Every day, when I board the 14 bus at Doheny, I take the seat, spread my legs out and lean back.
I've got lots of space..too much
Not until I get to Normandie do I feel a need to scootch over towards the window to make room.
That ridership should be so low on the 14 west of Koreatown, may surprise the conventional student of planning. Not only does the bus pass through West Hollywood and Beverly Grove-two of the densest neighborhoods in the Greater LA area (Don't take my word. Take the LA Times: http://maps.latimes.com/neighborhoods/population/density/neighborhood/list/)- but the route skirts regional retail and dining destinations such as the Grove, Farmer's Market and Beverly Center, connecting these with Downtown LA (on one end) and Downtown Beverly Hills (and the Wilshire Rapid Bus) on the other end.
Moreover, driving in the Beverly Grove neighborhood and other westerly neighborhoods serviced by the 14 is extremely difficult. The arterials and side streets in these neighborhoods are heavily congested for much of the day, owing to narrow streets (no east-west thoroughfares from the Hollywood Hills are wider than Avenue I), the lack of freeways (traffic heading west from the 101 gets diverted onto Melrose or Santa Monica) and the high-density of jobs and housing not only along the bus's route but in the area nearby. Draconian parking restrictions on side streets, particularly in the Beverly Grove area, make parking (that is not pricy) hard to come by.
The buses themselves are relatively clean and very efficient. What could be going wrong??
I think that one of the most difficult challenges for ridership on the 14 bus, as for bus ridership in the affluent "westside" of the city in general, is the perception that the bus is a mode of travel designed exclusively for people of a lower social strata.
Having grown up in this milieu, I myself never conceived of the bus as a viable form of transit until I went off to college.
Even though I was raised in the dense and congested neighborhoods of Miracle Mile, Pico-Robertson and Beverly Grove, neighborhoods where driving is difficult and bus service is frequent, my mother only spoke of the bus in occasional reference to the cleaning lady ("she was delayed because of her bus"). Remarks about the bus being "dirty" or "dangerous" could also be heard.
If Metro wants to get more Angelenos in Western and Central LA to ride its buses, it will need to make advertise them as much as it does walking or biking or rail. (and in a matter that is classy rather than cheesy)
Another issue with ridership may have to do with the direction I travel in. I have noticed that buses traveling in the opposite direction (i.e. west towards Beverly Hills in the morning and east towards downtown in the evening) tend to be more crowded.
This is ironic, considering that my commute follows the traditional commute pattern. But it makes sense in light of the fact that though Downtown may be a prominent jobs center, it is still one of many in Los Angeles.
The most prominent and significant jobs centers, indeed, extend to the west of Downtown along the Wilshire Corridor. In the Beverly Grove area, CBS Studios, the Grove and Beverly Center and the West Hollywood design districts are major hubs.
Despite the fact that commuting is as common (if not more so) away from the downtown as it is going to downtown, Los Angeles' Metro Bus system continues to be most directly centered around downtown.
The situation on the Beverly Bus reveals that Metro may be smartest tailoring bus frequency and service not based on the direction from downtown so much as the direction in which ridership flows. A system that is more polycentric, integrating the many job centers along the wilshire corridor and in the rest of the LA area with one another as tightly with downtown is needed more than anything.
And that means not cutting, for instance, the only direct north-south link between the Wilshire Corridor and Culver City.
Poorly-maintained sidewalks and free parking in most apartment complexes may also be issues as well. Nevertheless, I still see many people in my area walk to destinations nearby (or to get to their cars). In Beverly Grove and Fairfax, the sparse parking alloted by many duplexes already incentivizes residents to park their cars on the streeet.
In the case of the 14 bus (and the numerous routes like it), transit planners seeking to increase ridership need to go beyond the typical analyses of density, design and parking and examine the broader social and geographical structures.