How do they do that? Make bus service changes

 

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How do they do that? is a series for The Source that explores the technology that helps keep Metro running and passengers and other commuters moving. Some of it applies directly to the trains, buses and freeways and some of it runs in the background — invisible to nearly everyone but essential to mobility in our region.

This Sunday, Dec. 16, Metro made changes to improve bus service efficiency and effectiveness. The same thing occurred in June of this year, as it does every June and every December.

How — and why — does Metro make bus service changes every six months?

The simple answer is so that the bus operators may change the routes they drive. But it is also to give the buses a fighting chance at maintaining schedules that are impacted by the whims of Los Angeles-area traffic, including accidents, special events, crazy drivers and yes, even occasional weather.

Among the great attributes of buses — the reason they are the work horses of transit in congested cities all over the world — is that they are flexible. Their routes can be adjusted to follow changing travel patterns in cities that themselves are constantly changing.

Metro’s 2,228 buses cover 1,433 square miles of service area. They pause at 15,967 bus stops. They carry more than one million boardings each weekday along 183 bus routes. Metro is constantly analyzing these bus routes and tweaks them twice a year.

Minor scheduling changes can be made by Metro staff, based on ridership, on-time performance stats and other data. More complicated changes may require public hearings and approval by community-based service councils representing regions throughout the county. Major service changes require a Title VI and Environmental Justice Equity Analysis to assess the impact on minority and low-income passengers and Metro Board approval.

Changes can mean route modifications or cancellations or arrival and departure time adjustments. Bus stops may be added or relocated. Ridership is monitored by scheduling staff to ensure buses do not exceed load standards established by the Board of Directors.

For example, new trips have been added in this service change on Line 40 and the Silver Line to reduce overloads. New rail and bus rapid transit lines, such as the Expo Line and the Orange Line extension which both opened this year, must be coordinated with bus service. When points of interest open around town — think L.A. Live or the Hollywood Highland complex — transit is adjusted to support travel to those points.

Other factors prompting change include on-time performance and ridership demand. Customer suggestions also have given birth to changes, such as the addition of a new stop or a minor route modification.

And, as mentioned, there’s the ongoing issue of unpredictable traffic. A prime goal of the semi-annual changes is to produce realistic bus schedules that will then be accurate.  Metro uses transit scheduling software to analyze bus running times — the travel time from beginning to end of each route. If more time is needed, the twice-a-year service changes provide an opportunity to add or subtract time so that the buses are in synch with the schedule. If traffic has worsened at a certain point along a line — maybe a new school has opened or a new shopping center — more travel time might be added to the schedule so that the bus can make it to the end of its route on time.

Like the rest of the world, Metro is increasingly technology driven and now provides data to a large number of users outside the agency. The largest is Google Transit. Trip Planner also receives Metro schedule data twice yearly, as do a number of smart apps and the ATMS (advanced transportation management system) that runs head signs on Metro buses, calls out stops on buses and records the number of people getting on and off the buses.

When a schedule is changed, route maps have to be changed, both in print and on the web. If a new bus stop location is added it needs a number, since each stop now is geocoded so that customers can plug the number into their smart phones or computers and Nextrip will tell them when their bus will arrive at that stop.

It’s increasingly complicated to make changes to the system outside of the twice annual schedule changes. But the goal is to build a better system — a goal that certainly is worth the effort.

8 replies

  1. A good example of the many aspects that need to change is the new 733 stop at the “Culver City Expo Line Station.” It’s a little confusing because no cross streets were given in the announcement, it just said at the station, but I assumed it was at Venice/Robertson.

    On Monday, I got off the train, crossed the street to catch a westbound 733 and waited at the Expo/Robertson stop. The sign at the bus stop only listed 33 and 534 so I initially thought I was at the wrong place. Then, realizing that maybe the sign just hadn’t been updated yet, I pulled out the Metro iPhone app and opened up that stop (#15307). There it was, 733 listed along with 33 and 534. So I had confirmation I was, in fact, at the right spot.

    I looked down the street and saw the 733 stop at Venice/National (my opinion: these stops are SO close that I feel like the National stop should have been removed, rather than having both), and knew it would get to me in just a minute. The NexTrip arrival time confirmed it. The bus driver, however, blew on by. A few minutes later, so did a second bus driver… It’s as if they had no idea that a new stop was added to their route.

    So it seems Metro did a good job getting the word out to riders (I wasn’t the only one waiting) and updated the data on the Metro App perfectly, but didn’t bother to add any hard information to the sign on the street and hadn’t fully trained or informed the drivers… To really make a successful change and smooth transition, all of those parts need to be covered.

  2. God forbid any of the “Service Changes” actually come from the ACTUAL RIDERS who want to see MORE SERVICE ON ANY GIVEN BUS LINE! (I am sure this comment will be CENSORED like all the others!). Apparently TRUTH is not something this editor and the MTA can handle!

  3. Also glad to see Metro improves the timetables at every service change (added info, clear graphics, etc.) because in my opinion, paper timetables still have their values and usefulness. Yes, with a mobile device app, you can look up arrival times easily, but paper timetables offer convenience that an app cannot. I can think of 2 examples:

    1. I can quickly look at the scheduled time points served by the bus I am now riding. While an app can tell you the arrival time of a bus, but if you need to know what time it will arrive at your destination, yes it is doable, but a bit tricky, especially for longer bus routes.

    2. Let’s say I am at a certain place at 10am, and I want to know approximately what time my evening returning bus is, I can quickly look it up at the paper timetable in advance, so that I can arrange my tasks accordingly. With an app, I cannot do this until a few hours prior to my desired bus run.

    So I think both app and paper timetables are useful, and yes, I use both.

  4. Phillip: actually, Metro eliminated the midday/weekend short line at Hyde Park. Most, if not all trips go all the way to Hawthorne Station now.

    Mr. Hymon, is there anyway to ask the people in charge of schedules to separate the Red and the Purple Lines? I think it’s time for us to differentiate between them, considering that the Purple Lines will be extended very soon. Also, the entire “service every 12 minutes bar” on the current Red/Purple schedule is a bit confusing, so separation would be nice.

    • The MTA won’t even seperate the COLOR of the “headsigns” of the light-rail trains by color! You think they would be so elaborate as to put these same “separate train lines” on separate schedules?

  5. The Expo/Venice/Robertson eastbound stop that was supposed to be established farside of the station by mid-December was delayed in construction. However, it should be in place by mid-January. Sorry for the delay, but once in place, it was improve bus/rail connections at the Culver Station.