Metro responds to call to cut rail service by 48 percent

Tim Cavanaugh at the Reason Foundation “hit & run” blog recently wrote a post asserting that since Metro decided to cut some bus service due to low ridership, the same should be done to Metro Rail. He suggested a cut of 48 percent to Metro Rail service.

Among his reasons: bus service is more flexible and can be added or subtracted where needed or not needed and rail is very expensive to build and operate. Excerpt:

While buses consume only 35 percent of MTA’s operating budget, they move 80 percent of its passengers. That’s a bargain compared to the Authority’s capital-hungry, debt-fueled trains, which continue to underperform the most modest expectations and have arguably depressed overall ridership on L.A.’s mass transit system.

In previous reporting I said L.A. buses carry three times as many riders as L.A. trains. According to current statistics, that’s closer to four times as many: 1,133,636 daily boardings for buses, against 298,932 for trains. These ratios are essentially unchanged [pdf] over the previous two years. You could eliminate nearly all the city’s rail service and have no more impact on customers than MTA will see with its current cuts.

Our response:

•Nearly 68 percent of Los Angeles County voters in 2008 voted for the Measure R sales tax increase to build a package of rail, bus and highway projects, freeze some fares and raise money for transportation projects for cities in the county. Either two million-plus voters had no idea what they were voting for — which we do not believe is true — or two million voters decided they wanted to have the same kind of bus and rail transit system found in many other metro areas across the globe.

•Buses actually consume about 78 percent of Metro’s operating budget, not 35 percent. For fiscal year 2011, the amounts were $922 million for operating buses and $257 million for rail, according to page 23 of the budget, which is available online at Metro’s website.

The ratio of bus-to-rail riders has been essentially unchanged the past couple of years. But there is another way of looking at it: 79 miles of Metro Rail carry about 20 percent of the daily boardings on Metro while there are 2,543 miles of Metro bus routes carrying 80 percent of the riders. In that context, Metro Rail carries many more passengers per mile than do buses. That number will climb higher as more rail lines are added.

•We reject the argument that Metro Rail has depressed overall transit ridership. This is an oft-repeated assertion made by long-time critics of rail. The Metro Rail program, which began in 1990, has helped total L.A. County transit ridership (meaning all transit agencies) grow from 552 million annual boardings in 1985 to a high of 614 million in 2008. In fiscal year 2010, Metro Rail had an estimated 91.6 million boardings, an increase of almost five million from two years earlier. Note: transit ridership overall in the U.S. reached 10.7 billion in 2008, the highest mark in 52 years, but dropped to about 10.2 billion in 2010, according to industry figures. The Great Recession, unemployment and lower gas prices (until recently) are thought to be among the reasons for the drop.

In conclusion, our take is this: to move people around L.A. County, we need bus, rail and highways. Not just one of those. All three of those. This is a strategy used in large metro areas ranging from the Bay Area to New York to London to Shanghai. We’re no different.

The changes and cuts to bus service narrowly approved by the Metro Board of Directors last week were certainly significant. But they were proposed for a reason — to make the system more efficient and better use scarce resources. Making deeper cuts to a service that people use — Metro Rail — would be, at best, counterproductive.

34 replies

  1. In addition to your points:

    * Operating cost per passenger mile is lower for rail than buses, according to national statistics. This makes sense, considering the largest cost of operating transit is the vehicle operator, and a train carries many more passengers than a bus.

    * Rail provides faster, more comfortable, and more reliable service. For example, the Purple line extension will go from Westwood to downtown L.A. in less than 30 minutes at rush hour. There is NO other way to accomplish that!

  2. Even midday, Los Angeles trains still run with standing room only.

    We see many buses midday running empty or with one or two passengers.

  3. I’ll say it again and again. Stop cutting service because you can’t make money, instead find ways to increase cash flow by introducing distance based fares. It’s logical and fair that people who ride longer distances to pay more than those who ride shorter distances. It does not make sense that a person who rides the bus for three blocks pays the same $1.50 than the person who rides the same bus all the way from Santa Monica to downtown LA.

    Start moving towards a profit and service oriented business than continuously making tax payers eat up the short end of stick all the time. We’ve had enough of being taxed for mediocre service; I didn’t vote on Measure R to cut services, I voted so we can have more service. If that means endorsing distance based fares, I’m all for it. Heck I’ll gladly pay $5.00 or more one-way if it can get me from SF Valley or Downtown LA to LAX in less than 30 minutes on rail that doesn’t get stuck in traffic. I’m willing to pay a fare share of $5.00 from Santa Monica to Long Beach as I ride longer distances.

  4. I wonder if the people with the “Reason” foundation take subways and trains when they’re in London, New York, Paris, Chicago, Tokyo, Shanghai, Madrid, etc…

  5. Metro has always chosen the “opposite of common sense” approach. They do the complete opposite of what should be done. Instead of adding service (especially during the times of high gas prices) they reduce service. Making the already-mediocre service to degrade even further. While not realizing that cutting service causes a severe drop in ridership. Metro’s statements (claiming their buses are only half-full) are distorted; most times the buses are packed, especially in rush-hours. Cutting service, thus making bus service unreliable, will cause passengers to seek alternatives (carpooling, buying cheap cars, etc.). Metro, please change your approach and actually – try using LA’s mass transit for just one week, every single day. Let’s see how you will enjoy the bus ride, after waiting for 20 minutes, then enduring a “lovely” bumpy ride in a sardine-packed bus. I’m sure you will see what we, your (former) riders, are talking about.

  6. Tim Cavanaugh is obviously highly misguided. Los Angeles, as you pointed out, needs a multi-pronged approach. If, as he claims, more people take buses, it’s only because the rail system is not 100% functional yet. Give it time and effort and L.A. may yet have a world-class transit system instead of the third-world system Mr. Cavanaugh seems to be advocating.

  7. I move to put a city initiative ballot on the November election “shall the City of Los Angeles transit services move to a distance based fare model to keep bus and rail services running?” Not ten or twenty years from now, I mean NOW as in ASAP. Not like 3 years it took Metro to figure out reinventing the wheel on TAP is not a good idea as it was meant to be, I mean NOW.

    I voted on a ½ cent gas tax for Measure R to increase services, not decrease them. That ½ cent tax means that the Metro board needs to figure out other ways to make money to keep those services running. I’m not paying my share of taxes to the CEO of Metro to be paid a six figure income so he can slash bus services, I’m paying him so he figures out a way Metro can make those bus services earn money so they can be used to keep those services running with existing tax structures.

    But cutting back on bus services means quitting without doing anything constructive, making me say give me back my ½ cent gas tax back, this isn’t what I voted for.

    All I’m saying is Metro riders should have to pay their fair share of riding the bus and the rails based on distance. It’s the logical and most common sense approach: you ride longer you pay more, you ride shorter pay less.

    It’s the model that works in the UK, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and recently even Singapore switched to it. All of them are model transit cities and it’s time LA needs to look at these model cities than just quitting without even trying this.

  8. That is some good analysis Steve. The bottom line is anti-rail BRU types live in some fantasy land. There is no way Measure R would pass if it only focused on buses. People want rail just like people like to drive. A balance transit approach is the only solution. Sure there is some mismanagement and inefficiencies in the system, but I think metro is trying to resolve those issue despite all the politicians, special (BRU BS) interest, and NIMBYists.

  9. @y FuKuzawa

    Although you make some interesting points the following is incorrect:

    “I voted on a ½ cent gas tax for Measure R to increase services”

    –It is a sales tax not gas tax

    “I’m paying him so he figures out a way Metro can make those bus services earn money so they can be used to keep those services running with existing tax structures. ”

    –Being a highly subsidized system I don’t think you can make the bus services earn money without increasing fares to a level where ridership will fall and you are in the same pickle you started with.

  10. As gas prices have gone up, tax revenues have fallen. Therefore, you would have to cut service and/or raise fares.

    Metro has chosen to cut service and actually lower fares for day passes.

    To preserve service, you can do several things. Cut service, raise fares or wait for tax revenues to increase.

  11. @Y Fukuzawa

    Don’t you realize that running a transit agency in L.A. is a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t scenario”?

    I can see the headlines/BRU rants now if/when a distance based fare system is implemented.

    “Racist Metro raises fares on poor and minority riders who make long commutes from cheaper suburban areas to job centers and lowers fares for white hipsters who live in new luxury downtown lofts”

    How can you win?

  12. @Russel

    Like I said, let the voters decide.

    1. Cut services with current flat rate model of $1.50

    2. Continue and increase services by continuing the flat rate model but everyone now pays $3.00 no matter how far or short you ride

    3. Continue and increase services by going to distance based model so it’ll be fair game for everyone based on how far or short they ride.

    Which one would you pick for? Don’t let Metro decide for us, this involves every Angelino. Angelinos should decide which model to go to.

  13. @the dude abides @Spokker

    See again, you’re missing the point as you only provide a black and white approach: cut back or raise fares. Why not provide a middle, third choice of going to a distance based model that’s more fair for everyone?

    Clearly cut backs on bus services is a big issue for transportation in LA. If this city is really interested in 30/10, sometimes it calls for drastic and new models. A flat rate $1.50 model doesn’t seem to work to keep bus services running in LA, perhaps it’s time to implement distance based fares. Or maybe people might be willing to pay $3.00 per ride no matter how far or short of a distance.

    Either way, it’s the voters of Los Angeles that should decide these things, not Metro. A ballot measure is needed to ask voters in LA what they want, not an authoritarian “we get to decide how to run bus services, so suck it up and deal with it” rubber stamp decision.

  14. @Y Fukuzawa

    I actually favor a distance based model like you do, but again I anticipate an equal or great backlash. Give then options you present I imagine most people would rally for the 4th, “have my cake and eat it too” option called “$1.50 with more services” which is obviously impossible.

    Here’s a question for you, solely for intellectual discourse: at what point is it acceptable to cut bus service? Never? If Metro puts a bus line in place should it commit to it indefinitely, even if it becomes obvious it’s a huge drain on the system? Clearly cutting bus service is upsetting to whoever relies on the service being cut, but there has to be a point where it’s simply not worth it, right? If one passenger uses a bus line, sure it’s everything to that passenger, but it’s also a huge burden on taxpayers to fund an entire bus line to move around a single person (obviously an extreme example to get my point across).

  15. “Why not provide a middle, third choice of going to a distance based model that’s more fair for everyone?”

    I agree that this would be a better system, but as Russel P. states, it would cause an enormous backlash. You are speaking as if it is the Utopian solution that everybody will love. It’s not.

    “Either way, it’s the voters of Los Angeles that should decide these things, not Metro.”

    There are pros and cons to each approach. Voters do have a say in some things and Metro staff has a say in some things and the Metro board has a say in some things. To put everything in the hands of voters is insane. Our direct democracy approach in California has probably done more harm than good for this state’s finances. I prefer a representative democracy.

  16. @Russel

    One argument that I’d like to make is on what basis is Metro making the decision to cut back service? What data are they using to slash services? How do I know or do not know they are making cut backs on whim without any data that a cut is needed on a specific route, than say making it run more efficiently?

    The outlash you hear is because riders are upset that their services are being cut, that’s true. But the decision that Metro is making seems to back up the fact there’s no hard data to back this up. If say 10 people get on a bus at a certain stop, but Metro decides to cut it because it doesn’t justify running a five buses / hr, where’s the data? Does Metro have data that 10 people ride the bus at that stop on the weekdays? Then why not then run that bus not all the time but 2 buses/hr or so? Why not reduce it to 1 bus/hr on the weekends?

    I’m not seeing this, it’s again a black and white decision of serve or cut instead of a middle approach of “let’s make it run it more efficiently via use of data.”

    I made this exact comment in the transit app section. The app, or even the TAP system can be used to collect anonymous data for market research. It’ll provide the times and the location of where TAPs tend to be the biggest at which hours and percentages to connecting transfer services.

    As you collect data, those data can be analyzed to better coordinate buses and trains to certain times to efficiently and seamlessly make transit better. Do we need 20 buses every hour all the time say on Western? We probably only need 20 buses per hour on heavy commuter times and other times can be cut back to 5 buses per hour.

    Or what about transfers; how many people at what times are making the transfer at 7th/Metro between the Red and Blue Lines at which times? Do we need 20 trains per hour 24/7? Is it possible to coordinate transfer times between the Red and Blue Lines at peak hours so there’s only a minute wait rather than a ten minute wait?

    Cutting back is one method, but it’s usually the simplest and quitter approach. In the real business world, people don’t give up, they analyze data and try to make it work more efficiently. But in order to get efficiency, you need data. Hearing outcries of people having their services cut, I don’t think Metro even has data to back up their decision to cut services along a specific route.

  17. “I agree that this would be a better system, but as Russel P. states, it would cause an enormous backlash. You are speaking as if it is the Utopian solution that everybody will love. It’s not.”

    My question to you then, how can you be so sure it’s not? Did you ask around every Angelino about this third option, or is this just an assumption that “oh no will ever go for that” and out right quit before even trying?

    The idea of going distance based for public transportation has never crossed the minds of any US transit agency. And since it seems to be the norm elsewhere, we take it that’s what people want.

    Well, not everyone in the US, especially those who rely on public transit has visited distance based fare cities like Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, or the UK. And they all say the same thing “we see it works over there, why can’t we have the same thing.” But no one ever says “well over there, the fares are based on distances”

    Oh gee, well that makes a huge difference. I mean all this time I thought they were all paying a flat fare of $1.50 just like we do.

    So tell me, I just had two people before me say “that’s a dumb idea” yet when I made my rebuttal, you say “I support distance based fares.” C’mon, how am I supposed to trust what you think that everyone might not share the same opinion when you two just flip-flopped?

    Since this affects every Angelino, this deserves a ballot measure. Three choices:

    1. $1.50 flat fare and cut back
    2. $3.00 flat fare and continue/increase
    3. make it fair and distance based

    You don’t decide or represent everyone in the city of LA, you even said it yourself that it’s a better model when given that third option.

    Let the Angelinos decide.

  18. I do think a distance based fare model would be the most appropriated way to fund transit but one of the biggest challenges in implementing such a policy is still one of the the main problems holding TAP back the lack of inter-agency coordination. Right now TAP is barely used by half of the Municipal operators and attempting coordinate a transit system where Metro does distance based and the other operators run on flat fares could lead to a very confusing experience especially since TAP still has a lot of bugs to get kinked out. Metro did an analysis on switching two distance of time based fares and from my understanding a regional fare policy must agreed upon by every single municipal operator in Los Angeles County and effective TAP cash pursed before a distance based model would be feasible here.

    Here is the link of the relevant metro report

    http://www.metro.net/board/Items/2010/09_september/20100915OPItem10.pdf

    I also would like to add that I don’t trust voter initiative measures because usually an abysmal 30% of the populace comes out to vote on such measures. At least with an elected representative they can be still hassled after the election is over.

  19. “Since this affects every Angelino, this deserves a ballot measure. Three choices:”

    I think voters will choose 1, not 3. Voters familiar with Metro may choose 3, but they will be outvoted by the vast majority of voters who neither understand, care or take transit.

    When it comes to tax measures, I think voters may be convinced to go for them. After all, they can be tricked that their freeway commute may get better. It won’t but they keep believing in that dream.

    When it comes to increasing fares, that has be brute forced through, because if given an option, the public will go for lower fares because they don’t value transit that much. I have seen an alarming number of people espouse the idea that “since we are already taxes for bus service, why aren’t buses free, huh???” They expect transit to offer the world for little to no cost. After all, you don’t drop quarters into your dashboard to start your car.

    Before distance based fares can become a reality, the public has to be convinced that transit is valuable. Don’t misunderstand, transit *is* valuable, but the people, when asked to pay more, don’t think so.

  20. Case in point. Consider the uproar whenever Metrolink raises fares every year. Despite the fact that fares only cover 50% of what it costs to make the train move, riders don’t want to pay any more than they do. Some want to see fares lowered.

    On Metro the situation is worse. Fares cover 20-30% of what it costs to make buses and trains move.

    People, when they try out transit, expect to be treated like royalty because they made the unfathomable sacrifice to not drive for a day or two. Their $1.50, they believe, should be enough to take them from their home in the suburbs to their workplace in another suburban wasteland for less than the cost of visiting Starbucks.

    Introduce a transfer, a headway longer than 2 minutes, half a mile of walking and, gasp, other people, and they go running back to their cars. People want transit to do a lot for a very little cost. “Well, European nations do it!” They also pay good money for their superior transit systems, in both taxes and fares. Yet they are still transferring, still walking, still waiting and still riding with strangers.

    In America, part of it has to do with our low gas tax and the idea that freeways are bought and paid for with that gas tax. Not only is driving subsidized, non-users are burdened by the negative externalities of driving. A free market it ain’t. But if we raise the gas tax, they’ll call it social engineering.

    The road to convincing the public that transit is valuable is a long one to be sure.

  21. I think it is absurd to cut back on mass transit. The gas tax needs to be increased to help fund Transit Agencies in California and their should be distance based fares. The Los Angeles area needs to have a reliable integrated, efficient mass transportation system. Metro has one of the lowest fare structures in the country. I am impressed with the development of the rail system and think it needs to continue. Let’s keep going, Go Metro!

  22. @Spokker

    One part that’s missing on your equation is making the assumption that people don’t change.

    On the contrary, people do change when it starts affecting their lives and paychecks.

    Right now, gas prices are rising and people that used to take granted for stuff like cheap gas and driving around in big gas guzzlers are giving second thoughts that this isn’t worth it.

    That’s how things work in America, it’s all about how much it hurts your wallet. You see electricity costs rising, people started switching to CFLs and LEDs. Once gas prices start rising, people begin to take public transit.

    Don’t assume everyone is going to keep filling up gas no matter what the cost. Everyone has a point where they say enough is enough and look for alternatives. And when they do, many Americans are smart and begin to think in terms of efficiency and common sense.

    Before, you never heard about distance based fares because those that used public transit were the poor who had no car and never visited any other cities (like NY who has a $2.50 flat rate) or let alone any other city outside the US which uses the distance based model.

    But now, you’re starting to see more middle income earners who have seen the world, who see middle income earners in places like Japan, Korea, Taiwan, HK, and the UK who uses public transit daily on the distance based model.

    Sooner or later, you’re going to have lot more middle income earners saying “why the heck am I paying $1.50 for only three blocks when another guy rides all the way from Santa Monica to Downtown and pays only the same $1.50! This isn’t fair, people should pay their fair worth based on distance!”

    Why? Because it comes down to common sense.

    We need distance based fares. It’s the only fair way for everybody. You and I both don’t want to see bus and rail services cut, but we don’t want to pay $3.00 flat rate either. The only common sense approach is to let everyone pay their fair worth based on distance.

  23. Can’t they just keep the fare how it is, but at the same time increase service. If people see that the fare is the same, but there’s more service, then LACMTA will benefit from that because there will be more riders using the system.

  24. The reason foundation is, surprise, not very reasonable. What they advocate is a slow unattractive system which shares the burden of common traffic (street buses) therefore driving people back to their cars (no pun intended), since this is their agenda anyway, as they are consistently anti-transit and pro-highway , they might as well just admit that they want all transit to be cut. I agree that metro should not be cutting bus service, but, again, to blame it on rail is simply foolish and unsubstantiated. To think that LA, the second largest city in America, can sustain itself as a metro area of 12 million people on only highways and buses is borderline insanity, no, it IS insanity!!!

  25. The MTA needs to prove that it is NOT ANTI-BUS RIDER, which it CURRENTLY IS, as evidenced by INCREASING CUTS TO BUS LINES ZERO ADDITIONS TO BUS LINES, and SPENDING MILLIONS ON LIGHT-RAIL PROJECTS, as well as “infastructure” (Union Station, Maintenance Yards, and Transit Centers!). If the MTA spent as much on the buses as it does on the light-rail projects, and the things that DO NOT MOVE, then it COULD be said that they are a PRO-bus rider transit agency! Clearly they are not, and continue to refuse to be!

  26. @Tyson

    The problem with your model is that more service while keeping fares same will mean still no profit and continued tax burden. It only makes taxes increase rather than decrease, with no real change to revenue flow. Increasing bus services means more bus maintenance costs, more bus drivers, and yet fares remaining the same.

    Think of it this way: you own a taxi business and you decide to charge a flat rate of $1.50 for passengers to ride the taxi no matter how far or short the distance. It could be three blocks down the street or from all the way from SF Valley to Torrance. You wonder why you never make any profit so you decide to take out on a loan from the bank to add more taxis but keep it the same $1.50 in the hope that more people will use your taxi service. Anyone can figure out what happens.

    See, it makes no sense. There are labor, fuel, and maintenance costs to run a bus or taxi service and it makes no sense to charge a flat rate. You ride farther you charge more, you ride shorter you pay less. It’s only fair.

  27. @John

    Let’s say Metro listens to you and decides to add magically add 700 new buses one day. Where do all these buses go for maintenance? Where are the key transit areas that these buses serve? Where do you get bus drivers from? How about the fuel contracts for the extra 700 buses? Insurance? And again, would $1.50 flat rate even cover all those added expenses from 700 new buses?

    Let me put it another way: you start a shared-ride van business with one van out of your home in the SF Valley and everyone likes it because you only charge $1.50 no matter how far or short it is. So you decide to buy ten more vans in hopes that you make more money. Then you realize you can’t fit ten vans in your garage, and now you have to hire nine people to drive your van, you have more fuel expenses and maintenance costs. You also realize you have to pickup a passenger all the way in Lawndale just to take that passenger to LAX and yet you only charge the passenger $1.50 which doesn’t cover the cost of you driving from SF Valley to Lawndale.

    This is why we need to also invest on “stuff that don’t move.” It may not be the primary objective, but these things are necessary costs to run a public transit.

  28. I’d like to toss some more thoughts into this discussion.

    First: I can not see how you can implement any kind of distance based fare on the local bus lines without a complete redesign of the bus vehicle and or stops/zones. A distance based fare requires the passing of a farebox at both ends of your trip (such as the gates at a BART or WMATA station) or the checking of all tickets after every stop (such as on an Amtrak line). Neither of these are cost effective on a local transit route, although they can be implemented on an express or other route making limited or no stops between points.

    From its inception decades ago, the LA Metro Rail system was intended to be an ‘open’ ungated system and converting it to a closed gated system which is not supported by the architecture of the stations is not an easy task. In addition, a fare media that is acceptable between modes is highly desired. (Ever transfer from BART to a local bus? You have to go over to a special dispenser and stand in line to obtain a time stamped transfer because the bus systems have no way to read the data on the BART ticket’s magnetic strip.) This also works in reverse – Metrolink brings thousands of passengers to the Metro Rail lines every day, yet with current Metrolink fare media, these passengers would need to carry two different media types if the current one zone transfer was to be eleminated and any sort of fare was added.

    Distance based fare systems sound wonderful, but they are not a utopia. There are costs and benefits to any system. Efficiency, cost effectiveness, ease of use and many other factors have to be considered, not just is it fair to charge a rider who travels one mile the same as the rider who travels ten.

    To Mr. McCready, you need to do more homework. The El Monte Station Project currently underway will only service bus riders, as will the Patsorus Plaza Extension. The Orange Line Extension will primarily serve bus riders in allowing them a convenient conection to the Chatworth Metrolink facilities. The Division 13 Project, currently in final design will add to Metro’s downtown LA bus capacity. In addition, Metro is constantly improving the facilities at the Bus Divisions (just watch the procurement pages to see the various construction contracts Metro puts out every year). The biggest problem is that these projects don’t get covered by the media and so many are not aware of them.

    Also, as I mentioned Metrolink earlier, many of you are missing the point that the LA County transit system of highways, buses and rail serves much more than the residents of LA city/county. It serves travelers from all over Southern California and the goods delivery system of the Western US. How and where resources are used to improve this integrated system must be made looking at both the small and big pictures. In addition, much of the sales tax revenues collected by Metro are pre-programmed (ie specific percentages) as to where the monies will be spent (capital versus operations; Metro versus the Muni’s; bus versus rail). What made Measure R unique was it even defined the specific projects to receive funding, locking in the expenditures even more.

    Metro is not anti-anything, but it must follow the mandates of the ballot measures and allocate the funds as prescibed by the voters. This includes not only Measure R, but Proposition A and C as well. Something many fail to see when they put on their BRU provided “how I see the world” blinders is (1) much if not all of the funding going to rail facilties construction is mandated for that purpose an can not legally be used for anything else and (2) that Metro has two equal priorities that unfortunately clash more than they cooperate:

    Provide a Mass Transit System that can get commuters out of automobiles and therefore elimentate mobile sources of pollution, and

    Provide a Transit System that can meet the essential needs of the Transit Dependent.

    This second priority is not one that is shared by many Transit Agencies in the US (show how BART, WMATA, and others (including Metrolink) provide for the transit dependent). Having to balance both of these priorities in a region that is only now widely gaining the population and work center densities to really support mass transit has been a challenge from the start.

  29. @ Ralph
    “First: I can not see how you can implement any kind of distance based fare on the local bus lines without a complete redesign of the bus vehicle and or stops/zones.”

    The Japanese has had distance based fares on buses as far as I can remember, and they’ve been doing so even before the advent of contactless passes, and their transportation system is much more complicated than ours with a multitude of difference municipal and private lines for buses, commuter rails, and subways. If the Japanese figured out how to implement distance based fares way back then, why can’t Metro do it with all the technological advances that we have now?

    Plus, one must factor in that Tokyo didn’t start out to be this huge public transit model for the world since its inception. They didn’t wake up one day and magically saw dozens of subway lines and a huge basket of railways that covered a metropolitan area whose size is the same as the LA County (which negates the excuse that LA is too spread out). It took them years of trial and error to figure out what works best.

    LA’s public transit is at that point: it’s Tokyo during the trial and error phase. If I were at the helm of Metro, I’d be hiring consultants from Japan who had had decades worth of experience on how they built their system, not just the technical details, but also the route structures, how they dealt with other municpal agencies and private companies, how they designed their train stations, fare systems, etc. They have decades worth of experience in making distance based structures work on buses even before contactless payment systems, why are not even asking them for advice how they managed to accomplish that?

  30. @Y Fukuzawa
    The Toei Bus in Tokyo operates on fixed fare system of about 200 yen per boarding. I think that most appropriate way to implement distance-based fares is on a fixed guideway system such as subway, light rail, brt and commuter rail which have well defined stations to allow quick loading and unloading of passengers or on select express buses that fill in large commute distanced that is difficult to reach by rail. Flat fare is useful for local service because it allows quicker loading and unloading of passengers in buses that operate in the intercity areas. Tokyo has a system with their metro being distanced base and their local service being flat fare.

    If we were to attempt to implement such a system in LA you would ideally place a distanced based fares system on the Metro rail and liner lines and flat fares on the local bus services. But this could be politically deadly because you would give ammunition to groups like the BRU whom could say that Metro charges more to low income minorities who commute longer distances on the rail lines thus forcing them on to the flat fare buses that according them is having its financial resources being redirected to the rail system.

  31. Mr./Ms. Fukuzawa,

    I did not say it could not be done, I said, as you quoted and supported with your comments, it would require a complete redesign of the bus system. The buses currently used for local routes by Metro and every other transit agency in the US (after all, they all buy them from the same set of companies making vehicles to APTA standards) provide for paying a single fare when you board and then getting off where-ever you wish.

    The Tokyo model of distance based local buses would then be a departure from the local bus tansit system model used throughout the United States. Whether it was LA, San Diego, San Fransisco, Western Massachusetts or New York, when I have boarded a local bus I paid a flat fare, obtained a transfer if needed and rode the route until I was at my destination.

    You speak of Tokyo having these systems “since before you can rememeber”. This points to a very real and important difference: public expectation and acceptance. While the US population may expect and accept distance based fares on rail systems, my opinion is that they would be less willing to accept this kind of system on a local bus where the accepted method is pay once, ride as far as you need, then exit. You are more accepting of this system because you grew up with it, this would not likely be the case with riders who have not.

    Lastly, there is a very important difference that makes comparing these two areas (Tokyo & LA) problematic at best. While Japan and California have approximately the same land mass (about 155K sq miles), the city of Tokyo and its surrounding area has the same population as the entire state of California (approx. 35 million people) and Japans total population is more than three times that (125 million) (from infoplease.com). That kind of population density supports all sorts of mass transit and public transit alternatives that are just not feasible in less dense areas.

  32. @Ralph

    “You speak of Tokyo having these systems “since before you can rememeber”. This points to a very real and important difference: public expectation and acceptance.”

    Your example of the Toei Bus in Tokyo is a good example where flat-fare and distance based co-exist together within the same Suica contactless pass. And yes, the Toei buses are flat fare 200 yen within the Tokyo 23 Ward Metropolitan Area. But; it is also distinguishable that they also offer owl service at double the fare which can be said that it’s time based. Toei buses that go into Metro Tokyo from outlying regions (i.e. similar to Orange County to LA County) are distance based which could be as low as 170 yen to 550 yen based on how far/short one rides it.

    Now what does this entail? It’s that fare structures are variable whether it be distance or time. And they all co-exist perfectly with a simple tap-in/tap-out or cash paid fare system that is able to move, as you said, 35 million people around Tokyo in and out and efficiently, down to the minute on time every time despite the traffic jams in Tokyo.

    The concerning part that you describe of the distance based model is that low income earners will end up paying more and that all hell will break loose is highly exaggerated. Let’s say you are poor and every paycheck that you earn matters to you. You need to get from Point A to Point B via a transfer at Point T. But the distance between Point A and Point T is three blocks. If you are poor are you going to pay $1.50 for that three blocks are you just going to walk that three blocks? Most poor people are just going to walk that 3 blocks from A to T and just pay for the fare for Point T to Point B. Metro loses out money because from a poor person’s standpoint, it doesn’t justify them paying $1.50 for something their feet can do for them for free.

    But now, let’s introduce distance based fares where the first five blocks or so is only 25 cents. Now there’s a difference where a poor person might actually consider taking the bus for the three blocks between Point A and T. It’s not “graveyard robbery” of $1.50 for such a short distance, it’s 25 cents. And Metro earns that extra quarter per ride for such short hops. In the end, more people may begin to use the bus to get from a certain point to another shorter point on a distance based model because instead of paying $1.50, they now pay per distance. Rather than driving ten blocks to the nearest K-Mart, a person might be more willing to take the bus now since it now costs the person $0.50 in each direction to that K-Mart.

    Think about that a bit closely. Distance based fares does not mean “oh noes it’s gonna be much more expensive for everyone waaaaah!,” but think in terms of how much more effective and choices one will gain by having a fare structure that’s more fair and equal. And, at the same time imagine how you’d feel if you say, take a taxi and you have to pay $10 just to get from LAX to Santa Monica, when another person who goes from LAX to SF Valley also pays the same $10.

  33. “You are more accepting of this system because you grew up with it, this would not likely be the case with riders who have not”

    In rebuttal to this, this is again, making the assumption that people who ride public transit will always be poor.
    There is a paradigm shift going on in the US right now where middle income earners, those who make up the majority of Americans, are beginning to ditch the car due to high gas prices and opting to take public transit. Middle America, is the most vocal of all issues in the US, and when they begin to take public transit in mass numbers, it is likely that they will become more vocal about this.

    There is a point where public transit agencies all over the US can’t keep on cutting back services and keep fares the same low flat rate, nor can they raise the flat fare too high to keep them running either. Sure, middle income earners right now are saying ok, it sucks I have to pay $1.50~$2.50 for a single ride even though my transfer is five blocks away, but what can you do about it, but sooner or later, they are not going to go for any more cutbacks or an increased fare of say $3.00 or more flat rate.

    In all fairness, the time to go distance based is now. Just because any other transit agency in the US doesn’t do it, doesn’t mean we have to fall to their demise. None of the public transit agencies in the US ever make money in this flat rate model, and it’s the prime picking for conservatives to say public transit is a dud and how it’s forever a tax burden.

    You can’t keep throwing tax money forever hoping that the federal and state money will continuously be used to keep this afloat. No, public transit needs to prove itself that it can become self-reliant, it can work with less tax dependency, that it can work without constantly saying “we need to increase taxes,” “we need more federal money,” “we need cutbacks,” “we need to raise fares.” Enough is enough.

    We need to trying something new, something that departs from the failures other public transit agencies in the US had sunk into. Distance based fares work in all of the “model transit cities” like Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, and the UK. Those are the cities that we need to example after, not cities like Boston or New York who constantly run in the red, ask for more money, become the bastard child that conservatives use as a prime example of tax burden, mediocre service, cut backs and fare increases.

  34. I was born and raised in Los Angeles. Both of my parents were also born in Los Angeles.

    I never utilized any form of public transit until 2008 when I stepped onto the Metro Redline for the first time.

    I am hooked on the service and ease in regard to the light rail system of the red, purple, blue, gold, green lines as well as the orange line. I look forward to the expansion of the Metro system.

    I feel that the service is generally well run and maintained. Nothing is perfect but I do commend Metro and the organization that is implementing a transportation system that benefits many people.