I have yet to find an element of our region more critical than how people get to work or see their loved ones. There is no other place where low-income people congregate more than on our bus systems, and there is no bigger developer and investor in our region’s transportation network than the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro). But it’s no secret that our current transportation options are failing in this role – particularly for people in the LA region who rely on transit.
The difference between high quality transit and the service Metro is currently running is make or break for families, students, and employees. Furthermore, it’s make or break for our region as a whole in terms of economic resilience and our ability to reduce carbon emissions and improve air quality. Bus service has been flat or declining for the past 10 years, leaving communities who rely on it with fewer options to get around. And because of increasing traffic/decreasing bus speeds, we get less service out of the same service hours, so even flat service levels is a decrease in service on the street. Whether it’s from cuts to the service hours or simple neglect of the backbone of our transit system, the bus, the result is the same, the buses are slow and stuck in traffic, they don’t serve all of the destinations we care about, making it very difficult for people who rely on transit to access opportunity.
More than once, we have heard from Moms – especially low income moms – who have had to miss doctors’ appointments, and have to forgo trips entirely because the travel time or cost is not affordable. We have also heard from moms who make it work no matter what on the bus – like one Mom we followed one day – Maura Martinez – who made sure her kids had a fun day off from school at Chuckie Cheese. A trip that took two buses, long waits in the sun and almost 2 hours each way. We made a mini-documentary about this mom – Maura Martinez. Her commitment to give her children everything, just like all parents want, but without reliable, safe and affordable transportation options. What could Maura and her family do – if they got those 3 hours back? If they were able to get to places to have fun and be together on better transit options? Maura did get those 3 hours back, because a few months after we made the video, her family was relieved to be able to buy their own car.
So we shouldn’t be surprised that, for most bus riders, their biggest transportation aspiration is to own a car. And with surging car-ownership rates, it really isn’t a mystery why bus ridership (and transit ridership overall) continues falling in LA. Are we in a budget crisis at Metro? Is that why the agency is not improving buses? Nope – actually the opposite. Right now, the region is receiving unprecedented levels of public investments thanks to Los Angeles County voters and the State. Los Angeles County receives up to $2 billion in public funds annually for transportation projects and programs. The money is there. A commitment to providing high quality transit service – especially to those with the least options isn’t. Right now at Metro the priority has become accelerating capital projects.
So far, Metro has taken a piecemeal approach to piloting and implementing some transit fixes. For instance, it was exciting for many when last year Metro announced they were undertaking the first bus network redesign in 25 years, but that excitement quickly disappeared when it was realized that this was being done with no planned budget increase in bus service hours.
We know how to improve bus service – a key part of it involves bus only lanes, queue jumpers, signal priority, or boarding islands, all door boarding, all these types of infrastructure improvements are estimated to cut stop times and improve bus speeds by 20% or more. Also part of it involves working with local jurisdictions where these bus improvements can be made. Like Metro did earlier this year, when in partnership with the City of LA, created a bus only lane in 6 months, and it now carries 60 buses an hour. Investing in Place posted a video of the bus only lane – which shows the bus sailing past cars stuck in traffic, and this video quickly went viral with over 75,000 views. People like seeing a bus go fast in LA, likely because they’ve never seen that happen.
And it’s inspired people. That is why last month month over 40 people from various organizations and agencies came together to talk about Better Buses for LA. A workgroup that believes buses should get priority on our streets – like the plans we see in the works for the Orange Line (a dedicated busway) that will allow buses to increase speeds with the inclusion of bridges that allow the buses to bypass traffic lights entirely.
So how do we see more investments like this for better buses for LA? Join us for our next work group meeting on Tuesday October 15th from 3:30 – 5:00pm. This meeting will be focused on potential bus improvements (bus only lanes, queue jumpers, signal priority, or boarding islands, all door boarding) in the City of LA along corridors in North and South and in downtown LA where Metro Buses with high ridership are tied up in traffic. Space is limited and registration is required – if you work with/at Community Organizations North or South of downtown Los Angeles – we hope you can join us!