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Metro Moves To Overhaul Its Bus System To Fight Falling Ridership

(Photo by Frederick Dennstedt via the LAist Featured Photos pool on Flickr)
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There have been mixed messages over our excitement for public transit. On one hand, L.A. voters overwhelmingly approved Measure M in November, passing it with a nearly 70% approval rating. The measure will use a half-cent raise in the sales tax to bring in approximately $120 billion over forty years to fund a slew of Metro transit projects across the county.

On the other hand, ridership on Metro's buses has been on a steady decline over the past five years. According to the agency's figures, there was a total of 29,494,708 bus rides in April of 2012. By April of 2015 that number had fallen to 28,777,494, and in April of 2017 it was 23,611,510. Total trips in 2012 was 360,076,040. In 2016 it had fallen to 304,160,857, a steep drop of more than 50 million trips.

Now, Metro plans to address the issue by reviewing the efficiency of its bus routes, determining the needs of its riders, and potentially overhauling a bus system that hasn't seen much change in the past two decades. As stated in The Source—Metro's blog—the aim will be to "retain current riders, reclaim past riders and recruit new riders."

On Thursday, Metro officials presented at a committee meeting its strategy for the next couple of years. The highlights of the initiative include:

  • Hiring a consultant to identify the different transit markets in L.A. County, and identifying ways that the current bus system could be changed to be more practical and proficient for current and potential riders.
  • This review will be completed by April 2019, and will be proceeded by a number of public hearings on the findings.
  • Changes that are green-lighted will go into effect in December 2019.
  • Metro will also partner with 16 of L.A. County's largest bus agencies on a concurrent study to keep its current ridership, and to attract new riders.
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"We also know that while many Metro buses remain busy with plenty of passengers, the ridership declines can’t be ignored any longer. It’s time for a good and hard look at the system," said the Source.

As for why ridership is falling, officials say that the root reasons run the gamut, adding that they largely lead to one thing: more people are driving. As noted at the L.A. Times, a booming economy in California has helped low-income families afford their own cars. And back in 2013, Governor Jerry Brown signed a law that paved the way for undocumented immigrants to obtain a driver's license—the California Department of Insurance has said that, in the first year the law went into effect, "the number of insured vehicles increased by 200,000 more vehicles than would have been expected." Though it's debatable if this is an indicator that more undocumented immigrants are getting their licenses and driving (and buying insurance), or if it's just a marker of there being more motorists in general.

Experts believe that the biggest hit to Metro is the lost of dedicated riders who take multiple trips a day to run errands and do other things. Losing one of these riders also means losing a number of trips per day. “The decline in ridership isn’t coming from people who use transit a few times a week who’ve shifted to Uber and Lyft,” Juan Matute, the associate director of UCLA’s Institute of Transportation Studies, told the Times.

There's also the issue of the bus lines themselves. The Times cites a recent survey in which former Metro bus riders named a list of complaints that included the lack of convenient routes, the necessity of multiple transfers, and the lack of frequency with which the buses run. Some also said that the hours need to be extended for certain lines. Of those surveyed, 79% said they've switched to driving their own car.

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