Riders Railroaded

Blowing up buses


In late October, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) approved a $5.2 billion subway extension that will almost certainly decrease the number of Angelenos using mass transit. Overall ridership—counting both buses and trains—goes down for every mile of rail service MTA adds, because rail grows at the expense of the bus lines people actually use.

Bus fares have been hiked three times in the last three years, and these increases are usually coupled with cuts to bus service, as more of the authority's budget gets sucked into the rail project. In September, for example, the MTA eliminated 4 percent of its bus lines. Meanwhile, subway ridership has been dropping.

By some estimates, the MTA has lost more than 3 billion boardings since construction of the rail network began in 1985. During that time, the population of Los Angeles County has grown about 35 percent, yet overall MTA ridership is the same as or slightly lower than it was in 1985.

Rail is traditionally a liberal cause, but because bus riders tend overwhelmingly to be lower-income people, some of the L.A. left has turned against trains. "The 20-year experiment with rail has been a failure," Eric Romann, an organizer for the leftist Bus Riders Union, says. "If you go back to 1985, L.A. had more people using public transit than use it today. They spent more than $8 billion over that time, and we have seen a drop in transit use. The one time they saw an increase in ridership during that time was when our civil suit forced them to cut fares and expand bus lines."