We’re going to focus on one article today….
The transit-ridership-is-down story has been getting some media play lately. Los Angeles Times reporters Laura Nelson and Dan Weikel give the issue a much more thorough look today. As expected, Metro is heavily featured.
As we’ve discussed before, ridership at Metro and other transit agencies locally and nationally have declined in recent times — at Metro since 2014. Laura and Dan report that perhaps it’s not just a recent trend: ridership at the bus-only agency that preceded Metro exceeded 500 million boardings in the 1980s but in the last decade Metro’s annual boardings fell from 462 million in 2006 to 453 million in 2015. (FWIW, Metro had 437 million annual boardings in 2005 and some of the 1980s bus routes have been taken over by other bus agencies).
There will be a more detailed response coming from Metro. Also, Metro CEO Phil Washington will be talking about ridership and his response to the article in his CEO remarks and his State of the Agency report during Thursday’s Metro Board meeting. I’ll provide a heads up on Metro’s Twitter stream and Facebook page when Phil is about to begin his remarks. Audio from the meeting will be streaming live on the web — a link will appear on this page under the “audio” column once the Board meeting is underway about 9 a.m. We also plan to post video of Phil’s report.
In the meantime, I’ll provide a few thoughts — mostly ideas that we’ve discussed frequently in our daily headlines for the past several years. I think the real meat of the LAT article boils down to these two questions:
•Should we keep investing in building new transit despite these ridership trends?
•Are the only people who will reliably take transit those with no other choice?
As for the first question, Metro CEO Phil Washington is quoted in in the story as saying that he wants to build a transit system for the next century and that system will add riders to the system and reverse the current trend.
In terms of system expansion and for those unfamiliar with Metro, there are two Metro Rail projects soon to open: the Expo Line extension to Santa Monica (this spring) and the Gold Line extension to Azusa (March 5). Three other rail projects are under construction and forecast to open between 2019 and 2023: the Crenshaw/LAX Line, the Regional Connector and the Purple Line Extension to Wilshire/La Cienega. There are many other projects in the pipeline beyond that and Metro is in the midst of revising its long-range plan and considering a potential ballot measure to put before voters in November to fund more projects.
I do think this bears repeating: the Expo Line and Purple Line projects will bring the very first inch of rail transit to the job-rich and very congested Westside since the early 1950s. I think all the projects above are very worthy but I can’t stress that enough that the Westside has remained a glaring hole in our regional rail network.
As for the second bullet point, let’s start with an excerpt from the LAT — a quote from USC engineering professor James Moore, who has been a longtime critic of the way that Metro is expanding its rail system:
“It’s not the dream of every bus rider to arrive in a bus that was on time, air conditioned and clean, where a seat was available,” said Moore of USC. “It’s the dream of every bus rider to own a car. And as soon as they can afford one, that’s the first purchase they’ll make.”
According to the Southern California Assn. of Governments, the total number of miles driven in the region per day has almost returned to pre-recession levels, although the miles driven daily per person are declining.
Look folks. People like their cars. I like my car (which I often park at a Gold Line station). Our road network extends to almost every home and will take you almost anywhere — and parking is often cheap or free once you get there. Driving isn’t going anywhere.
But I seriously doubt that most people believe that we should stand pat on transit in our region because everyone loves the convenience of driving so much. Or that everyone on a bus really wants to drive.
Investing all our transportation eggs in one basket is a fool’s errand. We tried that approach in the latter half of the 20th century. L.A. County voters responded in 1980, 1990 and 2008 by increasing the local sales tax to build an alternative to sitting in traffic. That effort is still underway.
You think traffic stinks now? How do you think traffic would be with even a small fraction of Metro’s 453 million boardings behind the wheel of a car on your local freeway/arterial/residential street? ?
I don’t want to ignore the anecdotes and quotes in the LAT article from current or former riders about their experiences on Metro. Since his hiring last year, Metro CEO Washington has repeatedly said that he wants to make Metro the best transportation agency in the world. The obvious implication in that statement is that there’s room do things better.
As way of background, Metro has been aware of the ridership issue. Here is a Metro staff report with a focus on bus ridership from last spring. And here is the latest Metro staff report on ridership issues and possible ways to attract new riders. This post discusses safety and security upgrades ongoing at Metro.
Your thoughts? Comment please. Try to keep your thoughts short and digestible.
Some reaction to the LAT story thus far on social media:
Categories: Transportation Headlines