far as Western Ave. on the subway and have to put up with a bus the rest of the way. Those are the beneficiaries of the new projects.

    As another example, do you think the Crenshaw Blvd. light rail line (another Measure R project) is going to benefit the “well-off”?

    The question is rhetorical.

  • Ouch. What I’m saying is that the restrictions on Measure R are a product of politics. They were concocted by a specific political coalition with a specific political orientation towards selling transit as a clean congestion solution and an economic engine. We can have different politics. We can have whatever politics we want. The transit politics I’m more inclined to support are along the lines of Transportation 4 America’s current push for a federal Public Transportation Preservation Act that would prevent transit service cuts at agencies across the country. This campaign is specifically focused on maintaining services that agencies are already running, and I wholeheartedly support it. As for self-imposed taxes to fund capital projects like Measure R, I can only halfheartedly support them, and I think I’ve clearly outlined the reasons why.

    Please understand that I do ride the metro system. I know that most people who ride transit are poor; I myself am a transit rider living on a income that puts me squarely below the poverty line. When I say that new projects “disproportionately serve the well-off” I am referring data that show that the average income of rail riders is higher than the average income of bus riders, or transit riders as a whole. A graph compiled by Evy Blumenberg for the Los Angeles area shows rail riders’ mean household income at about $80K, while bus riders’ income is under $50K. It’s on slide 36, here:

    With Measure R and 30/10, we are using everybody’s taxes, including the poor’s, to fund a mode that serves people with higher average incomes than other transit riders. That is a regressive tax. Rail is not inherently biased toward the rich, but the political choices that situate rail lines have so far produced a system where average incomes on rail are much higher than average incomes on the bus. Given this historical data, yes – I do think that the Crenshaw rail line will serve higher income people than the bus that runs down Crenshaw now. Maybe in a decade or so we can remember that we argued about this and see if that’s true. :)

    I do not claim to understand the exact mechanism for the income difference between bus and rail, but what I do know is that poverty and working class jobs are widely disperse geographically and that transit-dependent people need to use the buses that reach those disparate areas. Higher-income people who own cars can pick and choose when they ride transit, and we are building expensive systems that cater to their desires, like rail and park-n-ride. If we understand the goal of transit to be to “get people out of their cars,” then focusing on choice riders seems like a sensible thing to do. But I don’t believe that should be the goal of transit, especially when roads are free and any increase in travel times on the roads will be immediately offset by induced demand.

    This equity concern should be particularly relevant in Los Angeles, where a federal consent decree ruled that Metro’s focus on building rail diverted funds from bus operations in a manner that disproportionately impacted people of color.

    Again, I call for a politics that privileges car-free and transit-dependent people.

  • To put what I’ve been saying completely differently, thank you, Dana, for providing Streetsblog readers with the opportunity to debate and to potentially get out there and politically support existing service, the same way that we’ve been provided ample opportunities to debate and to potentially get out there and politically support 30/10.

    Existing service deserves the same kind of political attention, debate, and organizing that Measure R and 30/10 enjoy.

  • Joseph E

    Re: “With Measure R and 30/10, we are using everybody’s taxes, including the poor’s, to fund a mode that serves people with higher average incomes than other transit riders.”

    The poor also pay much less sales tax. A family with two adults making 40,000 each (80,000 total) a year may spend $20,000 and pay $300 in transit sales tax within LA county, while a family that makes only $20,000 and is on public assistance programs (food stamps, MediCal, etc) may only pay a few dozen dollars in transit sales tax.

    But the middle-income family is much less likely to use transit services, due to slow speeds and poor reliability. A job that pays $40,000 a year is likely to require prompt attendance, and that hourly wage makes your time valuable enough that an extra hour a day to ride the bus instead of driving may not be worth the savings. Rail transit or (real) BRT is more likely to be useful for a middle-class family, because it will can be faster and much more reliable. That’s why a super-majority of voters approved Measure R, and why we should build a transit system useful for almost everyone, not only the very poor and those with no ability to drive a car.

    I would love to live in a city where transit was free and everyone used it. But we won’t get there with buses alone. Politically, we need to offer people (and politicians) visible improvements to get the system funded. Measure R will provide almost 8 billion for bus and rail operations, in addition to the 14 billion for transit capital projects; we would not have gotten to 68% for operations alone.

  • Spokker

    Voters in many poor areas passed Measure R.

  • All of the mass transit projects for Metro are done with finite revenue whether that is money from proposition A, proposition B, measure R or state and federal money. To have the Orange Line a rail line would have been an addition $666 million and with it’s extension to MetroLink the costs would probably be at least $800 million. That means that something would have to be cut elsewhere to come up with that additional money and that probably would come at the expense of new buses, bus only lanes running north and south in the San Fernando Valley, the rapid lane project running over the Sepulveda Blvd pass etc.

    For that upgrade to a rail line you get maybe 6,000-8,000 additional riders at best and in turn you have to cut down on far more passengers that would use these additional rapid lines and new buses.

    As for making the Orange Line rail so that it could be extended to the Gold Line that would bring it into areas that have very little demand for mass transit. For that you would have to spend hundreds of millions of dollars and again cut back bus projects to fit it in a limited revenue stream.

    The Orange Line has two stops that are by far the greatest source of passengers and they are Van Nuys Blvd and the North Hollywood subway. The additional bus that runs at 5 minutes is there to handle the overflow and it is at most times moving few passengers from the North Hollywood subway stop.

    To alleviate overcrowding on these two stops of the Orange Line Metro added the 902 bus line that runs just north of the Orange Line on Burbank Blvd and only makes stops at Valley College and Van Nuys Blvd on Burbank Blvd. The 902 only runs at peak hours currently but will run all day next month. The 902 enables passengers from the Red Line who want to travel up Van Nuys Blvd to have a faster more direct route than could take place with using the Orange Line or if the Orange Line was rail. In fact it’s very unlikely that Metro would ever have created a 902 line if the Orange Line was rail. The passengers getting off on Van Nuys Blvd would just have to walk over to their stop and wait several minutes in the rain because all of the money would have been spent on making the Orange Line rail.

  • Dennis:

    Before you start making statements of fact about Line 902, you had better research the recent discussions and decisions made about it.

    Indeed, Line 902 was heard at the public hearing for the June service changes and the proposal was to add midday service. But between the notice of the public hearing and the vote of the governance council, the initial ridership numbers became available and the line is not doing what it was presumed to do.

    Average ridership into North Hollywood Station is 10 passengers per trip and average ridership out is 12 passengers per trip. For that reason, the governance council put the brakes on expanding service and deferred further discussion to the public hearing process for the December service changes.

    Since that time, the numbers remain flat. In fact, a recent monitor at Van Nuys Station indicated that approximately one-third of the passengers that travel south on Van Nuys on Line 902 actually get off at the Orange Line and still use it to go east.

    Line 902 is not the shining example of efficiency you seem to believe it is, and I think it is likely to be cancelled in December, not expanded.

  • “We can have whatever politics we want.”


    Who is to say we don’t? The BRU irresponsibly campaigned against Measure R and lost — thankfully. The nightmare of bus service cuts had Measure R not passed is too frightening to contemplate. That the BRU aim of sabotaging Measure R was defeated is the best thing that could have happened to transit-dependent bus riders.

    There is no electoral majority, let alone a “supermajority” for the BRU’s third-world bus-only transit riding utopia — nor should there be.

    The Orange Line is no longer an example of the merits of BRT. It is an example of the LIMITS of BRT and the Orange Line is useful primarily as a and example of building BRT as a prelude for or supplement to, not as a substitute for, eventual rail service.


    That aside, I will say this for the BRU — who’s idiotic approach to transportation policy and planning I vehemently disagree with.

    The BRU once again marched in the annual Christopher Street West gay pride parade yesterday in a show of solidarity with the civil rights movement for LGBT equality. Thank you for that.

    There are many “social justice” groups who say they are concerned with civil rights but hypocritically preach discrimination against gays. The BRU shows up every year and for the parade and for that — but not for their ridiculous bus-only transit agenda — I offer my appreciation.

  • Eric B

    @ Herbie:

    Thanks for bringing in a differing perspective. This conversation has been very illuminating. Unfortunately, I think your political angle doesn’t carry the necessary weight to get anywhere near the 2/3 Measure R received. Essentially, Measure R funds “transportation capacity” improvements. While it was advertised as a transit bill, a large amount of money is for roads too (710, 405) because LA voters perceive a need for expanded capacity of all kinds, with the intention of thereby reducing congestion on jammed existing systems.

    With that in mind, the low-hanging fruit like bus lanes and operational improvements don’t increase total system capacity in the way that an entirely new corridor (generally rail) does. Those riders currently using the system would notice a better experience, but it’s not a game-changer in the way that a developed rail (or BRT) network would be. In some ways, the driver-voter perspective would see a bus-only lane as a REDUCTION in capacity (at least in capacity for their private auto). Think about the Santa Monica Freeway carpool lane for an example of increased capacity perceived as a decrease. While transportation professionals can (and should) count effectiveness in people served rather than vehicles, the average car-driving voter is not yet this enlightened. When they are deciding whether to tax themselves for transportation system improvements, they need to feel like the tax is building systems they might use. The 2/3 requirement means the coalition needs to be as broad as possible and not consider anyone a loser–even car drivers worried about their precious lanes.

    Social equity demands are sometimes at odds with transportation service demands and Metro is charged with striking a balance. The consent decree showed that they erred too far in one direction, but a proper response isn’t to jump too far toward the social equity side. Measure R is a pretty balanced compromise in that regard.

  • Cassie

    The 920 isn’t perfect (buses are almost always overcrowded), but it’s a step up from the 720. I like that there are only 4 stops between Wilshire/Vermont and Wilshire/Westwood – that way, even if you have to stand, there is a lot less people shifting around as riders try to exit at their stop. Seems trivial but if you’ve had to stand on a 720 from Vermont to Westwood, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

    Though I guess the time saved difference between the 720 and the 920 can be debatable – if you factor in the waiting time (for a 920 to arrive, while 2 or 3 720s pass), then maybe you don’t actually get to your destination faster. But I like the 920 because there are fewer stops, there are fewer riders (I’d actually like the longer buses, but obviously that’s not feasible) and because there tend to be less obnoxious high school students on there.

  • Cassie, you inadvertently make the point of the 920’s cancellation by telling us that one of the things you like about it … fewer riders.

    Public transit has always been about moving the highest number of people possible with a single vehicle. In the current era, where the state has screwed around with what is supposed to be a guaranteed stream of money from a dedicated revenue source*, it becomes even more critical that service operate as efficiently — defined as a full vehicle to the point of near overload, at rush hour — as possible.

    920 carries far too few people, compared to the 720. Even the Metro Board member who championed its creation is now staying quiet about its demise. Given that the majority of the hours now used to operate the 920 will be reapplied to increasing 720 service (with the longer articulated buses) this is a no-brainer. Sorry.

    (* – Per Proposition 42, which assigned the sales tax collected on gasoline sales in California to the Public Transportation Account, from which the State Transit Assistance fund is operated. The state is pulling an end run around that by proposing to eliminate the sales tax on gasoline — can’t dedicate funds that don’t exist, right? — and increasing the excise tax, which cannot be used for operating transit service per the state Constitution. Given that the state already tried to “get around” Prop 42, and was sued over it, this tactic proves their dedication to diverting voter-approved revenue away from the destination they approved it for.)

  • Kymberleigh,

    Do you know if Metro has ever researched doing any “Purple Line simulators”.

    The cancellation of the 920’s makes me wonder about running some 720’s as a new Purple Line simulator or other service between Santa Monica and Vermont/Wilshire with a stop in Century City between Beverly Hills and Westwood.

    I wonder if there is ridership potential for a one-seat ride between downtown or Vermont/Wilshire and Century City.

  • It’s probably gotten lost in the discussion, Dan, but you said that way back at the beginning of the comments on this article. :)

    Believe it or not, Zev Yaroslavsky (who was the 920’s “creator”) thinks it *is* a Purple Line extension emulator. You and I may politely disagree with him, of course.

    Here is the reason that I believe 920 would not improve even if rerouted to include a Century City stop: The vast majority of those working in CC aren’t bus riders. They consider themselves too “white collar upscale” to consider a bus-based system. And they certainly aren’t going to accept the travel time on Wilshire Blvd. in mixed-flow traffic, on a bus. If they’re going to be in traffic on Wilshire, they’re going to want to be in their car.

    Rail is a different perspective for them. The existing Red/Purple Line (to a degree) and Metrolink (big time) prove that white collar workers will ride transit, as long as it isn’t a bus. I know that sounds like agreeing with the BRU, until you consider that the Red/Purple Line — and the light rail Blue, Gold and Green lines — carry far more “passengers of color” than white collars. But the white collars make their decision based on a perception of how long the trip takes. Rail doesn’t hit red lights (except for the north and south ends of the Blue Line, the Marmion Way segment of the original Gold Line, and most of the Eastside Extension and that is what makes the difference for these passengers.

    I should also point out that the bus-based system the BRU advocates carry almost exclusively non-white collar people … unless there is a parallel rail line, in which case transit users, regardless of race, will default to the rail 90+% of the time. So there is probably a similar perception among transit users of color, and it has always been a thorn in the BRU’s side that even those passengers will use rail over bus when it fits their travel needs.

    I know I went off-topic there (subject to what could be considered on-topic in anyone’s opinion by this point in the discussion) but I think the real reason a Purple Line emulator won’t work is that it is a bus in traffic on Wilshire, and even doing as much signal pre-emption that can be achieved doesn’t change the perception that it is a lot slower. Build the subway, though, and you’ll find people using it that refused the 920.

  • Erik G.

    I like the 920 because more than once I have been aboard a NABI 40-footer that has literally fallen apart during the run. Sort of like a coup de grace.

    The sooner those buses are gone from the fleet…

  • Cassie

    I would even pay a higher fare for the 920 – not as much as the Commuter Express fare, but something more than the regular fare. That’s how much I want the 920 to stick around.

  • Having seen the numbers for both 720 and 920, I can tell you that, adjusted for the fewer number of 920 trips, it is still carrying less than half the number of passengers per operating mile, with a ridership one-twelfth that of the 720. Looking at the stop-by-stop data, at the midpoint (Beverly Hills) the average load is about one-half a bus.

    All that adds up to a higher per-passenger subsidy for 920. And I suspect that to equalize the subsidy issue the fare would have to go higher than Commuter Express.

    Given 920 having low ridership while 720 continues to be packed to capacity, I see the resources being moved to where the relief is needed as the strongest probability. It’s cold, hard fact, and with finite funding constraints facts trump emotional arguments.

  • @Kymberleigh – Thanks for keeping us informed and for reminding us of the realities of operating Line 920… as much as many of us love the Magic Bus, it isn’t fiscally sustainable. Which just goes to say: Wilshire BRT please???


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