Los Angeles has the best transit access in the nation? Survey says yes!

L.A.'s transit coverage. All that dark blue? Transit access.

L.A.'s transit coverage. All that dark blue? Transit access. Click for interactive map.

A study from the Brookings Institute (PDF here) reveals that Angelenos without a car have the best access to public transportation in the nation – even beating out the New York City metropolitan area. We mentioned the report last week in Thursday’s Transportation Headlines post, since then stories have popped up in the major media outlets, here’s some choice headlines and quotes:

Car-loving L.A. may actually be a public-transit paradise (L.A. Times):

The car-loving L.A region -– whose public transit system is often treated like Rodney Dangerfield — ranked second to Honolulu as offering transit-dependent residents the best access to buses and trains, according to a report by the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank. 

Los Angeles Public Transit Access Top Among Major Metropolitan Areas, Besting Even New York (Huffington Post):

Adie Tomer, the author of the report, said he wasn’t surprised by the findings, despite “that classic archetype L.A. residents have to deal with all the time — that L.A. is the capital of car culture.”

“The reality is, it’s also really good transit culture too when it comes to the ability to get on a bus,” Tomer said. 

Mapping The Urban Places Where No Transit Goes (Fast Company):

Some regions are worse than others. In the Atlanta area, for example, there are 37,634 people without access to a car or nearby public transportation, and only 68.5% of the population is covered by public transportation services. But in the Los Angeles area, 99.1% of residents have access to public transportation (though judging by the city’s clogged highways, it seems that not enough people take advantage of it). 


Of course, the report is not without its critics. The Huffington Post notes that the Bus Riders Union (BRU) disagree with the findings, claiming that car-free Angelenos may have access to buses but that service changes have created lines that don’t meet their needs. The BRU also cites recent fare increases as a reason to doubt L.A.’s transit accessibility.

We’d like note a few things:

Metro allocates bus service where it’s needed the most. There are 53 routes on our 15-minute map that provide that provide frequent service in addition to accessibility. It’s important to remember that service levels are not arbitrarily determined but based on ridership data and community input that Metro’s planners take into consideration when developing service.

Metro Base Fare Comparison

Metro has some of the cheapest fares in the nation.

Additionally, Metro has only raised fares three times in the last 16 years and our fares remain some of the lowest in the country despite the reach of the system. Check out these fare comparison charts from a post we made last year (at the time of the last fare increase). At $1.50 Metro’s base fare is the lowest among seven of the top transit agencies that use a flat rate. Last year, a Metro day pass cost $6 and was more affordable than day passes in New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Atlanta. This summer’s day pass price drop to $5 makes Metro cheaper than Chicago ($5.75) and ties us with Portland (whose day pass rises to $5 in September).

The Brookings study brought up another interesting data point: despite L.A.’s transit accessibility, only 36% of non-vehicle households get to work in 90 minutes or less. Sounds pretty bad, right?

Well, consider this: in Los Angeles only 24% of households with vehicles get to work in 90 minutes or less. That number goes up to 29% nationwide. So it turns out transit dependent commuters in L.A. actually have better commutes than drivers.

What do you think? Does the Brookings report show that transit in L.A. isn’t as bad as it’s conventionally assumed to be, or do you feel there’s something missing from the study?

26 replies

  1. @ IT Guy in Irvine

    I just don’t see $0.10 per mile as the likely out come of switching to distance based fares in LA. Even Singapore which has one of the more elaborate distance based fare systems still has a base fare of $0.71 Singapore dollars and I don’t think they have day caps like London.

    The most likely outcome of switching to distance based fares in LA would look like
    $1.50 base fare with some incremental zone or distance based fare added based on how far you go. If you add free transfers the base fare goes up. If you remove bulk discounts like Monthly, Weekly, and Day Passes the base fare would come down.

    Im highly skeptical that the number of new riders and revenue gained for charging $0.10 per mile will offset revenue lost from existing customers who used to pay $1.50 for the same short distances.


  2. @Bob

    “Moreover, depending on what per-mile automobile cost you use…(AAA’s current cost is 54.1 cents per mile)…”

    We don’t live in just a car vs public transit world. People have other alternatives like buying a more fuel efficient hybrid vehicle, bicycling, learning how to ride a motorcycle, moped or scooter.

    Case in point: my commute is 7 miles. What are my choices? The car or public transit?

    Neither, I use a 125 cc scooter that averages anywhere from 70-80 MPG depending on how I ride it. At current fuel prices, it only costs me less than $3.50 to fill up the tank every week for my 7 mi commute to work. This is much cheaper than a Metro day pass. Even if fuel prices double to $7/gal such as in Europe, I’ll still pay less than half of a Metro weekly pass.

    I can go when I want to go when I want so I don’t have to waste time waiting for the bus. I can get around anywhere within the short 10 mi radius without using the bus which rips me off $3.00 one way for my short 7 mi commute to work.

    Now, why would I want to take a bus for a short 7 mi commute if there’s a much cheaper alternative called the scooter? Or even the bicycle? Why should I waste $3.00 on two buses for 7 miles one-way when I can pay almost the same amount to fill up my scooter A WEEK and I don’t have to waste time waiting for the bus to show up?

    You see, that is why Metro fails on their over-reliance and over-faith in the flat rate scheme whose fares are based compared against AAA (car). If it gets uneconomical to take the car, people aren’t going to get onto buses, they’ll just buy a scooter.

    And guess what? It’s already happening:


  3. @ Y Fukuzawa

    People still use Scooters and Bicycles in Asia and Europe if im not mistaken. Isn’t it a good thing as a society for people to be moving different in different modes anyway. If the bus drivers were to go on strike people would still have options on how to get around.

    Also it was recently reported that the number of cars owned in the world passed the 1 billion number mark where the most growth took place in China a country by many standards said to have better public transit than what can be found in most of America. I guess not all transit is price conscious.


    To all the distance based fare advocates the main benefit to distance based fares is a more equitable way to get longer distance patrons to pay more and ensure the system relies on as little public subsidies as possible. This is not say it should not be sought after with all the cuts from state and federal funding transit systems need to be more self sufficient.

    But the rhetoric that suggest distance based fares makes trips cheaper for short distance patrons is a red herring. The reason distance base fares are cheap in Hong Kong, Singapore and to a lesser extent Tokyo has more to do with density than it does with the fare system. The higher the density that exist around a transit line, be it bus or rail, the more potential customers, the more demand for transit, the higher demand with supply more or less set means a lower price of costumers. Hong Kong used this strategy to great effect in building its system. http://www.thetransportpolitic.com/2010/12/14/hong-kongs-expanding-metro-a-model-of-development-funded-transit/


  4. @Mospeada

    “I just don’t see $0.10 per mile as the likely out come of switching to distance based fares in LA”

    Of course not, but you have to start somewhere before moving onto fares that makes more sense.

    Like I said before, it doesn’t always have to remain $0.10/mi with a $1.50 cap forever; that can be changed with a simple software upgrade later when everyone has gotten used to the distance based fare concept.

    In the business world or the public transit world, it’s all about selling the idea so that it works. In a government funded agency like Metro, that means convincing local politicians.

    But no politician in their right mind would want to be for something that is marketed as “pay more for longer distances.” It’d be a political disaster for low income transit riders who have to travel long distances. Woops, there goes the re-election bid for that councilmember!

    But, if you market it as “pay less for shorter distances with a cap of $1.50,” it’d be a politicians’ ticket to re-election by providing low income riders to pay less for shorter distances with no one ever paying more than $1.50 as it is now.

    Keep it running like that for five years or so. Then raise the fares to $0.50/mi with $5.00 cap (or even no cap) or something with a simple software upgrade. By then people would’ve gotten used to the concept of “pay more for longer rides” and it won’t be as outrageous as raising the pay-per-ride flat fare across the board to everyone.

    You want to change the current flat rate system to distance fares, it takes steps. Introducing the concept with $0.10/mi with $1.50 cap is just the start; it’s not the goal. Later on, if the need arises, raising the fares to X cents per mile with $Y cap (or even no cap) can be easily implemented with a software upgrade.