Los Angeles: Rail Has “Forced Ridership Down”?

This Los Angeles Times article will be helpful to anyone wanting to grasp the rough contours of transit debates there.  As I’ve argued before, Los Angeles has emerged as a national leader in transit development, and probably offers the most hopeful models for how car-oriented cities can begin to refit themselves to shift demand to transit, with all the social, economic, and sustainability benefits that can imply.  Here’s the nub of of the remaining argument:

“Overall, the push for rail has forced transit ridership down,” said Tom Rubin, a veteran transit consultant and former chief financial officer for the MTA’s predecessor. “Had they run a lot of buses at low fares, they could have doubled the number of riders.”

An MTA spokesman said no agency official was available Thursday to respond to Rubin’s contention. But the issue has come up before and the MTA has steadfastly defended the projects, although not in a way that has put the matter to rest.

Rail transit advocates contend that it is premature to judge urban rail’s performance because the local systems are not fully developed and have yet to substantially benefit from being part of a broad rail network.

In the future, it is possible that more high-density housing and commercial centers will be built near light-rail and subway stations, which could boost ridership. Advocates say that mounting traffic congestion and an aging population also will increase demand.

Rubin’s argument echoes that of the Bus Riders Union in the 1990s.  The BRU was really about advocating bus service as a social justice tool, but there was also a strong technical claim, often made by Ryan Snyder among others, that intense bus service was a better fit to the city’s form.

But if the following paragraph is true, “rail transit advocates” may be taking too much of that argument’s bait:

Rail transit advocates contend that it is premature to judge urban rail’s performance because the local systems are not fully developed and have yet to substantially benefit from being part of a broad rail network.

Implicit in that argument, subtly but inescapably, is the suggestion that there is a large category of “rail riders” who are only using the rail system to the extent that they can complete their trip on rail.  That’s a difficult assertion to test.  But the crush-loads on the Orange Line — a Bus Rapid Transit line presented as part of the mostly-rail rapid transit network — suggest that a clear and interconnected rapid transit system will attract plenty of riders regardless of whether it’s on rails or tires.  Local bus system ridership is still very heavy all across central Los Angeles.  Would it be higher with more service?  Quite possibly.  But if you really want a transformative boost in transit ridership, the single most effective thing you could do can be done entirely with paint and signs: converting traffic lanes or parking lanes to bus lanes.

During the 1980s, as the Los Angeles subway was first being conceived, rail-boosters often said things like:  “Los Angeles is a great world-class city, every bit the peer of Paris or New York.  Those cities have rail transit networks, so we need one too.”  Well, if you’re going to admire and imitate Paris and New York, then you should know that Paris now has bus lanes on practically every boulevard — all created, at the expense of general traffic lanes, in the last two decades — and that New York is doing them too, not just across outer boroughs but on two of the busiest avenues in Manhattan.

To the extent that anyone at Los Angeles County MTA ever believed that expanding rapid transit allows you to reduce bus service — and I’m not sure they ever did — every major rail-intensive city should refute that claim.  More efficient long-distance services, often run by rail, increase the demand for services that connect with rail to serve the complete range of possible trips.  A small city like Strasbourg can get away with pushing its buses out of the core only because the whole core is small enough to be walked.  But when it comes to big cities, great rail cities also have great bus systems.

68 Responses to Los Angeles: Rail Has “Forced Ridership Down”?

  1. eric July 23, 2010 at 12:05 pm #

    Jarrett, to distill the gestalt of your argument for effective transit development (your recent series of posts starting from Paris, especially hones it down for me, re: rail v. bus discussion), I am surmising:
    (1) First start with the network. Realign/tinker for more effectiveness if need be.
    (2) Create rapid transit corridors. Go ahead, take the right-of-way necessary. Start first with BRT to get the system spinning, esp. if you don’t have the high ridership/capacity already in place. Put a high priority on frequency, versus capital development in the transit development program, so you get the system effects going and the cogs well-oiled.
    (3) THEN, put rails in where necessary, but rails are just the system upgrade, just the stallion infrastructure.
    (4) Now, you don’t just have the choo-choo line, you have the network in place to “replace” the auto.
    More or less, this is how I hear it… Let me know if I’m off.
    But, dang it, don’t you understand we all want those stallions running in our pretty prairies? 🙂

  2. Jarrett at HumanTransit.org July 23, 2010 at 12:42 pm #

    Eric.  I think that's a good summary of what I'd consider a fact-based methodology.  Of course, where you start in the sequence depends on where you are in terms of built density and planned density.  Second Avenue in NYC and Wilshire and West Hollywood corridors in LA obviously already have the density, and the continuing infill market, to be good subways, so go directly to rail. 
    BUT even with rail under streets like Wilshire you probably need bus lanes on those streets too, that they would be used only for frequent local-stop services, while rail would replace the Rapid buses.  Remember that Paris boulevards with bus lanes almost all have subways under them, and subways with relatively close station spacing by world standards.  Almost all the major Manhattan Avenues have intense local bus service despite also having subways with extremely close station spacing.
    But yes, the logic you describe makes sense because the best techical case for rail is a situation where you already have crush loaded buses and rail is a more efficient way to (a) move those people and (b) open up new capacity for the fruits of additional infill or mode shift.  Just don't expect the rail to ever totally replace the buses, or even the need for bus lanes.
    As for choo-choos on the prairies, I'm a big fan of railway museums!  😉
    Thanks for asking!

  3. CroMagnon July 23, 2010 at 1:16 pm #

    I would say the other technical reason for rail is speed. The cost of extensive grade-separation just makes it more sensible to simply put in rails. Even if the buses aren’t always crush loaded, often there’s nothing to be done to move them fast enough to make them competitive with auto travel.
    Do most of these dedicated bus lanes allow right turning auto traffic? Also, some cities simply don’t have much in the way of boulevards. Taking away one through traffic lane could easily reduce traffic capacity by over 50% on most streets in my city.

  4. anonymouse July 23, 2010 at 1:37 pm #

    I’ll take this opportunity to repeat a statistic I heard: 75% of bus riders don’t have a driver’s license, while only 40% of rail riders can’t drive. Basically, there are two groups of transit riders here: those who take the bus because they have no choice, and those who have weighed the options and prefer transit to driving. The problem with a massive bus network is that buses are slow (generally 2.5 times slower than driving), and even dedicated bus lanes on surface have a hard time competing with freeways, while a subway has fast enough average speed that it’s actually faster than driving on local streets, and reasonably competitive with freeways. Bus ridership in Central LA is not limited by the fact that buses aren’t frequent enough, or not cheap enough, but by the fact that they’re just not fast enough. Rail gives you both speed and capacity, which frees up more money for buses, and the combination of rail and bus is often much more effective than bus alone. Even the BRU admits the value of rail, as BRU activists in their yellow shirts have been spotted on the Red Line quite regularly.

  5. Alon Levy July 23, 2010 at 2:16 pm #

    The Orange Line is overcrowded because it has serious capacity issues, limiting the vehicles’ length and frequency. Its signal priority system is not very good, so buses often stop at red lights. Thus, it’s at capacity with barely 7 million annual boardings.

  6. Shawn July 23, 2010 at 3:49 pm #

    Is the Orange line really at capacity? I don’t see why they couldn’t double the capacity by doing very little and simply adding a trailing bus to every one that runs currently.
    LA most certainly would have more riders had the money for rail been spent on additional buses and increased service, but it would have been at the price of providing an inferior service. You’d have a hard time finding many existing rail riders that would prefer to be riding a bus. You’d similarly have a hard time convincing regular riders (as opposed to Bus Riders Union riders) on a corridor scheduled to be upgraded to rail that they’d be better off with a bus.
    Plus rail has been at least partly responsible for the recent investment and increasing density in LA. They are building a city that can thrive in the future instead of one that can’t grow because of traffic concerns.

  7. anonymouse July 23, 2010 at 4:18 pm #

    Shawn: I disagree that adding more buses would have increased ridership. Everybody who needs to ride the bus already does, and almost everybody who has an alternative doesn’t, not because the bus is infrequent, but because it’s slow. You’d just end up with lots of empty buses. Of course, you’d also end up employing many more bus drivers, which has always been one of the BRU’s goals. As for Orange Line capacity, I suspect you might be right about having a trailing bus, although that’s effectively what ends up happening in the outbound direction since the Orange Line has 2x the frequency of the Red, so every other bus is packed while the rest are less full, with the resulting bunching. Anyway, it’s not what the MTA has chosen to do, instead they are running an express bus on parallel local streets to relieve some of the load.

  8. Jarrett at HumanTransit.org July 23, 2010 at 4:35 pm #

    Anonymouse.  I'm surprised at how quickly you dismiss the bus network.  Obviously, a step-change in the relevance of buses in LA will come only with the introduction of bus lanes on boulevards, which would increase speed and reliability so dramatically that it would definitely cause profound changes in the role of the bus network and that range of people who consider it useful.   However, from all my experience in LA I suspect there is still substantial new ridership to be achieved simply with greater frequency, especially on Rapids.  Currently the speed of many of the Rapids is cancelled out by waiting time.

  9. Zefwagner July 23, 2010 at 4:39 pm #

    This is a great analysis. I just visited Tacoma, WA where they have a streetcar with its own right-of-way but the buses are stuck in traffic lanes even though the streetcar only runs every ten minutes. Why not let buses use the exclusive lanes, too?
    I also like the idea of building BRT that completely mimics light rail, and converting to rail when capacity is needed. Unfortunately, this rarely seems to happen. Instead we get re-branded express buses, at least here in seattle.
    I do think you are too dismissive of the rail bias among car owners. LA may have gotten more ridership out of bus only, but if part of the goal is reducing car ownership and use, it would be less effective. In other words, it would increase mobility of the transit dependent, but would not draw as many choice riders into the transit system. I will concede that this would be less of an issue if our buses were as good as the ones in Paris, though.

  10. anonymouse July 23, 2010 at 5:49 pm #

    Hm, maybe it’s just my personal experience of parts of LA’s bus network and subsequent time spent in San Jose, where anything more than one bus every half an hour is considered “frequent service”, but I’ve never thought that most MTA bus lines had that much of a problem with frequency. I did however experience the “it takes 3 times longer” effect over and over on the bus system. LA is huge, and when a half hour commute by car turns into an hour and a half by bus, it’s really hard to win riders over. Bus lanes might help a bit during rush hour, but during the off peak when traffic is flowing freely and rapid buses stop running, the slowness of buses on local streets versus cars on freeways is still a major deterrent.
    I guess ultimately, what I’m trying to say is buses compete with driving on boulevards, while rail lines compete with freeways. LA has gone just about as far as it can with local buses, but if transit wants to seriously compete with driving, no number of buses running on boulevards (even in dedicated lanes) will be able to compete with driving on the freeway, at least if there’s no rail line involved. The Orange Line only has the ridership that it does because of the connection to the Red Line, which increases the average speed of the trip as a whole.

  11. J July 23, 2010 at 5:51 pm #

    Ignoring the article and entering the orange line debate…
    It’s certainly not at capacity. Unlike trains, buses can run at 5 second headways, as there’s no “safety” law in place the cripples bus systems the way rail is hurt by forced expensive signaling systems that limits subways and such to 90 seconds, at best, but usually 160 in america.
    Capacity can be increased in 3 easy ways. Make the buses longer (bi articulated). Make the buses trains (hitch on an unstaffed 2nd car behind the first). Make the buses more frequent.
    As for the express bus route MTA started that runs parallel to the orange line but on regular streets….so dumb. Another advantage that the bus has over the train is that it doesnt need switches to switch lanes. An express bus could easily pass a regular bus by simply using the other lane for a couple of seconds. If an untrained average joe in his pickup truck can do it at 75mph on a two lane highway, then a highly trained professional bus driver can certainly make the maneuver at 30mph. But, let me guess, “safety” killed the idea and relegated the express service to the regular street (because mingling amongst hundreds of amateur drivers is certain safer right?)

  12. Jarrett at HumanTransit.org July 23, 2010 at 7:49 pm #

    @ Anonymouse. That’s a common misconception about bus lanes. Sometimes we see them created through a peak-only ban on street parking, but those rarely do the job. The core part of LA is so dense that there’s traffic all day, so bus lanes make a difference all day. Even the ability to pass a queue of traffic stopped at a light makes a big difference, all day.

  13. anonymouse July 23, 2010 at 7:51 pm #

    J: what happens at 5 second headways when a bus needs to stop? For 30 seconds? Okay, it can pull over out of the general traffic flow and stop. But it still needs room to decelerate and accelerate from full speed to a stop and back, and that needs to happen away from the general flow of traffic, so you need acceleration/deceleration lanes, or just a four lane busway. You also need gaps in the flow big enough for a bus to safely merge into, so something like 15 seconds seems like a more reasonable headway if you’re just looking at non-stop buses. When you have stops as well, the headway at any given stop is determined by the dwell time plus the time it takes for one bus to pull out and the next one to pull in, divided by the number of stopping spaces. I’m sure Jarrett can give us an idea of how this actually works out on real busways.
    The Orange Line also has the constraint of many, many grade crossings, and I suspect the 5 minute headway is determined by how often the busway can preempt traffic on the cross streets. Unfortunately, biarticulated buses are not legal in California, and bus trailers, even if they were possible, would make buses very sluggish, which is hardly a good idea on a line with so many stops.
    As far as rail signalling systems go, the headway is a function of dwell time, as well as safe stopping distance, and even under an ideal signal system, where each train is allowed to go at exactly the speed that would prevent it from running into the back of the train in front of it, these constraints limit headway, and real-life signal systems come pretty close to this theoretical limit. It’s also important to remember that there’s a pretty big gap between minimum signal headway and minimum headway that can actually be operated reliably, with the latter having a considerable amount of padding. The problem is you’ve got passengers getting on and off these trains, and these passengers don’t always behave in an ideal fashion. You have to have some allowance for that, so that a train (or bus) can be delayed by some amount without causing that delay to cascade all the way back down the line and bring the operation to a standstill.

  14. Jarrett at HumanTransit.org July 23, 2010 at 7:58 pm #

    @Anon and J
    When you talk about 5 second headways you’re talking about Bogota busways, where these buses don’t stop at the same stops. Sure, if you’re just blasting through a totally exclusive and grade separated roadway at 50-80 km/h, a bus every 5 seconds is easy. But Bogota delivers its astounding throughput at the expense of an incredibly confusing stopping pattern.
    None of that applies to the Orange Line, which has all those signalised crossings. There, you shoud aspire to one bus on every signal cycle.
    And it’s even more remote from the original topic of my post, which is the case for Paris-style bus lanes all across the dense parts of the city.

  15. anonymouse July 24, 2010 at 12:40 am #

    I was going to point out that Paris-style bus lanes might work in a city the size of Paris… but actually, the dense central core of LA with very frequent bus service is not that much bigger than the diameter of the Périphérique. Of course, to really be comparable to Paris, you need to also have the Metro (which predated the bus lanes, and even the bus, by quite a lot) and the RER (which also predated the bus lines).

  16. Wad July 24, 2010 at 1:03 am #

    Continuing this debate — especially in Los Angeles — is like the Civil War buffs who reimagine battle strategies and scenarios to plot different outcomes.
    It contributes to knowledge but is useless for changing the real outcome of history.
    The anti-rail faction, much like the Confederacy, is fighting the Lost Cause.
    The superiority of buses over rail has expended tremendous energy on both camps in the theoretical realm. The only thing is, L.A. has put buses into theory. Guess what? IT FAILED.
    L.A. had 27 years, more than a quarter of a century, to try bus-based solutions without the distraction of rail. L.A. ended up with less ridership at the end of the period.
    L.A. has also tried everything on the list of what you could have instead of pouring money into building rail.
    Run a lot of buses at high frequencies? Reduce fares to increase ridership? Run express buses for the fast trips?
    We did all of that, and none of those things worked. Exclusive bus lanes have been a hurdle because the transit agency isn’t in charge of the traffic engineers. The transit agency must get the indulgence of individual cities before taking a lane.
    L.A.’s Metro Rail lines have been the only ones to do what buses couldn’t. We started with 19,000 boardings in 1990, and have grown to more than 300,000 today.
    Yes, a lot of it was trips that could be made on a bus. Is that a bad thing? With the ridership L.A. has, even during the persistent decline, buses aren’t suitable for the task. Rail has proven to be less expensive per passenger-mile, faster for longer trips, and most importantly for riders, the most reliable. Even Metro buses during owl periods, when there’s no traffic, can’t match the on-time performance of a crush-load Metro Rail train during rush hour.
    Yet L.A. has also expanded its bus system at the same time as well. We’ve expanded our bus fleet by more than a thousand coaches under court order, and we’ve added the Rapid service. And ridership still falls? Well, the bus-only side will have to answer for that.

  17. J July 24, 2010 at 1:44 am #

    @anonymouse replying to me
    From what Ive seen the orange line stations are big enough for 2 buses to stop at the same time. Extremely short headways can happen when service is so frequent that you dont have a backlog of people getting on and off, and thus delaying the door.
    So you could have the following patterns (lets use 10 second headways)
    Bus 1 arrives at 00 and opens doors
    Bus 2 arrives at 10 and opens doors
    Bus 1 departs at 15
    Bus 3 arrives at 20, passes bus 2 and stops where bus 1 was.
    Bus 2 departs at 25
    I think 15 seconds of open door time is perfectly reasonable (except at terminals) and could even be shorter during off hours.
    The point of this is that the bus has the advantage of
    a)being able to use the same station at the same time, unlike rail because buses can and do stop inches from each other
    b) being able to pass each other.
    Now, in this 10 second headway example, you would need a passing lane. But thinking of something more realistic, like 1 minute headways, buses can pass each other using the opposing lane.
    What makes things interesting are the grade crossings and stop lights, which are the real bottleneck on the orange line. Easiest and cheapest solution? Restrict as many as possible. Ive noticed that american planners almost never try to restrict cars ability to turn across the transit ROW. In famous Curitiba (where I lived), if you were driving along the busway, and wanted to make a left turn across it, you had to make three right turns. In america, you’re likely to find a left turn bay, which in turn heavily limits the amount of green time the transit ROW has. San francisco is comfortable banning left turns all over the city, other american cities need to do the same.
    So for the orange line, block off some crossings. Oh no, you’ll have to drive another block. Boo hoo. What a hassle to do so, in your air conditioned box with leather seats and radio.
    Here’s an example in mexico.
    Light rail runs down the middle of avenida tlalpan.
    You may toggle the transit view to see the line in gray, but I think the satellite view is better for this.
    Start scrolling down (south) and try to find a car crossing point. There are many pedestrian crossings, but if you’re in a car…how sad for you, you’re going to have to make a big ass loop to get to the other side. Transit first. Well, in mexicos case, cheapness first. But still.
    As for this:
    “Unfortunately, biarticulated buses are not legal in California”
    The current buses arent legal in california, as theyre longer than 60 feet. MTA applied for a waiver and got one. They could apply for yet another waiver to get 80 foot buses.
    One last thing, the orange line (and every other BRT bus Ive seen in the US) relies on 3 doors, once again slowing boarding. Ive seen articulated buses of the same length of the orange line with 5 doors. Speeds up boarding. (3 in the front partition, 2 in the rear)

  18. Matt Fisher July 24, 2010 at 5:19 am #

    I’m sorry, but you can’t couple two buses together “like a train”. That’s just impossible. But I agree, bus lanes are needed to increase ridership. That’s what Ottawa did with the Transitway. The mode should not be the factor in increasing ridership. It should be the level of service.

  19. Matt Fisher July 24, 2010 at 5:21 am #

    By the way, I used to be a complete BRT opponent, but now I believe that BRT can do everything rail does at a fraction of the cost. It can be just as attractive to passengers as rail, so why worry about the mode?

  20. Matt Fisher July 24, 2010 at 5:33 am #

    Once again, I will add, BRT can do EVERYTHING rail does, but on tires. I used to say BRT proponents are wrong to call BRT “just like rail, but cheaper”. Well, now after reading this blog, and my experience in Ottawa, I believe BRT is just like rail, but cheaper, and can be just as good as rail. It can be just as green as rail, and Ottawa is a truly green city with the Transitway.

  21. Christopher M July 24, 2010 at 6:12 am #

    I’m not sure I’d go as far as to say that BRT can do everything rail does, but there’s no reason it can’t do a lot of it and sometimes that might be enough or even preferable.
    The real problem with buses is not the mode itself but when the requirements of a successful bus system come into conflict with the politics of a city or country. For example the greatest weakness in buses over light rail in the UK is that in most cities the buses were privatised and deregulated and it is illegal for transit agencies to own buses or compete with private providers. Since similar competition on a light rail line is impossible the mode demands the regulation and accountability that bus passengers in the same setting are legally barred from enjoying. Similarly the LA case appears to be that due to the fractured politics of the city there is no way of implementing system wide bus lanes or signal control that would make buses in LA a success. Of course any mode can be in conflict with the political environment, but the flexibility of buses means that it is much easier to compromise the system in the light of these issues than it is with rail system.
    To bring it back to Mr Rudy’s point, perhaps what he should have said was that “In a perfect world we could have doubled ridership with buses”?

  22. Matt Fisher July 24, 2010 at 7:35 am #

    Okay, I regret my earlier statements for the umpteenth time that BRT can be “as good as rail”. But I agree, we should be viewing BRT as part of an integrated transit system, rather than as a mode that is in competition with rail transit. If the two modes coexist (and I say they can), we can have a successful transit system. BRT has been a success in Ottawa, and has shown that it can provide many attributes similar to rail, but is not “as good as rail”. Still, BRT has one advantage rail doesn’t have: flexibility.

  23. Jarrett at HumanTransit.org July 24, 2010 at 9:19 am #

    You write: Similarly the LA case appears to be that due to the fractured politics of the city there is no way of implementing system wide bus lanes or signal control that would make buses in LA a success.
    While fractured politics creates a lot of problems in LA, it is much, much better off than the Bay Area, which is fractured among many counties, not just many cities. Much of what LACMTA has achieved in the last two decades would have been much harder for the Bay Area, where multiple counties would be involved.
    But I don’t agree that a good bus lane system is impossible due to the fractures. The City of LA would clearly have to take the lead. Despite its odd boundaries, it’s big enough to change regional expectations through its own behavior. It also has a world class signalisation system that is already integrated with the Rapids, and that can be programmed to handle changes in values about how buses and cars share the road.

  24. anonymouse July 24, 2010 at 10:03 am #

    All this talk of “just like rail, but cheaper” and “can do anything a train can do” is… unhelpful. Buses are buses and trains are trains, and there are certain advantages and disadvantages to each mode, and these must be weighed and tradeoffs made when deciding which one to use for any particular situation. The point of the Bus Rapid Transit idea is that some limitations commonly thought to be inherent to buses are in fact just limitations in the traditional idea of bus operations (on-board fare collection for example), and that by operating buses in a different way, they can be made more useful in many more situations. Actually, the original idea of LRT is similar: you can have a system that removes certain constraints if that’s appropriate for the given situation (grade separation, or exclusive ROW, or fare controlled stations).

  25. Carter R July 24, 2010 at 11:27 am #

    I recently sent in a public comment to MTA in regard to the Wilshire bus only lane project and it went something like this:
    Do it now, make no compromises, and make sure that as soon as possible complete the missing segment through Beverly Hills.
    Then, put bus only lanes on Santa Monica Blvd, Olympic Blvd, Pico Blvd, and Venice Blvd. And then, the North-South arterials.

  26. Carl July 24, 2010 at 12:02 pm #

    Some general points I agree with:
    1. Bus and rail should complement each other
    2. Great rail transit cities also have extensive bus networks – to reach areas that rail doesn’t reach, or connect areas, or more frequent stop spacing
    But other points, especially in the LA Times article, are problematic:
    1. The canard that the rail investment “has done little to reduce traffic congestion”. Usually transit investments don’t reduce traffic congestion, instead they provide an alternative mobility for people who don’t/can’t/won’t drive. Induced demand will fill any road capacity anyway – the only way to effectively reduce traffic congestion is to dramatically increase the cost of driving.
    2. The statement that the capital cost of rail investment could have been spent to operate more buses is also fallacious. With the exception of the Orange Line, there is virtually no dedicated bus infrastructure – or capacity – in LA*. It may not even consider the capital costs of the buses, just the operating cost of drivers. Capital investment in capacity create new travel capacity – capacity that can operate high levels of passengers/hour on reliable congestion-free corridors. LA needs this, in particular because of the great distances.
    * Actually there is also the Harbor transitway (I think that’s the name) that is along a freeway south of downtown, with significant stops built in the center of the freeway, including a good connection to the green line. It has never attracted many riders, I think less than 10% of the projected demand. There are also many freeway HOV lanes around LA, most of which are just as congested as regular lanes – they don’t work.
    3. The quotes in the article appear to suggest that rather than build the four rail lines, LA should have just operated Rapid bus lines on the same corridors, and it would have carried the same numbers of passengers for less cost. Certainly for the Red/Purple and Blue lines that is completely impossible. There is no way that even with dedicated lanes on surface streets with signal preemption and continuous buses on low headways that the same passenger volumes could be carried. Rail and bus complement each other, and in a city of LA’s density, the spines should be rail.
    4. When a corridor supports high capacity trains – like the 3-unit blue line and the 6-car red line – the operating costs for rail are far lower than buses which require an operator for each 60-foot coach.
    5. Rail will attract more choice riders than buses. If you want to offer service that attracts more riders than the transit-dependent and have a corridor that can justify rail capacity, invest in rail.
    6. Final point: I have not seen the political will in most any city in USA to convert any existing roadway capacity to dedicated for transit. It almost always has to be newly built capacity – or else bus transit gets relegated to existing congested lanes – and even when it is new capacity, in USA it is often shared with so many other vehicles that it becomes unreliable. And policing and signal priority for bus lanes has been poor – it is even an issue on the Orange line in LA
    So… buses and rail do complement each other, and buses will always be an important part of the transit network even in rail transit city, but generally on a corridor with enough demand for rail, a rail investment is worthwhile to provide new capacity and high reliability, high quality service. It’s likely a better transit investment than building road capacity nominally dedicated to buses. If LA were able to do it over again, would they have made the Orange Line LRT instead? I think so.

  27. Jarrett at HumanTransit.org July 24, 2010 at 12:13 pm #

    Carl. Agree with most of that, except that re (6), New York city is now starting to convert traffic lanes, or sometimes on-street parking lanes, to bus lanes. Re (1), transit reducing congestion, be careful. Your formulation suggests that instead of reducing congestion it is serving a social need. Transit is much more powerful than that, because it allows people to choose to own no car, or fewer cars, and thus to depend on transit as their primary mobility. So long as transit is routinely described as being for people who “can’t” drive, it will have a social-service smell that is offputting to people like me who can afford a car but choose not to own one.

  28. Jarrett at HumanTransit.org July 24, 2010 at 12:15 pm #

    Carl. Another way to describe the role of transit, which is more relevant to its citywide benefit, is that it permits an increased level of economic activity at a fixed level of congestion.
    Cities will always have exactly as much congestion as they make room for. If you want to reduce congestion below that level, the only solution is pricing. (Transit, of course, is also critical in laying the groundwork for that to be politically possible.)

  29. Eric Doherty July 24, 2010 at 1:43 pm #

    Carl wrote:
    “The quotes in the article appear to suggest that rather than build the four rail lines, LA should have just operated Rapid bus lines on the same corridors . . . in a city of LA’s density, the spines should be rail.”
    Carl, I think you missed something important. The concept of transit ‘spines’ in a dispersed city like LA (or Metro Vancouver BC) does not make that much sense. (Unless you are envisioning some strange creature with a network of spinal cords). Sure there are routes that carry more people, or serve longer distance trips, but it is how the network functions as a whole that is important for attracting ridership.
    A grid-like network of medium capacity rapid transit lines (BRT or rail) carrying say 10,000 people per direction per hour max can carry more people than a few ‘big pipe’ lines with capacities of 30,000+. (In Vancouver the design capacity of the heaviest used metro line is about 30,000 pphd). And for many people the door to door speed would be faster, even if the travel speed of the rapid transit vehicles is lower.
    Like Vancouver BC where I live, in LA there is no one dominant destination. People are going from everywhere to everywhere, the transit network needs to do the same (wherever there is enough potential ridership). So I would suggest comparing something like 10 BRT lines and better bus service region wide to the next four possible rail lines (Just a guess as to how far the money would go). Money is the limiting factor, not the number of potential rapid transit routes.

  30. Alon Levy July 24, 2010 at 2:23 pm #

    Eric, there are actually a few good heavy rail spines in LA – Wilshire-Whittier, for one. In addition, there are some unused or underused rail corridors in LA that could be repurposed for modern passenger rail, such as the LAUS-LAX Harbor Line and the Sylmar-Anaheim(-Irvine) corridor to be used for high-speed rail.
    A strange network of spinal cords would be similar to the Mexico City Metro, which looks like a net rather than a hub-and-spoke network. Or even the New York City Subway, which is hub-and-spoke, but has two outer-end terminals where multiple spokes converge. LA is more or less planning on something like it, with a network whose nodes are the Westside, LAX, Long Beach, and Downtown LA; with some more investment, Burbank and Pasadena could be added as extra nodes.

  31. Carl July 24, 2010 at 6:07 pm #

    Jarrett – I am very interested to see how the NYC dedicated lanes work out, especially on 1st and 2nd Aves. So far, I don’t feel the NYC police have enforced the dedicated lanes, and instead treat them as convenient parking spots for police vehicles. I’ve never understood the two limited stop bus services (M101 and M102) on top of the Lexington Avenue subway.
    Like you, I am totally a choice rider. I have vehicles at my disposal, and if I have free parking at my destination and a significant time savings, that’s the way I go. I feel that while transit has some social service responsibility, it needs to be sufficiently compelling to be attractive to choice riders, who in turn can make decision about where they live and shop and how many vehicles they own (and whether the own one at all.) So, transit needs to convenient, safe, and reliable to attract the choice rider. The bus may work for a choice rider as a connector if it is frequent and its route isn’t subject to extraordinary delays (congestion.) It probably doesn’t work on a main spine if the spine requires high capacity or is heavily congested and a bus is competing with other vehicles.
    Regarding reducing congestion- I don’t think it is a winning argument to promise that transit reduces congestion. Instead, either transit can provide a reliable route through that congestion (if it has a dedicated route that lets it do that), or if pricing eliminates congestion (via tolls, parking taxes, fees to enter a city), then transit provides a way for people to access the city without paying the tolls.
    Eric – even if there aren’t automatic spines, you can create them by making a certain corridor have high frequency (low wait), high speed, and high reliability – it becomes promoted to the spine. But most metropolitan areas have some natural spines, whether due to topography or history.

  32. Wad July 24, 2010 at 8:06 pm #

    Eric, one side effect of concentrated service you describe is a “flight to quality”.
    It’s similar to the behavior in which investors will sell risky assets for conservative ones in times of volatility.
    In transit, there’s a tendency for riders to gravitate to the service that offers a noticeable improvement (speed, frequency, price or distance) from what’s available.
    It will help for the higher-quality service, but it may come at the expense of the lower-quality service. Example: If a bus line with 10-minute frequencies is sandwiched between two 30-minute routes, the ridership gain from the 10-minute route will be offset by a drop in ridership from the 30-minute services, resulting in no ridership gain with a drop in productivity.
    One of the most extreme examples of the flight-to-quality problem is in the Bay Area’s suburban BART counties. You have fast and frequent BART services that connect with atrocious, rural-frequency buses. The problem here is that with such an imbalance of service, transit riders will avoid the bus at any cost and orient their trips around BART without relying on buses (walking, biking, getting rides from friends).
    There’s a feedback problem here. The underutilization of buses means adding service to correct the problem is not warranted. People won’t use the buses because they are so infrequent. It’s even worse than chicken-and-egg, because addressing the supply equation has to factor in how many non-bus trips added bus service can displace if it were available. Chances are, not much to make the service worthwhile to run.

  33. J July 24, 2010 at 11:10 pm #

    Matt Fisher said “I’m sorry, but you can’t couple two buses together “like a train”. That’s just impossible. ”
    Then why do they do it in switzerland?
    (my picture)
    The second car is unstaffed. Like all buses, trains and trolleys in switzerland, all the doors are passenger operated.
    I rode on one of those. They have 3 doors, and the front and back are roomy standing room areas (obviously no drivers seat). Must be cheap too, because it doesnt need to have any mechanical parts, it’s just a trailer the front part pulls along.
    If we allow freight trucks to run like trains (cab connected to a trailer connected to another trailer…connected to another trailer) on our freeways…..then why not do it with a bus?
    Heres an example I found on google. Ive seen many of these, but dont have my own picture.

  34. teme July 25, 2010 at 1:19 am #

    I don’t want to get into LA transit discussion, I know next to anything about it, so in general level:
    First, that something attracts more passengers is relative to the level of transit share to begin with. There is always some demand, that is if the share is very low, even a very bad new service will boost ridership. If the share is high, obviously high quality service will be needed to boost levels.
    Second, that a city like Strassbourg can replace buses with modern trams has IMO not much to do with the size of the city but with the density of the city. If there are enough passengers in routes pere mile using long trains is much more economical due to bigger vehicles, that is labor costs are lower and building on-street rail really doesn’t cost much if at all more than building lanes at least in Europe. (I sometimes wonder whether you guys use golden rails…) If there are not enough passengers, buses ofcourse are the right choice, but then again it is difficult to justify investments in separate rights of ways if there are not many passengers…
    Third, paint is cheap, land in a city usually is anything but. It is in general dishonest to argue that you can just convert car lanes to bus lanes, or rail for that matter, without any cost even if it doesn’t show in the budget of the transit authority. The same space could be used cars, or by pedestrians, bicycles, in some cases it might even be possible to use it for buildings. And I know of two projects where old rails have been converted to parks.

  35. Christopher M July 25, 2010 at 5:10 am #

    Jarret – You’re right. When I said impossible what I should have said was “highly unlikely”.
    I live in England so I don’t know the west coast of America at all, but the impression I’ve got from here and other blogs/news sources is that the LA rapid bus situation is an example of political division preventing the bus system reaching its potential. As I understand the situation LA city has adopted the signaling system but the other municipalities in the county have not followed. Because they have not, the system is not as effective as it could be. I can only presume that the same would happen with bus lanes.
    I appreciate it’s outside your role, but we shouldn’t underestimate the importance of effective government in making public transport a success.

  36. eric o July 25, 2010 at 8:59 am #

    @teme: Isn’t Jarrett’s point that density instead creates the demand to provide more than just surface rail service? I think a limited geography also limits the demand.
    @Jarrett: On museums, I prefer yesterday’s technology today, …or better yet, yesterday’s tomorrow today. Thanks for the feedback. There’s another reason, I have to say, to choose rail…and that is you already have the railbed. And the old warehouses and bukkos of industrial properties and vacant contiguous lots on either side of that abandoned railbed to start some urbanism. So, IMHO, Charlotte did it right with light rail even if the density wasn’t there.

  37. Alon Levy July 25, 2010 at 11:30 am #

    J: do you have an example of diesel buses coupled together? It may be easier to couple short trolleybuses than articulated diesel buses because of the stability provided by the catenary.
    And even then, the two coupled trolleys have a total interior length of about 23 meters, which provides slightly less capacity than a single bi-articulated vehicle, common on BRT systems.

  38. J July 25, 2010 at 1:29 pm #

    @Alon, no I dont have an example of a diesel bus coupled together, but that freight truck with 3 containers is certainly diesel. Of course, I find that trucks with 2 trailers are much more common than those with 3.
    The point is that the capacity limit is, IMO, manufactured. The orange line (and other bus systems) have many options available to them. To say that a 65 foot bus is the best they can do is false. It takes a little bit of research and imagination to see that there are many solutions available.
    Here’s another hypothetical possibility. Have a 2 floor bus (such as those which are used by the transit system in Vegas, 42 feet long) pull a single level trailer (40 feet long). Has it ever been done? Not that I know of….but as far as I can see, there’s no limiting factor. The orange line is pretty flat, so going up a hill shouldnt be an issue.

  39. teme July 25, 2010 at 2:17 pm #

    Well Eric, if there is high enough density, sure there is enough demand for an underground train. Whether it makes sense depends on the length of the trips, in short trips (depends, but let’s say up to 5 miles) using an underground system actually reduces mobility because of the time it takes to get to the station, while it speeds longer trips. Which is a perfectly good reason why dense cities have both surface and undergrund services, I agree with Jarrett that good systems have both.
    Whether it makes sense economically to use surface light rail / tram, whatever you want to call it, or a bus is a separate question depending on the amount of passengers it gets, and this relates to density. One way to look at it is that once bus frequency is driven not by service levels but by the amount of passengers that need to be carried it is a good idea to get something bigger. Another way to look at it, 10 minute frequency is a common compromise between service level and operating costs, and generates easy to remember timetables. Depends on how thightly passengers will be packed, but to give nice round figures six vehicles in a hour is about 500 passengers for a bus, up to 1000 for a really big buses, and more than 1000 on trams.

  40. anonymouse July 25, 2010 at 10:06 pm #

    The problem with super-big buses is that either its engine would have to be much bigger, or it would have to accelerate much more slowly. Those 3-trailer trucks mostly operate on interstates in the flat parts of the US (and Australia). Electric motors are compact and have can tolerate short-term overload, so trolleybuses and trams can operate with trailers quite easily.

  41. EngineerScotty July 25, 2010 at 11:34 pm #

    There is a practical limit to how many articulated sections can be added to a vehicle without a fixed guideway. The Disneyland “trams” that run to the parking lot have about six sections behind the tractor, but beyond that, three sections behind a tractor seems to be the limit for street-legal trucks. Such beasts are notoriously difficult to drive, are illegal in many jurisdictions, and where they are legal, they are subject to numerous restrictions (operation in daylight and dry weather only, and on certain designated corridors). And freight doesn’t mind the swaying of the tail section all that much.

  42. Dan W July 26, 2010 at 9:09 am #

    “By the way, I used to be a complete BRT opponent, but now I believe that BRT can do everything rail does at a fraction of the cost. It can be just as attractive to passengers as rail, so why worry about the mode?”
    Because it CAN’T be as attractive to passengers because people know from their own qualitative experience that riding a train of any time is more comfortable than riding on tires on asphault.
    It just isn’t true that a seat on the bus is the same as a seat on a rail line. Some people seek speed, some people seek frequency, but to pretend that ride “quality” doesn’t matter is to deny the obvious.
    2/3 of Los Angeles County voters approved a half-cent sales tax increase in the middle of the greatest recession since the great depression in no small part because it promised to eventually build rail line they could see themselves riding.
    There is no such supermajority of voters who see themselves riding a bus no matter how “rail-like” these buses attempt to be.
    I am not anti-bus. In fact, I favor a comprehensive network of transit only lanes throughout Los Angeles that compliments our growing rail system. I just don’t pretend that buses are “as good” as rail only cheaper. Voters and taxpayers don’t buy that line either.

  43. Alek F July 26, 2010 at 10:32 am #

    What?? “Overall, the push for rail has forced transit ridership down” – are you kidding me!!
    This is one of the most nonsensical arguments I have ever heard (no offense to the author of this quote). Because the exact opposite is true. The more rail lines you build, the more ridership you get, it’s pure common sense. Yes, we certainly need more buses and lower fares, but this has to go IN ADDITION to building more rail lines, not instead! Not a single city in the world will be able to offer reliable mass transit unless a Rail network is offered. Los Angeles’ mass transit overall has been inadequate and inefficient, mostly due to lack of Rail lines (subway and LRT); this is the reason we still see a vast majority of people driving, especially the middle and upper class. Transit agencies will never ever generate sufficient ridership unless a comprehensive rail network is offered. And traveling only on buses will not get you far… or fast…

  44. Scott Mercer July 26, 2010 at 12:20 pm #

    Ridership is about three things: speed, speed, and speed.
    Choice riders disdain buses NOT because they are dirty, or full of so-called “undesirable people,” though they are usually, and those things don’t help.
    The main reason choice riders like trains over buses is because buses ARE TOO SLOW. Especially in a city like Los Angeles, which is actually several medium-sized cities cheek-by-jowl next to other with suburban infill between them, many people have long, long, long mass transit commutes. Even the Orange Line, end to end, takes almost one hour. (Better than the Ventura Blvd bus, which takes well over one hour, probably over 90 minutes during rush hour).
    I should know, I used to commute downtown LA to near western Orange County, a trip which took me TWO HOURS (!) each way. And it was only 22 miles. That trip involved bus, train, bus, bus. Three transfers, three transit agencies.
    Train was clearly the winner of those. If I could have gotten there with train only, it would have taken one hour or less. Needless to say, I quit that job after a few months due to the hellish commute.
    Trains also have better “facilities.” Even light rail has special stations and platforms. Many times, all a bus stop gets is a $20 aluminum route sign lashed to a telephone pole at the side of the road.
    It is a no-brainer: people like trains because they are faster and have better support facilities. The more places train go, the more people will use them. If BRT could speed up commutes as significantly as trains do, I am sure that “rapid buses” would have more public support. But, they don’t, so, they don’t.

  45. Alon Levy July 26, 2010 at 1:24 pm #

    J: the best that has been done abroad is 80′ bi-articulated buses, with (I believe) four doors. Going bilevel would not help increase capacity further, because the limit to bus capacity is quick boarding and not just interior space.
    The flatness of the Orange Line helps, but just a little. When you make a lot of stops on the way, you can’t act like a truck that goes for hundreds of miles at constant speed.

  46. bzcat July 26, 2010 at 1:26 pm #

    It is not that simple to just say “capacity limit is manufactured”. Well sure, any capacity limit is artificially constrained by reality… unless you can somehow come up with a way to bend reality, I see no practical solution to Orange line’s capacity issue (short of converting the rail). 80ft triple articulated bus, double deck bus, double trailer bus etc are all fairytale solutions in as far as Orange line is concerned.
    The state of California is not likely to grant any exemption beyond 65ft so that rules out 80ft or any trailer option (65ft is the maximum length of any vehicle, including trailers, that allowed within California – this rule excludes vehicles that travels interstate which is subject to Federal regulation). The alternative is to go double deck… A 40ft double deck bus holds about the same amount of people as 65ft articulated bus so you are not gaining anything by switching to a different form factor. To gain capacity, you’d have to use articulated double deck buses (they do exist for long distance touring buses) but I don’t think any transit agency has successfully operated articulated double deck buses in any meaningful high frequency service. The double deck articulated bus would also involve all new capital investment not just in the bus itself but also maintenance capacity and not to mention changes to bus driver union contract. 60 and 65ft buses are all we’ve got to work with.

  47. EngineerScotty July 26, 2010 at 2:21 pm #

    Don’t confuse the technical capabilities of various modes, with the particulars of how they are implemented in various places. The LA Metro Rapid service, for instance, is faster than the Portland Streetcar. What matters is how often the vehicle has to stop (whether to pick up passengers, or for things like stoplights or traffic jams or whatnot).
    Fully-isolated bus can be just as fast as most rail implementations.
    At the high end, that isn’t true–there are many examples of rail lines operating at speeds >100MPH, far faster than any bus can safely drive; but such speeds are generally of greater concern to long-distance transport, not urban transit.
    (There are a few regulatory differences in some countries. It’s a lot easier to get full signal priority with rail in the US; as there is a substantial body of law essentially granting railroads the right to put up crossing gates wherever tracks cross roads, whether the local authorities like it or not; many DOTs and public works departments, on the other hand, refuse to give signal priority to bus lines. This is a political fact, though, not a technical one).

  48. Alek F July 26, 2010 at 4:05 pm #

    I entirely agree with Scott. Speed is one of the top factors. That’s why I’m even more puzzled about Mr. Moore’s and Mr. Ruben’s ignorance of the most basic (!) factors. They appear to support the buses and disdain the rail? Well, i wonder how frequently do they ride LA’s buses… I’m sure, not too often. Because any person with decent common sense would never travel solely by buses in any given city. Unless he/she has nothing better to do than waste time by spending hours & hours in crowded buses stuck in traffic gridlock.

  49. Kevin Seymour July 26, 2010 at 9:25 pm #

    A couple of things I think are worth mentioning regarding the gist of the original LA Times article and the general rail/bus debate in the comments:
    1. Correlation is not causation. Why is this always so hard for journalists to understand? The underlying argument of the article is that overall transit ridership in LA has declined since the mid-80s which is also when LA embarked on a rail building program, therefore the rail system caused the reduction in transit ridership. This ignores a whole lot of other very pertinent factors in play, such as the continued building of new freeways (ie, the Century Freeway which opened in the 1990s) and addition of many, many new lanes to existing freeways that occurred at the same time, many built with transit tax funds and under the guise of building supposedly less wasteful HOV lanes. However, even if no new freeway lane-miles had been added between the mid-80s and now, the massive investment in the freeway system in the 60s and 70s would have continued to have a long term effect on where people chose to live and work and how they would move between those two places. And those new places created by the freeway network by and large are not easily serviced by bus or rail, no matter how frequent, speedy or cheap. Other factors affecting transit ridership: the collapse in the price of gasoline from the early 80s to the early 21st century and race-based land use planning and transportation decision-making especially following the early 90s riots.
    2. LA shot itself in the foot not because the MTA wasn’t able to plan an effective rail system, but because LA voters and politicians prevented the building of subways which could directly serve primary commercial, shopping and entertainment corridors, such as the Red and Purple line do. A good part of the period in question has seen the building of light rail lines along old freight and intercity passenger rail corridors which sometimes happened to go near activity centers, but mostly don’t – and the ridership disappointments on these lines (both ends of the Gold Line) should serve as a warning to Angelenos who thing they’re saving money by not building subways that can serve the destinations people actually want and need to get to. This should change over the next ten years with the westward expansion of the Purple Line and to a lesser extent with the building of the Regional Connector (so that trains from the two halves of the Gold Line can actually reach downtown, not the fringe area of Union Station). However, the San Gabriel Valley extension of the Gold Line now under construction is fated to be a relatively low-cost per mile, easy to build, politically favored rail line that turns out to have very few people riding it because it doesn’t really go where people want to go.
    3. And one final glaring omission from the LA Times article is that the MTA, under the court-ordered direction of the BRU, has in fact spent quite a bit of money on its bus system, most notably through the deployment of the Metro Rapid system which is intended to speed bus trips by limiting stops, using signal preemption, running larger, more frequent buses, and providing better bus stop amenities. This a great system and should be expanded and improved with dedicated lanes (as is currently planned for Wilshire) and more frequent service mostly because LA could not possibly build rail transit on all of these corridors. However, this investment, though improving the mobility of many people, hasn’t lead to an all-bus-based transit utopia or great spike in bus ridership no more than the investment in rail has transformed LA into Paris.
    It’s too bad that this “bus or rail” argument continues to live on in the media and in social discourse. A city that offers great car-free mobility to its citizens invariably has both a strong rail system and a strong bus system. (It also has great pedestrian life and, increasingly, great bicycle infrastructure.) It’s no wonder that the largest bus system by ridership in the US is not LA’s, but New York’s.

  50. teme July 27, 2010 at 12:27 pm #

    Alon, I can think of situations where an 80ft double-articulated bus might be the only possibility, but I honestly don’t get why anybody would choose them if there are other options. They are fairly complex vehicles manufactured in small numbers, like rail vehicles, and as such can cost something like one million a piece, which once you factor in shorter usage life is pretty much the same you pay for light rail vehicles. Basicly what you get is a small rubbertire tram, why not just go rail with say 140ft rail vehicles to cut labor costs or use normal buses with much smaller capital expenses?

  51. Alon Levy July 27, 2010 at 4:01 pm #

    Teme: in some parts of the world, the cost of constructing railroad tracks and catenary is high enough that BRT has a serious cost saving. By and large, it doesn’t describe developed countries; in the first world, the basic advantage of BRT is that it can run partly on regular streets and partly in BRT lanes.

  52. EngineerScotty July 27, 2010 at 5:23 pm #

    Of course, rails and catenary have gotten expensive recently in the US… 🙂

  53. Alon Levy July 27, 2010 at 11:29 pm #

    Catenary isn’t particularly expensive: the New Haven-Boston electrification project cost $2 million per km. Neither are rails: the proposal for the reconstruction of the Lackawanna Cutoff, involving laying down a single track plus signals on an existing ROW, is projected to cost $3 million per km.

  54. Wad July 28, 2010 at 1:19 am #

    Kevin, the problem is that L.A.’s Metro Rapid is none of those things you listed except for the limited stops.
    There are no fancy stops apart from the showcase lines on Wilshire and Ventura Boulevards. All others are ordinary stops. The only thing special Metro did was “make” Rapids exclusive by putting the Rapid stop on the far side while removing the local stop to the near side. Riders have long protested the “Rapid shuffle” where they run across the street to catch the other bus. So Rapid lines deployed after 2006 have single stops for both lines.
    Signal preemption is no better than catching a green light by chance. It’s a waste of money. The stop savings come from the limited stops. And most 300-series lines can clock 20% savings over the locals in limited-stop zones. (Most limited lines have a lower-ridership segment near the ends where they serve local stops).
    Also, Metro is in the process of contracting Rapid lines, not expanding them. This December, Metro proposes canceling 5 lines entirely, and cutting three others to weekday-only service.

  55. EngineerScotty July 28, 2010 at 8:01 am #

    Signal preemption is no better than catching a green light by chance. It’s a waste of money. The stop savings come from the limited stops. And most 300-series lines can clock 20% savings over the locals in limited-stop zones.
    I’m a bit curious about that claim. Are rapids frequently stuck behind other traffic even if the light is green? Are there queue jump lanes? Does the signal priority algorithm guarantee other phases of the light a minimum cycle time (as opposed to the signal priority found at railroad crossings or granted to fire engines; where cross traffic is stopped immediately, no matter what)?
    Poorly done signal priority is known to Not Work Well; recently, planners here in Portland abandoned a BRT-lite option for a transit line after modelling showed that 1000 foot queue jump lanes would be needed to make the signal priority effective–an impractical solution for the route in question. Well-done signal priority can work fine, however, even in mixed traffic.

  56. Scott Mercer July 28, 2010 at 1:22 pm #

    @ Engineer Scotty:
    For many people who live in the greater Los Angeles area, commuting IS THE SAME THING as long-distance transportation. That’s why trains are so necessary here. You are covering such vast distances, that buses are just not going to cut it. There’s plenty of low-income people who live in East LA and work in Santa Monica (nannys, housekeepers in high-end hotels, bus people in restaurants…yes, mostly Hispanic immigrants) They take the 720 “Rapid Bus” for its entire length. That’s over 20 miles, through various and sundry cities. Takes almost two hours. Not sure how long the previous/current “local stop” #20 bus would take. Probably almost three hours. This goes through three to five distinct cities and various sub-neighborhoods within those designations. Even if that is “faster than the Portland Streetcar,” a streetcar is NOT the kind of train I am talking about. I am talking about heavy urban rail (subway or elevated) or interubran type light rail, like the Blue Line here in LA. Heavy duty routes that do some serious cutting of commute times.
    I also know of people who do even more ridiculous (driving) commutes like Victorville to Huntington Beach, or Lancaster to Culver City. These are like 100 mile each way (!) commutes! Personally, that’s quite insane to me and I would never do that. I live 3.2 miles from my job. But there are MANY people in LA who do stuff like that. Getting the commutes of just SOME of these poor tired bastards down from 2 hours each way to merely (yeah, right) one hour each way on a daily basis would be good for society as a whole, not just for those people in particular. Cutting emissions, cutting dependance on foreign oil, freeing up more space on freeways so that more freeway lanes are not required as the population grows. Things like that.
    As far as “fully isolated bus,” we only have two facilities like that here in LA, The Harbor Freeway bus lane and the El Monte bus lane. Unfortunately, we already have more light rail in mileage than those two bus lanes. And I am not counting the Orange Line, it stops for traffic lights.
    If we could get more facilities like the El Monte busway, I would be all for it, but then you have the capacity problems evidenced by the Orange Line. You can only increase bus length by so much, and you can only increase bus frequency by so much before “bus bunching” rears its ugly head. For truly massive passenger carrying capabilities, such as is required here in Los Angeles County, home of 12 million people, a train (preferably not street running) is required.

  57. EngineerScotty July 28, 2010 at 4:26 pm #

    Any bus (or rail) line that takes 2 hours to go 20 miles, is not deserving of the name “rapid transit”, no matter what the name painted on the sign says. That’s 10MPH. Either the traffic along this route is utterly terrible, or the bus is stopping a bunch. Either way, that level of performance gives rapid transit a bad name.
    Even long-haul local busses here in Portland, such as the 12, 33, and 35 (all of which planners intend to replace with “rapid transit” sooner or later) manage to move significantly faster than that–so much so that potential conversion to rail is not being hailed as a benefit by many riders on these lines. (And all of these routes run on urban thoroughfares which are frequently congested; none is an express or limited-stop service).
    You then write: “I am talking about heavy urban rail (subway or elevated) or interubran type light rail, like the Blue Line here in LA. Heavy duty routes that do some serious cutting of commute times.”
    To which I ask? Why are these modes faster–steel wheels, or exclusive corridors with either grade separation or absolute signal priority?
    The capacity issue you mention, on the other hand, is something which indicates rail over bus. If you are looking at running more than a bus every two minutes or so along a route–a short enough headway where reliability starts to suffer–rail may be a better idea. (And of course there’s considerable overlap between the two modes in terms of when they are suitable).
    But bus CAN be fast. When it’s designed to be.

  58. EngineerScotty July 28, 2010 at 4:29 pm #

    As an aside–at those distances, a rider would be better off with commuter rail or express bus service; not rapid transit. OTOH, if the service doesn’t exist, or is too expensive…

  59. Wad July 28, 2010 at 9:47 pm #

    EngineerScotty, the problem with L.A. Rapid signal priority lies in split responsibility for the transit component (Metro) and the traffic signal component (LADOT).
    LADOT sets the terms when a bus can get a green light extended for 10 seconds. The extended time cannot back up traffic on a cross street, and the lights are “headway-locked” so that bunched or off-schedule buses won’t be given priority.
    We have no queue jump lanes or any special bus priority infrastructure whatsoever.
    Whatever. It’s BRT, baby!

  60. cph July 28, 2010 at 9:56 pm #

    Although transit ridership may have dropped in the past 20-odd years, I’m not quite convinced that it’s the “fault” of the rail system, per se…a lot has happened since 1990, such as fare increases, service cutbacks and strikes. Also employment levels are down now, keeping more people off the buses….

  61. Dan W July 29, 2010 at 8:56 am #

    “Kevin, the problem is that L.A.’s Metro Rapid is none of those things you listed except for the limited stops.”
    In fact, in many cases the “Rapid” lines just involved basically painting the buses red and canceling “limited” bus line equivalents and pretending that a whole new service had been created.

  62. CroMagnon July 29, 2010 at 1:30 pm #

    Does anyone have any information as to how short headways can be on a heavily trafficked 2 way urban arterial with priority, either bus or rail? Any good US/Canadian examples?

  63. anonymouse July 29, 2010 at 2:31 pm #

    In LA, there is no signal priority on the Blue Line, but there is signal synchronization, and currently the shortest headway is 5 minutes. When the Expo Line starts up, the headway on the shared section will go down to 3 minutes, but that section is along a one-way arterial, which isn’t quite what you’re after. I believe Houston has both signal priority and 6 minute peak headways.

  64. EngineerScotty July 29, 2010 at 3:04 pm #

    In Hong Kong, the New Territories light rail operated by MTR runs alongside Castle Peak Road between Tuen Mun and Yuen Long, generally without signal priority. Numerous different lines are interleaved on the track, and headways are frequently ridiculously short. (The line doesn’t use block signalling, and trains often queue up like busses).

  65. Jarrett at HumanTransit.org July 29, 2010 at 3:36 pm #

    Vancouver's 99 B line bus is about as frequent as you can get, every couple of minutes peak.  The capacity constraint isn't the priority so much as the length of the bus stops, because stacking is unavoidable at that frequency.

  66. teme July 29, 2010 at 11:59 pm #

    Vancouver’s 99 B line bus is about as frequent as you can get, every couple of minutes peak. The capacity constraint isn’t the priority so much as the length of the bus stops, because stacking is unavoidable at that frequency.
    How is that not a capacity problem? If the vehicles were bigger there would not be a need to run it that frequently and thus no stacking.

  67. Jarrett at HumanTransit.org July 30, 2010 at 12:02 am #

    teme. It certainly is a capacity constraint, and an important reason that the Broadway corridor is a priority for some kind of rail solution.

  68. david vartanoff July 30, 2010 at 10:24 pm #

    Previewing your Comment
    several comments on the various points, with the caveat, that almost ANY of the “presumed” theories are disproved by at least one historical reality.
    Starting with buses never trump well designed commuter rail. The Metra Electic of today on the South Side of Chicago was once a very frequent service in the South Shore neighborhood. That branch had the best rush hour “special” services catering to mid and upper level management types demand for fast trips to/from the Loop. In the mid 50s CTA began Jeffrey Express bus service which matched trip times from 71st and Jeffrey to the Loop. Former Electric riders switched to CTA even though the cost was not much less.
    Today the Electric has thin frequencies and even rush hour trips do the “local” work to/from South Shore. The Jeffrey Express is about to get BRT treatment from CTA. I should say in passing that CTA has missed a clue here by not integrating Metra Electric service within Chicago into normal CTA fares–a huge waste of underused capacity.
    CTA plans to spend several billion to extend the Red Line (Dan Ryan Epwy) to better serve feeder buses which pass Metra Electric stations where riders could transfer to faster trips downtown at the cost of a few million in farecard readers/TVMs.
    Whole other reality–chatting w/ a friend raised in the safe ‘burbs–she basically dissed buses as automatically less safe/desirable than rail. This and the converse insistence on maintaining a (“class”) distinction between former mainline RR commuter operations and city transit systems hobbles both operations.
    Why NYCMTA is doing BRT on 1st/2nd Aves–because despite having passed THREE bond issues to fund the Second Avenue Subway, realists understand that promised service will never happen. A tiny segment from 63rd to 125th may get finished if MTA can con the Feds into paying off their huge bond debts. This in fact is similar to the LA conundrum. Whether you believe the cost overruns and delays which made the LA Red Line the most expensive per mile subway to date were ‘legit’ or massive corruption, the net result was a multi year no subway law.
    The opportunity cost per new rider is vastly greater for rail than simply dispatching a new or enhanced bus route. The trade off question is “how upscale must the bus become to compete w/rail?” The SF Bay area provides several interesting answers.
    First, AC Transit has deployed long distance buses w/ wifi in direct competition w/ BART. They are well patronised. Secondly, several of the elite IT firms have laid on similar luxury coach “employee shuttles” to whisk workers from high rent areas of SF to the Silicon Valley where the sprawlburb IT campuses are.
    These compete very well w/Caltrain as they are nearly door to door. Both demonstrate that if the lowly bus is tarted up enough it can attract the upscale rider. Unfortunately in the AC Transit case, despite claims to the contrary, the bus agency expenditure on the relatively few transbay riders is partially financed by the local riders who have had service degraded steadily over the last decade.
    All that said., I have loved trains nearly since birth.
    Posted by: david vartanoff |
    This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.
    Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
    Your comment has been posted. Post another comment
    The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.
    As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.
    Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.
    Post a comment