Metro Responds to COVID-19 So Far: Ridership Down, Modest Service Reductions

Metro bus
Metro bus

Yesterday, Metro CEO Phil Washington penned a coronavirus update memo to his board. The document was shared online by Move L.A. Updated: Metro hosted a press briefing Friday March 20 and further changes Monday March 23. Updates added at bottom of this post. 

The 5-page memo states that:

As of Wednesday, March 18, ridership is down significantly (50-60%).

[Metro is] adjusting service to on-street reality and being sensitive to the health of our employees… [A]s of March 18, staff have reduced service levels on bus by 10%, while being careful not to heavily impact those high-frequency lines that carry most of our low-income riders.

The A (Blue), E (Expo), and C (Green) Line services have been reduced from 6-minute peak frequencies to every 8 minutes. B (Red) and D (Purple) Lines have decreased from 10 minute peak frequencies to every 12 minutes (6 minutes in the trunk segment through downtown L.A.). The Gold Line continues to operate on its regular 8-minute headway.

Beginning Friday, rail services will shut down at 10 p.m. [down from roughly midnight], after which rail daily services will run between the hours of 5 a.m. and 10 p.m. Bus service will remain on its current span of service. [Update: On Friday, Metro’s The Source announced “Starting Friday night and until further notice, last trips departing terminal stations will be at midnight on all trains.]

Metro is NOT considering halting transit services at this time. We consider our service a lifeline to thousands in the most populous county in America, including first responders, hospital workers, and essential county and city workers.

The memo further updates the status of internal task forces, steps toward staff safety, Union Station operations, and other COVID-19 responses. A brief update on construction projects states that, “Construction is not being impacted by COVID-19 at this time.”

Advocacy groups Alliance for Community Transit and Investing in Place have called on Metro to make L.A.’s public transit “sanitary, reliable, and fare-free” during the coronavirus crisis. The organizations submitted a letter calling for Metro to take five actions:

  1. Increase sanitation stations and access to hand sanitizer
  2. Maintain a high level of service and consider increasing service on any busy lines
  3. Suspend transit fare collection
  4. Continue increased sanitation of train cars and bus fleet
  5. Provide a plan for public engagement

Transit ridership is down pretty much all over the county, the state, and the nation. New York City (which sees more than a third of the nation’s transit ridership) has seen severe declines under COVID-19, and is pressing for emergency investment by the federal government.

Some updates from Metro’s Friday 3/20 press conference:

  • Metro CEO Phil Washington emphasizeds that the agency has no plans to shut down.
  • Metro is running hybrid service – in between weekday and weekend service. Washington stated that the agency is doing “daily quick strike adjustments” to adjust service “almost on the fly.”
  • Washington stated that the agency is proceeding with NextGen Bus Study network improvements – but they “may be delayed.”
  • Washington stated the agency finances are down due to reduced fare box collection and sales tax revenues “plummeting.” He reported that Metro is exploring federal reimbursement for COVID-19 expenses, incluidng working with the American Public Transit Association (APTA) on a national $16 billion federal funding request.
  • Responding to advocates calls for suspending fare collection, Washington stated “I would not recommend that” as further reduced fare revenue would exacerbate fiscal issues.  

As of Monday 3/23, Metro is now boarding all buses via the rear door/s.