LA Metro proposes eliminating 5 bus lines

Every few years, LA Metro proposes service changes for their bus network.  This time around, it’s mostly cuts.  Metro is proposing 5 routes for total elimination, two without replacements.

What are these routes?  Where do they go?  Why are they being proposed for elimination?

Line 177

This is a minor route with one-way, peak-only service from from Pasadena City College and Cal Tech to the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab in La Cañada-Flintridge.  There are seven runs in the morning to JPL, and seven runs in the afternoon from JPL.

This is a low ridership route, with an average of about 170 passengers a day, or 12 boardings per trip. This has declined from an average of 260 riders a day in 2010.

While the service links JPL and Cal Tech, the route is not useful to employees at either of the two research institutions because Cal Tech and JPL run their own shuttle van for employees traveling between the two on official business.

JPL will still have bus service on the more frequent line 268.

Line 220

Line 220 runs on Robertson Boulevard, connecting the Expo Line Station in Culver City with Beverly Hills.  This is a single-bus route, operating on an hourly headway from 6am-7pm, weekdays only.  Saturday service was eliminated in 2011.

Ridership is low, but has been slowly increasing since the connecting Expo Line light rail service opened in 2012.  Average daily ridership stood at 280 in 2010, but in 2015, that number rose to 320, an increase of 14%. This works out to 11.4 boardings per run, or roughly 23 boardings per hour.

Robertson Boulevard is mostly a low-density commercial strip running through a middle-to-high income neighborhood, so it is not hard to understand why ridership on this route is low.

For most of the route, much more frequent bus service is available half a mile east on La Cienega.  On the part of the route north of Pico, parallel bus service is available half a mile west on Beverly Dr, where Metro Line 14 runs every half hour or so.

On the southern half of the route, there is no parallel bus service at all to the west.  The nearest north-south transit route is on Westwood Boulevard, about two miles west.

South of Pico, Robertson Boulevard is also the route of Santa Monica’s Big Blue Bus route 5, running every 20-30 minutes.

Interestingly, Big Blue Bus is also proposing eliminating bus service on Robertson.

dotted segments are proposed for elmination

dotted segments are proposed for elimination

And get this:  Part of their justification is that once they withdraw their service, passengers can still use Metro line 220.

Line 270

This is Metro’s farthest-east bus route that runs north-south, from Monrovia to Norwalk, via El Monte, Whittier and, Santa Fe Springs.  It runs about every hour on weekdays and Saturdays.  Extra trips also operate between Rio Hondo College and the El Monte on weekdays.

Ridership on this route is growing quickly.  From 1,870 weekday riders in 2010, the line averaged 2,416 riders in 2012 and 2,846 in 2015, an increase of 52% in five years.  Saturday ridership has risen at nearly the same rate

This ridership is spread out over a long, 25-mile route that takes nearly two hours end-to-end.  It’s expensive to operate and boardings per mile and boardings per hour are probably low.

According to the fact sheet on the service cuts, This route is proposed for elimination, but “Replacement service may be provided by another operator.”  This would most likely be  Foothill Transit.

Foothill already operates a limited peak-only service, the 494, along the northern portion of this route.  But south of El Monte, the route falls well outside of Foothill’s service territory.  There is no reason that Foothill Transit would run buses to Norwalk.

A few possible outcomes:

  • No other operator is found.  Metro continues to operate line 270.
  • Foothill picks up the 270 north of El Monte.  Service abandoned south of El Monte.
  • Foothill picks up the 270 north of El Monte. Metro or another operator continues to run buses on the route south of El Monte

Given this line’s ridership, discontinuing service with no replacement is an unlikely outcome.

Lines 190 &194

These are two lines that run from the El Monte bus station and Cal Poly Pomona.  Line 190 travels via Ramona Boulevard through Baldwin Park, Covina, and West Covina.  Line 194 travels farther to the south via La Puente and Walnut.

These are busy routes.  Combined, they had an average ridership of about 7,200 per weekday in 2015.  This is down from more than 8,600 in 2012.  Each route has a 40-minute headway off-peak and peak headways of as little as 15 minutes.

These routes are not being discontinued by any means.

Instead of outright discontinuing these lines, Metro is merely trying to foist them onto another operator, which in this case would almost certainly be Foothill Transit.

At this stage, Foothill Transit is probably figuring out if it can afford to pick up these lines, and if so, what it would do with them. Hearings on the service cuts will be held in July, so we should expect to hear further details on what would happen to lines 190/194 by then.

Partial Discontinuances

Metro is also proposing dropping service on portions of other lines, with the hope than other transit providers will pick up those routes in their place.

Metro is proposing changes to Line 460, an all-day express route that runs from Downtown Los Angeles to Fullerton and Disneyland.  The proposed change would truncate the route to Norwalk-Fulllerton, eliminating the part that runs along the Harbor Transitway to Downtown.

A likely explanation is that Metro wants this service to be operated by OCTA, because it serves points in Orange County.

Also proposed is the elimination of the portion of Line 205 that runs along Vermont and Western from the Harbor Gateway Transit Center to San Pedro. Potential new operators are Torrance Transit or Gardena’s G-Trans.

We should expect the same political dynamics to come into play as those that affect the future of lines 270, 190, and 194.

A Word of Caution

When it comes time to propose service reductions, there are certain political considerations that motivate a transit agency.  If the proposed service cuts are drastic, it would outrage a portion of the riders.  Some of these will advocate for preserving service, which, paradoxically, may be good for the transit agency.

The transit agency is also required to make its proposals well in advance of any changes that go into effect.  All changes have to be proposed in advance and discussed under public hearing, even though the package of changes may not yet be finalized.  The transit agency has to propose all service changes that are under consideration.  Not all of these will be implemented.

When the transit agency proposes drastic cuts, but spares most of the lines from any service reductions, it may appear gracious, even generous to riders, and politicians. The final cuts are almost always less than what is proposed, so take this all with a grain of salt.

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