April 2019 update on NextGen Bus Study: a look at service concepts

Over the last year-and-a-half, Metro has been working with community members and numerous stakeholders on restructuring the agency’s vast bus system. This is an effort we’re calling the NextGen Bus Study.

The aim is simple. Metro wants to create a faster bus system that better serves L.A. County. This post will look first at some background on NextGen and then below at some service concepts Metro is considering — including ‘hybrid’ bus routes. 

First, some background. Buses carry about 70 percent of Metro’s boardings but, like many transit agencies around the U.S., Metro bus ridership has declined significantly. Metro has gone from almost 371 million annual bus boardings in 2009 to 275.7 million in 2018. Why? Among many reasons, traffic has impacted bus speeds and ridership patterns are different due to changes in how, when and where people work and travel.

Metro typically adjusts routes and schedules twice a year but the bus system hasn’t been fundamentally restructured in more than 25 years. Metro thinks — and apparently so do riders and ex-riders — that the time is very ripe for an overhaul. 

Extensive community input has gone into the NextGen effort:

•Metro’s advertising and marketing efforts about NextGen have had more than 10 million “touchpoints” — i.e. the number of people potentially exposed to our messages about NextGen.

•Over the past year Metro has hosted and participated in more than 200 events, meetings and presentations.

•Metro has received feedback from more than 12,000 people through surveys conducted on the bus, online, at events and in person. This culminated in Metro hosting 18 public workshops in the past three months attended by more than 950 people, resulting in 1,500-plus comments. 

•Metro has created a NextGen Working Group that includes 50-plus representatives from Metro Service Councils, community-based groups, faith communities, business associations, educational institutions, advocacy groups and environmental organizations. They have met with us five times over the past year and have provided important insight and feedback about reliability, safety, security, connectivity and accessibility of our bus system. They have also helped us spread awareness of the NextGen Bus Study.

•Here is a summary of what we have heard: 

 

So where is NextGen now?

Metro staff are developing ‘Service Concepts’ — a set of policy choices and guidelines that define how the bus system should be redesigned and what kind of service should be provided in various communities. Metro staff plan to bring these concepts to the Metro Board this spring for their consideration. Once approved, the next step will be to redesign our bus routes and then hold public hearings.

A few items in particular:

•One concept Metro is looking at is a hybrid of local and rapid bus service that would use bus lanes, bus bulbs (i.e. the sidewalk comes out to the street so buses don’t have to pull over), traffic signal priority, all-door boarding and improved bus stop spacing to speed up bus service in key corridors. With the cooperation of cities who manage streets and signals, these improvements could allow us to merge local and rapid bus service in a way that could lead to better overall service on key corridors.

 

•Stop spacing is always a difficult issue for transit agencies as no one wants to lose their stop. At the same time, too many stops too close together slow overall service. That said, Metro thinks it can optimize spacing and speed up service without resulting in longer walks for many people — although it may mean using a different stop.

•Metro’s goal is to largely redeploy existing services to create a better bus system. In some cases, that means improving bus service in key corridors where there is already demand and finding better ways to serve areas where bus ridership is extremely low. Example: look at ridership along the Metro 108 bus that runs between Pico Rivera and Marina del Rey. Ridership is very concentrated in the middle, where the market demand is.

What if, in some cases, Metro concentrated its resources to serve routes with the highest demand and found other ways to better serve places like Marina del Rey — where ridership is a very low at 15 people per hour?

Although there are many vehicle trips made around Marina del Rey, we’ve found that very few people want to travel east onto Slauson, where Line 108 operates. Rather, people want to go north and south. With better coordination with other local bus agencies and perhaps new mobility-on-demand services that Metro and municipal bus agencies are developing, Metro believes this could improve transit and ridership in the Marina. 

Here is another case study: bus service in the Sylmar, Sunland and La Crescenta areas. Even though there is considerable demand for shorter bus rides in this area, Metro’s current bus service puts a lot of resources into very long routes — some going all the way to downtown L.A. By contrast, Metro has found that only one percent of all trips — by car or transit — are headed from those areas to downtown L.A. More circulator-type bus service for short trips and better, more frequent connections to the Red Line in NoHo may better serve the market.

Finally, one other point that has received some discussion: how much money is Metro willing to spend on NextGen?

The general idea is to use existing resources more wisely by making the bus system more competitive and efficient. By attracting more rides, Metro thinks it can increase revenues to be reinvested in the system. Likewise, by improving system efficiency, Metro can provide the same amount of service at a lower cost or provide more service at the same cost, depending on how you look at it. The gist of it: Metro staff believes the bus system can be improved without significantly expanding its cost. 

Your thoughts on how NextGen is shaping up? Comment please!

14 replies

    • I have been using MTA solely for my transportation since 2003. One cause for the decline in ridership is partially due to the fact that your operators allow many people on for free. I see it every day of the week. Another issue is that there are many that would not even consider riding a bus. I drive for a limo service and have suggested to people I drive who work in Burbank and live in Pasadena to try out your line 501 but they will not take a bus ever. Buses will always take extra time because of many reasons. Every day I see people who wait until they get on the bus to get their money to pay for the fare or dig through their purse for their TAP card even though they have been waiting 20 minutes for the bus. Buses have traffic and streetlights to contend with. Trying to speed up something that will not go extremely fast might have an adverse effect. I would love to give more input directly but you schedule the public meetings when I am at work so feel free to contact me if you want any other ideas.

  1. The busiest arterial bus routes- local, rapid, express, etc.- should be prioritized for this “hybrid” plan.

  2. Another suggestion, so many senior citizens are left without transportation and have to take a taxi which is very expensive for them. Manhattan Beach has a wonderful Dial A Ride program which many residence of their city use, especially their senior citizens. I wish Metro would examine their program and put this type of service available for more seniors in the Los Angeles Area. Perhaps, Metro could coordinate with cities to pay part of the price if they are interested.

    • Hi Rick;

      That’s a good point and I’ll forward your comment to the folks upstairs. FWIW, a lot of funding for transportation in cities around L.A. County comes through Metro and its various funding programs, including a portion of each of the four sales taxes approved by L.A. County voters. I absolutely agree with you that Dial-A-Ride programs are generally very popular in the places that have them. Some cities make them available for all over a certain age, others for folks with disabilities. Metro has a couple of on-demand pilot programs. The VIA rides started in January from three stations (Artesia, El Monte and NoHo) and cost just a $1.75 (with a TAP card) and the agency hopes to launch its Microtransit program later in the year. Not quite the same as dial-a-ride but similar — on-demand rides for a low price.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  3. I’ve commented on this in the purview of NextGen, but I’ll say it again: for the suburbs that are perennially underserved b/c of low ridership, a program like VIA or a partnership with rideshare/bikeshare can completely replace scheduled (or non-rush hour) service. The 78 runs past my house in Arcadia, but that bus is pretty empty east of Rosemead, and the mythical service that is the 268 (once an hour, ends at 8 pm) might as well not exist. If I can get a P2P pickup within say, 15 minutes of arranging for a ride, I would never need to back the car out of the driveway. Some of this could be variable-fare to encourage behavior. If your trip ends or begins at a transit station (El Monte), then you get charged the local fare; if not, then you get charged the Lyft/Uber fare; or just run shuttle service to/from transit stations.

    Personally I love the VIA concept, I just live outside the service area and the 268 is a nonstarter for me because I get home late.

  4. Yeah, I’ve occasionally ridden the portion of lines 108 and 110 on the westside, between Lincoln Blvd and Culver City, and they’re almost empty. If the Culver City Bus can get people to the same place for a lower price, Metro can’t compete.

    What’s often confused me is the gap in the bus network between Playa Vista and Playa Del Rey, where lines 110 and 115 each have endpoints, with nothing between the two. Although I doubt that connecting such a small stretch would get you any significant ridership, it at least gives riders more options.

    If there are other small gaps like this, it might be worth looking into. The cost and added time for covering such distances wouldn’t be huge.

  5. I remembered one question from the survey I took, whether I prefer easier transfer or a better direct service (I can’t remember exactly what the question is, but something like this). Most people chose for better direct service. I guess people prefer direct service over easier transfer is because under the current system transfer is unbearable. Would that mean transfer is something Metro should really focus on? I think Jarrett Walker once said public transit is about networking. To my understanding, “network” means transfer.

    I have a cheap suggestion regarding the transfer issue (you can ignore it if it appears to be non-sense to you). Take a look at the bus schedules, we have buses with headway of 10 minutes, 12-13 minutes, 15 minutes, 18 minutes, 20 minutes, 22 minutes, 25 minutes, 30 minutes, 35 minutes, 40 minutes, 45 minutes, 50 minutes, and 60 minutes. Can we have simpler headway patterns? For example, 10 minutes, 15 minutes, 30 minutes, and 60 minutes. It would be easier for passengers to memorize the schedule, and more important, it would be easier for passengers to plan transfer.

  6. Oh please bring back the rapid express if you’re gonna still be adding even more stops to the rapid lines Metro.

    These routes have been getting slower over the years and no, more traffic isn’t the reason, otherwise explain why these routes are still slow after 9pm.

    Just, even if the Rapid Express were to ever be brought back, experiment with it right, don’t just dump a bunch of buses every 5 min during rush hour and then disappear during the day, that and the 940 idea is what essentially killed what could have been the only other alternative to rail. Add a decent frequency throughout the day, and figure out the appropriate frequency at the time of day.

    If the only gain out of all this is an enhancement of the 9-5 commute this whole thing is going to fail from the start.

    I don’t mind a hybrid option but; it depends on where this hybrid option would be best effective. This won’t be effective on some routes. Again, while during rush hour this may be a good alternative, being forced to ride a bus with more stops after 9pm would be even more of a drag than it is now.

    • I think the 920 should be brought back- but I forget why it was cancelled. I do recall reading something about buses on Wilshire being impacted by poor street conditions. We need a regional, all-day bus service that can take streets or freeways. Out in the Valley, there’s plans for a BRT-line for the Northeast Valley to CSUN. The strongest candidate for a route follows Roscoe Boulevard. They can try building the ridership by introducing a route that goes from CSUN to North Hollywood via Reseda, Roscoe, and the 170. That freeway is fairly open and rush hour could be navigable still.

  7. A few suggestions for what you can call the hybrid routes: upgraded routes or priority routes. The latter applies because you’re prioritizing the bus over single passenger vehicles.

  8. I think all door boarding will work great, it is a feature on the Metro Silver Line that quickly onboards the crowd. I would really like to see a tracking system like GPS that is used for Uber and Lyft. This will allow people to schedule much more efficiently for bus trips. If the goal is to increase ridership then perhaps there should also be an incentive like reduced fare prices for couples and groups. Another possible suggestion would be the addition of more bike racks on buses. With investments toward LA River trails there should be consideration for more cyclists to fit on the bus as well.

  9. Bus frequency is the most important factor in improving the bus system. Period. Having all day 10 minute service or better, 7 days a week, on major arterials like La Brea, Ventura, etc. is the only way people are going to view riding the bus as an important part of their travel patterns or for making transfers. This should be obvious but given Metro’s current bus schedules, this doesnt appear to the the case. There are often intervals of 25 to 30 minutes or more depending on time of day. The 212 on La Brea is an example. It’s honestly baffling. It makes using transit infeasible time wise to get to most places outside of walking distance from a rail line or major bus line that just happens to have decent headways, which are far and few.