7 Ideas for Boosting L.A.’s Sagging Bus Ridership

Everyone loves rail, but our transit system’s work horses need love to succeed

With new extensions opening regularly, our rail system is seeing healthy gains in ridership; in July, five of the six lines saw year over year growth. Sadly, the bus system—which transports the majority of Metro’s nearly 1.3 million boardings—has been steadily dropping since at least 2014.

It’s hard to pinpoint why exactly folks are skipping the bus. Gas prices have remained low, Uber and Lyft have become ubiquitous in the past few years, and the new rail lines offer more comfort, speed, and reliability than the buses. There’s no way we can ever build enough rail lines to cover the vast swaths of L.A. County that our buses traverse, so it’s imperative Metro turn this ship, er bus, around. Here are some ideas.

More exclusive lanes
Metro is already aware that we need more bus-only lanes on our streets; last year they turned 7.7 miles of Wilshire Boulevard into exclusive lanes during rush-hour. But they don’t go far enough—Santa Monica and Beverly Hills have refused to cede a lane to buses, meaning they battle traffic for large sections of the crosstown route. It’s imperative that L.A. and Metro officials convince those cities to get on board.

Other streets need to go bus-only, too. If bigwigs are frightened that a bus-only lane would bring a boulevard like Santa Monica to a grinding halt, try it out on Beverly, Olympic, or Pico; the latter might be the best since it misses obstructionist Beverly Hills.

All-door boarding
Getting on the bus can be extremely lengthy and frustrating when tourists are digging for change or a dollar won’t fit into the cash machine. Open up all doors to boarding—and add TAP validators to the back. Sure, you’ll get scofflaws jumping on without paying, but if you routinely man the bus with transit cops or Metro officials, folks will be less emboldened to not TAP. All-door boardings will also help speed up the process when handicapped riders need to board in the front. Start this process now, especially on the longer, express buses like Wilshire’s 720.

Transit cops
As mentioned before, the guys and girls in blue can help ensure people pay their fare but they can also keep the peace. We routinely see police on the rail system, but why not the bus? Many folks say security issues prevent them from riding the bus, so more cops would make everyone feel like fights, sexual harassment, and panhandling are off the table on the system.

Better bus stops
Many stops consist of a sad sign, often marred by graffiti and surrounded by litter. We need stops with garbage bins (not overflowing) and seating that welcomes commuters, not the homeless. Bus shelters are ideal and should be the standard at big intersections in Downtown, Hollywood, Westwood, South L.A., Boyle Heights, and other busy and transit-dependent neighborhoods. Metro is working on real time signs at the stops, which are desperately needed (they must be accurate or they’re worthless). We also need maps—which are standard in every bus stop in San Francisco—and regular cleaning of the benches and surrounding areas.

Want to get more commuters on the bus? Offer Wi-Fi so people can work—and play—while they’re getting to their job. Again, start with the big buses on the routes connecting job centers, like buses on Wilshire and to Century City, and go from there.

Make the TAP system easier to use
TAP cards make boarding fast and easy, but getting a card is neither of those things. Now, you can only purchase TAP cards at rail stations and some grocery stores—that’s simply not enough places. TAP vending machines need to be available at major bus stops so there’s as little fumbling with change as possible.

Market the buses better
The bus should not only be an option for Angelenos, but we need to encourage tourists on how to use the bus system. Work with the Los Angeles Tourism and Convention Board to create a website showing visitors how to obtain a TAP card and where they can take the bus, especially to destinations that rail doesn’t yet reach—the Getty, Dodger Stadium, Rodeo Drive, and Griffith Park. Create a bus-only Twitter account. Put up billboards. Makes buses sexy, or at least sexier than they are now.