Metro Hustles to Turn Bus Ridership Around With WiFi and 24-Hour Service

With Lyft nipping at its wheels, the transit agency ups its game

It may be a golden age for rail in L.A., but the same can’t be said about the bus. Ridership has steadily dropped since 2013, with 59 million fewer annual trips on the sprawling bus system from 2013 to 2016, a decline of 16 percent.

Metro believes the emergence of Uber and Lyft, paired with cheap gas and laws allowing undocumented Californians to obtain drivers licenses, contribute to the diminishing riders. A recent Metro survey showed that’s not the full story, though. Many respondents said they ditched their TAP cards because buses are too slow, unreliable, and, at times, unsafe.

Long Term

In response, Metro is now undergoing a massive study of ridership patterns and what patrons desire from the system. When the research is done in two years, big changes could result. The whole grid system—L.A. buses usually follow one north-south street or east-west boulevard for their entire voyage—could be altered, or buses may be given exclusive lanes to speed up travel. All-door boarding could become a thing, cutting down on the often time-consuming loading of passengers, and more security personnel could become a regular fixture.

Immediate Future

Metro isn’t waiting until 2019 to try to woo riders back. Several service improvements will be rolled out in the interim. In the next few weeks, a pilot program will add WiFi to 150 Metro buses, allowing commuters to work and surf without eating up their data (the service will allow normal internet usage, but not streaming). The WiFi will also allow riders to contact Metro security 24 hours a day, which will help address safety concerns. By the end of the year, 300 buses will be outfitted with WiFi, with plans for the entire 2,200-bus system to get hooked up in a few years.

Another complaint about bus service—that buses don’t run frequently enough—has already been partially addressed. Metro announced this month that six lines, running in neighborhoods/cities like Playa Vista, Warner Center, the South Bay, and West Hollywood, will now have service every 15 minutes. Even better news is that the Orange and Silver bus rapid transit lines, which operate more like trains, now offer 24-hour service.

The Orange Line is already a popular way to bisect the Valley, but there’s room for improvement. Metro is considering tinkering with traffic lights and even adding overpasses that would allow the bus to zoom past intersections—the latter option though, would likely happen after the results of the study arrive in 2019. Occurring sooner will be a new shuttle service through Warner Center, making the sprawling neighborhood more accessible to Orange Line riders.

Another positive step from Metro is its commitment to purchasing more zero-emission electric buses, with a goal of having its entire fleet electric by 2030. That’s good news for everyone, even the people who still can’t be convinced to get on the bus.

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