Transportation headlines, Friday, April 27

Here is a look at some of the transportation headlines gathered by us and the Metro Library. The full list of headlines is posted on the Library’s Headlines blog, which you can also access via email subscription or RSS feed.

Expo Line’s opening launches rail service push to Westside (L.A. Times)

The Times’ Dan Weikel and Ari Bloomekatz provide a good recap of the significance of the opening of the first phase of the Expo Line. The piece highlights in particular the benefits to USC students, and, I think, gives a fair assessment of what Expo will mean to Los Angeles. Be sure to check out this cool time-lapse video of the Expo Line by Bryan Chan.

Expo’s backstage safety patrol (Zev Web)

County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky’s official blog details the numerous measures Metro has undertaken to ensure that the public knows how to navigate the new Expo Line safely. The story focuses in particular on the efforts of Vijay Khawani, Metro’s Executive Officer of Corporate Safety, and Barbara Burns, manager of Metro’s Transit Safety Education Programs. As the blog notes, Metro has been very proactive in its community outreach on safety issues:

To educate the public about what’s headed their way, Burns’ team has conducted dozens of training sessions at schools, senior centers and libraries and with neighborhood watch and community groups, sent out hundreds of notices about train testing, put up 4,000 safety posters and handed out 60,000 flyers door to door.

The most beautiful train stations in the world (Flavorpill)

Is Los Angeles Union Station one of the 10 most beautiful train stations in the world? Culture blog Flavorpill thinks so and your humble Metro blogger agrees completely. I’m particularly fond of Union Station’s mix of Spanish Colonial Revival and Art Deco architectural elements — two of my favorites styles, both of which you can see across L.A. Hat tip to LA Observed for the link.

Walk Score’s best cities in America for public transportation (NRDC Switchboard)

Everyone’s favorite mapping tool, Walk Score, has launched a new service called Transit Score and used it to determine what it believes are the best American cities for public transit. The Switchboard blog has a recap and analysis. Los Angeles clocks in at 11, just behind Portland, Ore., and ahead of Denver, Colo. — respectable enough company, I suppose. That said, I do have some constructive criticisms of Transit Score’s methodology.


To calculate a raw Transit Score, we sum the value of all of the nearby routes. The value of a route is defined as the service level (frequency per week) multiplied by the mode weight (heavy/light rail is weighted 2X, ferry/cable car/other are 1.5X, and bus is 1X) multiplied by a distance penalty. The distance penalty calculates the distance to the nearest stop on a route and then uses the same distance decay function as the Walk Score algorithm.

The first issue that jumps out at me is how Transit Score weights different modes to give a bonus to “better” modes: “heavy/light rail is weighted 2X, ferry/cable car/other are 1.5X, and bus is 1X.” There’s such an incredible diversity of service quality within each mode that this strikes me as an oversimplification. Is the Metro Los Angeles Orange Line really half as “good” as the Boston Green Line — a nice enough line, but it plods along 100-year-old tracks — just because the former runs on rubber tires?

There are arguments either way, and reasonable people can disagree. Those differences, however, are simply glazed over with a simple multiplier. And, I don’t even pretend to understand the 1.5X weighting for ferries and cable cars.

The second issue is how Transit Score defines a city. Because Transit Score doesn’t explain how it defines a city, we’re left wondering if it’s the municipal boundary, the metropolitan statistical area (used for analyzing governmental stats), or the some other measure.

If it’s just the municipality, then Los Angeles’ transit score would necessarily exclude Santa Monica, unincorporated East L.A., Pasadena and other communities with good transit service — communities where folks in the L.A. area travel every day.

After all, we don’t stop commuting when we reach a city boundary. As Jarrett Walker put it: “US big-city boundaries are irrelevant to most people’s lives, and to anything else that matters about our culture, economy, or destiny.”

Lastly, Transit Score only has data from transit agencies that make their service information public in a particular standardized format. That’s understandable, and it would be ideal if more agencies opened up their data.

But for the L.A. area, that means Transit Score doesn’t have data from the following agencies: Norwalk Transit System, Long Beach Transit, City of Gardena Transportation Department, City of Commerce Municipal Buslines, City of Arcadia Transit, Simi Valley Transit, LACMTA – Small Operators, Santa Monica’s Big Blue Bus, Torrance Transit System, Culver City Municipal Bus Lines, Montebello Bus Lines, City of Los Angeles Department of Transportation, Access Services Incorporated, City of Redondo Beach – Beach Cities Transit.

That’s not insubstantial.

Despite those concerns, Transit Score is perhaps still an interesting tool for looking at transit service quality from a birds-eye-view, so go check it out.

3 replies

  1. Agree with John. There’s simply no comparison between a fresh new LRT system, like Houston’s or Portland’s, and an old trundly trolley of the Philly/Boston variety. Likewise with bus age; modern, clean, low-floor buses are a much more pleasurable ride than a 30-year-old Flxible Metro which smells of wee.

  2. Steve, you nailed the analysis of the transit score. Let’s hope it evolves and eliminates these biases and logic faults. I propose they include a metric for “% in good repair” that discounts the score according to the percent of a network in need of repair or upgrade. It could even be more finely tuned according to years since installation or renovation.

  3. What is Metro’s role in (gently) encouraging the municipal operators to free their data? Does Metro provide technical assistance? Having real time trip info available during transfers would be mutually beneficial (as would integrated fare media). I don’t take Culver City Bus or Big Blue Bus as often as I otherwise should because their routes don’t show up in the transit apps I use.