Happy Earth Day, carrot vs stick vs bus ridership: How We Roll, April 22

Good afternoon and Good Earth Day — we hope that you’re enjoying the free rides on Metro buses and trains today. The point of the freebies: taking transit instead of driving alone is good for our local and planetary air + climate.

Above: two visions of the L.A. area. Which do you prefer?


Very well-reported story in Wired today on Metro’s NextGen Bus Study that will restructure the agency’s vast bus system.

As the story notes, Metro used location data from smart phones (stripped of identifying info) to learn more about travel patterns in L.A. County. What we learned: as would be expected, there are defined morning and afternoon rush hours. And…

Partially obscured by the evening commute, though, was a third peak. That was new. “What we know from traditional surveys is, people remember their biggest trips,” Komanduri says. “But what people forget is ‘I’m picking up the laundry,’ ‘I’m stopping to grab coffee.’ We see more of these data captured by cell phones.” Those trips, the futzing around of daily life, tend to happen in off-peak hours—from midday into the evening, 8 or 9 o’clock. “That’s traditionally when agencies cut down their services.” The buses are slacking off when they could be serving a whole other population.

Not only that, it was found there’s a big, underserved market for short trips on buses whereas Metro has put a lot of emphasis on trying to speed up long-distance bus trips. The result: a lot of long bus routes with some sections that are very under-used.

The other big emphasis of the article is the topic of bus lanes and the carrot-and-stick approach. The carrot: bus lanes = faster commutes. The stick: bus lanes could make driving harder and give more people incentive to ride the bus. Excerpt #2:

This is the baller move: Stop making cars easy and everything else hard. Tear down some freeways. Make retail districts pedestrian-only. Strew commercial corridors with curbside parklets, protected bike lanes, scooter-share services, and apartment buildings with first-floor retail and no parking. Make it illegal to park on the street—on every street. Put buses and trains everywhere.

Bold words. I personally wouldn’t go that far on many of those topics. But I do like the sentiment: if you really want to change, you actually have to change.



Over at Streetsblog LA, Joe Linton takes a look at Metro’s proposed rules over scooter parking and other — warning: jargon ahead! — ‘micro-mobility’ devices. His take: he feels the agency is treating scooters more as a nuisance than a popular, environmentally-friendly way of getting around.

Wanna read the staff report. Here you go. Sleepy? You’ve been warned: it’s not exactly the Mountain Dew of staff reports.


A look by the LAT at SB 50 through the prism that is the city of Palo Alto. The much-discussed bill would allow more dense housing near frequent transit lines — including in single-family home neighborhoods.

As the article notes, the mayor of Palo Alto is strongly against the bill, which would rezone much of the city. Interestingly, the city’s Vice Mayor is for SB 50. Opponents say there are other ways to cure housing woes while proponents point to median home values north of $3 million as the reason for doing something.

As we noted last week, the L.A. City Council voted unanimously for a resolution to oppose the bill. Stay tuned. Much dust remains to settle before this bill gets outta the henhouse. My take: it’s one thing to be politically provocative. It’s another to be politically successful.


Missed this article from earlier in the month: the Daily News looks at the increased security presence on Metro and the challenge of luring back riders.


L.A. Council Member Mike Bonin — who represents much of the city’s far Westside — is asking residents for their to take a survey on Metro’s Sepulveda Transit Corridor project, which will connect the Westside and San Fernando Valley via a heavy rail line or monorail. Here’s the most recent Source post on the alternatives being studied.


Things to read whilst transiting: this article in the Atlantic on the sports gambler who has been cleaning up on Jeopardy.


A lil’ Earth Day music for you and a look back at how television used to look:







17 replies

  1. Re: the Wired article, it also sounds like there’s a lot of untapped potential to get folks on bikes considering so many short trips. More physically protected bike lanes are needed and it’s time we stop asking whether or not bike lanes need to be on as many streets as possible and start asking how they can be done RIGHT!

  2. For bus lines with extremely high rush-hour frequencies like the 720 on Wilshire, I hope Metro will consider loosening the policy of adhering precisely to a timetable during rush hour (which are difficult to adhere to anyways due to unpredictable traffic). The current practice of some bus drivers stopping to idle their buses when traffic is unexpectedly light in order to adhere to a timetable is extremely frustrating to passengers already onboard, especially when the bus is eventually leapfrogged by another bus not doing the same thing. More to the point, intentionally slowing down a bus (via idling) to adhere to a timetable on a high-frequency bus line is pointless and leads to customer dissatisfaction. Any regular 720 commuter can attest to the frustrated looks on every passenger when this occurs. I understand the well-intentioned general policy of keeping buses “on-time” so that people don’t miss their bus at the bus stop, but on a high-frequency line (buses arriving every few minutes during rush hour) this is really not an issue.

  3. If Metro wishes to serve the “underserved market for short trips on buses,” they should consider changing what a fare buys.
    Instead of a _one way_ trip with two hours of transfers: How about a fare buying two hours of riding?
    [Transfers good in any direction.]

  4. Hey Steve, do you know why Expo is only running two car trains for the last week or so? Doesn’t metro have plenty of new trains at this point?

    • Hi Zach —

      Some of the light rail cars that normally would be on the line are in maintenance at the moment.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  5. “Tear down some freeways.” I can’t believe the attitudes about freeways and cars from some people. Unless you want cars filled up on every residential street and highway, freeways is how you get them out of the streets.

    “Make it illegal to park on the street—on every street.” Then people will park on the street because there’s no way to enforce a parking ticket since everyone has one. Businesses will cry because no customers can park nearby.

    LA city design and population causes congestion because everyone goes downtown during work hours and the population isn’t big enough for mass transit. Suburban neighborhoods don’t work in a city, but LA is a large suburban neighborhood. Not enough people have their favorite grocery stores, restaurants, and work places near their homes so they use their cars to get around to everything.

    SB50 is the correct approach (even if half baked and doesn’t go far enough) if you want to Europeanize and Japanize the population for mass transit. I also strongly advise the state to invest more in local mass transit for LA and SF since they are the major 2 cities that need it the most. Change the zoning laws to allow more businesses to mix into residential areas. If freeways can’t get built (like 710 through Alhambra and So. Pasadena), then obviously encourage residents to seek employment where they live. In any case, the general LA area is not safe to use mass transit outside of daytime hours.

  6. One key cause of lack of enthusiasm in bus ridership is comfort. Many would ride a train (light rail, subway or commuter) as they are smooth and mostly clean.

    Buses, including the Orange Line, get rather bumpy, have cramped seats and usually need a good power washing.

    What’s up with the dark overlays on the windows? Many of them severely reduce the view, which causes passengers to focus on the interior of the bus, rather than the outside world.

    • Hi LA Steve;

      The overlays are usually ads, which produce revenue for the agency. I agree they do obscure the view, although I’ve found it happens to me not too often on the Gold Line.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  7. I support Metro’s offering free rides on Earth Day, Christmas Eve, and New Year’s Eve. But those of us who support Metro by buying 30 day passes should receive a 1 day extension on our pass on dates that Metro gives free rides to everyone else. I am tired of being insulted by Metro on Earth Day, or being insulted as a holiday tradition.

    • Hi Dominick;

      You’re not the first to make this point and I’m glad to send your comment upstairs. I do think it’s fair to point out that the NYE and Xmas Eve rides are for partial days and these free rides really amount to about two services days of the entire year.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

    • Hey Gloria —

      You’re welcome. That video was a nice find from Days of Yore, which are the days I generally like the most 🙂

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  8. Steve, From reading your articles, it seems to me that many young people respond to them. The young people who commute to work via bus or rail are forgetting seniors and disabled people who can not drag groceries on a bus or a train. For someone to suggest we do away with cars or freeways is ridiculous.

    • Hi Richard;

      I think that’s a very fair point and something that the urbanist crowd might consider when making their arguments and trying to expand their base.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

    • E-bikes could be an option. You could easily add some accessories that make it easier to carry groceries. I live in Chicago and encounter a good number of elderly and disabled folks who do their grocery shopping via car.
      Plenty of cities (yes, even some in the United States) have done away with freeways so there is precedent for this. It may not mean the cities are FREE of them but they have FEWER because they decided to invest in space for PEOPLE and not cars.