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. 

Blue tape marks where the bus will stop to be aligned with the stanchions
Blue tape marks where the bus will stop to be aligned with the stanchions

There’s a taped stop line to help the bus driver align with the stanchions. Actually, there are two stop lines and an extra fourth TAP stanchion, in case a car is blocking the bus from the forward line.

Riders getting on the back door of the Metro 720 bus
Riders getting on the back door of the Metro 720 bus

Mostly people TAP when they see the bus coming. Then they board the nearest door.

Wheelchair users, transfers, and cash payments have to use the front door. There’s no real provision to prevent fare evasion though. Theoretically someone could evade payment by boarding a back door, then claim to have paid cash. In about an hour, I noticed only two riders fail to TAP, apparently evading fare payment. This was in the presence of four Metro staff–five, counting the driver.

All-door boarding appeared to proceed very quickly this morning. A Metro video comparing before and after shows front-door boarding taking 69 seconds, and all-door boarding taking only 31 seconds.

All-door boarding comes standard in many civilized nations. New York City does all-door boarding on its Select Bus Service lines. Since July 2012, San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority (SFMTA) has all-door boarding all throughout its bus system.

San Francisco rear-door electronic fare payment validator. Image via SFMTA [PDF]
San Francisco rear-door electronic fare payment validator. Image via SFMTA [PDF]
In San Francisco, riders validate fare payment cards via on-board validators located on the bus at every door. Riders who pay cash at the front door receive a paper transfer slip that serves as proof of payment. Similar to Metro rail and BRT, law enforcement occasionally checks for fare payment.

SFMTA has thoroughly reviewed the effects that all-door boarding has had on their bus system. Their extensive evaluation report [PDF], summarized here by SBSF, states that the agency “legalized an informal practice that had developed organically in response to front-door queues, crowding, and slow service.” In comparing data before and after the implementation of all-door boarding, SFMTA found a slight decrease in fare evasion, coupled with faster bus service: faster boarding, shorter (and more consistent) bus dwell time, and slightly improved overall bus speeds.

The SFMTA report concludes “The success of All-Door Boarding in San Francisco’s operating environment demonstrates the potential benefits of this policy for other cities that are exploring cost effective opportunities to speed up transit.”

  • Roger R.

    How on earth has it taken so long to try this in LA?

  • Joe Linton

    LOL. SF’s evaluation report just came out in December 2014… and it’s good that Metro is at least piloting it now, and not 2020. It will take some political will to get this approved, funded, and implemented across the Metro system.

  • j1998

    I really hope that Metro follows SFMTA’s lead and installs TAP readers INSIDE the bus at every door, across the system. That way multiple buses can be boarded at each stop, buses do not need to line up with sidewalk validators, and validators are not exposed to theft and weather outside.

  • jwwz

    What exactly does “civilized nations” mean?

  • Alex Brideau III

    I agree that there are indeed some pros to onboard validators. However, there are some cons as well, including the moderate possibility of boarding delays due to queues that could form when a patron has a TAP card issue, as well as increased motivation of fare evasion. (Once I know there is no fare-checking staff aboard, why bother tapping at all? I could easily save $1.75.)

  • Alex Brideau III

    OK. Random brainstorming post alert!…

    One measure that I’ve always felt could decrease dwell times is what I call “optional near-side alighting” (makes for a better acronym than “optional near-side disembarking”):

    In situations where a Rapid bus arrives at an intersection where its normal bus stop is on the “far side” of that intersection, if the traffic light is green or about to turn green, the Rapid bus just follows standard procedure and discharges and boards passengers at its bus stop. However, if the light is turning red or has just turned red, the operator should be allowed to have the discretion to pull to the curb and discharge passengers only. *Boarding* would still only be allowed at the official bus stop, but optional near-side alighting accommodates passengers wishing to disembark ASAP, as well as those who prefer to wait until the far side of the intersection. Accordingly, alighting time is decreased at the official bus stop.

    No additional infrastructure would be needed, though internal and external pre-recorded announcements could be played that indicate the doors are opening for optional disembarking only (no boarding) and that disembarking would also be allowed at the actual bus stop.

    It might take a little getting used to, but I think it could save a few more minutes for highly used Rapid routes.

  • Joe Linton

    Confession: it means “I’ve heard they do this somewhere in Europe and Brazil and probably somewhere else, but I failed to actually research it to nail that down.” Readers – where have you experienced this?

  • Joe Linton

    Some drivers do this informally now.

  • calwatch

    SFMTA is a much denser area so fare inspectors can be better deployed since there is always a bus for them to ride. Also, Metro buses are more crowded for longer periods of time. In situations where trains are crowded, such as Ciclavia, Metro does fare checks at stations and not on board because it’s impossible. How do you do a fare check on a crowded 720?

  • brianmojo

    On-board tapping is the way to do it. If I recall that’s how they do it in London.

  • On my first trip back to Rostock, Eastern Germany, after German Unification, (all my prior visits had been pre-October 1990) I was confused by the driver not wanting to sell me a ticket at the front door. I shortly realized that the procedure had switched over to buying a ticket from a TVM located at each bus stop. No RFID card involved, but Rostocker Straßenbahn AG (they also run streetcars) was doing all-door boarding on all of their bus routes 20 years ago. In East Germany, the land of the Trabant and sawdust sausages!

  • You run buses that don’t have 2×2 latitudinal seating (like suburban buses) so that more standees can move around to let the inspectors move through the coach.

    And you follow the population models and make sure there is a subway running along the routes the model predicted would be busy by about 1990 or so.

    Oh wait, the models did show this, but we had racists in city, county and federal government who did not want to see different-looking people west of La Brea.

    Oops.

  • Fear. Incompetence. More Fear. Stupidity. A dash of Nepotism. Did I mention fear?

  • Because the fare inspectors might board at the next stop?

  • Matt R

    That stop was already a free for all for passengers not tapping/paying- when the driver gets to Westwood and opens the door- the number of people overwhelms the driver and people just get on everywhere and the driver just wants to get through the process and moving. The one problem is too many people jamming the front end means the front is crowded but the back not… so the bus has to wait while they trickle to the back. Allowing all doors as entry means faster loading and driving on. So at least they are trying to improve it. Onboard tap is the way to go- pay cash in front. The buses in Amsterdam do it this way, too.

  • neroden

    Well, there were a lot of weird and stupid reasons why the Subway to the Sea didn’t get finished when it should have. It should be built ASAP now.

  • “Weird and Stupid” are not terms I would us to describe Zev Yaroslavsky and Henry Waxman. It was a calculated move by them, nothing less.

  • Azunyan

    Yes, onboard tapping is the way to go. They didn’t have to install these validators so buses have to line up to them.

  • Alex Brideau III

    In that case, if I didn’t want to pay the fare, I’d just wait until I see the fare inspectors board. 99% of the time I’d get a free ride, and the other 1% of the time I’d just pay the $1.75.

  • Alex Brideau III

    As a frequent rider of DASH’s older buses, I’m a bigger fan of 2×2 seating than center-facing seating. In addition to encouraging passengers to “spread out”, center-facing seating seems to increase the likelihood of me experiencing queasiness. Perhaps it’s because in most cases, bus travel is far more bumpy and “lurchy” than train travel and it’s harder to keep one’s equilibrium by looking outside for a reference point when you’re seated in such a fashion that your primary view is of (the increased number of) standees.

    Speaking of the standees, it can be quite taxing on the body to maintain balance on a lurching bus. I’m able-bodied, and I find it to be a challenge sometimes. A good number of bus riders tend to be elderly and/or mobility impaired and standing up for lengthy periods of time on a lurching bus would probably not be ideal.

    All that said, I’m with you that the Purple Line extension was needed years ago. It’s a shame we’ll only see a “Subway to the VA” instead of a “Subway to the Sea”, though. :-(

  • Alex Brideau III

    That’s good. I’ve never witnessed this myself, though. Maybe Metro should make it standard practice or at least start a test trial similar to the all-door-boarding initiative.

  • Alex Brideau III

    It seems to me one the best places to implement all-door boarding would be on the Silver Line, as it’s already branded as one of Metro’s busways. I assume they’re doing the pilot on the 720 because of the passenger loads, but implementation on the Silver Line is key (as is fare normalization for that line) if they want more of us to ride it.

  • Azunyan

    All door boarding and contactless card readers at every door is also the norm in buses in Singapore and the Netherlands, but it’s also has to be noted that they use it more because they operate under a different system than ours where you have to tap-in upon boarding and tap-out upon exit too.

    The actual payment of fares happens when you disembark the bus. The entry is just recording where you got on, only when you tap-out as you exit, the fare is calculated and auto-deducted because in these places, prices change depending on where you got on and where you got off.

    IIRC, Singapore uses the EZ-Link Card and the Netherlands uses the OV Chipkaart. You have to load up money to these cards and you must record every entry and exit. The money loaded to these cards automatically deduct the fares at the point of exit.

  • calwatch

    I’ve suggested that to MTA staff before, to install TVMs at all Silver Line stops and make it a cash free line. I think that full POP may be difficult given the low frequencies, especially at night, but you could seal up the cash slots and require everyone that rides the Silver Line to have a TAP card during the day. Metro had thought about loaders on the Silver Line at El Monte Station but for whatever reason, they are not using them.

  • Azunyan

    Ideally, I think we should be discouraging uses of cash payments entirely and just go with TAP only. But there’s just too many people who just doesn’t trust these things and still stick to paying in cash.

  • Irwin Chen

    It should be noted, that Metro is experimenting with off-board payment on Wilshire, not just all-door-boarding.

    All-door-boarding with off-board payment is the best practice on very high volume transit lines. This is also best if you are only doing all-door-boarding on a handful of locations or select bus lines because it doesn’t require vehicle commonality. Bus operators can still substitute and swap buses on different lines.

    All-door-boarding with on-board payment (which many people are advocating in the comments) is also good but it requires a full-system opt in due to vehicle commonality. All-door-boarding with on-board payment is ideal if electronic medium like TAP card is the only acceptable payment.

  • Azunyan

    I have to question that if it’s really the “best practice.” There are many high volume transit lines in many cities but off board payment concept itself is rare. If it’s the best practice, we would have much more cities using this idea who has far higher ridership numbers and a lot more experience in running public transit than LA.

    Most places, even in high ridership cities uses on-board payment by tapping at a console located inside the bus itself, near the doors.

    In the end, it all comes down to how much money Metro is willing to spend on this. Adding those validators at all bus stops across LA is going to be a lot more expensive than installing contactless card readers inside the bus themselves. If both ideas accomplishes the same thing, the natural logic is to go with the cheaper one.

  • Irwin Chen

    Off-board payment is not rare. It’s common place on BRT and almost every urban rail system in the world, including here in LA.

    720/20 is not an ordinary high volume bus line. It has higher number of boardings than most rail lines in the US. When volume and frequency are as high as the 720/20 on Wilshire, off-board payment is the best way to go.

    On-board payment with all-door boarding is good practice if you are willing to convert the entire system. But we already know Metro will not do that so the best option is to just convert the highest volume bus stops on the highest volume lines in LA to off-board payment.

    It’s also a lot cheaper to install a few dozen validators on Wilshire, Vermont, Van Nuys, Ventura, and Sepulveda than equip 3000 buses with 2 more validators.

  • Azunyan

    Off board payments in terms of fare gates and turnstiles is common, but those are normally used for rail and normally inside an enclosed structure so that they’re not hit with outside weather environments like rain and such.

    The context of standalone validators in this case is for buses and most cities do not use outside validators for buses that are subject to outside weather.

    Cost of standalone validators are expensive, they normally go for over $10,000 each and there’s a bigger cost in hooking up electricity and wired lines to those machines set onto the sidewalk. “A few dozen” at those 5 stations will likely cost $600,000 at the minimum. And if it breaks, it’s a lot more expensive to replace them.

    A cost of an internal contactless card reader is cheap, costing less than $40, probably cheaper when bought in bulk quantities. Adding 2 additional contactless card readers to 3000 buses is $240,000.

  • calwatch

    Seattle RapidRide has dozens of validators in much worse weather conditions than Los Angeles. This may be a more palatable form of BRT than loading validators on every rapid bus.

  • If Metro follows best practices (and I am sure they won’t, but one can always hope), they will create a situation where not only will fare inspectors board the bus, but anyone leaving the bus will be checked.

  • We are not going to see this all over Los Angeles. Just on the 720, perhaps another Rapid Route, and/or at certain Rapid Bus stops with high volumes. If that.

  • Or here’s an idea: Sell preloaded TAP cards at major retailers (CVS, Walgreens, Rite-Aid, the Supermarkets) so those with cash can just go into a shop, and make the TVMs credit/debit only. This is the practice in S.F. with Clipper.

  • Jason Grant

    Having validators inside the buses are better. If the buses were to be used elsewhere, they already have the TAP validators inside that can be used to validate fares on other routes instead of standalone validators fixed on the sidewalk which can’t be re-used.

    Contactless card readers aren’t space age technology stuff; they’re very cheap so it makes sense to buy them in bulk and install them across all doors on all buses. Validators are too expensive and cost taxpayers more money.

  • Jason Grant

    Eventually tap-in/tap-out (distance or zone based fare pricing models) will come to Metro buses too so yes, it makes sense that onboard validators should be implemented on all doors for Metro buses as well to prepare for that future, just like ending the honor system and installing gates and turnstiles were the next evolutionary step to introducing distance or zone based fares for Metro Rail.

  • Alright, then there should be 2×1 seating at the very least, perhaps even 1×1. 2×1 is used in Vancouver on their trolleybuses which run at high frequencies on important corridors (i.e. just like Metro’s Rapid bus routes in Los Angeles County)

    Here is a picture of an one (albeit now a retired hi-floor model) that gives you an idea of what I mean:
    https://flic.kr/p/9Qfbk

  • Charles Patrick Hobbs

    They have all-door boarding in most Italian cities. (Actually, passengers are asked to board at the front and rear doors, and exit at the middle door…)

    No money is collected on board. Instead, passengers have to buy magnetic stripe tickets at various shops, newsstands, etc. and validate them on board (a validator is located near the front and rear doors). Near the tram routes in Rome there are also vending machines for tickets.

    However, one time I was in Rome, just about every shop near where I was staying had run out of tickets….that can be painful.

    As far as LA, it seems interesting that we’re moving away from barrier free access on the rail lines (installing turnstiles, etc.) but are now considering it on the buses. It’s much harder for a fare inspector to move through a crowded bus than a crowded railcar, so Metro may have to resign itself to some level of fare evasion. They’ll never get 100% compliance, but maybe they can live with 95%….

  • Alex Brideau III

    That would be a good solution. It’s even more doable for Rapids than for Locals as Rapids have limited stops that would require fewer fare-checking staff.

    When I lived in Prague, fare checking for the trams was handled onboard by plainclothes officers. After a while the eagle-eyed could pick them out of a crowd, but usually they’d just board like everyone else, then as soon as the tram door closed, they would whip out their badges and begin working the vehicle. (And only once did I see a runner!)

  • Alex Brideau III

    Installing TAP vending machines at the Silver Line stations should also help. That said, perhaps Metro has already done this. Anyone know?

  • No, the Silver Li(n)e is the Bastard step-child of L.A. Metro.

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