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What Can LA Do to Get Angelenos Riding the Bus?

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Focusing mostly on LA, Atlantic Cities takes a long look at how social stigma affects bus ridership. Our city appears to be a prime target for example-dom: while public transit ridership spiked nationally in 2008, that year, in LA, rail ridership rose, but the number of bus commuters dropped, along with the total number of transit commuters in the city (bus patrons constitute 78 percent of transit users in LA). Some posit that this is because our city's transit agency has invested heavily in rail expansion (Gold Line, Expo Line, etc.), while bus lines have been scaled back (to be fair, the Gold and Expo lines travel through very diverse neighborhoods, racially and economically). Is there any way to get "discretionary" riders, those who don't have to take transit because they have other options (likely a car) onto our city's massive bus system? (Our numerous bus options add up to LA having the most complete "transportation access to the carless than any other major metropolitan area in the country.") The answer seems to involve convincing wealthier people that riding the bus is an option, which cities in Colombia and Mexico have accomplished with their bus rapid transit systems.

Central and South American countries found success by creating "an articulated brand identity" that includes painting buses in bright colors, but also adding more tangible benefits like dedicated lanes, more limited stops, easier boarding, and rebranding buses like train lines (e.g. the Valley's Orange Line and the Silver Line along the 10 and 110). In Mexico City, the bus rapid transit lanes are seen as more "upper-class," since they can often be cleaner and safer than the subway.

But projects like the Orange Line and the Wilshire bus lanes are much more expensive than the simple addition of a new bus line (and they're still far from perfect) "and discretionary commuters aren't eager to finance the cost--remember, they don't have to be there. Meanwhile, existing bus commuters are left with no choice but to accept fare increases, even if their buses aren't getting any better--actually, even if they're getting worse."

The bus versus rail issue is a big one, but may boil down to one big question, according to The Atlantic: "What is the point of public transportation? Is it a social service to help those most in need? Or is it an environmental initiative to get drivers out of their cars? And can it ever be both?" Image via the Bergen Network
· Race, Class, and the Stigma of Riding the Bus in America [The Atlantic Cities]