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Metro leaders look to reverse ridership declines on buses

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Members of the agency’s board calling for more bus lanes, all-door boarding

Riders step off an orange Metro bus on Wilshire Boulevard at a stop with no shade. The sun’s rays are visible.
Wilshire Boulevard seen before a bus-only lane was installed in 2013.
Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Faced with a multi-year exodus of Los Angeles bus riders, Metro’s board of directors voted today to pursue multiple strategies to improve bus service and attract more passengers.

The agency is already working on a thorough overhaul of its bus network—the first systemwide redesign in a quarter-century. Now, board members are pushing for infrastructure changes and upgrades to the buses themselves that could bolster the impact of those changes.

A motion approved Thursday requires Metro staff to work with Los Angeles’s Department of Transportation to compile lists of “delay hotspots” for buses, and the infrastructure projects necessary to mitigate these slowdowns.

In a recent analysis, Juan Matute, associate director of the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies, found that Metro buses now travel at an average speed of 10.8 miles per hour. That’s a slowdown of 12.6 percent since 1994, largely due to rising traffic congestion across the Los Angeles region.

Meanwhile, between 2013 and 2018, the agency lost more than 270,000 daily bus riders.

It’s not clear yet what specific infrastructure improvements Metro leaders may seek to address bus delays, but Matute says speeding up service generally comes down to a few simple options. Last month, he told Curbed that either a network of bus-only lanes or a region-wide congestion pricing strategy would be needed to significantly improve bus speeds.

A newly installed bus-only lane on Flower Street has served as an impressive demonstration of the former option’s potential. Established to serve temporary shuttles running between closed Expo and Blue line stations in Downtown LA, the lane is now carrying 70 buses per hour during periods of peak congestion, according to Metro.

But the agency faces challenges in rolling out future projects that would create bus-only lanes. Since dedicating road space to buses generally means taking away territory from individual drivers, such projects often face resistance from residents who don’t often use public transit.

Long-planned bus rapid transit projects in the northern San Fernando Valley and between North Hollywood and Pasadena are now under fire from some residents concerned about the removal of lanes for general traffic.

Earlier this year, Metro announced plans to install a pilot bus-only lane on one of four traffic-choked corridors. But an outcry from local officials over just one of those options caused agency leaders to shelve the proposal.

The board’s action Thursday may signal a new resolve on the part of Metro’s board to pursue bus-only lanes in other parts of the city.

Director Mike Bonin, who coauthored the motion with Eric Garcetti, Hilda Solis, Paul Krekorian, and Robert Garcia, said Thursday that redesigning Metro’s bus system is “not going to bear much fruit unless we can make the buses run faster.”

A separate motion approved by the board Thursday instructs staffers to pursue upgrades to the buses in Metro’s fleet—including new seats and fare readers at rear doors that would allow riders to board buses at multiple entrances.

The motion also calls for arrival information to be displayed at busy stops and for Metro to work with cities to install more bus shelters where riders can wait before boarding.

These changes will be incorporated into Metro’s big bus system overhaul, called NextGen. A draft of the planned service changes recommended by project leaders is set to be released this fall.