The Environmental Costs of Slow, Empty Buses
Juan Matute, deputy director of the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies, writes an opinion piece for the Los Angeles Times that digs into the spiraling consequences of declining ridership and bus speeds on the transit systems of Los Angeles and environs.
Average bus speeds in the Los Angeles metropolitan area have declined by 13.4% since 1994 to a sluggish 12 mph. The Los Angeles Department of Transportation’s DASH buses and Santa Monica’s Big Blue bus have been especially hard hit by congestion over that time period, with speeds declining 34% and 28%, respectively.
Ridership, not surprisingly, has plummeted along with speeds. The ripple effect of both is enormous: More traffic, of course, as people jettison Metro passes for cars; even slower traffic because of more congestion; taxpayer money wasted as transit drivers sit in all that traffic. Most concerning, however, is that slow buses with low occupancy rates are inefficient greenhouse gas emitters that could prevent Los Angeles from doing its part to fight climate change.
Matute places the magic number for ridership on a bus at eight. An average passenger total lower than that makes the bus less efficient than a driver alone in a car. If the transit agency is running buses that used renewable natural gas (captured from landfills and dairy farms) that number drops to four. L.A.-are buses are steadily approaching that threshold, according to Matute:
The occupancy of Los Angeles-area buses — roughly 4,000 run in L.A. and Orange counties each weekday — has declined from 14.8 passengers in 1994 to 12 passengers in 2017 (the latest complete data). And all signs show it’s still dropping. One of our greatest assets in the fight against climate change is turning into a liability.
Matute doesn't just sound the alarm, however. Also included in this opinion piece is a prescription for reversing all of that decline: bus-only lanes, like the Wilshire Boulevard lane that still frequently suffers from scofflaw automobile drivers and lack of enforcement. Matutue doesn't just recommend bus-only lanes, but also ways to better ensure that bus-only lanes speed buses up and attract new riders, like they've done in the San Francisco.