Los Angeles Transit Ridership on the Decline—Are Rail Investments Working?

Bad news for transit advocates in Los Angeles this week, as the Los Angeles Time reported data that makes the region's transit investments look like something less than money well spent.

January 30, 2016, 9:00 AM PST

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell


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Los Angeles, lauded for its sweeping investment in rail transit around the city and surrounding county, hasn’t yet adopted transit in a way that reflects that investment.

"For almost a decade, transit ridership has declined across Southern California despite enormous and costly efforts by top transportation officials to entice people out of their cars and onto buses and trains," report Laura J. Nelson and Dan Weikel.

After that lede, the reports follow with more specifics:

The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the region's largest carrier, lost more than 10% of its boardings from 2006 to 2015, a decline that appears to be accelerating. Despite a $9-billion investment in new light rail and subway lines, Metro now has fewer boardings than it did three decades ago, when buses were the county's only transit option.

The article notes that trend also holds true for nearby regional transportation agencies, such as the Orange Country Transportation Agency, as well.

The article includes some speculation about why more people aren’t adopting transit and details the complicated history of transit politics in Southern California, but it also reaches a disappointing conclusion: "The decline suggests that Southern California policymakers are falling short of one of their longtime goals: drawing drivers out of their cars and onto public transportation to reduce traffic congestion, greenhouse gases and the region's reliance on fossil fuels."

With several projects still under construction, including a light rail extension to Santa Monica, and a bus system targeted for an overhaul, the transit future of Los Angeles is still very much to be determined. For those looking for some reason to doubt the implications of the L.A. Times' coverage of the data, Ethan Elkind has already written a response, which calls out the newspaper for misleading use of statistics and selective comparisons in making the decline in ridership look worse than it is.

Friday, January 29, 2016 in Los Angeles Times

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