Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Letter to the Metro Board and CEO

May 17, 2022

RE: FY 23 Budget –  Metro Transit Service 

Dear Metro Board of Directors and CEO Wiggins,

As you consider Metro’s projected $8.8 billion-dollar budget for Fiscal Year 2023, Metro’s largest budget in its history, please consider these points that are critical but often not discussed. 

  1. Investments in bus operations have remained relatively flat over the past three decades.  And census data shows that Los Angeles County’s population grew during that time by 1 million people —all looking for improved access, reliability and safety in getting where they want and need to go. 
  2. Those who rely on bus service in Los Angeles (largely people with lower incomes and Black, Latino, Asian and Pacific Islander) have been getting less and less over the years:
      • Fewer service hours – now at the lowest point since the mid-90s
      • Slower speeds – average 12 mph on weekdays (too few bus-only lanes) 
      • Unpredictable schedules – service cut and restored numerous times
  3. These challenges are heightened by the current shortage of transit operators, which will continue as long as wages and conditions remain poor.

Considering the above 3 points, we ask Metro to:

A. Increase funding for bus operations, including a boost to operator pay

B. Fulfill NextGen promises of investments addressing speed and reliability, and share the plan and project list with the public

C. Fully fund a NextGen community partnership program to build support and localized leadership for bus only lanes and other quick build NextGen speed and reliability investments.


Budget for Bus Operations Has Remained Relatively Flat

As we review the draft FY23 budget along with previous years of investments, we are struck by the fact that Metro’s investments in bus operations have changed very little over the past 28 years. (See our spreadsheets for more detail.)

Figure 1 highlights the past decade in particular, featuring actual (not projected) data reported by LA Metro to the National Transit Database (NTD).
Figure 1: Metro bus operating costs from FY10-FY20. Data Source: National Transit Database 
Vehicle Operations includes wages, salaries and expenses related to all activities associated with dispatching and running vehicles to carry passengers. 
Vehicle maintenance includes wages, salaries and expenses incurred during all activities related to keeping vehicles operational and in good repair.  
Facility maintenance includes all activities related to keeping buildings, structures, roadways, track, and other non-vehicle assets operational and in good repair.  
General administration includes wages, salaries, and expenses incurred to perform support and administrative activities. 


As you can see, bus operating costs have not increased much over the past 10 years. The exception is an increase between FY15 and FY17, partly due to a sizable increase in wages, salaries and expenses for people working in the general administration of bus services.


Bus Service is At Lowest Point Since the ‘90s

We have collected data on Metro’s revenue service hours for buses for the past 28 years. We encourage you to review our spreadsheets as well as Figure 2 below.

Figure 2: Metro Bus Revenue Service Hours (RSH) from FY94 – FY20 (actuals). RSH is the hours that vehicles/passenger cars travel while in revenue service. 
Vehicle revenue hours (VRH) include:  Revenue service and Layover/recovery time. 
Actual vehicle revenue hours exclude: 
– Deadhead (vehicle in operation in between trips without passengers on board)
– Operator training 
– Maintenance testing 
 – School bus and charter services 
RSH is in actuals. Data source: National Transit Database.


Figure 2 shows that bus revenue service hours have remained flat for much of LA Metro’s existence, meaning that bus riders have experienced roughly the same amount of bus service since LA Metro was formed in 1993. When you factor in today’s lower bus speeds, service is actually worse. 

Further, the volume of service hours has become much more volatile due to COVID-19, with bus service cut and restored on numerous occasions. This complicates life and work for those who rely on our buses to get around.


Operator Shortage Impedes Service Improvements

As of March 2022, Metro is short 609 bus and rail operators (source: Metro Board Report April 2022, Agenda item 20). This shortage has slowed progress toward re-establishing service levels. 

Service hours were down to 6.3 million in FY20 due to service cuts, and then were budgeted to be restored to 7.1 million in FY22. But service was cut again in February 2022 (back down to 6.3 million) due to a shortage of transit operators.  

Unless the job pay (starting wage $20.49 at part time hours) is significantly increased and job conditions are improved, it is hard to see a path forward to having enough bus operators to operate the FY23 budgeted pre-COVID transit service levels.


Progress Toward NextGen Remains a Mystery

It has been more than two years since the Metro Board adopted the Transit First Scenario alternative for implementation of the NextGen plan in January 2020. The Transit First alternative called for a significant reorganization of Metro’s bus service and major investments in busy corridors where riders have suffered long waits and slow rides for decades. 

For the last two years, Metro has reorganized bus routes while insisting that adding new bus service is less important than fixing speed and reliability of existing service. 

However, it is impossible to track the plan and its progress because Metro and its partner agency, LADOT, have never released public plans for how to fund the NextGen expansion, and they’ve never put out a detailed project list. Without a more transparent budgeting and accounting process, the public isn’t able to help understand and shape the public dollars and infrastructure desperately needed by so many. 


NextGen Capital Investments Remain Under-Funded 

According to the direction of the Metro Board, the NextGen Transit First Scenario was to include:

  • Nearly $1 billion in capital spending over five years, including 
  •  Hundreds of millions each year for bus priority lanes, all-door boarding, bus stop and layover improvements, transit signal priority, and more—to fulfill its stated priority of improving speed and reliability, plus
  • Reallocation of bus service hours to create an all-day, frequent and reliable network. 

Instead, Metro is on pace to barely hit $33 million budgeted in the first three years.

Funding for Capital Investments

$6.5 million                                         Year 1

$8 million                                            Year 2

$18.6 million                           Year 3 (FY23)

That leaves a whopping $967 million remaining for the last two years. (Data sources are from Metro Budget & Finance Committees in 2020 and 2022, and from Metro Board Report January 2020 ).

While the budget for NextGen has doubled in FY23, capital investments continue to be under-funded to meet the Metro Board’s direction to spend nearly $1 billion in five years.


Progress Will Continue to be Slow Without More Public Outreach

In order to implement infrastructure improvements to improve bus speeds (which are now about 12 mph on a weekday), a key solution identified by the NextGen plan is to designate bus-only lanes. 

Since 2018, the Metro and LADOT bus speed work group has implemented 12.8 bus-only lane miles, which is small but important progress on a very large problem. But to put that into perspective, consider the scale of the bus and street network in Los Angeles: the City of Los Angeles alone has 23,000 lane miles, and about 40 percent of those are major avenues and boulevards.

In order to accelerate and see success with bus-only lanes, Metro needs to reach out to people where they are: on buses. 

Fully fund a community partnership program to support funded local outreach directly on Metro buses on the key bus routes as identified by the NextGen Plan.  


Show the People of Los Angeles County Your Commitment to Them

One measure of a region’s priorities is how we invest (or not) in our public spaces, and in the services that make it possible for people to access their destinations. People can’t get ahead in life if they can’t get around. 

Transportation investments have the potential to strengthen communities.

For more information, please feel free to contact me at jessica@investinginplace.org.


Jessica Meaney

Executive Director


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