The future of L.A. transportation includes an ever-expanding rail system, bike sharing and plenty of ride-hail service like Uber and Lyft. But often left out of the conversation is the backbone of L.A.'s working class conveyance: bus lines.
Metro, the government organization that runs the L.A.'s public transportation, wants to reconsider the bus system in an era of decreased ridership and increased use of trains and ride-hail apps. As light-rail ridership has increased with the introduction of the Expo Line extension to the beach one year ago, bus ridership has continued to dip below 2016's more than 1 million weekday boardings, according to Metro. The latest estimate is 916,272 weekday riders.
Bus riders might fear that this would be an opportune time to shovel more cash into rail and, as critics have alleged, neglect the county's workaday buses. “Given the fact Metro is losing a lot of bus riders, it makes sense for them to sit down to figure out what's going on and what they have to do,” says UCLA urban planning professor Michael Manville. “But you don't want to get into a situation where people perceive that the bus system is being reimagined in a way that it's being undermined.”
Asiyahola Sankara, organizing and outreach manager at ACT-LA (the Alliance for Community Transit) says 70 percent of bus riders make less than $25,000 a year, a near-poverty wage for a family of four. “We need to ensure that Metro invests in bus service equitably,” he says.
Metro insists this effort to “reimagine” bus service is not about de-funding it. “It will continue to expand thanks to Measure M,” says communications manager Rick Jager. The initiative passed by voters last year gives Metro a half cent-per-dollar sales tax boost, which could amount to $120 billion over 40 years.
Metro's board of directors recently decided the agency should embark on a two- to three-year process of reevaluating the bus system so that it better meets the needs of Angelenos. One idea is to reconfigure bus services so that they are better aligned with transit stops, Jager says. He added that a long-overdue bus line realignment, in which bus lines could head in new directions, could be on the table too. That hasn't been done since the 1990s, Jager says.
“Travel patterns have changed,” he says. “Are certain lines needed? Do we need to redirect them go to go other places?”
This reimagining could also take up the idea of “micro-transit systems” that circulate in particular neighborhoods like Northeast L.A., Koreatown or other densely populated areas. “Maybe we need such systems in certain neighborhoods to suit the needs of people in those communities,” Jager says. “It's about looking outside the box to come up with viable alternatives and enhancements.”
Metro plans to hire a consultant to launch the reimagining by the end of the year, Jager says. The agency is also teaming up with 16 other bus agencies in the county to conduct a study on how to increase ridership.
“We need to get people back on-board,” Jager says.