Thursday, February 2, 2017

Making Headway with Bus Rapid Transit in Los Angeles County

Note: This blog was guest written by Jordan Fraade, a second-year master’s student in UCLA’s Urban Planning program. Jordan is completing his Applied Planning Research Project in coordination with Investing in Place.

Riding the bus in Los Angeles can be a mixed experience — there are some benefits but also a lot of drawbacks. In a city where only about 10 percent of people take public transit to work, according to U.S. Census estimates from 2015,* a certain sense of camaraderie arises among those who do.

Being an L.A. bus rider can bring many benefits, especially the stress relief of not having to drive yourself, and the time savings of not having to look for parking. But it’s also true that buses come less often than they should, get less funding than they should, and still end up sitting in the same traffic as everyone else.

 

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Percent of late trains from 2010-2015. Source: KPCC, 2016

 

 

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Percent of late buses from 2010-2015. Source: KPCC, 2016.

The charts above were created by Aaron Mendelson of KPCC,  http://www.scpr.org/news/2016/05/12/60250/data-metro-s-buses-and-trains-having-trouble-stick/

Our buses don’t work for everyone…

Every weekday across Los Angeles County, over 1 million bus rides are taken. As a bus rider myself, I ask: How can we make our daily hustle better?

I’m a master’s student in my final year of the Urban Planning program at UCLA, and this is the question that’s guiding my Applied Planning Research Project with Investing in Place. (The APRP is a full-year project required to graduate — think of a senior thesis, but doing work on a real planning project with a local client.) I moved across the country to Los Angeles for graduate school because I was so excited by the huge changes happening in L.A.’s urban-planning scene, and the city’s ongoing buildout of new public transit infrastructure.

But as I’ve been here, I’ve realized that many of the city’s communities and transit riders aren’t experiencing these improvements firsthand. For example:

 

  • Between 70-75% of all Metro passengers are bus riders, the highest bus mode share of any major U.S. transit system.
  • Bus and rail passengers both have median incomes below the L.A. County average, but Metro estimates that bus riders’ incomes are the lowest, at about $15,000 per year.
  • On-time performance for buses is improving, but it’s still below rail — and while real-time bus arrival information can help riders save hours, a 2015 ridership survey conducted by Metro estimates that less than half of bus riders own a smartphone.**

 

What’s a solution?

Many urban planners and experts point to Bus Rapid Transit — a kind of express bus service that runs in its own protected lane, has sheltered, comfortable stops, and runs every few minutes.

Los Angeles is a city where transit construction is very much a matter of social equity: Will we build transit in the hopes of bringing wealthier people out of their cars, or will we provide better transit service to communities that already rely on buses as a primary option?

BRT could be a way to tip the balance back toward communities that already depend on transit. Planners love it because it’s cost-effective, and it’s already been a proven success in cities around the world, especially those that are sprawling, relatively low-density, and have long, wide streets. (Sound familiar?)

In Mexico City, where I spent this past summer working for an NGO that promotes sustainable mobility, I became a frequent and devoted rider of Metrobús, the 6-line BRT system that the city has been expanding since 2005. The stations are clean, the buses are fast, and they come every 1-2 minutes — and as a result, the network carries about a million riders a day. By the end of the summer I found myself asking why L.A. didn’t have something similar.

Next Steps

Over the next few months, I will be working with Investing in Place to figure out how we can work together to push Los Angeles into a future when bus riders can count on the same high-quality, frequent service that rail riders receive on a regular basis. I’ll be talking to transit professionals about why BRT hasn’t made more headway in Los Angeles, and I’ll be reaching out to many of you who have partnered with and supported Investing in Place to get your thoughts as well.

I’m excited to connect with community leaders, neighborhood stakeholders, and transit riders to find out what you think better bus transit could do for the quality of your community. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me at jordanfraade@g.ucla.edu. And I look forward to meeting many of you in the weeks ahead.

Sources

*Commute Data: American Community Survey 2015 5-yr estimates. https://factfinder.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?pid=ACS_15_5YR_S0801&prodType=table

**Metro 2015 ridership survey: http://thesource.metro.net/2015/08/05/results-of-metros-latest-customer-survey/


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