Sunday, December 20, 2015

On the Mobility Plan and Rush hour Bus Bunching: Equity for Bus Riders?

I was waiting for the Santa Monica Bus at rush hour last week and was struck by the magnitude of delays caused by congestion.

The buses were backed up not for 10 or even 15 minutes but half an hour or more in the eastbound direction. The bus scheduled for a certain time (say 4:45) would show up later than the scheduled arrival of the following bus (say the 5:00 bus) or of the bus after the (scheduled) following bus.

Furthermore, such onerous delays strike at the busiest point of the day for bus ridership. Not a few but a dozen individuals milled the bus stop (in a part of West Hollywood where few locals likely ride). The bus arrives packed to the brim.

Indeed, (perhaps not so) ironically, the greater number of passengers were headed in the direction with more traffic. A stream of workers and housekeepers pile on the buses for East Hollywood at the same time as the motorist bourgeois head towards the 101 for the suburbs.

The biggest problem with rush hour-induced bus delays, such as that I experienced, is that they result in a woefully reduced supply at the height of the day's demand.

Worse yet, the reduced supply is not a result of the bus company providing either an insufficient number of vehicles (this is the time when the most buses are scheduled) or inadequate seating on each bus but the result of thousands of private drivers, over whom a transit agency like Metro has no control, taking over the right-of-way.

To illustrate with an analogy, its as if a clothing store had the least inventory available on Black Friday, because it was forced to give away its wares to other stores (for them to sell at their Black Friday sales) on that day. To make things more accurate, let's pretend this clothing store is Ross (i.e. catering to a lower-income clientele) and the rapacious thieves are Banana Republic and Bloomingdale's.

As with the clothing store's clients, the customers for Metro's bus services suffer competition over limited inventory (known as "cramming") and long waits for restocking of supplies when getting home from work or school.

The immense delays bus passengers must endure at a time of day when they are most in a hurry, not surprisingly turn many away once they can afford the more convenient mode of travel (sadly, in most cases, the private automobile).

This brings me back to the LA's new Mobility Plan.

Much brouhaha has been made about all the automobile lanes that will be lost to bicyclists, who supposedly comprise only 1% of the city's commuters (and who are also hipster elitists, at that).

However, what detractors conveniently ignore is the plan's sweeping Transit Enhanced Network, which will create all-day bus lanes (the ""comprehensive streets") along 13 of the city's most highly-traveled corridors (compare the Transit Enhanced Network map with this list by LetsgoLA) and peak-hour bus lanes on many more (the "moderate plus streets", including my favorite, Beverly Blvd.!).

By allowing for a faster frequency of bus arrivals (assuming that cars respect the bus lanes!) at a time when demand is highest (and speed most desired), Metro and other bus agencies operating in the city can more adequately serve the needs of their clientele.

That's not called elitism but equity.

On a side note:  To those who cry that drivers will suffer an even more severe loss of productive time if a lane is taken out for buses, I say:

 (1) Congestion is already bad enough as it is at rush hour on streets like Santa Monica. How much  worse can it get?

(2)  Cars don't have to pull over and wait for passengers to board every few blocks the way buses do, giving them a natural advantage under the same traffic conditions.

And (3) Cars can always use Waze to meander through side streets when traffic gets bad on arterials. Buses have to stick tho their arterial routes through thick and thin (at least until that far-off point in the future when large agencies like Metro acquire and implement the technology for on-demand scheduling).

1 comment:

  1. Solution for bus lane violators: equip buses on dedicated bus lane routes with cameras that click and send license plate numbers to ticketing agencies. Make sure the ticket penalty is sufficiently severe to discourage others.