Every weekday, thousands of Los Angeles transit riders board rapid buses. Popular with commuters, the familiar red buses run during peak travel times along some of LA's busiest corridors, stopping to pick up and drop off riders only at major intersections.
That could soon change. As Metro prepares to implement a thorough overhaul of its entire bus network, most of those rapid lines stand to be eliminated.
Changes proposed by Metro include cutting all but three of the agency’s rapid and limited stop select bus lines. (Rapid service will continue along Wilshire Boulevard, Vermont Avenue, and Van Nuys Boulevard.)
Right now, most of those lines run along routes served by other buses that come throughout the day and stop frequently—about every one-fifth of a mile. Stops on the rapid lines, on the other hand, are often more than a half-mile apart.
Under Metro’s new plan—now being presented to the public in a series of open house events—the rapid lines would merge with the “local” routes and bus stops would be placed at roughly quarter-mile intervals along the entire corridor. Agency planners say this will allow them to run more buses on most routes at all hours of the day, resulting in shorter wait times for passengers.
Policy analyst and public transportation advocate Alfonso Directo says it’s possible that those extra buses will make riders enthusiastic about these changes from the get-go. But they also might be frustrated to find their normal stop has moved.
“That trade-off of eliminating bus stops could create a lot of initial resentment,” he says. “What they’re offering [in return] is a shorter wait time at bus stops. It’s an abstract promise. As a bus rider, I wouldn’t be able to feel that immediately. It would take some time to realize that what they’re promising is coming true.”
Eventually, ride times could also quicken. Metro staff is seeking approval from the agency’s Board of Directors to accompany route and schedule changes with $1 billion in spending on infrastructure to support better bus service, including bus-only lanes and queue jump lanes that give buses a head-start when entering an intersection.
Directo says he’s excited about the system revamp, but that he has concerns about how quickly local officials will be able to roll out those infrastructure projects.
“What’s missing from step one is faster service,” he says. “This is an opportunity to make a new first impression about Metro’s buses. If it’s a lukewarm presentation, it doesn’t build excitement and trust.”
A good first impression could be key to boosting ridership on LA's bus lines, one of Metro's biggest goals for the system shakeup. In the last five years, the number of daily riders on Metro buses has declined by more than 20 percent.
Metro senior executive officer Conan Cheung told reporters last month that projects that would speed up service or make riding more enjoyable (such as shade structures and real-time arrival displays) could get started at the same time as Metro updates schedules and route maps. But the first phase of the plan’s rollout is on track to start at the end of the year, and Metro hasn’t yet figured out where the money needed to fund those projects will come from.
The agency also has a to-do list of other projects that could ensure nearly 1 million additional people live near buses that come every 10 minutes and boost ridership by up to 30 percent, according to staff estimates. The timeline and funding sources for those projects are also unclear.
Cheung said last month that consolidating the rapid and local bus lines will allow Metro to improve service and boost ridership even without new spending. He also pointed out that the rapid lines don't always achieve the time-saving effects their name implies.
On average, said Cheung, riders need to stay on rapid buses for roughly 7 miles to reap the time-saving benefits of fewer stops.
On Thursday afternoon, longtime Metro rider Mirna Carrillo sat waiting for the 2 bus on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. She said she hadn't heard about Metro's new bus plan, but that she was glad to hear buses would come more often.
Still, Carrillo said she was disappointed Metro couldn't offer more frequent service while maintaining the rapid system.
“It’s very convenient to have two [choices],” she said.