Sometimes, it seems that agencies operate their transit systems in spite of the public, not for the public. The best example of this in Los Angeles was the 1996 Consent Decree, when the Bus Riders’ Union had to resort to a federal lawsuit to get service improvements to reduce overcrowding. Service cuts, reroutes, and schedule changes happen for political reasons almost as much as they happen to improve the system.
But it was not always like this. In 1926, passengers on the Los Angeles Railway’s Wilshire Boulevard bus line voted on a change to evening service.
The headline in the company’s employee newsletter read, “Wilshire Riders Vote on Change.”
The Wilshire bus route ran to two terminals, one at Wilshire and Fairfax, and the other at La Brea and Country Club Drive (now Olympic Boulevard). After 6 pm, the company proposed operating all buses to the La Brea terminal, then turning around in a loop and continuing down Wilshire to Fairfax. The alternative was to split all evening runs between the two terminals, reducing the line’s frequency on the branches.
Passengers registered their votes on cards that were handed out, and the results indicated that the riders would be amenable to the longer loop routing to maintain frequent service to both ends of line.
This kind of customer-oriented service planning would be unheard-of today. The usual service change process these days is that the transit agency trots out justifications such as “low ridership,” “underperforming,” “rationalization,” and other politician-worthy boilerplate.
In more serious cases, the agency holds a hearing where a few riders will voice their opinions to stony-faced board members. They are usually ignored.
Transit planning used to have a “the customer is always right” mentality, at least some of the time, but now, that attitude is better described as “management knows best.”
(By the way, the Los Angeles Railway employee newsletter is a fascinating archive. Google “two bells metro archive.”)