This week, the Metro Board of Directors will consider whether to take an important step in improving its bus service by adopting the NextGen Bus Plan (NextGen), Metro’s first comprehensive bus service overhaul in 25 years. The new service plan is based off more than two years of technical studies and community engagement and prioritizes fast, frequent and reliable bus service to meet riders’ needs and make buses more competitive with other transportation modes. CCA was glad to participate in Metro’s working group and has supported the plan’s development throughout this iterative process.
High-quality public transportation options are paramount to a vibrant DTLA. From light rail to buses to bike share, each of these and more are a piece of the puzzle allowing residents, employees and visitors to conveniently and affordably get around while embracing transit-oriented communities and working toward our local and state sustainability goals.
While some are still debating the fate of urban cities and public transportation, ridership continues to rebound with bus ridership at 51% of pre-COVID-19 levels in September as people continue to rely on Metro to work at essential jobs, connect with loved ones and travel to medical appointments. We also see evidence that people are returning to physical workplaces and venturing out for other nonessential activities as we learn more about how to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. While the pandemic has lasted longer than many of us hoped, we know that Angelenos and DTLA will emerge on the other side and people will return to the heart of the city still needing a variety of high-quality transportation modes to access employment opportunities and the many cultural and entertainment attractions DTLA has to offer.
Metro ridership continues to recover from significant lows at the start of Safer-At-Home orders in March 2020. Source: Metro COVID-19 Operations Update Presentation
NextGen will benefit existing and future riders. NextGen has two key components: service reorganization and capital improvements. This week, the Board of Directors will consider approval of the service component of NextGen which will improve bus frequency for existing riders on the most heavily trafficked lines. The plan’s benefits are meaningful. Implementing NextGen’s proposed system reorganization with pre-COVID-19 bus service levels would mean that 83% of Metro’s current bus riders could catch a bus in 10 minutes or less all-day (compared with 48% today). This is especially exciting as NextGen outreach indicated the greatest opportunity to grow ridership is between midday and early evening when many trips are short distance.
Metro hopes to increase ridership in the future by investing in capital improvements that foster bus speed, reliability and improve the customer experience by creating a more safe, comfortable bus waiting environment. Expenditures for the capital improvements are approved through the agency’s annual budget process and would take place over five years if implemented as planned. Metro estimates that by implementing the proposed capital improvements, weekday ridership could grow systemwide by 15-20%.
Realizing the benefits of the NextGen Bus Plan requires continued investment. If the Metro Board of Directors adopts NextGen, service updates will be implemented in three phases with the first in December 2020 followed by additional changes in June 2021 and December 2021.
We are excited for Metro to create the world-class bus system they intend to build. But we know that for NextGen goals to be realized, the agency will need to restore bus service to pre-pandemic levels, advance capital improvements to support bus speeds and improve bus stop environments and communicate planned changes effectively to riders.
Restore Bus Service to Pre-Pandemic Levels: CCA joined a broad coalition of community advocates concerned about the 20% reduction in bus service during COVID-19 and the impact on riders that rely on Metro for essential trips. Service cuts also jeopardize NextGen benefits including the proposed frequent bus headways on Metro’s busiest lines. We were glad to see the Board of Directors direct an operations recovery plan to restore bus service to follow NextGen principles, ensure safe social-distancing and make any necessary budgetary adjustments. It’s important that this restoration be carried over as NextGen is implemented.
Advance Capital Improvements: NextGen proposes $1 billion in capital improvements that will enhance the rider experience by improving speed and reliability through dedicated bus-only lanes – like the three recently installed lanes in DTLA – and traffic signaling that prioritizes buses. It also includes improvements to create a more comfortable and secure waiting environment at bus stops. We encourage Metro to remain committed to investing in bus-supportive infrastructure in upcoming budget cycles and seek out alternative funding sources.
Communicate Changes Clearly: Metro has indicated they will use digital tools and signage at bus stops to communicate changes like consolidation of some Rapid and Local bus lines that will result in entirely new lines. We urge Metro to take a robust approach to sharing these changes, such as communicating with riders as early as possible and wrapping buses with new branding and line identification so riders are prepared for the adjustments.
NextGen can support DTLA and the region’s recovery. NextGen investments can support DTLA and the region’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and improve our bus network – the backbone of our region’s transit system - for years to come. We know that we must continue to reduce our reliance on single-occupancy vehicles by providing alternative, competitive mobility choices as we continue to embrace density, transportation equity and work towards our sustainability benchmarks. Implementing NextGen as proposed is an investment in Angelenos’ long-term mobility, access to opportunity and healthy neighborhoods. CCA will continue to advocate for solutions like NextGen that meet the needs of our future and we look forward to the Board of Directors’ approval and successful implementation of the plan.