End of an era: Metro to retire its last high-floor buses on August 30

This type of high-floor bus, used by the transit industry for more than 100 years, required bus patrons to negotiate several steps before boarding.

This type of high-floor bus, used by the transit industry for more than 100 years, required bus patrons to negotiate steps before boarding.

Today’s Metro buses feature low-floor designs for faster, easier boardings and alightings.

Today’s Metro buses feature low-floor designs for faster, easier boardings and alightings.

Adios bus stairs, here comes the “Low Rider.”

Bus riders in Los Angeles County will no longer have to climb stairs to board a Metro Bus on any of Metro’s 170 bus lines beginning August 30. That’s the date when Metro will be officially retiring its very last high-floor transit buses and replacing them with “low-floor” buses.

That’s a notable milestone in the history of local transit. High-floor buses were employed by transit operators since the inception of motorized transit buses and Metro, as well as its predecessor agencies, have operated high-floor buses for decades. Climbing steps to board a bus has been the common experience of multiple generations of bus riders.

“Los Angeles, as well as most of the world, has had high floor buses for well over 100 years,” said Richard Famighetti, maintenance operations manager for Metro Divisions 6 and 7. “We are marking the end of a significant era that helped characterize public transportation in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Retiring these buses is a truly a historic change for Metro.”

(Video after the jump!)

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Transportation headlines, Thursday, March 27

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Community hopes to cut down tree plan (Park La Brea News/Beverly Press)

A story about Metro’s plans to eventually remove about 135 trees along Wilshire Boulevard as part of the construction of the first phase of the Purple Line Extension. Here’s our post about the plan that includes this key detail: Metro also plans to plant two trees for every one that is removed. Still, some community members in the Miracle Mile aren’t happy, pointing to many years of effort to beautify Wilshire Boulevard and unhappy that adult trees may be replaced with younger, smaller ones.

El Sereno’s Soto Street bridge may not have a historic leg to stand on (The Eastsider) 

The bridge once carried Pacific Electric streetcars over the intersection of Huntington and Mission. City of Los Angeles officials don’t think the 80-year-old structure is very distinctive architecturally; others think otherwise. My three cents: to my eyes the bridge doesn’t look much different than other highway-type bridges.

Will women every feel completely safe on transit? (The Atlantic Cities) 

Very interesting post that seems to conclude the answer to the question in the headline is ‘no’ — at least not until society does a better job of decreasing instances of sexism. It’s also worth noting that women tend to ride transit more than men. Excerpt:

Women who aren’t bound to the bus by economic necessity cite reliability and convenience as reasons they choose to stick with their cars. That’s more or less what men say. But women, regardless of income, tend to have an additional factor: safety. In a 2007 survey, 63 percent of New York City subway riders said they’d been harassed on a train, and 10 percent reported having been assaulted. It seems safe to assume that most of those riders were women. Among those who merely witnessed harassment or assault on public transit, 93 percent reported that the victim was female.

It’s no wonder there’s a gender gap when it comes to transit riders’ concerns. But there’s also a gender-class gap, between the women who can simply refuse to ride because of those concerns and those who have to get on the bus anyway. “Women tend to be more fearful in public environments like the bus stop than when they’re on the bus or on the train,” says Loukaitou-Sideris. This makes sense: on the bus there are often other travelers, but at the bus stop you might be alone. Even then there are exceptions; late at night, a woman might find herself on the train with only one other passenger she doesn’t trust, just the two of them in an enclosed space.

 

The writer lives in our area and says that while she is willing to ride Metro during the day, she’s much less apt to take the agency’s transit at night when there are far fewer riders on many routes and a greater chance of her being isolated with other riders she doesn’t trust. Your thoughts, women riders?

Public transportation ridership is growing — here are the facts (APTA)

In response to recent criticism over its recent claim that transit ridership in the U.S. is at the highest since 1956, the American Public Transportation Assn. has put out a subsequent release. Much of the criticism centered on the fact that a far greater percentage of Americans used transit in 1956 than currently. Excerpt from the release:

On March 10, 2014 the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) reported that public transportation use in the United States in 2013 rose to 10.7 billion trips – the highest number in 57 years.  APTA and its predecessor organizations have collected ridership information since 1917. The highest U.S. public transit ridership number in history was 23.5 billion trips in 1946, a decade when many Americans did not own a car.  The ownership of cars en masse came later and led to suburbs designed for car use and subsequent sprawl.

This ridership increase isn’t a one-year blip on the radar.  If you look at the 18 year period from 1995-2013, public transportation ridership grew 37.2 percent, almost double the amount of the population growth at 20.3 percent.  This is a long-term trend that shows that more and more Americans are using public transportation.  APTA has used the 1995 number because after that year, ridership increased due to the passage of the landmark ISTEA legislation and other surface transportation bills which increased funding for public transportation.

More recent shifts in trends point to the growing demand for public transportation.  Our analysis shows that the 2005 gas price shock, when prices first went to $3 for a gallon of gasoline, combined with demographic shifts including the Millennials’ desire for travel options and the Baby Boomers’ return to urban areas, have established consistent travel behaviors that led to the highest public transportation ridership since 1956.

My three cents: both sides have a point. I’ve never found quite understood the point of comparing contemporary transit ridership to that in the 1950s, when there were far fewer Americans. On the other hand, I do think it’s worth noting that in recent times transit ridership has been healthy in many quarters and worthy of further investment.

From the Department of Reader Complaints….

I finally, and inevitably, received a complaint about the occasional postings of Bruce Springsteen videos — despite the fact that “Thunder Road” is at its core a song about the importance of mobility in escaping loser towns. In the spirit of diversity, today’s musical interlude is more transit specific….

Transportation headlines, Monday, March 24

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Cool pic of March gloom.

O’Hare CTA station closed for foreseeable future because of considerable damage from crash (Chicago Tribune) 

A Chicago Transit Authority train failed to stop at the end-of-the-line station at O’Hare International Airport early Sunday morning and jumped the track and came to rest on an escalator. About 30 people aboard the train were injured and none of the injuries are life threatening, officials said. Excerpt:

The cause of the accident remains under investigation. The train was traveling at a high rate of speed while pulling into the station and officials are trying to determine why, Steele said.

“We don’t know yet what led to this incident,” Steele said. “We will be looking at everything — equipment, signals, the human factor, any extenuating circumstances.”

The National Transportation Safety Board also will investigate the crash.

The train operator suffered an injury to a leg. She is being tested for drugs and alcohol as is standard procedure after such an incident. Thankfully the crash happened at 3 a.m. when there were very few people around the platform.

Miracle Mile freaking out over possible 24-hour subway work (Curbed LA)

Some residents aren’t too pleased with the prospect of round-the-clock work on the Purple Line Extension, but Curbed LA says that Metro’s proposals thus far only involve 24-hour work for parts of 2015 and again in parts of 2021 — not nine continuous years of work.

Maybe transit isn’t surging after all (The Atlantic Cities) 

More pushback against the American Public Transportation Association’s recent press release touting that transit ridership was at its highest point since 1956. As several outlets have noted, the U.S. has almost doubled its population since 1956, meaning that far fewer people overall are using mass transit in America. As the Atlantic Cities notes, since the early 1970s, there is less than one transit trip per week per person in the country.

Of course, APTA does advocate for the transportation industry, including both public agencies and private firms that operate transit and manufacture equipment. With Congress considering a new multi-year transportation funding bill, APTA needs to make the case that transit ridership is up. If looked like in a silo, it is. And that’s good. But, like others, I’d rather see the big view of things in order to figure out the best way to build transit systems that will give people a choice outside of driving.

The death knelling over Citi Bike (Next City)

Reports of the bike rental/sharing program in New York are probably over-stated, says the blog — blaming recent problems on Gotham’s harsh winter and some system software issues that plagued the program when it first started.

I heart M15 (Vimeo)

Fun video from the express bus in New York.

Transportation headlines, Tuesday, March 11

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Good afternoon, Source readers! I’m back from a few days off and in catch-up mode, so please forgive if some of this news isn’t so new….

Mass transit ridership grows from pathetically low to just low (Grist) 

Analyst Ben Adler takes a look at the latest APTA numbers that boast that Americans took 10.7 billion transit trips in 2013, the most since 1956. Ben’s point:

But the [New York] Times neglects to point out the larger relative term: Compared to 60 years ago (when mass transit systems were actually less comfortable; the New York City subway wasn’t even air-conditioned), transit ridership is way down. The important number, after all, isn’t total transit trips taken, it’s total transit trips divided by population. Since our population has nearly doubled since 1956, that means our transit use has been cut in half.

Americans made a series of disastrous decisions in the 1950s through roughly 2005, moving us heavily toward suburban sprawl and driving. And we kept on making them even in the face of gathering evidence that they were contributing to the environmental catastrophe of climate change. A shift back toward a better system is worth celebrating, but keep the champagne corked until we’ve actually increased the percentage of Americans taking mass transit, not just improved slightly from a terrible low point.

 

I agree with Ben — it’s good to see ridership on the rise in many places and I think it’s smart to build more transit. But I don’t think the latest numbers show anything has fundamentally changed in how Americans get around. In case you’re wondering, the latest numbers from the Census Bureau shows that 7.1 percent of commuters in Los Angeles County use public transit. About 72.2 percent drove alone and 10.9 percent carpooled while 2.9 percent walked and 2.1 percent reached work by other means. Almost five percent of people worked at home.

I think the big question for everyone in the public transit world and for elected officials is this: what does it take to keep nudging that 7.1 percent number upward?

Blind man survives being run over by a Metro train (L.A. Times)

A blind man apparently walked off the edge of the platform at the Wilshire/Vermont subway station as a train was approaching on Thursday afternoon — and survived and is thankfully expected to make a full recovery. As way of background, the yellow pylons on Metro Rail platforms were installed as a way to prevent visually-challenged people from walking off platforms and falling between rail cars (which unfortunately happened on the Blue Line in early 2009).

Dodgers to increase parking fees (KPCC)

The fee is back to the Frank McCourt-era $15 unless fans go online and buy a parking ticket in advance for $10. Team officials say the move is intended to alleviate traffic congestion at the gates, where money transactions take longer than simply handing a ticket to the attendant. Sounds reasonable enough to me. On a related note, we’ll have more info soon about Dodger Stadium Express service for the 2014 season, which will surely be the year for my Cincinnati Reds :)

As downtown L.A. grows, big money investors rush in (Downtown News) 

DTLA seems to be attracting a wider variety of developers these days — beyond the usual flow of money from Asia, the Downtown News reports. The article also has this interesting observation: it’s seemingly easier for developers from elsewhere to see the potential of DTLA over long-time residents and developers, who can’t look beyond the ghost town years of the 1980s and ’90s. I’m sure part of it, too, is that developers from elsewhere must be struck by the number of old buildings waiting to be rehabbed or the number of half-filled surface parking lots just sitting there and doing little good for anyone but their owners.

The race is on for the transit ticket of tomorrow (The Atlantic Cities) 

Smart story looking at the dilemma faced by many large transit agencies when it comes to choosing a fare payment system that is accessible to all riders but uses the latest technology (such as paying with smart phones). The answer isn’t so simple but linking fare cars to smart phones seems to the answer for some agencies.

 

Metro and LASD target fare evasion on the Orange Line

Sheriff's Deputies are cracking down on fare evasion along the Orange Line. Remember to both load fares on your card and tap the card at the validator before boarding the bus! Photo by Paul Gonzalez/Metro.

Sheriff’s Deputies are cracking down on fare evasion along the Orange Line. Remember to both load fares on your card and tap the card at the validator before boarding the bus! Photo by Paul Gonzalez/Metro.

Here’s the news release from Metro:

To reduce fare evasion on the Orange Line, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) Transit Services Bureau (TSB) have joined in a two-pronged effort to improve communication and enforce laws requiring riders to buy fare and use TAP cards when riding the Metro system.

New signs are being designed for all 18 Metro Orange Line stations directing riders to tap their TAP cards at validators to deduct appropriate fare. Also, Sheriff’s patrols have beefed up on the popular bus line that runs 18 miles between the North Hollywood Red Line subway station and Chatsworth and Woodland Hills. The Orange Line is a bus service that operates on an exclusive busway like a light rail line, therefore, there are no fare boxes on board and passengers must tap fare cards when entering each station. The Orange Line has about 30,000 weekday boardings.

“In recent enforcement audits we found that a majority of our passengers tap their cards and pay the fare when they enter stations, but an alarming number riders were not paying and a surprising number of people appear to be unclear about when and where to tap their fare cards,” said LASD Commander Michael Claus of the TSB. “Our new signs will direct passengers where to tap and we’ve added a new instructional video to Transit TV indicating that failure to tap may result in a citation and fine.”

Metro conducted three audits on the Orange Line in December and February. The first audit on December 3, 2013 at the North Hollywood, Sherman Way and Van Nuys stations found that 22 percent of Orange Line riders evaded the fare by not having a valid TAP card or enough cash balance on the TAP card to ride the bus. In addition, 9 percent of riders with activated TAP cards and a valid pass did not tap before entering, which is considered misuse of the TAP card and not fare evasion. A second audit conducted December 17, 2013 at the North Hollywood, Canoga and Reseda stations found 16 percent of riders evaded fares and 6 percent TAP misuse. A third audit on February 11, 2014 at the North Hollywood, Van Nuys and Canoga stations found 7 percent of riders evaded fares and 5 percent misuse of TAP.

“There is no excuse for breaking the law and trying to ride for free. The Metro Board has authorized many reduced fare programs for seniors, students, persons with disabilities and Medicare recipients,” said Metro CEO Art Leahy. “Metro fares are among the lowest in the United States. Our riders pay only 26 percent of the cost of operating our expanding service leading to a projected budget gap that, if left unaddressed, threatens the quality of service we provide.”

The base fare for Metro buses and Metro Rail is $1.50, but because of the wide availability of reduced fare programs, the average fare paid is 70 cents. Learn more about Metro reduced fares at metro.net/riding/fares/reduced-fares/

TAP is a universal fare system that includes 12 regional and municipal transit carriers in Los Angeles County. By the end of 2014, 26 agencies will be a part of TAP including Long Beach Transit and the Santa Monica Big Blue Bus, meaning there will be, for the first time, a seamless regional transit system in which riders can tap to enter and not have to count out change to transfer. In addition to accurate fare recovery, TAP also monitors flow of passengers allowing Metro to tailor service to demand.

Stay informed by following us on The Source and El Pasajero at metro.net, facebook.com/losangelesmetro, twitter.com/metrolosangeles and twitter.com/metroLAalerts and instagram.com/metrolosangeles.

Transportation headlines, Thursday, February 20.5

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ART OF TRANSIT: Mid-day traffic constipation on the 101. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

ART OF TRANSIT: Mid-day traffic constipation on the 101. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

Metro to connect $670 million for downtown rail connector (L.A. Times) 

Coverage of today’s announcement that after years of negotiations, Metro and the Federal Transit Administration have signed a grant for $670 million in New Starts money and a federally-backed $160-million loan for the Regional Connector project. The Times reports that wi-fi may be available in the Connector’s stations — which is nice to hear given the project’s $1.37-billion price tag :)

Free wi-fi now available on the Sprinter, in addition to the Coaster (Mass Transit Magazine)

Speaking of wi-fi, it’s now available on trains in north San Diego County. Before you email me the Obvious Big Relevant Question: Metro is working in the next two years to install equipment that will allow our customers to get a cell phone signal in underground Metro Rail stations.

Is California’s Congestion Management Program at the end of the road? (The Planning Report) 

This is a wonky but important article. The gist of it: Metro has studied replacing the current state program — which many see as bureaucratic and ineffective — with a program that would impose fees on new development to pay for transportation improvements. Twenty-two cities in L.A. County already have the impact fees (and they’re common elsewhere in the country), but they’re controversial nonetheless, with opponents arguing that such a fee would greatly harm the local economy and are redundant. Still, the issue is likely to return to the forefront soon and Metro will be involved, as we’re the agency that would collect the fees.

Elon Musk: autonomous driving just a few years away (Bloomberg News) 

The Tesla founder says his company will be a pioneer in self-driving cars and we’re only a decade away from widespread adoption of cars that can largely (and safely, say proponents) guide themselves. In other words, Musk will be able to go online and complain about the 405 project and hype his hyperloop thingy while his Tesla drives itself blissfully through West L.A. traffic.

Houston Metro rail line ridership exceeds expectations (Metro Magazine)

The 4,200 daily boardings on the 5.3-mile extension of the Red Line are ahead of the 2,600 boardings that were expected. So here’s the lesson for any Younglings out there thinking of spending some of their parents hard-earned dollars on a degree in transportation planning: when your ridership model burps out expected ridership numbers, always choose the low one in order to earn an “exceeds expectations” article. Now, go take the $20,000 I just saved you in college tuition and spend the money instead on backpacking Europe and falling in love with a Estonian boy/girl who can’t understand a damn thing you’re saying but will provide you with free snowboarding lessons and tasty pizza.

Transportation headlines, Monday, February 10

Have a transportation-related article you think should be included in headlines? Drop me an email! And don’t forget, Metro is on TwitterFacebook and Instagram. Pick your social media poison! 

Even Bruce Springsteen is singing about the 405 and this coming weekend’s Jamzilla, when the northbound lanes of the 405 will be closed or mostly closed for 80 hours. Above video from Springsteen’s show Saturday night in Perth, on the west coast of the AC/DC continent.

43 years ago Sunday: Sylmar quake topples freeway and prompts seismic retrofitting plan (Primary Resources) 

The Metro Library’s blog takes a good look back at the 6.6-quake in San Fernando on Feb. 9, 1974, that brought down freeway bridges, killed 49 in the VA Hospital in San Fernando and compromised many other structures. As a result, a new state law prohibited new development in earthquake fault zones. But 43 years hence, the state is still mapping those zones — the reason that Metro did extensive mapping work of its own when planning the Purple Line Extension in the Century City area.

A new OCTA video promoting the 91 Express Lanes that run between the 55 freeway and the Riverside County Line. The big news these days is that Riverside County is getting on board and adding the toll lanes between the county line and Riverside, a project scheduled to be complete in 2017. By most accounts, the aforementioned AC/DC song aptly describes this commute.

Bullet train ridership estimates up, cost estimates down in new business plan (L.A. Times)

The cost drops by $800 million to $67.6 billion to build the completely grade-separated line between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Meanwhile, ridership projections are up by 25 percent to 35 million in 2040. The state is appealing a Superior Court ruling last year that prohibited the sale of state bonds to help fund the project — without the state bonds, the project can’t receive federal funds. Meanwhile, the project hopes to break ground this summer on the initial 29-mile segment of track near Fresno.

Sochi got the gold, bypassed village got the dust (New York Times)

The new road and railroad between Sochi and the Winter Olympics ski resort don’t include an exit or station, respectively, at a tiny mountain village of 200 that also took the brunt of highway and railroad construction. Residents hope that some of the Games’ money and excitement will trickle down to them, but that appears unlikely for now.