Southern California’s commuter railroad will lower local fares by 60%

Metrolink, the commuter railroad in Los Angeles that has faced declining ridership for the past few years, has a new CEO:  Art Leahy, formerly of LA Metro.

One of his first actions will be to test out reduced fares. A pilot program on the Antelope Valley line will reduce all fares by 25% for 6 months.

Additionally, local fares will be steeply discounted.  Trips from one station to the next will cost $2, and a ride between stations two stops apart will cost $4.  This discount is only valid between 9am-2pm.

Previously, local fares have been prohibitively expensive.  A trip of as little as two miles can cost $5 on Metrolink, making its short-haul fares some of the highest in the country.  The national average local fare on commuter railroads is about $3

Part of the reason fares were set so high to discourage local riders has been to divert these riders to local buses.   In a region with many local transit operators, each has their own territory.Metrolink is a multi-county entity that is largely structured to serve long-distance trips. City and regional entities are meant to serve local trips.

These political separations have resulted in a climate where the agencies believe that a local rider “should” take the bus and not the train, because it’s not the railroad’s focus to carry local riders.  This is regardless of what mode of travel is actually best suited for the trip.

Time-wise, Metrolink is highly competitive in local markets.   The railroad’s Antelope Valley Line runs to Glendale and Burbank, two cities near Los Angeles.  Continue reading

LA Metro Rail Ridership Breakdown: 2014

This comes from 2014 weekday ridership, data based on boardings in both directions.  The Metro Red and Purple lines, which together constitute the heavy rail transit system in LA, have the highest ridership, with above 150,000 boardings a day.

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The busiest stations are all transfer points:  Union Station for the Gold Line and Metrolink, 7th/Metro Center for the Blue and Expo Lines, Wilshire/Vermont for transfers between the Red and Purple Line branches, and North Hollywood for the Orange Line busway.

When reading this chart, remember that stations between Wilshire/Vermont and Union Station are served by twice the number of trains as the stations past Wilshire/Vermont.

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Union Station by far is the busiest station on the line, where most passengers get off and transfer to the Red/Purple Lines.  Few passengers actually ride through between the Eastside Extension and the line to Pasadena, i.e. this station has very high turnover.

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Los Feliz and Silver Lake demand better DASH service.

Like many Los Angeles neighborhoods, Los Feliz is served by DASH, a local circulator bus service run by the City of LA.  The Los Feliz DASH runs every 15-20 minutes from 7am to 7pm. On the weekend, a similar route to the Griffith Observatory runs every half hour.

I have criticized DASH before for running meandering, zig-zag routes and one-way loops.  Neither of these are ideal paths for a transit line, mainly because most human travel does not occur in zig-zags or one-way loops.

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The Los Feliz DASH is not one loop, but two.

Enough has been enough.  The chairs of the Los Feliz and Silver Lake Neighorhood Councils are calling for a simplified, expanded DASH route that would serve both neighborhoods.

The chair from Los Feliz, Luke Klipp, is a transportation analyst.  The proposed route would run via Hyperion, Fountain, and Vermont.  Service on Hillhurst would be dropped, as would circuitous loops and one-way operation.

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Comparing Headways: Then and now

When people wax nostalgic about the early 20th century transit systems in Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Railway and Pacific Electric, you will often hear phrases like, “it was the best public transportation system in the world!” and statistics about how large the systems were.

But what really made the prewar electric railway systems great was how often they ran. This post will compare transit service in the “golden age” and now.

Washington and York Boulevards

LARy’s W line streetcars ran from York Boulevard in Highland Park along Monte Vista Street, Marmion Way, and North Figueroa to Downtown.  The other end of this route ran from Downtown along W. Washington Boulevard.

The York Boulevard part of the W line is now mostly covered by Metro’s line 83.  The Washington Boulevard portion of the route is now covered by Metro’s line 35.

In 1925, LARy added more streetcars to the W line, bringing rush hour headways to 2 1/2 minutes in the morning and 2 minutes in the evening.

Current transit service is nowhere near this frequency.On Washington Boulevard, Metro’s line 35 runs every 11 minutes in the morning and every 15 minutes during the evening peak.

In Highland Park, line 83 runs even less frequently, about every 20 minutes during rush hours. Although to be fair, the Gold Line runs nearby and offers light rail service every six mintues during peak periods.

  • AM peak headway, 1925: 2.5 minutes
  • AM peak headway, line 35, 2015: 11 minutes
  • AM peak headway, line 83, 2015: 20 minutes
  • PM peak headway, 1925: 2 minutes
  • PM peak headway, line 35, 2015: 15 minutes
  • PM peak headway, line 83, 2015: 20 minutes
  • Gold line peak headway, 2015: 6 minutes.

Excluding the Gold Line, Highland Park only receives about 10% of the transit service it received 90 years ago.  Service on Washington Boulevard has also been severely eroded, but in this case there’s no nearby light to takes its place.

Santa Fe Avenue & Pacific Boulevard

These streets are served by Metro’s line 60 bus service between Downtown Los Angles and Huntington Park. This bus runs every 6 minutes in the AM rush hour, every 15 minutes in the middle of the day, every 6 minutes in the PM rush, and every 30 minutes at night.

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Changes to Van Nuys Flyaway, including a connection with the Orange Line

Flyaway is an bus service operated by Los Angeles World Airports that provides express service from LAX to Union Station, Westwood, Hollywood, Santa Monica, and a terminal near Van Nuys Airport. The Van Nuys route is Flyaway’s busiest, with almost a million passengers a year and departures as little as 15 minutes apart.

On Thursday, the LAWA board of commissioners voted to approve a contract with a new operator for the Van Nuys route, including a new stop at the Woodley Orange Line station. Van Nuys Flyaway buses will begin stopping at the Orange Line on October 1.

This connection has been in the works since at least 2012, when Streetsblog LA reported that LAWA was considering connections with the Orange Line at either Woodley or Sepulveda.

The stop at the Orange Line means that travelers from other parts of the San Fernando Valley can connect to Flyaway by taking transit.  Currently, the only stop is a park-and-ride location on Woodley Avenue near Van Nuys Airport that is not easily accessibly by bus.

Since the current terminal is already on Woodley Ave, the Orange Line stop should require only a minimal detour and will likely only add a minute or two to the trip.

The new contractor, Pacific Coast Sightseeing Tours and Charters, will replace the current contractor, Bauer Intelligent Transportation Inc.

The Van Nuys Flyaway is unique in that it may be the only profitable bus route in the Los Angeles region. According to a presentation made by Flyaway to a Metro Service Council in 2014, the Van Nuys Flyaway earned $1.7 million in net fare revenue.  The fare is $8, and the average net revenue per passenger was $1.89. However, most of this revenue is spent operating the Van Nuys park-and-ride terminal, so after these costs, the route just about breaks even.

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.

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Legibility in Downtown Circulators, or how LA’s DASH buses could be better

The rail system in Downtown Los Angeles is easy to understand.  You have your Red and Purple lines running down Hill Street and turning west onto 7th, you have your Blue and Expo lines connecting to it at 7th/Metro, and your Gold line connecting at Union Station.

The bus system, on the other hand, is confusing for pretty much everyone, tourists, office workers, and even longtime residents. A single street can have a dozen metro lines to points across the city, all running on their own schedules.

But the city-run DASH bus comes to the rescue.  They run every 10 minutes or less and they charge a ¢50 fare.  The DASH is a circulator bus, designed for short, local trips. They are meant to be an alternative to walking, not driving.

A circulator bus should have a simple, easy-to understand route. Especially for visitors, this is very important to earning ridership. The downtown DASH system is not simple nor is it easy to understand.  It lacks legibility. Here’s the better part of the system map.

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Let’s set up a hypothetical.  A visitor to Downtown LA is facing an 8 minute walk that could be accomplished in 5 minutes by taking the bus.  The visitor encounters a map at a bus stop.  If it takes a minute and a half to figure out what bus to take, transit now takes 5 minutes of in-vehicles time + 1.5 minutes spent figuring out the system.

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When Bus Riders Voted on Service Changes

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.”)