Metro’s Better Bus Program returns to the Metro Board of Directors this month seeking $2.1 billion in funding over the next five years.
The goal of Better Bus is to make meaningful investments in the bus system, as follows:
•Faster bus trips via new bus lanes, traffic signal priority and sidewalk extensions that allow buses to stop without having to pull in and out of traffic.
•Clean, comfortable and safe bus stops with better lighting that are more usable by all riders including people with disabilities.
•The funding Metro’s bus service needs to return to pre-pandemic levels of bus service, in addition to fully implementing our NextGen Bus Plan to offer more frequent service on most routes.
Better Bus will be discussed in the Metro Board’s Operations Committee on Thursday at 9 a.m. — a link to the live webstream will appear here and here is the Metro staff report. A presentation for the Board is posted above. If approved, the item will go to the full Metro Board at their meeting at 10 a.m. on Thursday, May 27.
The over-arching goal of Better Bus is — to be blunt — address many of the complaints we’ve heard from riders in recent years. Between 2013 and 2019 our bus ridership declined 23 percent — an alarming rate considering traffic in our region and the high cost of living here. Transit should, in theory, be a lot more appealing.
Better Bus is also a clear acknowledgment how seriously our riders depend on the Metro Bus System that carries about 75 percent of all riders. Two facts that stick out like a sore thumb:
FACT 1: Most of our bus riders live in economically distressed neighborhoods, the annual median household income of our bus riders remains stuck at a discouraging $18,000 and our buses are a mobility lifeline for many of our bus riders — with thousands of bus stops close to peoples’ homes, jobs and other critical destinations.
FACT 2: In the pandemic, Metro’s bus ridership fell less on our bus system than on our trains. There’s no mystery why. The bus system is vastly larger than our rail system with thousand more stops closer to more homes, jobs and other critical destinations. Also fewer bus riders are able to telecommute from home, as they are disproportionately essential workers who serve the public.
The approval of Better Bus will begin to address racial inequities and will set a course for continual investments by Metro to improve the bus system for everyone.
An annual customer survey of Metro Riders last year reaffirmed the pain points that bus riders experience — including unreliable and slow buses, long wait times, insufficient service advisory information, uninviting bus stops and, in particular, concerns about safety and homelessness.
The idea behind Better Bus is to ensure there is funding available for the kind of bus improvements that address these issues. Already, Better Bus has secured $215 million in the proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2022 (which begins this July 1) for:
•Restoring bus service to pre-pandemic levels with two planned increases in service — in June and September.
•A Rescue Ride Pilot Program to provide a free ride-hail ride to bus riders who are delayed by a bus that fails to show up or pick up a rider.
•A pilot program that would add routine midday interior cleaning of buses at some turnaround points, as well as washing of bus stops when needed.
•A test program of a Digital Rider Alert System that would allow bus riders to get service updates, and emergency messages via text message (as opposed to checking Metro updates on Twitter or via Transit, the agency’s official smartphone app, as 30 percent of riders do not have access to a smartphone).
•Solar powered lights are being tested at bus stops where more light is needed to help all passengers, including those with disabilities. Other low-cost improvements are also being tested, such as real-time solar powered displays, seating and tactile/auditory features for riders who are visually impaired. With more funding, we believe these kinds of easy upgrades that could be deployed quickly.
The slide and chart below do a good job of describing where the funding would be spent in the coming fiscal year and over the next five years:
What do you think of Better Bus, Metro riders and readers? Comment please.