Open Thread: Metro Considering Bus Stop Thinning In Network Plan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are a number of examples of relatively successful bus stop consolidation efforts:

  • San Francisco MUNI found that more than 70 percent of its stops were too close together. The agency is improving service by thinning unneeded stops, though sometimes political pressure has prevented consolidation. Watch this Streetfilm on the issue.
  • Long Beach Transit did an extensive analysis of its bus stops, and piloted stop thinning in 2014 by eliminating nearly 20 stops on its Broadway/Ximeno line [PDF].
  • Santa Monica’s Big Blue Bus has been eliminating stops as part of its recent Expo Line integration overhaul. BBB Transit Planning and Community Engagement Manager Suja Lowenthal stated “we’ve been working on stop-respacing over the past couple of years. As it turns out, when bus stops are spaced very closely together, our service cannot operate that effectively, and nobody is going anywhere quickly.”
    Lowenthal stated that BBB’s ​recommended stop spacing is 1,000 feet to 1,325 feet for local service, but “our methodology is not just limited to counting the linear feet between stops. We look at context: How proximate is it to key ridership generators? What is the specific ridership at the stop in question?”
    Further, BBB’s modifications are having the desired effect. Again from Lowenthal: “Since starting stop-respacing, our overall distance between stops has increased an average of 6 percent on local routes and 3 percent on Rapid routes. Stop-respacing is among several reasons why we have been able to increase our on-time performance and to increase our operational efficiency.”

On a personal note, I am one of those “riders with small children,” but I still tend to think, done intelligently, stop thinning could be really good for Metro bus service.

I live near the intersection of First Street and Vermont Avenue in Los Angeles’ Koreatown, a transit-rich neighborhood with frequent and 24-hour bus service, subway stations, and plenty of bus stops. I can catch the 204 bus – the Vermont local – two blocks from my home at my nearest stop at First and Vermont, but I rarely do, because the local bus is so much slower than the 754 bus – the Vermont Rapid, which I can catch on Third Street. The local bus is slow here because it stops almost every other block: First, Third, Fourth, Sixth, Wilshire, Seventh. I suspect that stops at First and Fourth should probably be thinned, even though that means I would walk a little further.

What do you think, readers? Would Metro stop thinning be good for a majority of people, even if a small number of people will have to sacrifice in the form of slightly longer walks to bus stops? Or is thinning likely to be a burden for already put-upon bus riders? Your comments below.


  • Jose Escobar

    I wouldn’t mind. But then again I like walking and in good shape. Just read an article from Portland about a guy who suggested people don’t get off at their stop if they’re the only one getting off, and instead get off at the next stop where there are more people getting off, thereby speeding up the bus. Sounds kinda ridic.

  • MSJ sexy as ever

    I think some of the stops for the local lines could be thinned. When I was a frequent rider it was kinda frustrating when there is a stop on each corner of a block. Depends on where you go the Rapid is too far from your destination. Thinning some areas could also increase the flow of traffic.

  • Alex Brideau III

    To me, the Rapid buses should be the backbone of Metro’s bus system, transporting passengers over longer distances along fairly straight routes like they (for the most part) already do. Instead of running along the same routes as Rapids but with more stops (which seems really inefficient to me and probably detracts from the efficient use of the bus system), I think the Locals should instead function more as local circulators and feeders that transport passengers to and from Metro’s “trunk lines” (i.e. Rapids and rail lines).

  • Chewie

    One downside of thinning stops is cities can use it as an excuse not to build decent bus stops with shade, seating, a trash can and schedule information. If you keep changing the routes, why should a city invest in good bus stops that could be rendered useless? GOOD bus service has fixed infrastructure! If Metro thins stops, it needs to pay to relocate bus shelters and do a better job of outfitting the stops that remain, so that when grandma walks longer to her stop, she doesn’t also bake standing in the sun.

  • Seattle has ton through this a bunch. Starting in 2001 and continuing through today, their process has been to do it line by line.

    Route 15:

    Route 28:

    Route 8 (Crosstown from Queen Anne to Capitol Hill):

    Route 14:

    Route 120:

    Route 44 (The Ballard to UW Trolleybus):

    Route 16:

    This guy did his Masters Thesis on the topic:

    And this guy thinks Portland, Oregon should follow Seattle’s lead:

    Tanya Snyder had done a piece in January 2014 for SB USA about Philly having had a similar test:

    ..but that “They also realized during the course of the pilot that some drivers were still stopping at eliminated stops for elderly passengers they had developed a relationship with.”

    Jarrett Walker still touts it as an important tool:

    and cites this April 2014 SB USA post:

    Even simple things like making Locals and Rapids serve the same stop or putting stops on the far side of traffic lights so drivers can leave when they can, and not have to obnoxiously keep a door shut waiting for the signal to turn (This also should be done with the option of dropping off passenger if the light is red.) would help.

  • Hopefully this leads to the creation of just the “superstops” you propose by looking at data that has not been looked at in 50 years, and by letting Munis and Locals and Rapids stop at the same location, which is often not the case in Los Angeles County.

  • BTW, there can be a whole separate set of rules for service after, say, 10 pm where buses stop on demand and passengers can stop at any corner and hail a bus. This is done elsewhere.

  • Jake Bloo

    WHUH? Are these rules currently in LA? Do you have a link? That sounds like an amazing rule.

  • calwatch

    Yes they are, and are still in the operator book although not routinely advertised.

  • Joe Linton

    Walker suggests that bigger and more permanent stops can mean better investment/upgrades – not less

  • jennix

    We call the concept “last mile” for a reason. People should be willing to take themselves to transport. While it’s important to accommodate the handicapped and elderly, it’s not unreasonable to expect people to manage some of the trip on their own. We can’t do door-to-door for everybody.

    Couldn’t agree more that if nothing else comes from this, there should be more covered bus stops in LA.

  • Gezellig

    Sounds like a step in the right direction, though just like “road diet” there may be a bit of a cognitive framing issue with “thinning.” Makes it sound a bit negative, when with careful planning the result should be overwhelmingly positive.

  • disqus_i5jUqHQUwT

    I think it depends on the situation. Black and Latino areas sometimes depend on that transit stop being near to them because they have no other mode of transport. Walking, bicycling, and taking transit isn’t a “lifestyle choice” for them.

  • Chewie

    I hope so but I remember one time I complained to Metro about the lack of a bus shelter at the northwest corner of Vermont and Beverly (a Red Line stop). Their response was basically talk to the City of LA since they have to approve it. When I talked to the local Council office the response was basically why should we build bus shelters when bus routes constantly change. I think that’s called an infinite bureaucracy loop.

  • Sirinya Matute

    Just to provide some clarification, BBB has been working on stop-respacing well before we began the implementation phase of Evolution of Blue (which started last month with our August 2013 service change). And this isn’t to say that every stop that is way less than 1,000 feet apart will be removed. We definitely have some instances of where we have multiple stops close to each other because they are serving an extremely popular destination, and if we consolidated the stop, then we’d be looking at serious overcrowding on the sidewalk.

    Also, Pawnee, Indiana has a transit system. The local stops are 1/32 of a mile apart and the express stops are 16 miles apart!

  • Gezellig

    But even–and especially–people who rely on transit to get around still have things they need to get to in a timely manner.

    Of course each stop should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis (is it near a senior center, many of whose residents probably can’t/won’t walk far? is it near a school? etc.), but in general systemwide there are often far too many stops–sometimes even two on the same block!

    Many people who rely on transit are willing to walk further for faster service–just look at the Orange Line for a bus example or any of the rail lines.

  • Sirinya Matute

    FYI — most bus shelters in general are advertiser supported and managed by the municipality in which it is located. I would not be so certain that Metro would be the entity that incurs the cost of removing the shelter.

  • disqus_i5jUqHQUwT

    Agree on there being too many stops, but:
    “Many people who rely on transit are willing to walk further for faster service–just look at the Orange Line for a bus example or any of the rail lines.”
    is anecdotal evidence.

    If there is a study, I’d like to see one done in areas of high need, not a systemwide area as that is going to be skewed. I can assure you that people on the original “blue-ribbon” committee from the first recs and these second recs are not high-need. System planning and urban planning as a whole goes beyond data and into the wants and needs of the community (which is why NIMBYs can and should exist, even if they’re the bane of every planner’s existence).

  • Bernard Finucane

    That picture is a scandal.

  • Gezellig

    LA Metro publishes lots of ridership data so it’s not really anecdotal. In general ridership is higher-than-average on lines with less-frequent stops (rail lines and Silver/Orange bus lines).

    Though stop spacing is necessarily context-dependent there’s a body of good data demonstrating that people are willing to walk further for faster service. Human Transit has a good piece on this:

    As for LA Metro, it can be interesting comparing a local line such as the 156/656 whose route parallels much of the Orange Line for some time.

    Unsurprisingly, the 156/656 has estimated average weekday daily boardings under 2k, while the Orange Line generally has about 25k.

    This isn’t a suggestion to get rid of a Local line–after all, it surely provides a lifeline to some people unable/unwilling to walk to the infrequent stations along the Orange and Red Lines. In fact, it further bolsters the point that the Local v. Rapid distinction is necessary in LA’s transit network.

    After all, the data show that Los Angeles is no exception to the general principle that many people will walk further for faster service.

  • Steven White

    I’ve actually had this issue pop up for me before… Metro removed a stop on Sunset Blvd and all they did was take their sign down. The bus bench, trash can, etc. were all still there because it had not been removed by either the City of LA or the advertising company. To make matters worse, the digital information had not been changed and the stop still showed up on trip planners like Google Maps and on the official Metro app.

    This was after a Dodgers game and there was a small crowd of people waiting at the “bus stop” as bus after bus passed by before anyone realized the stop had recently been removed.

  • BC

    Ah, Pawnee, birthplace of Julia Roberts and the Akron of Southwest Indiana.
    “Pawnee – 1st in Friendship, 4th in Obesity.” Maybe those stops are a bit too close

  • Kenny Easwaran

    Remember – speeding up buses doesn’t just mean a faster ride from end to end, but also a shorter wait for the next bus, because each bus has time to do a few more runs over the course of a day. At quarter mile spacing, everyone should be within a 5 minute walk of a bus stop, so if you can shave 5 minutes off the ride plus wait together, that should make up for the extra distance, except for people for whom that walk is extremely strenuous.

    I would be interested to know how many people for whom that much walking is strenuous are riding the ordinary bus system rather than the paratransit system. There do seem to be some.

  • Mehmet Berker

    Pretty obvious point, but for more people gathering at fewer stops to make service as fast as it could, gotta have that all-door access. I don’t foresee locals getting that before Rapids (as should be the case, more benefit from Rapids). My favorite/bane of my existence example is the 4, where there’s three local stops in a row from Bronson to Wilton.

  • calwatch

    But if we force those people onto paratransit, now they are costing taxpayers an order of magnitude more per trip. You have to give them walkable routes to the stop or they will qualify for paratransit, Stop thinning only works when the walking environment is sufficient.

    Ironically, although the pedestrian environment in suburbs is a lot more hostile, it may make more sense to reduce stops in suburbs because most of them have sidewalks, and many suburban areas have stops at unsignalized crosswalks which can be dangerous to cross on foot.

  • Phantom Commuter

    Would rather live in Indiana than on the Westside

  • Phantom Commuter

    Covered is fine as long as there are no benches that can be slept on …

  • Phantom Commuter

    So funny. The Phantom was able to learn all of this without a Ph.D in transit.

  • Phantom Commuter

    If stops are located every 1/4 mile, most of them can be placed in relatively attractive areas where a simple shelter, without benches, will do. L.A.’s bus shelters are almost all unusable due to the homeless.

  • Phantom Commuter

    Exactly. A Frequent Service Network could accomplish that.

  • Chewie

    This is part of the problem. Metro doesn’t want to take any responsibility for providing bus shelters with trash cans and schedule info, despite the fact that doing so is ESSENTIAL to providing quality bus service. Likewise, cities don’t want to take responsibility. The result is two agencies pointing fingers at each other while bus riders stand in the sun. Can anybody seriously be surprised that in this environment driving out competes transit?

  • Chewie

    Even if a homeless person is sitting on a bus bench, a bus shelter still provides valuable shade. Plus, God forbid a homeless person has a place to sit. This speaks to a larger societal failure to fund services for the homeless, born from America’s “I’ve got mine, f*** everyone else” culture.

  • Sirinya Matute

    I am torn. I love living in LA, and even where I do on the Westside. But fictional Pawnee sounds kind of awesome and ridiculous as well. (That description of Pawnee’s transit system is absolutely crazy and creative, and I almost wish I were on the writing staff of the show at the time.)

  • Sirinya Matute

    As my manager at BBB commented to Joe, while we have a standard for local service stop spacing (specified in our Service Standards manual), we still consider what’s going on in the vicinity. We have several stops spaced very closely together at SMC because I think we’d run out of sidewalk space if we got rid of any. The use of transit at SMC really is that high.

    We had a situation where we did a stop consolidation near the senior center in West LA. There were two stops one block apart. We removed one in each direction, being careful to retain the one that required fewer block crossings (noting that people who are elderly or have physical injuries or disabilities will take longer to cross, and the longer they’re in the street, their risk of something bad happening increases exponentially).

  • Sirinya Matute

    I’m sorry to hear you had this experience.

  • Steven White

    Haha, thanks… Metro Customer Relations got an earful after the fact. It would have been one thing if it was just a bench and trash can that we all mistook for a bus stop, but the fact that the stop still appeared on all of their digital assets, plus looked for all intents and purposes like a bus stop confused a lot of people.

  • Jake Bloo

    that’s incredible!

  • That assumes that the suburb has decently frequent bus service. No one wants to miss the bus that comes hourly (or worse) and at that level of (in)frequency, it’s already a mode of transport of last resort. Furthermore, given the lower density and general status of using the bus in suburban areas, the likelihood of people being at every stop is exceedingly small anyway, so having closer stops isn’t as much of an issue.

    However, a service in a more urban area with frequent headways can definitely benefit from thinning. The fact that it pushes people to paratransit can be somewhat mitigated by moving resources freed up from the better operations of the fixed route service to cover the paratransit users. That in turn might help make the fixed route service even faster by not having as many disabled (un)loadings per run.

  • Yes, buses run a lot faster when they don’t have to stop for those pesky passengers. Here in San Francisco, this has been done along the #5 line with few stops between Divisadero Street and Masonic Avenue, which has been a negative for the elderly, the disabled, and people with small children.

  • calwatch
  • Wanderer

    Reducing stops is pretty much gospel in the transit industry. I’m personally sort of agnostic about it. 1/4 mile stop spacing does not give everybody a 5 minute (or less) walk. Your walk along the arterial will be short, but most people will have to walk to the arterial. If the routes are spaced 1/2 mile apart, which is pretty close, the walk to the stop could get up to .4 miles.

    But since a lot of people are doing walks around the length to reach Rapid stops, maybe the local bus stops near the Rapid stop are the priority for reductions.

    It’s hard to study the impact of stop re-spacing because it’s usually done in conjunction with other improvements. Still, I’d love to see some before/after analysis of ridership, speed, reliability, and use of paratransit (do more people use paratransit because it’s harder to get to stops?). I’ve seen a lot more assertion and arguments on both sides of this than actual data.


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