Busway Linkage Obsession Puzzler

6_24_10_harbor.jpgImage: Metro

I was recently cruising the web and came across a query posted on Curbed L.A. about the stub end of the Harbor Transitway north of Adams and whether there are any plans to extend it. Dredging up memories of events over the years relating to the topic I posted two monster sized paragraphs of comment.

But to my mind that doesn’t begin to plumb the depths of the issues and mysteries of the Transitway. Which requires we explore the origins of the facility. It was our friends at Caltrans who decided to include a busway as part of a project to add HOV lanes to the Harbor Freeway (I-110). Up until the late 90s Caltrans called the shots when it came to determining spending for freeway projects. This all changed when Senate Bill 45 (authored by Quentin Kopp) enacted in 1997 gave local transportation commissions (like Metro) control of 75% of the funding allocated through the State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) for freeway improvements in their area while Caltrans henceforth would control only the 25% intended for inter-regional improvements. As a practical matter this entails a fair level of cooperation between Caltrans and local agencies since many projects are both local and inter-regional. But it also means the days are long gone when Caltrans technocrats solo made all the decisions about our freeways. Some of the defects of the busway are because under the old way of doing things Metro had virtually zero input in its design. To many of us this helps explain why to this day bus ridership along the Transitway is anemic.

The Transitway ends at Adams, short of downtown. This is mostly because extending further north would have involved jaw dropping construction costs. But over 10 years ago, just after the Transitway opened, there was a study done to evaluate the size of the challenges involved in constructing an elevated Transitway extension past downtown to link up with the El Monte Busway at Union Station. A presentation by the firm hired to do the study was made at the June 1998 meeting of Southern California Transit Advocates, as described in our following month newsletter. Basically because of the steepness of the east side of the trench through which the 110 passes downtown (aka the slot) they were studying having the structure on the western side of the slot. Of course this meant access to downtown would involve crossing over after exiting into City West. Not an optimal situation. That plus the astonishing cost (over a BILLION dollars even then) meant after the study was finished it was shelved and nothing came of it.

The real puzzler for me is even after the idea of an extension was abandoned Metro doggedly pursued the notion of linking transit service on the Transitway and Busway. At one point a study was done on having dedicated bus lanes through downtown on surface streets to facilitate such a linkage. And of course more recently Metro has leveraged the ExpressLanes federal demonstration to do just such linkage via the Silver Line (but without the bus lanes). The result has basically confirmed there is little to no cross traffic between the Harbor and El Monte corridors plus the Silver Line for obvious reasons has had enormous problems with on-time performance. So it was a bad idea that made no sense–which begs the question why Metro obsessively pursued it in the first place.

Southern California Transit Advocates recently presented to the San Gabriel Valley and South Bay Governance Councils a statement (below) regarding concerns about Metro Silver Line on-time performance. You can be sure we’ll keep an eye on whether improvements are forthcoming.

Southern California Transit Advocates has serious concerns about the Silver Line (910). It is our understanding that on-time performance on the route is below 60%, with on-time performance in some dayparts below 30%. This is unacceptable, especially because existing local service was cutback to create the 910. We have witnessed many instances of missed transfers from the Silver Line to local service, which negatively impacts the customers that used to have a direct trip. Much of the decline in on-time performance is as a result of the Caltrans I-10 pavement rehabilitation project, which has resulted in the intermittent closure of the El Monte Busway during evening and weekends. However, it is evening and weekend customers who suffer the most when they have to wait for close to an hour at El Monte or Artesia due to a missed connection.

Success of the Silver Line is critical to the success of the Federal Congestion Reduction Demonstration Program. We therefore request that Metro examine collected data from the ATMS to determine how widespread this problem is, and to report back to the San Gabriel Valley and the South Bay Governance Council. Following this report, we request that Metro take appropriate corrective action to ensure that riders do not continue to be inconvenienced.

  • Erik G.

    Thanks Dana for this great post.

    The reason for LA Metro pursuing the project?

    Free Federal Funds!!


    Will the HOT lanes be a success from the selling-extra-capacity-to-SOVs?

    (Remember, the El Monte “Busway” which is now really just an HOV lane, will have a lane added, at least from I-710 to I-605)

    Ask Washington State!


    Of course, this is all just a Reason Foundation wetdream foisted on us by the Bushies:

    What will be fun is when current users of the HOV lanes wake-up one day to find that they cannot enter the I-10 or I-110 HOV-now-HOT lanes with just a passenger or two; They will be required to have a FasTrak transponder!

    See Question 5 on this FAQ PDF:

  • Joseph E

    I’m confused about the negative tone of this post. While it’s true that the Harbor Busway has performed poorly, due to nasty mid-freeway stations, poor connections to other buses, and slow travel time to Downtown destinations, the El Monte busway has been more successful, if you include the services run by Foothill Transit, as well as Metro.

    While few people currently want to travel from South LA to the San Gabriel Valley, which explains the lack of ridership continuing thru downtown, combining the two bus routes into one Downtown has made the system a little simpler, and saved on duplicated bus service. If the buses downtown also get exclusive lanes, signal priority, and improved stops, they could become almost as well used as the Orange Line BRT.

    Now, I would love to this whole route replaced with rail, but that would take money and political will to take away freeway lanes from single-occupant cars for the sake of transit and carpools. Until that happens, Metro is doing us a service by upgrading the downtown connections of both transitways.

    Perhaps one day Metrolink will be electrified and double-tracked everywhere, and a downtown tunnel or elevated route can be built to connect to a fast rail route along the 110 to San Pedro, or perhaps these routes could get light rail service with more stops, and an exclusive alignment downtown. But the planned bus improvements will get part of the benefits at minimal cost, and can happen this year, rather than in 10 or 20.

  • I also dont understand why this post is so negative.

    What exactly is so bad about having the silver line provide connections where they are needed?

    Further, the silver line cannot be called a success or failure until the project is complete. According to the metro website, service should improve this month, and then improve again with new buses in December. Without the dedicated lanes downtown, it’s impossible to assess timeliness.

  • We need more busways and transit-only lanes.

    However, we shouldn’t pretend that bus service is the same or “just as good” as rail service and not give it official “colors” like Orange or Silver.

  • My main point was I could never figure out why Metro has been so gung ho for so long about linking service on the two facilities. The Silver Line is a solution to a problem or need that doesn’t exist. Having dedicated lanes etc. in downtown would involve overcoming LADOT objections. But even if you could get those bells and whistles I just don’t see enhancements resulting in all that much additional ridership. As it is half the service off the El Monte side ends in downtown because the imbalance of demand between the two facilities; which begs the question why link the two. Having to travel through downtown mid-route substantially reduces performance versus having recovery time after ending in downtown before doing a return trip. And I can assure you I know some folks in the Harbor Transitway corridor who feel the Silver Line is a less useful service than the express buses it replaced.

    One aspect I didn’t touch on is the disparity of use of the two facilities proves busways don’t work everywhere and aren’t a one size fits all solution. The El Monte connects two strong destinations (downtown L.A. and El Monte bus station) and has two destinations mid-route (Cal State L.A. and County USC Hospital). Plus service from El Monte fans out to cover a wide area of the San Gabriel valley. The result is a very successful facility. The Harbor is isolated and isn’t as conducive to facilitating multi-destinations. The only busway stop that gets any real use is at I-105 where it connects with the Green Line. I think the I-110 was a poor corridor to locate a busway in.

  • Erik G.


    LADOT helping anything but the private automobile travel quickly on surface streets in Los Angeles? Surely you jest!

    Another bizarre fact about the LA Metro Silver Line is its duplication of Foothill’s Silver Streak and the resulting kooky-fare corner LA Metro painted itself into. Why again is the Green Line $1.25* end-to-end but the Silver Line, even from Union Station to Staples Center, is $2.45*? I know the reason given, but…

    *Using pre-July 1 fares

  • Free HOT lane Federal money is a good point. A lesser point is the fact that they could draw another line on the Metrorail map posted at all rail stations and most BRT stations. The map used to say “Metrorail” on it, now it just says “Go Metro.”

    Makes the system as a whole look more impressive. But I must agree with Mr. Wentzel. The busways shouldn’t be on there at all. At the very least, they should be marked on the map clearly as facilities that are not rail. Right now, the map only makes this point rather opaquely by referring to the Orange and Silver Lines as “transitways.”

    If buses are so damn hot, why obfuscate? Because Metro realizes that most people think buses are second-rate transit facilities compared with trains, and those people are correct. So BRT (bus rapid transit) must have the vague appelation of “transitway” to make the grade and help fill out the map. But Metro, you are not fooling (and disappointing) anyone except newbie Metro users and tourists that have no clue how our transit system is constructed. Okay, morally and ethically, this doesn’t rise to the level, say, of torturing small woodland creatures. But it’s still sleazy.

  • Erik, I said when the Silver Line was proposed that Metro should instead fund enhanced service on its 450X and Foothill’s Silver Streak. Both could be tailored to the needs of their corridor while still supportive of the Congestion Reduction Demonstration. Instead Metro continued its quixotic pursuit of linkage. And we’ll likely be stuck with this juryrigged thing for years to come. I’m sorry but this thing is a sow’s ear, not a silk purse and all the hopes and claims it’ll prove out I think are misplaced optimism/whistling in the dark. My opinion–you mileage may vary…

  • Chris

    I’ve head that due to the poor performance of the Silver Line (or just the additional transfers required) that in December of this year the former 445 and 447 are going to be extended north from the Artesia Transit Center to the Green Line. Does anyone have confirmation of this?

  • Haha @Scott.

    I smiled when I saw your comment about putting busways on those maps, because its a lesson in how two people can see the same exact thing and have completely different reactions.

    I was just looking at those same rail + transitway only maps and thinking how nonsensical and counterproductive it is that they produce maps with only the rail lines on them. I think they add to the notion that rail and transitways deserve special promotion over the regular buses and rapid buses. I would much rather see a map that shows the whole gamut of metro services that cover the greater LA area with a network of routes. It would communicate a message that you can get anywhere on Metro. The current maps send the message that Metro is a very sparse and rudimentary system, and it baffles me why Metro would want to portray that image.

    I also think that on the linear maps that show the stations in sequence for whatever train / busway you’re on, they should put all the Rapid bus transfers as well as rail and busway transfers.

    In any case, I seriously doubt they built the Silver Line just so they could “draw another line,” because Metro chooses freely to post that map that is limited to exclusive right-of-way services. They could replace that map with the 12-minute map, or whatever other map.

    Of course, I am one of those that thinks buses are great and we can get more bang for our buck by investing in better bus service… but that’s another story, and one that has been vigorously debated over at Dana’s post about the upcoming service cuts.

    As a final note, all this pondering about maps happened on the blue line. I stood in the space between cars, which was really noisy. I had to yell to speak over the noise. I wished I could be on a Rapid bus, where I could sit instead of having to stand over my bike, and where it would be quieter. I like rail usually, but if there had been a Rapid bus running a comparable route, I would have taken it. I almost biked up to Artesia Transit Center so I could catch an Express bus to downtown.

  • Hank Fung, P.E.

    I’ll have to respectfully disagree with Dana on this issue. This idea has dated back to 1994, right when the Harbor Transitway opened: http://boardarchives.metro.net/DPGTL/Dual%20Hub%20HOV.pdf

    Contrary to popular belief, the number of buses that operate on the Harbor Transitway is actually quite similar to that on the El Monte Busway, when longer-distance express buses are eliminated.

    Harbor Transitway (peak buses per hour):
    442: 2
    445: 2
    450: 5
    460: 2
    550: 2
    910/Silver Line: 6
    Torrance 1: 2
    Torrance 2: 1
    Gardena 1: 4
    Total buses/hour: 26

    El Monte Busway:
    485: 3
    487/489: 6
    Silver Line: 12
    Foothill 481: 4
    Silver Streak: 6
    Total buses/hour: 31

    The main difference is that the municipal operators operate more service, and there are buses that come off and on the transitway. All MTA would have to do to equalize service on the transitway is cancel the 442, 445, and 550. The 442 is going to be cancelled later this year, the 550 is a BRU creation that MTA has been wanting to cancel for some time, and the 445 only runs downtown so that there is a direct express bus from the “south transitway” stations (Carson and PCH) to downtown – but in reality, the 445 could be truncated to Artesia Transit Center as the 545, or eliminated altogether since they are within walking distance of north-south bus service that goes to Artesia Transit Center.

    With the cancellation of competing MTA service on the Harbor Transitway, this allows for a full, rail like schedule to operate during the day (5-10 minute service during peak hours, 15 minutes during middays) with no additional resources necessary. Additional resources will be needed to bump up weekend service to every 15 minutes and night service to every 20. Still, the Silver Line actually runs later than Metro Rail, with the last trip departing the ends at around 1 a.m., an hour or two hours later than the other “colored” lines.

    MTA has steadily improved service on the Silver Line. It is my experience that late evening service on the El Monte end connects. During the morning at El Monte, although the line can be long, buses do arrive close to schedule, although it is up to the driver whether he pulls up at the departure time or pulls up to load a few minutes before the departure time before departing on schedule. If service was improved to rail-level frequencies, then it wouldn’t be much of a problem. Also, drivers need to be diverted away from Staples Center and the Convention Center when events occur, which is probably the greatest problem that it has, especially northbound. Southbound traffic on Flower after an event is surprisingly not so bad. Better yet, divert the cars away from Figueroa so that the roadway is buses and pedestrians only, which would move a lot more people from Staples Center/Convention Center/LA Live to the parking lots and transit, while not slowing down the Silver Line.

    One of the other reasons why the Silver Line, on the Harbor Transitway side, is doing so poorly, is the arterial streets that parallel the freeway. If it takes five minutes to walk up and down stairs to get to a Transitway station, the Rapid 745 or the local 81 or 45 is “good enough” for a lot of people, especially without the premium fare.

    Effective June 27, the last Silver Line trip will continue southward as a Line 246/247 trip, which will provide late night service. The 246 and 247 are also extended to Harbor Green Line Station on weekends, to give them more connections. This also allows riders to take the 45, 81, or 745 to meet those routes. On the El Monte side, passengers could always take the 70 or 76 if they didn’t want to take the transitway. This just makes it a bit more fair, and MTA staff has indicated in the change notice that this temporary extension will be cancelled once the Silver Line operates at the ultimate rail like frequency.

  • Hank Fung, P.E.

    The other thing I forgot to mention is that the Silver Streak is a failure. The ridership is 16.52 boardings an hour, with 5,249 boardings a weekday. If this were an MTA line it would have been cancelled a long time ago. Every day I’m at El Monte I witness the Silver Streak pausing for no good reason there after people have boarded, 2, 5, even 10 minutes at a time. This happens when the bus is early, it happens when the bus is on time, it happens when the bus is late. Very few people at El Monte get on the Silver Streak, and instead opt for the long line for the Silver Line, because they can get on and go, with the bus leaving once it’s full. Throwing federal funds at Foothill Transit to run this abomination is exactly the wrong idea to propose.

  • Hank, sorry but all your vast number crunching avoids the question does the linkage make sense. I don’t think it remotely does. And I thought liquidated damages solves the sort of contractor service faults you describe the Silver Streak suffering. Or is your ideology colliding with reality? And that report from 1994 is amazingly good at similarly glide around why in heaven’s name is this is being pursued.

    Rail like frequent service on the Harbor Transitway? That will be a huge waste of money. The ridership just isn’t there. Remember, Metro has tried everything including eliminating the zone charge to beef up use of the facility. The 450X gets a decent load but looks to have maxed out whatever use the Transitway warrents.

    My impulse would be congestion test funding for Silver Streak truncate it at El Monte, with a timed transfer to a beefed up Line 480 serving between there and Montclair.

    My impresion still is this is a bad idea and a waste of precious federal demonstration funds. S*I*G*H


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