How We Roll, Tuesday, July 22

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Art of Transit:

With OCTA ridership down, agency is weighing its options (Register) 

Employment is up in the OC, but bus ridership over the past decade is down 30 percent — far more than declines seen nationally in that time span and at Metro, which has seen a dip of about 4.4 percent in the past two years. Service cuts and fare increases are to blame while some riders say the buses aren’t dependable enough to get them to work on time.


The authority aims to stave off further losses in ridership with new marketing and bus designs, and recently hired a contractor to survey former riders.

It has discounted youth fares, is looking to consolidate the number of stops on existing routes and is rolling out a mobile ticketing app, and there’s talk about cutting fares on short trips, a policy other transit agencies have adopted. Right now, a one-way bus fare is $2, no matter the trip length.

Next fall, OCTA will start a Santa Ana-to-Long Beach “rapid” bus service, which makes fewer stops – a concept that’s proved popular in an existing rapid line that carries riders between Costa Mesa and Fullerton.

OCTA doesn’t offer any rail service and building rail has been contentious there. Buses don’t have any special lanes, thereby meaning that driving may be faster and/or more convenient. Plus the geography of the county is tough — a lot of big, spread-out subdivisions. I’m not sure the answer but obviously Orange County residents of all stripes should have a way of getting around without having to buy a car.

Westwood Boulevard bike lane proposal ignites strong feelings on both sides (L.A. Times) 

A plan to put bike lanes on Westwood Boulevard has sparked a big hoo-ha in West L.A. with some motorists and neighborhood associations saying any loss of traffic lanes will lead to more congestion while cyclists, planners, UCLA students and even the city of L.A.’s transportation department saying the lanes will help offer a traffic alternative. At this point, the lanes are still planned but the L.A. council member who represents the area has said he will try to stop them.

It’s obviously a salient issue here with the new Expo Line Station opening in the future on Westwood Boulevard just south of Pico Boulevard. Further down the road (literally and figuratively), there will be a Purple Line Station eventually at Westwood and Wilshire. There will be no parking at either station. My point: Westwood Boulevard will figure prominently in first-mile, last-mile connections to both future rail lines.

Public lands visitation and recreation, by the numbers (High Country News) 

For those interested in traffic in or near our national parks and other public lands, an array of fascinating statistics. One factoid that caught my eye: Utah Highway Patrol had to temporarily close the entrance to Arches National Park over this past Memorial Day weekend when traffic congestion went off the charts.

Transit is usually a tough sell in rural areas but some national parks have figured it out. Yosemite still allows private vehicles into the Yosemite Valley but has a nice shuttle bus system for those who want to park their cars or not bring them at all. Zion National Park, I think, has the right idea: they ban private cars in Zion Canyon during parts of the year and force nearly everyone onto the frequent bus shuttles. The lack of traffic in the canyon makes for a more pleasant experience (I think) for everyone, including those who want to bike.

One of the best things about Delicate Arch: you have to get out of your car and walk to see it close up. Photo by Howard Ignatius, via Flickr creative commons.

One of the best things about Delicate Arch: you have to get out of your car and walk to see it close up. Photo by Howard Ignatius, via Flickr creative commons.

USC discontinues rideshare program for 3,000-plus employees; parking passes offered instead (Streetsblog LA)

Still catching up from being out of town. Good scoop by Sahra Sulaiman. In short, the program that subsidizes transit passes for USC employees is being eliminated in favor of one that offers subsidized parking. USC officials say it’s a matter of preserving revenues to run their overall transportation and parking program. Streetsblog takes a pretty dim view given that three Expo Line Stations are adjacent to USC, not to mention that USC campaigned hard for the Expo Park/USC Station to be included in the project. Equally important, the campus has long been served by a number of busy Metro bus lines.

It remains to be seen whether USC employees continue to use transit — there are certainly a ton of other employers in our region who don’t help pay for transit either. I do know that this has generated some complaints.

Mitch McConnell casts doubt on House’s plan for transportation bill (New York Times) 

The article is from July 16 but is still timely. The gist of it: the House has approved a five-month extension of a federal transportation funding bill. The Senate is trying to do something longer and their bill will likely be different. According to the latest update from Metro’s government relations team, it’s unclear what will happen — with Congressional recess looming.

This is wonky but HUGELY important to Metro and other transit agencies that depend on federal dollars for important projects, ranging from new rail lines to maintenance, among others.

What does look clear is this: that raising the federal gas tax for the first time since 1993 — the gas tax is the chief source of revenues for the Highway Trust Fund — is off the table. That’s hardly a surprise with next year’s federal elections looming for both political parties. Instead…

But in the last two years, an idea that began as an outlandish proposal by a freshman House Democrat, John Delaney of Maryland, has evolved into the closest thing to consensus on infrastructure funding.

The idea: Rewrite the tax code governing United States corporations operating internationally to end the unintended incentive for those companies to leave trillions of dollars in profits overseas, and add a component taxing those overseas profits. Much of the revenue from that one-time “transition” tax would be dedicated to infrastructure spending.

Stay tuned.

The Water Watch: Pat Mulroy preached conservation while backing growth in Vegas (Pro Publica)

Las Vegas sprawl as seen in 2009. Photo by John 'K' via Flickr creative commons.

Las Vegas sprawl as seen in 2009. Photo by John ‘K’ via Flickr creative commons.

Not directly transportation related, but very interesting for those looking for something to read while riding transit. And it certainly involves key infrastructure.

Mulroy — the former water chief in Vegas — has long enjoyed friendly press as she pushed for more conservation in Vegas and across the West. This, as far as I can recall, is one of the more critical pieces, suggesting that any gains in water conservation were quickly spent allowing Vegas to continue booming. For her part, Mulroy is her usual candid self, saying that growth was inevitable with or without her in the job.

Water officials in Vegas have been critical of the article, which I thought was fair and well-reported. The Vegas stance is that their region still uses far less water than other metro areas in the West (including the L.A. area) and has been a better water citizen, depending much less on the Colorado River than other Western states that draw from the river.

The article raises some really interesting questions. I have a hard time saying that Vegas is any more of a sinner than other cities that have built in arid or semi-arid climates — after all, those of us in our region don’t exactly have the moral high ground when it comes to water use.

On other hand, I do think it’s fair to say that the way Vegas sprawled is troublesome, with an emphasis on single-family homes instead of a denser type of housing that might have resulted in less water and energy use with less transportation. Perhaps the question is not whether Vegas uses less water than L.A. Perhaps the question is why they perhaps seemingly made the same mistakes?

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13 replies

    • Of course, if you’re able to cite San Francisco’s policies can be copied here, I am equally entitled to cite a place like New York or Singapore. Bear in mind, San Francisco, New York, and Singapore have no similarity whatsoever to LA County which is what LA Metro serves.

      In NYC, the cost to ride a bus for a few blocks is $2.75 and they’re talking about increasing it to $3.15. And you know there’s going to be more fare hikes down the road, sooner or later it’ll be $4.00 perhaps even $5.00 just to ride the bus. There is no end solution to this mess of relying on a flat rate system.

      I prefer a system like Singapore where a bus ride for a few blocks can be as cheap as $0.60 and the maximum fare is about $2.50.

    • “It costs $2.25 to ride a few blocks on S.F. MUNI”

      In Japan, the fare for short trips start off 130 yen (10.4 cents) and gradually goes up by the farther you go. Children under age of 12, seniors and the disabled pay half the rate.

      Here’s an example of the fares to all the JR stations if you’re starting off at Tokyo Station

      Your point being?

  1. “Is it really fair to raise the fares of the people who have no other choice than to make such a commute to get to work?”

    I’d say yes it is. People who travel farther and have longer trips should pay more. You may think this is coldhearted, but I’d say you’re the one who is coldhearted.

    Whining and complaining that fares will become more expensive for longer trips is like saying “why should airfares to go from LA to London be more expensive than going from LA to San Francisco”, “why a Metrolink fare from San Bernardino to Union Station costs more that Cal State LA to Union Station” or “why a 20 mile Uber or cab ride costs more than a 5 mile Uber or cab ride.”

    Everything is charged by the rate of usage these days from electricity, water, and natural gas.

    If you use more electricity, you pay more than those that use less. You surely will get angry if you get a $1,000 electricity bill every month while Google and Wells Fargo also only gets to pay $1,000 electricity bill too, right? Why should you be paying the same electric bill when Google and Wells Fargo are likely to be consuming more electricity than you are because they run servers all the time?

    If you use more water, you pay more than those that use less. If you do your part to help conserve water, but you still get a $1,000 water bill every month and the local golf course also gets the same $1,000 water bill every month, you too will get angry. Why should you be paying $1,000 in water bill when you’re help saving water when the golf course gets a $1,000 bill also?

    If you think of transportation like an utility (which in the State of California, it seems it does because transportation is actually regulated by the California Public Utilities Commission, don’t ask me why, that’s the way it works in this crazy state, you don’t like it, write your politician), then mass transit fares should be no different. Charging by the rate of distance traveled is the only fair way to charge transit riders.

  2. Takes me 20 minutes to drive to work. OCTA can get me there in 1.5 hours.

    • Note to all people who give out incomplete data like this:

      You can’t just say “a car gets me there in 20 minutes as opposed to OCTA which takes me 1.5 hours.” No transit agency can work with just giving out time as a factor.

      How long in terms of time isn’t a good quantifier and the data set is incomplete when giving out such comments. Time it takes to travel about can be vary widely depending on street traffic conditions, how many stops there are, and the frequency of bus services at any given time.

      Distance is a better quantifier when explaining things like this. Between points A and B which is X miles apart, it takes me 20 minutes to drive to work as opposed to taking OCTA which gets me there in 1.5 hours. The missing data factor that is given when explaining the POV of your commute, there needs to be travel distance (how many miles it is between point A and B) involved to make a more accurate and correct assessment for transit operators.

      And it doesn’t take too much effort to do figure out how far away point A and point B is today. All you need to do is go to Google Maps or Bing Maps, enter your starting point and your ending point, and in less than a second, you get how far it is between the two points.

  3. “Is it really fair to raise the fares of the people who have no other choice than to make such a commute to get to work?”

    Emotionally based arguments do not work against common sense logic.

    What is your alternative suggestion then? Should we just keep raising fares for everyone that eventually it’ll cost $2.00, perhaps $3.00 just to ride the bus, regardless whether you’re taking the bus to the grocery store or going from Santa Monica to Azusa? Which one do you think people do more everyday, grocery shopping or going from Santa Monica to Azusa?

    You think you’re being fair, you’re not. All you’re doing is making the poor even more poorer by forcing them to all pay $2.00 or more just to do daily things like going to the grocery store or going to their minimum wage jobs that’s not so far away.

  4. “…there’s talk about cutting fares on short trips, a policy other transit agencies have adopted. Right now, a one-way bus fare is $2, no matter the trip length.”

    Also note the quote from the OC Register article:

    “Bus riders are among the county’s poorest. Close to two-thirds earn less than $20,000 a year. On a recent day, passengers traveling along one of the county’s major corridors – Costa Mesa to Fullerton – displayed the name badges of their low-paying fast-food employers, such as Taco Bell and Domino’s. The poor tend to take shorter bus rides and will walk or bike to save money, explained Brian Taylor, who studies bus ridership as the director of the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies.”

    And it’s common sense that people who work at Taco Bell and Domino’s aren’t the type of people who own McMansions out in the suburbs either and commute long distance just to make a 7-Layer Burrito or toss a large pepperoni pizza. They are likely to be renters who live in apartment complexes and tend to live close by. A simple common sense logic is all that is needed to figure this stuff out. Did they really expect these people to dish out $2 one way, $4 roundtrip just to ride the bus for short trips to do their minimum wage jobs?

    Seeing that the problem is OC, do you think the same “let’s just raise the bus fare to $2 per ride” idea is going to work here at Metro also, where we have far more poor people who are reliant on buses, in which LA is far more densely populated than OC?

    As many have said along, and also backed up by a UCLA director who specializes in this field, is that we need to end this unfair flat rate fare policy and start looking at distance based fares. The whole thing is perfectly possible today with our TAP card technology we have today. Tap in, tap out, automatically deduct the fare bases on distance traveled. It’s really simple as that any five year old kid can do it.

    • Regarding distance based fares, it’s not only the rich who make long transit trips (actually, I don’t think there are any people with higher incomes who would endure a 2 hour transit trip to get to work). The only people who would subject themselves to a two hour ride involving 3 buses to get to work are the people who really depend on the system and have no other choice. Take this article about the elimination of Metro’s line 305 for example.
      Is it really fair to raise the fares of the people who have no other choice than to make such a commute to get to work?

      • Here’s a different perspective:

        “The only people who would subject themselves to a two hour ride involving 3 buses to get to work are the people who really depend on the system and have no other choice.”

        There’s also the old saying “the needs of the many outweigh the benefits of the few.”

        If 8 out 10 people rely on public transit to do shorter trips, while the other 2 take longer trips, the needs of the 8 outweigh the benefits of the 2. If you keep the system under a flat rate system and keep increasing the fares, then the 8 people who used to take Metro may start looking to something else like walking or riding a bicycle instead. Sooner or later, what used to be 10 people (8 short/2 long) taking the bus now only 2 people take the bus. Overall, it doesn’t do anything better to public transit because they just lost 8 people taking the bus and the system has become a service that only services the needs of the few instead of the many.

        If there are far more people in poverty who rely on public transit for shorter trips over those who need to travel farther which is the case today, then the fare system must be made to accommodate the needs of the many.

        “Is it really fair to raise the fares of the people who have no other choice than to make such a commute to get to work?”

        The same question can be said backwards.

        “Is it really fair for the vast majority of people who are reliant on public transit to be forced to pay the same $2.00 fare just to go few blocks to their neighborhood supermarket or their minimum wage jobs, when a few small group of riders can ride the bus over 20 miles for the same price?”

        Life is’t unfair, that’s a given.

        But the closest we can get to fairness is that we live in a democracy. In a democracy, the needs of the many outweigh the benefits of the few. If the 8 out 10 majority of bus riders travels shorter distances, then the fare system needs to be adjusted accordingly to match the needs of the many.

        It maybe unfortunate for the 2 people reliant on public transit who must pay more to do longer trips, but the needs of the 8 other people, the majority, outweigh the benefits of the few. The other 2 who currently have longer trips should pay more, or they can find a job closer to where they live so they don’t need to travel that far.

        Otherwise, the other solution is that we keep raising fares for everyone equally. Sooner or later, what do you think the people who ride the bus for shorter trips is going to do? They’re going to say “I’m not paying $2.00 just to ride the bus for a few blocks” and quit riding the bus altogether and start walking or bicycling. The negative effect of this is that now the transit system loses ridership and isn’t making the money it used to so it’s forced to start cutting back even more services. There’s no positive result from this solution.

        If there should be a compromise, then it would feasible to add in a cap system together with distance based fares so that once it hits a certain cap within a month, it won’t deduct any more than a certain amount. No one is saying we can’t do both distance based fares and do a cap system at the same time. We can do both, tap-in/tap-out and once it hits $100 within a month, it won’t deduct any further.

  5. If you look at the newer Vegas subdivisions, most of those are denser than even LA’s current subdivisions. Most of them tend to maximize interior space and minimize a yard, and almost all of them are rock or gravel. Incidentally this is why I hate the trend of people pulling up existing lawns and making them gravel, river rock, or artificial turf. The rainwater no longer can infiltrate into the soil and the cooling effect of the green space is lost. If you want to observe the drought and leave your lawn dead or brown, fine, but at least they have a good chance of regenerating in the winter, compared to rock which will stay gray all year round.

    • A rock garden takes a lot of work to maintain. If you aren’t on top of controlling weeds and keeping everything nice and tight, it’s going to look like a disaster area. The new urban/suburban blight is going to be unkempt rock gardens!