Metro’s Better Bus program aims to elevate the bus riding experience

UPDATE, April 15: Staff provided an update to the Metro Board’s Operations Committee today. Here’s the new staff report and presentation. Better Bus is currently scheduled to return to the Board next mont.

Here’s the original post from March: 

Metro staff this month are briefing the Metro Board of Directors on Better Bus, a $2.1-billion, five-year plan to greatly improve the Metro Bus system to address racial inequities and to provide quicker trips and a more comfortable experience for riders.

Here are the staff report and attachments. A discussion of Better Bus will take place in the Board’s Operations, Safety and Customer Experience Committee on Thursday, March 18, at 9 a.m. The meeting will be livestreamed and archived if you would like to watch later.

The goals of Better Bus are to speed up the buses on our streets, improve the ease and convenience of riding the bus, and improve the safety and comfort while waiting at bus stops as well as on board buses. The elements of the plan seek to address persistent issues that riders have long complained about. Here are a few of the proposed improvements:

•Add more bus lanes and traffic signal priority.

•Improve on-time performance.

•Improve cleanliness.

•Supply more reliable real-time information to riders.

•Increase options for security.

•Modernize bus stops by adding better seating, shelter from the elements and upgraded lighting.

Stakeholders and riders who closely follow Metro may recognize that elements of Better Bus are also key components of other Metro plans. The idea here is to create a program that consolidates all of Metro’s bus upgrades under one roof — something Metro has not done in the past.

There is no doubt that Better Bus is a timely and critical effort.

Even before the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic began, Metro ran the third busiest bus system in the United States. The bus system consistently carries about 75 percent of our riders in any given year and that number has inched upward during the pandemic.

As was the case prior to COVID-19, bus riders who have continued to ride during the pandemic are mostly Latino or Black and are more likely to work in essential jobs and live in neighborhoods that have taken the brunt of the pandemic in terms of the number of cases,  deaths and higher unemployment.

On top of that, most of our bus riders already live in economically distressed neighborhoods; the annual median household income of our bus riders remains stuck at a discouraging $18,000 in a region renowned for its high cost of living and soaring housing prices.

The bottom line: our system of 2,200 buses and 123 routes is a mobility lifeline for many of our bus riders — with thousands of bus stops close to peoples’ homes, jobs and other critical destinations.

Some helpful background: Better Bus began as an internal working group at Metro to coordinate ongoing bus projects that span a variety of departments. Going forward, we believe Better Bus is the best way for riders and stakeholders to track the important work we’re doing.

Better Bus will build on efforts that are underway.

Most prominently, the Metro Board last fall approved the NextGen Bus Plan, the first overhaul of Metro’s bus routes in more than 20 years. NextGen took a hard look at our routes and ridership and aimed to put bus service where it’s needed the most while increasing frequency on most of our routes.

The first round of NextGen changes went into effect in December and we’ll be installing the rest of the NextGen changes in June and September — when we’re restoring our full amount of pre-pandemic bus service.

The Metro Board in late 2020 approved Metro’s first Customer Experience Plan, which includes 37 bus-specific improvements that are in the planning stages or underway. These upgrades will be part of Better Bus and among them are several that received initial funding as part of Metro’s current fiscal year budget:

•A pilot program to provide emergency shelter vouchers for unhoused riders.

•A pilot program that quickly identifies riders impacted by a missed run or pass-up in real-time and offers them a free ride code for an on-demand shared ride service to get them where they need to go.

•A Digital Rider Alert system to enable riders to receive customized service and emergency alerts through text messages and other channels.

An annual customer survey of Metro Riders conducted last year reaffirmed the pain points that bus riders experience — including unreliable and slow buses, long wait times, insufficient delay or service advisory information, uninviting bus stops and, in particular, concerns about safety and homelessness.

Addressing these concerns is the core of Better Bus. Of course, improvements do have costs. Much of Metro’s available funding is already assigned to operations (including state of good repair) and transit expansion. Better Bus is already partially funded, and staff will return to the Board in the spring with a proposed funding strategy, including options for state and federal grants and the use of existing funds, for the rest of the improvements.

What do you think Source readers? What issues would you like Better Bus to tackle?

We also recommend taking a look at this opinion piece in the NYT advocating for better bus service coast-to-coast. 

12 replies

  1. Thank you. Have you looked into pallet shelters on Metro parking lots, similar to the one Hope of the Valley and Krekorian’s office set up recently?

    • THAT’S NOT MERTO’S JOB, to supply housing! Metro’s job is to supply good, clean, reliable transportation, NOT HOUSING! If someone needs housing, then there are agencies, out there, much better suited for the job. IT’s NOT the job of ANY transportation agency to provide housing for those who don’t want to or won’t , follow the rules of society.

  2. In addition to clean and reliable buses. We need drivers who WILL enforce the rules about unwashed homeless boarding with a ton of their personal belongings/garbage bags and mentally ill. Other passengers on board do not need to be subjected to health and safety risks with some of this population. A driver’s job is not just to move the bus along a route. It is to handle any and all problems that arise while they are on duty. That is their job…Not ignore what they see is going on..Some do.

    • I couldn’t agree more! Operators say that they aren’t paid to do enforcement, and have been instructed to instead call for law enforcement, which may or may not come and probably take 30 to 40 minutes to arrive. Operators, I’ve talked to, say that their job is to keep the bus on time and to drive safely, and that’s it.

    • I doubt that METRO will EVER GET THAT MESSAGE. It seems as METRO doesn’t want bus shelters. Here in Los Angeles, it takes a TON of red tape to even have a bus shelter considered, let alone installed.

    • This! In addition to reliable and safe bus service, the bus shelters are essentially the front face of any bus system. If it looks unsafe on any bus stop, ain’t no one coming to ride.

  3. Joanne, I would suggest that you are uninformed about what the bus operator’s job is. They do not police the bus. Metro determines who rides to the bus. The bus operator job is to transport the patron safely, efficiently and in a timely manner. They enforce the rules that Metro allows them to enforce. Dealing with the homeless is a Los Angeles City problem. Metro has contracts with various policies agencies to enforce the rules they create for patron on the bus and on the routes. THIS IS NOT THE BUS OPERATOR’S JOB.

  4. Not surprisingly, none of the proposals even mention our front line employees, (bus operators and maintenance employees). Any successful business knows that employees are the most valuable assets. You cannot be successful is employees are not included in the proposed plan. In addition there are several areas that are not addressed, (see below)

    As a retired transportation professional with concern about the conditions of public transit. I have worked on the front lines of public transit for over 40 years in various capacities. This experience has allowed me to observe, assess, and form conclusions about what is needed to resolve some of the thorny challenges that public transit faces in this 21st Century.
    Without question, the COVID19 pandemic has brought in its wake new and troubling challenges. Still, I contend that many of these problems have existed for some time before the pandemic but have been neglected as transit leaders struggle with trying to understand the issues of low ridership, poor employee attendance, discipline, inadequate training and training support, retention, and bus accidents which have been at an unacceptably high level for several years.
    I have worked for two of the country’s most prominent transit authorities, New York City Transit and Los Angeles Metro, as a bus operator, front line supervisor involved in training, accident investigation, special projects on bus and rail, and various related activities.
    Despite its devastation, I firmly believe that the pandemic allows us to re-invent public transit to fit the 21st Century better than it has ever been. And this starts with a complete redesign of our buses and boarding access for patrons. Some transit companies have introduced a “contactless” payment system for patrons boarding and, in some cities, no free ridership. A good start, but it just involves the welcomed use of technology in this area. What is left is a need to physically redesign the bus that includes a separate cab for the bus operator with their entry. While this reduces contact with patrons, it protects them physically. It helps them focus on their immediate tasks: to operate the bus safely, thus reducing bus accidents that are costly and essentially reduces critical resources from bus operations and negatively impacts performance.
    One other area of significant concern is operating efficiency. We have lost ridership for several reasons beyond the pandemic. These areas include health and safety (buses and rail have become homeless shelters and homeless hotels that endanger regular patrons’ health and safety while displacing them), unnecessary service delays, bus accidents, breakdowns, and poor customer service.
    Homelessness is a challenging problem for most cities, particularly large cities like NYC, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, and others. These cities must develop and deploy a strategy and resources that get the homeless off public transit and into shelters to get the help they need in a safe place.
    Secondly, a full review of route design, including bus zone locations, helps inefficiency. It is appropriately designed; there is also the benefit of reducing bus accidents and improving operating performance, and a full review of maintenance procedures, schedule, and maintenance employee training and retention.
    The following issues also influence changing the dynamics in bus and rail operations. These include employee selection, training, training support, retention, employee discipline, and a complete redesign of employee assignments to provide flexible schedules that offer personal time with little or no impact on work schedules.
    In conclusion, we face a crisis in public transit leadership for this Century and beyond. It is my observation that we have a deficit of effective leadership. For the 21st Century, we must have transformational leadership, a break from history in public transit where the decision is made at the top and trickles down through the organization. Our leaders a staid in their thinking and are quite content with the status quo. They lack inventiveness and the transformational leadership style that is needed.
    As you are aware, public transit is the lifeblood of cities everywhere, not only for patrons but also for the myriad of small and medium-sized companies who employ many transit patrons and depend on many of them to support their businesses. So we must find ways to improve the quality and efficiency of this vital mode of travel in our cities.

  5. What does metro continue helping to buy shelters And housing and not help the bus operators get hazard pay

    • I kinda have to agree here, but unfortunately in LA this is how it’s always been and I’m still trying to figure out why. It made sense in 1921 when Public Transit was Privatized and there was competition, but in 2021 when every agency in LA is taxpayer funded and federal government prohibits competition among agencies using tax dollars, then having Multiple agencies makes no sense.

      I have no issues with OCTA, SANBAG, Metro and RTA having their buses travel between counties especially for Commuter Express routes, but when you tell me that we need to transfer to 3 different agencies within the same county, well yeah congrats for giving people yet another reason not to ride.

      Still, considering how dirty Metro bus and trains are compared to Foothill, BBB and Culver buses, keeping the munis for now is better.