How We Roll, July 13: what do transit riders most care about? Hint: it’s not wifi

ICYMI: Expo Line and Metro ridership numbers for June.

Art of Transit: 


Art of Transit 2: 

This helps explain why Patsouras Plaza has been closed. Click above to read more about the closure and the new pickup/dropoff area.

This helps explain why Patsouras Plaza has been closed. Click above to read more about the closure and the new pickup/dropoff area.

Public transit riders want better service, not free wifi (Wired)


Above is a page in the survey about growing ridership — which has been a challenge for Metro and other large transit agencies in recent times. The survey emphasizes that by far frequency and travel time are the two most important things for riders. Nonetheless, Wired says agencies keep pursuing other amenities because….

“We’re really not trying to criticize agencies for providing Wi-Fi,” says Steven Higashide, TransitCenter’s senior program analyst. “But it won’t improve service.” Unfortunately, he says, transit officials sometimes make weird decisions because they’re not the ones taking the bus and subway.

Not terribly surprising remark, but ouchies nonetheless. Here’s another page from the study — my eyeballs gravitated to point number two:



I think the station proximity issue is an interesting one. Over the years, I’ve heard from some riders who say they live too far from a station for transit to be practical. And I’ve also heard from riders who say that stations on some lines are far too close and are slowing trains down. The most common target of these complaints: the Expo Line which has two pairs of stations that are barely more than a quarter-mile apart:  Expo Park/USC and Vermont and, further west, Farmdale and La Brea.

My question for Source readers who ride infrequently: what would it take to get you to ride more? Comment please.

Here’s the entire study:


Pokemon Go: get outta here! (NYT)

IMG_2016-07-12-10173063Five experts in different fields debate the new game. One says it’s a great way to discover your community and meet people. Others say hogwash, it’s just another excuse to stare at a glowing screen.

A fundamental change for a more bikeable Los Angeles (AHBELAB)

Key excerpt:

That being said, having been a committed bicyclist in both Chicago and New York, I continue to be shocked by the low percentage of bike riders in Los Angeles. I commute from Silver Lake to Downtown through a combination of low-density residential streets, conventional bike lanes, and sharrows (shared-lane marking). I wake up every morning with overwhelmingly reliable bicycling weather. I do not participate in gridlock traffic. My commute is a predictable half hour journey. So why in my half hour commute do I only see two or three other bikers? What other major city in the U.S. has a climate so perfect for commuting via bike?

My three cents: I think we’re getting there but many people find that some of our region’s bike lanes put them closer to traffic than they would like. And you know how I feel about sharrows: they’re a good way to make it look like you’re doing something when you’re doing nothing.

People keep talking about a regional transportation tax for 2018 (

Transpo taxes or bond measures are likely going to voters this Nov. 8 in L.A. County and the greater San Diego, San Francisco and Seattle areas. In Portland — which generally speaking has been pretty forward-thinking rail- and bike-wise — it appears that they’re aiming for 2018.

Interestingness from the post: “This news may not come as a surprise to people reading between the lines of news bits like the time, back in February, when regional government Metro helped pay to bring Denny Zaneup for a local talk. He was the political organizer behind Los Angeles County’s big transportation ballot issue.”

To learn more about Metro’s sales tax ballot measure, please click here.

Is the car culture dying? (Washington Post)

We’ve written many times that younger folk — those aged 18 to 35 — are getting driver’s licenses at a much lower rate than previous generations. And are also buying fewer cars. Is it a rejection of car culture or something else, asks Robert Samuelson in this blog post.

His answer: not sure, but there’s a new study that suggests the primary consideration is economic. Younger would-be motorists don’t drive because they don’t have the money to buy cars. I like his kicker:

Perhaps today’s millennials will break new ground, even if it is the consequence of their predicament — debts elevated, incomes squeezed — rather than a cause. More of them may decide that city living or clustered suburban communities are more appealing than traditional suburbs. Gentrification may defeat commuting.

Or perhaps not. We simply don’t know. What we do know is that we are, to a large extent, prisoners of the past. The car created today’s residential geography, and it cannot be repealed simply or swiftly.

Hyperloop One was just hit with an explosive lawsuit by its cofounder (The Verge)

Fairly entertaining stuff involving allegations that project employees used the project as a way to get generous contracts for unqualified friends and family members. Hyperloop One responds that the allegations are frivolous and that the project remains on track to one day transport people and goods quickly through giant above-ground tubes.

I was highly skeptical when this thing was first discussed a few years ago. I’ve since reduced my doubts by 26 percent — maybe these folks can work faster than the public sector. Still, I’ll believe it when I see it.

Silicon Valley-drive hype for self-driving cars (NYT)

Speaking of Elon Musk….in this op-ed, tech writer Lee Gomes takes Musk to task for making statement that self-driving cars are ready for mass consumption (previous to the fatal crash in May involving a Tesla with self-driving features). Gomes argues that they’re not but that carmakers are caught up in the hype and saying otherwise.

The big problems: most self-driving cars will still rely on humans taking control when adversity hits. But what, Gomes ask, if the person is asleep or too distracted to quickly take action? Furthermore, Gomes argues that self-driving cars are nowhere near ready when it comes to successfully navigating complex city environments day in and day out. Even Google, he says, admits it may not have a self-driving car for 30 years.

25 replies

  1. The 20 minute evening headways that were implemented beginning last month on all rail lines after 8pm is absolutely ridiculous.

  2. Wifi is hardly necessary on above ground trains, but I adding fixed wifi hotspots to the subway stations would be a nice touch, especially when waiting 20 minutes after missing a train. ?

    Subway station wifi would be a drop in the bucket in contrast to metro’s overall budget and revenues, since it would require no more than a single high bandwidth internet connection (per station) and some college campus-grade transmission infrastructure.

    As for connectivity on the trains, again – no need to do anything for the blue/gold/green/expo lines, since they all have cell phone reception.

    The subways could also benefit from cell service, however. I don’t think metro should pay for it, since any one of the ‘big four’ service providers could easily be lured into paying for and maintaining the infrastructure with the prospect of (temporary) service exclusivity in the heavily traveled tunnels, and then the other carriers would follow, as a result of bleeding customers in LA.

    All that being said, the study is accurate – the lack of connectivity would never deter me from riding, since I can’t enjoy my LTE whilst driving much anyway. And yes, the headway a are a HUGE factor. Traffic isn’t as bad at night, and while I still prefer the train, the evening headways are a big deterrent – unless I plan on drinking of course. ?

  3. Safety, reliability, frequency and convenience of routes are important. Having transit run later at night. Making sure the stops, buses and trains are safe – not just the walk to get to them. Direct routes: Metro is more trouble than it is worth when you have to transfer three times to get somewhere. That’s not exaggeration – Metro removed a bus that went directly to Union Station from my area. Getting to US now requires two trains and a bus from the same departure point.

    Also, they should be looking at increasing transit in car-dependent areas, not scaling it back. It becomes a negative feedback loop: people don’t use the transit because it’s inconveniently scheduled and Metro scales it back to even more inconvenient schedules because of low ridership.

    Even if the bus runs only once an hour it is still a lifeline to many who have no other means of transportation – low income people without cars, the disabled and elderly who do not qualify for ACCESS, younger riders, etc.

    • I don’t believe Metro will ever be an effective transit organization as long as it also has to act as a charity. Running buses once an hour simultaneously takes resources away from providing better service elsewhere, and lets local areas off the hook from filling the transit need. Metro should act like Houston and commit to providing excellent service in certain areas, and let other organizations fill the need in other areas.

      • Interesting thoughts there, I think I agree.

        I’d personally like to see Metro do light rail exclusively, and ditch bus service entirely in the long term, since we need to expand our rail infrastructure more than anything else, and it seems to me that the city run bus systems (Glendale Bee Line, Blue Bus, Long Beach Transit, Culver City bus etc.) are doing a fine job.

        Cities don’t have the enormous budgets needed to invest in rebuilding our rail system, since they have to do city stuff like pick up garbage and pay the firefighters and such.

        Since Metro are the only ones who CAN make those investments necessary to rebuild the light rail network lost in the 50s (which would be singularly transformative for the region, imagine an LA where you didn’t have to think about traffic or parking…) they should focus 100% of their resources on doing THAT.


      • How is it charity when the Los Angeles transit authority runs a bus in the city of Los Angeles serving Los Angeles taxpayers that actually does see ridership? And who exactly is supposed to fill the hole if they don’t? Are we really going to aspire to being a city where some areas of the city are completely cut off from mass transit? Is it better to have elderly people living in those areas – people who shouldn’t necessarily be driving – stay behind the wheel because they have no other options? I suppose we could ask those people to move to other areas of the city where there’s safe, affordable, rent stabilized housing…oh, wait.

        Houston is not a good example of a city to which we should aspire. They are a city with a massive divide between the affluent and the lower-socioeconomic strata. Those without cars in Houston are completely cut off from employment and life services and suffer greatly as a result. We’d do better to emulate London, which has public transit everywhere.

        • No you’re absolutely right, I think the best way to approach bus service is to provide frequent shuttle service filling in any gaps in the rail network in areas where transit ridership and population density are insufficient to justify building a rail line.

          I just think that the most heavily traveled bus routes should all be replaced with faster and more efficient rail service when possible.

  4. I would love to take Metro more, but the bus only runs past my house once an hour (on Magnolia Blvd in Burbank), which makes it highly impractical. It doesn’t help that there isn’t a rapid bus down La Brea, and a lot of stops.

  5. RE: Biking
    I am a biker and I often combine biking and taking the Metro. Two points: in the Metro light rail, people of stand in the area reserved for bikes and luggage, so that bikes can’t be compactly stacked against each other, and I sometimes have to have my bike in the exit area. Also, I understand that downtown LA is undergoing a lot of construction, but the Spring street bike lane is essentially useless, as intermittently, for half it’s length it is blocked by various projects.

  6. Interestingly, people keep mentioning wanting to shut down the two stops I use (Rancho Park/Westwood and USC)! I notice every day that they are heavily used. Yes the USC ones are relatively close together but that shouldn’t matter–a lot of London tube stops are much more so! It has to do with the number of people using the system in that area. What would be most helpful is to see if we can build underpasses on some of the most problematic Expo line at-grade crossings. Since shutting the whole line down for 1-2 years to elevate or sink the remaining at-grade sections is out of the question, perhaps creating a few underpasses may be a better solution? It’s much easier to detour around a closed intersection for a few months. (We really shot ourselves in the foot not spending the money the first time around to grade-separate most of the line.)

    • You forget this is earthquake country i don’t care to be on an elevated platform and have the train fall over

  7. Frequency, extended hours of operations (always concerned of missing last bus or train sevice for the day or early morning!!!), cleanness, smell, comfort of seats, room, group and individual rider’s behavior, and lastly adjacent land uses and perception of safety.

  8. Your ridership is limited to the following single commuters it doesn’t make sense for more then 2 people to take metro. Usually parents with kids prefer the car i have a friend who is a father and time is important to him and metro always is double the regular car commute. Your data shows good usage during commutr hours but the only reason i use metro at night is for dodger games maybe you offer more frequent night service around lines that have entertainment

  9. I would also add Westwood/Rancho Park to that list. There doesn’t seem to be much that isn’t also accessible from the Sepulveda stop, which is also better positioned in terms of layout to be a hub for bus routes (e.g. BBB R12 could be rerouted to there instead).

    The Expo Line is sometimes frustrating because it shows both the best and worst of what LA Metro Rail is and could be. The stretch between Culver City and Expo/Western is great because, despite traveling a significant distance at grade, the at grade crossings have signal preemption (or so it seems) and very effective quad gates, so the trains can travel more or less at their top speed (I’ve clocked it right at 55 MPH not infrequently). Skipping the Farmdale station, despite its proximity to the delicious Mel’s Fish Shack, would make a great stretch even better.

    But then you arrive at Exposition Park, at which point you have to deal with frequent stops and low priority at grade crossings more or less the rest of the way to 7th Street. It’s a transition so jarring that it makes you wonder if, after flying along so well, you wouldn’t just be better off to get out and walk.

    Slowness at the other end, at DTSM, makes a bit more sense due to the physical constraints of the ROW, although sitting across the street from the DTSM terminus station, with an ostensibly green light, waiting for what seems like way too long, can be frustrating.

  10. Yes, frequency and reliability. I’ve bailed on the Gold Line the last two times I’ve attempted it. Stepping off the stairs at Sierra Madre and watching the train leave is not big deal, until I see that the next train is 20 minutes later. And this is during the day.

    • A lot of times those signs are wrong on the Gold Line, at least at Arcadia and Sierra Madre – I use one or the other 5 times a week. I got on at Sierra Madre yesterday around 9 a.m. and it said 17 minutes, but I waited no longer than 5 minutes. My method probably doesn’t hold up, but if the sign says 12 minutes and I know its scheduled every 7 minutes, there is usually one coming much sooner unless there is a delay on the line.

  11. Maybe because it’s also very warm most of the time and who wants to arrive soaked in sweat.

  12. Interesting Wired article. As someone who would fall into the “choice rider” (car owner), I completely agree that frequency and transit speed are by far the most important factors. On that note, I contacted LADOT to voice my support for signal preemption and got this response:

    Thank you for your email regarding signal preemption on the Expo and Blue Lines in LA City intersections. While LADOT does control the traffic signal timing, we do not determine the mode of operation at these signals when a train arrives. That decision was made by Metro when the rail lines were built, and the decision was to provide priority and not preemption. As such, the design of the rail system does not provide the inputs necessary to preempt the traffic signals in the sections where trains run along Flower St, Washington Bl, and Exposition Bl east of Arlington Av. Therefore, preemption is not possible without substantial upgrade to the tracks, signals and installation of railroad warning gates. All of these items are the responsibility of Metro, the operating agency for the trains. They are investigating the possibility of doing these upgrades, but no decision has been reached. Until such time that a decision is made and the necessary upgrades are in place, we have no ability to provide preemption. However we do provide priority, which is a extension of the green light when trains approach a traffic signal. This increases their opportunity to cross through without stopping, but does not guarantee that trains will not be stopped.

    This LADOT engineer is claiming that the decision to implement signal preemption actually lies with Metro, not LADOT. Can you confirm that his comments are accurate? If so, why is it popularly understood that LADOT controls this decision?


    • Hi Kyle;

      Thanks for sending this over. I’ve asked operations staff to take a look.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

    • Hey Kyle —

      Just wanted to make sure I had this right. The LADOT response is fine. To clarify: 1) Signal preemption — i.e. the installation of gates and other equipment — that would always give trains the right to first pass through an intersection is ultimately Metro’s responsibility and both LADOT and Metro officials have said full preemption would carry impacts to traffic, especially in DTLA, and; 2) the degree of traffic signal priority is ultimately LADOT’s decision — i.e. how long a signal remains green to allow trains to pass. Metro works with LADOT to provide information on train schedules.

      Hope that helps,

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

      • Thanks for all the information on signal preemption. I feel that Metro and LADOT should immediately come to some sort of resolution. Seeing trains stopped for traffic signals at the entrance to the Metro Center Tunnel in ludicrous. All the critics of light rail have to do is to point to these numerous examples and claim, partially correctly, that LRT systems are no better than buses.

        The Expo line is particularly bad. There are several grade crossings without crossing gates, and to me this makes no sense. In particular, a YouTube video ( shows an inbound Expo train stopping for traffic signals at numerous grade crossings. You have stated that crossing gates take too much room. What is needed is to either make more room or install an absolute traffic signal preemption system.

        The Long Island Rail Road and Metro North run commuter trains at full track speeds through well over 300 grade crossings in third rail territory. Even the Chicago CTA has grade crossings on some of its subway-elevated trains’ third rail territory..

        Someone on your staff and someone from LADOT should view this video together and come up with a solution to perhaps shave 5-10 minutes off the schedule.

        • It seems like a pretty common occurrence that trains pulling into the Santa Monica terminus station have to wait at a red light just to cross 5th St so that they can pull into the station, and then have to wait again for a red light to be able to pull back out of the station. I know that’s not on LADOT, but you want to talk about bad impressions for light rail, well that right there is exhibit A, holding passengers hostage on the train literally across the street from the train station while cars zip to/from the freeway.

  13. Self-Driving automobiles probably will need a fail-safe function that periodically but at random intervals sounds a loud TAKE CONTROL warning that requires several driver inputs such as slight steering wheel movements and tapping the brakes within, say 10 seconds, to keep the system on-line.

    If there is no driver response, the vehicle then comes to a safe stop and the system can’t be rebooted until the driver has manually once again brought the vehicle back to highway speed or otherwise assumed full control. Again, any vehicle failure must be fail-safe.

    In turn, while in automatic mode, should the driver take manual control for any reason, the system should go into a fail-safe mode and can’t be rebooted until after the vehicle has been brought to a complete stop and then manually reinitialized.

    As is the case with commercial aircraft, there probably should be a federal agency like the FAA to establish and enforce safety regulations using inputs from the various manufacturers as to what is absolutely necessary and what is technically feasible. In turn, the manufacturers should provide test tracks that periodically test all possible operating modes and potential failures, as well as randomly imposing problems, such as a pedestrian or another vehicle becoming a potential collision hazard.

    As for automatic routing, the highways will have to have sensors that continuously communicate with the vehicle and provide information such as vehicle location, speed limits, and any alerts.

    For those riding in such a vehicle, ask the designers, engineers, and advocates if they would feel safe in an aircraft that they were flying in had no on-board flight crew and no remote pilot. Although some Air Force and CIA drones are autonomous, at least they have remote pilots. Being in a vehicle with no driver would be the same if not worse, as there is no remote driver to take over in an emergency.

  14. From Streetblog’s coverage of the service study: “When transit riders were asked which type of service improvement they value most, increased frequency rated second. Among transit riders who were satisfied with their local transit service, 81 percent gave the system high marks for service frequency. Meanwhile, among those who were unsatisfied, just 32 percent said the same. “People felt very viscerally how low frequencies impacted them if they miss a transfer,” said Higashide.”

    Yet LA has prioritized extending light rail to the edges of the county rather than increasing the number of lines in central LA and creating an interconnected network (walkability was the #1 concern according to the study). At the same time, service levels have been cut at night, rather than increased. If the light rail system does not fully take off in LA despite the billions of dollars expended on it (including the new R2), people will look back at these two decisions as the cause of the failure. LA is so close to building a transformative light rail system, but these two decisions are headscratching to put it mildly.

    • Related to this, there is an item on TransportPolitic at entitled “Frequent service, not escalator access, is what attracts transit users.” The article frets about the New York MTA spending $4 BILLION on a new World Trade Center Transportation Hub which does not add any more subway trains and cars to the system.

      It also discusses a Boston MTBA proposal for the Green Line extension, which would extend light rail service from Cambridge into Somerville and Medford—all three are close-in suburbs of Boston—featured none of the extravagances of downtown Manhattan’s new transit terminal. Yet it too was designed with unnecessary features that, while nice, did little to actually solve the travel needs of its future users. Its projected construction costs exploded such that officials announced last year the proposal could be cancelled. Now, after several months of review, the MBTA and the state government have voted to proceed with design changes meant to significantly bring down costs—but without compromising the quality of transit service to be offered to riders.

      In short, the gist of the article is that passengers want frequent service and shorter transit times, not “Bells and Whistles” that look nice but do not add service.