One of LA’s public buses. Image: Al Seib/LA Times

Los Angeles has never been known for its public transit but in recent years its bus ridership has been falling as Angelenos are–among other factors–capitalizing on a stronger economy by buying cars in record numbers. As the LA Times reported, experts also point to several other factors putting pressure on bus systems, including falling immigration rates, rising rents that have pushed low-income families to more remote areas, and a law that allows immigrants in the country illegally to apply for driver’s licenses. Moreover, LA voters continue to vote for higher taxes to expand public transportation but aren’t actually taking it themselves.

What’s Going On: Bus riders have many complaints about taking the bus include that it feels too slow, infrequent, dangerous or inconvenient and many have even said that the skeevy fabric seats were the last straw. And the buses are slowing down: the average speed of a Metro bus has dropped 12.5% over the last 25 years, according to data analyzed by UCLA. The LA Times also noted that

  • Metropolitan Transportation Authority buses, which carry most of the county’s bus riders, have lost nearly 95 million trips over a decade, according to federal data. The 25% drop is the steepest among the busiest transit systems in the United States and accounted for the majority of California’s transit ridership decline.

What’s Being Done: To reverse the slump, Metro is preparing to redesign its network of 165 lines and 14,000 stops for the first time in a generation. A study launched two years ago is examining where people go and what can be done to make the bus more competitive with driving. The Metro Board of Directors has also recently approved the expansion of light rail and bus rapid transit lines (BRT), but LA Mayor Eric Garcetti joked of BRT lines that they are only “slightly less controversial than congestion pricing, once your street gets announced.”

Why This Matters: Reducing single-occupancy vehicle use is a key goal for the state of California and its biggest cities to achieve as part of a broader plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help curb climate change. Transportation is currently the state’s largest source of emissions accounting for 41% of total GHG emissions and if LA is to meet its voluntary agreement to reduce emissions 50% below 1990 levels by 2025, or California’s state law of 40% reduction in emissions from 2020 to 2030 then more people need to turn to low-emission public transit. Full city buses are some of the most efficient means of transit yet people will only turn to them as a means of last resort unless they’re clean, efficient, and on-time.

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