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Metro Draft Strategic Plan: Lofty Goals, Slippery Timelines, Few Surprises

Metro’s draft Strategic Plan goals include world class bus service. Image via Metro draft plan

Metro's Office of Extraordinary Innovation has released a new draft strategic plan for the agency. The 40-page Metro Strategic Plan 2018-2028 (plus staff report and appendices) includes few surprises. Much of the broad outlines of Metro's priorities are already constrained by language in voter-approved sales tax measures. The draft plan incorporates numerous Metro initiatives already underway - from job training to joint development to revamped "NextGen" bus service.

The draft strategic plan is on the agenda for this Thursday's Metro Executive Management Committee meeting. After the full board receives the report later this month, staff will receive public comments for a four-week period. Then, a final plan is anticipated to be adopted by the Metro board in June.

The plan repeatedly emphasizes changing the paradigm of "driving alone" - for various reasons from improving mobility for all travelers, to the inefficient use of existing street space, to meeting environmental goals. The plan's laudable overarching goal is to "Double the total usage of transportation modes other than driving alone, including transit, walk, bike, shared-ride, and carpool modes."

[Ideally this "total usage" needs to be a percentage - known as a "mode share" - though that does not appear to be stated explicitly in the document. If the total usage is just the raw total number of trips, then much of the goal will be likely to be achieved by the region's population growth, even with little change in travel behavior.]

Though Metro already tracks and reports on various L.A. County trip data, according to the draft strategic plan, Metro will "benchmark" how much driving alone there is in 2019, and then "periodic tracking of trends" will follow. That means that the first progress report would not arrive until perhaps 2020 at the earliest - two years into a ten-year plan. Better that the agency glean from past data to establish an actual 2018 baseline, then aim to complete improvements on a graduated schedule - such as 20 percent of goals achieved by 2020.

Other plan goals feature similarly slippery timelines. The plan includes plenty of excellent bus transit service goals - from reducing wait times to improving bus speeds. These will likely emerge from Metro's NextGen bus service reorganization project. Some of these goals are very specific, including "to achieve a minimum average speed of 18 mph on Rapid bus routes."

For transit improvements, though, the plan calls for "two years for benchmark data" for bus wait times and travel speeds. Common-sense minimal-cost bus improvements, including "enforcement of exclusive lanes" (a problem on Wilshire Boulevard today and since 2013) and all-door boarding (per Metro, this is anticipated to save money, especially on busier lines) could be implemented as soon as possible. Though the plan schedules these sorts of improvements to take place "over the first five years of this Plan," the details appear to put off the improvements until after benchmarking and further study.

By benchmarking after the Strategic Plan is approved, there is no incentive for Metro to improve bus service right away. There is actually a perverse incentive; Metro will look better on paper if bus service gets worse over the next year or so, then improves after 2020. Again, better that the agency establish an actual 2018 baseline looking at retrospective data, and then start delivering improvements as soon as possible.

The overall plan document includes five goals, each consisting of several components:

1. Provide high-quality mobility options that enable people to spend less time traveling

    • 1.1 To expand the transportation network and increase mobility for all users, Metro will:
    • 1.1 (1) Target infrastructure and service investments toward those with the greatest mobility needs (by following Metro's Equity Platform Framework policy)
    • 1.1 (2) Expand the transportation system as responsibly and quickly as possible (largely under Measures M and R expenditure plans.)
    • 1.2 To improve L.A. County’s overall transit network and assets, Metro will:
    • 1.2 (1) Invest in a world-class bus system that is reliable, convenient, and attractive to more users, for more trips (likely primarily through NextGen study implementation)
    • 1.2 (2) Partner with Metrolink to increase the capacity of the regional transportation system.
    • 1.2 (3) Optimize the speed, reliability, and performance of the existing system by revitalizing and upgrading Metro’s transit assets.
    • 1.2 (4) Improve connectivity to provide seamless journeys.
    • 1.2 (5) Improve safety on the transit system and reduce roadway collisions and injuries.
    • 1.3 As part of an effort to manage transportation demand through fair and equitable pricing structures, Metro will:
    • 1.3 (1) Develop simplified, sustainable, and comprehensive pricing policies to support the provision of equitable, affordable, and high-quality transportation services.
    • 1.3 (2) Implement the ExpressLanes Tier 1 network within the next ten years.
    • 1.3 (3) Test and implement pricing strategies to reduce traffic congestion.
    • 1.3 (4) Manage congestion and reduce conflicts between the movement of goods and people on streets and highways.
    • 1.3 (5) Explore opportunities for expanding access to shared, demand-responsive transportation options for everyone.

2. Deliver outstanding trip experiences for all users of the transportation system

    • 2.1 Metro is committed to improving security
    • 2.2 Metro is committed to improving legibility, ease of use, and trip information on the transit system
    • 2.3 Metro will improve customer satisfaction at all customer touch points

3. Enhance communities and lives through mobility and access to opportunity

    • 3.1 To lift up local communities, Metro will create jobs and career pathways in transportation
    • 3.2 Metro will leverage its transit investments to catalyze transit-oriented communities and help stabilize neighborhoods where these investments are made
    • 3.3 Metro is committed to genuine public and community engagement to achieve better mobility outcomes for the people of L.A. County

4. Transform Los Angeles County through regional collaboration and national leadership

    • 4.1. Metro will work with partners to build trust and make decisions that support the goals of the Strategic Plan
    • 4.2 Metro will help drive mobility agendas, discussions, and policies at the state, regional, and national levels

5. Provide responsive, accountable, and trustworthy governance within the Metro organization.

    • 5.1 Metro will leverage funding and staff resources to accelerate the achievement of goals and initiatives prioritized in this Strategic Plan
    • 5.2 Metro will exercise good public policy judgment and sound fiscal stewardship
    • 5.3 Metro will apply prudent commercial business practices to create a more effective agency
    • 5.4 Metro will expand opportunities for businesses and external organizations to work with us
    • 5.5 Metro will supplement and strengthen programs to address workplace safety, security, and employee wellness
    • 5.6 Metro will build and nurture a diverse, inspired, and high-performing workforce

These are all detailed in the full draft plan at the Metro website.

Overall, there is plenty to like in the plan, though, especially regarding transit service improvements, the devils may be in the details, including the timelines. Public comment on the draft plan is expected to begin on April 27.

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