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. Continue reading →
Thanks to maintenance work on Amtrak and commuter-train tracks around Penn Station on top of the usual number of breakdowns, this is supposed to be the Summer of Hell for commuters to Manhattan. But Ford subsidiary Chariot plans to ease commuters’ pains by introducing microtransit service in the form of an on-demand shuttle bus.
Chariot’s routes in San Francisco.
Chariot is already operating a similar service in San Francisco, competing not only with existing transit but with Lyft Shuttle. As the above and below maps show, Chariot and Lyft have similar but not identical routes. The difference between them is that Lyft uses owner-operated vehicles while Chariot uses company-owned Ford minibuses and treats its drivers as full employees with insurance and other benefits. Continue reading →
The Los Angeles Timesreports that L.A. bus ridership is falling, so the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) is “looking to overhaul the system.” Unfortunately, the Times didn’t make the effort to figure out the real problems, instead relying on transit agency claims that they were due to “factors beyond its control.”
In fact, in the past ten years, the number of vehicle miles of revenue bus service offered by Metro has declined by more than 21 percent, from 86.3 million miles to 67.7 million. Transit riders are probably more sensitive to frequencies than anything else, and this 21 percent decline probably did not involve the cutting of many bus routes; instead, it represents a reduction in the frequencies of most routes. That factor was completely within Metro’s control.
Metro’s bus ridership peaked at 399 million trips per year in 2007 (which buses traveled 85.4 million miles), but has since declined to 318 million trips. The 20.2 percent decline nearly matches the decline in bus miles. Continue reading →
The latest issue of the Journal of Public Transport, which is published by the National Center for Transit Research at the University of South Florida, has several articles relevant to bus-rapid transit and the debate between buses and rail. In general, the articles support the notion that buses are an adequate if not superior substitute to rail in many situations.
Click image to download the complete issue (9.8-MB); click the links in this post to download individual articles.
One article compares the accuracy of bus-rapid transit cost and ridership forecasts and finds that cost forecasts are much more reliable than for rail, while ridership forecasts may need some work. Of 19 BRT projects considered, only two went significantly over their projected cost, while two others cost less than 90 percent of their projected cost.
Last week, the Antiplanner highlighted an LA Times story showing that Los Angeles transit ridership was dropping despite billions being spent on transit improvements. A blogger named Ethan Elkind wrote a response arguing that a graph in the Times story was unfair because it showed that Los Angeles transit ridership peaked in 1985.
That high point was reached, says Elkind, because L.A. County had kept bus fares at 50 cents for three years in the early 1980s. After the region started building rail, it raised fares and ridership declined. “So choosing 1985 as your baseline is like climate change deniers choosing an unusually warm year in the 1990s to show that global warming hasn’t really been happening since then,” says Elkind. (A better analogy would be transit advocates’ habit of using 1995–a low transit year nationwide–as a starting point to show increasing transit ridership.)
Port Authority officials “hope” that the federal government will pay for most of it, just as the feds paid three-fourth of the cost of the World Trade Center transit hub, which came in at $2.8 billion. Much of the current terminal is used for parking, shops, advertising, and other income-producing activities, yet it still manages to lose $100 million on operations.
One of the arguments for building expensive rail transit lines is that some people have a perception that only losers ride buses. Instead of lamenting that it does’t operate more rail lines, a transit agency in Denmark, Midttrafik, has a couple of advertisements presenting the bus as a superior mode of transportation.
The first ad is a couple of years old, having come out in September, 2012. It starts out with someone’s ear to the pavement–listening for the bus the way people purportedly listened to rails for the coming of a train. As people board the bus, rails are fleetingly visible in the foreground. The bus is shown doing “cool” things such as doughnuts in a parking lot.
Margaret Thatcher was once quoted as saying, “A man who, beyond the age of 26, finds himself on a bus can count himself as a failure.” In fact, according to Wikiquotes, “There is no solid evidence that Margaret Thatcher ever quoted this statement with approval, or indeed shared the sentiment.” Nevertheless, people still insist that buses carry a “stigma” not shared by trains.
Portland transit expert Jarrett Walker argues that “we should stop talking about ‘bus stigma.'” In fact, he says, transit systems are designed by elites who rarely use transit at all, but who might be able to see themselves on a train. So they design expensive rail systems for themselves rather than planning transit systems for their real market, which is mostly people who want to travel as cost-effectively as possible and don’t really care whether they are on a bus or train.
This view is reinforced by the Los Angeles Bus Riders’ Union, and particularly by a report it published written by planner Ryan Snyder. Ryan calls L.A.’s rail system “one of the greatest wastes of taxpayer money in Los Angeles County history,” while he shows that regional transit ridership has grown “only when we have kept fares low and improved bus service,” two things that proved to be incompatible with rail construction.
Fred Jandt’s rethinking rail article on the Mass Transit web site (discussed here on Monday) offhandedly mentioned “what Foothill Transit did this week” with buses. That was a reference to the introduction of some of the first all-electric buses in the U.S. A mere 10-minute recharge of the batteries on these “ecoliners” is supposed to be enough to allow them to run for 30 miles.
Foothill Transit’s new electric bus.
All over the country, transit agencies are purchasing hybrid-electric buses, natural-gas-powered buses, and other alternatives to Diesels, which have a well-deserved reputation for being dirty. While transit is popularly believed to be environmentally friendly, the truth is that it is not, and this is especially true for buses, which typically use more energy and produce more pollution (at least more of the kinds of pollution that are of greatest concern today, namely CO2, NOx, and particulates), per passenger mile, than autos and even SUVs.