Ridership on Los Angeles light-rail lines has “surged” (mainly because they’ve opened new lines), but bus ridership is falling much faster. From 2006 to 2016, light- and heavy-rail ridership grew by 28 million rides a year, but bus ridership fell a whopping 103 million rides a year.
Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) commissioned a report looking at bus speeds and on-time performance. Thanks to growing traffic congestion–which the report admits is partly due to traffic calming measures–average bus speeds have declined by 15 percent and on-time performance has declined from 76 to 72 percent since 2011.
The strong implication is that there is a relationship between bus speeds/reliability and ridership. But that implication would be just as wrong as an assumption that congestion is caused by too many people driving rather than by local governments deliberately making congestion worse through such things as traffic calming.
There’s a better explanation for the decline in bus ridership: the decline in bus service as Metro has diverted resources away from the bus system to new rail lines. Since 2006, vehicle revenue miles of bus service have declined by 19 percent. Since 2002, the correlation between vehicle miles of bus service and bus ridership has been 97 percent. Correlation doesn’t necessarily prove causation, but that’s pretty close to perfect, so it’s no surprise that a decline in vehicle miles has led to a decline in ridership.
The decline is clearly due to L.A.’s obsession with building light rail no matter what the cost. Supposedly, building more light-rail lines has network effects that leads to more rapid growth in ridership. But to get a 56 percent increase in light-rail ridership, Metro has had to increase light-rail vehicle miles of service by 86 percent. So much for that hypothesis. Light rail is also stealing customers from the region’s commuter trains.
Los Angeles Metro’s focus on bus speeds is an excuse to build more unaffordable rail lines because trains are supposedly immune from congestion. Of course, L.A. light-rail trains go an average of just 20 miles per hour, which isn’t fast enough to attract many people out of their cars.
If Metro cared more about transit riders than about building a rail empire, it would have looked at miles of service numbers rather than bus speeds. But then, if it really cared about transit riders it wouldn’t be building obsolete rail lines in the first place.