Politics

L.A. Mass Transit Chief Makes Airtight Case Against Rail

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In this alternate-reality science fiction film, most of the passengers on an L.A. city bus speak English.

The Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority is eliminating 12 percent of its bus service. The service reduction, which the L.A. Times describes as "part of the largest overhaul of the system in more than a decade," will cut nine lines. This comes on top of a 4 percent bus service reduction MTA ordered six months ago – a move that prompted a federal discrimination complaint from the far-left Bus Riders Union. MTA claims it can no longer afford to support lines with mediocre ridership:

Metro Chief Executive Art Leahy said there were "astonishingly low" ridership levels on buses headed into downtown each morning and that the system operated at 42% capacity.

Leahy here reveals the inherent advantage of bus lines over rail lines – you can easily add to and subtract from bus service as the city changes and the needs of your customers evolve. (MTA says it will "enhance" service on some heavier-demand lines.)

More importantly, by coming clean about the statistics in this way, Leahy makes the clear case that MTA should reduce its rail service by about 48 percent. While buses consume only 35 percent of MTA's operating budget, they move 80 percent of its passengers. That's a bargain compared to the Authority's capital-hungry, debt-fueled trains, which continue to underperform the most modest expectations and have arguably depressed overall ridership on L.A.'s mass transit system. 

In previous reporting I said L.A. buses carry three times as many riders as L.A. trains. According to current statistics, that's closer to four times as many: 1,133,636 daily boardings for buses, against 298,932 for trains. These ratios are essentially unchanged [pdf] over the previous two years. You could eliminate nearly all the city's rail service and have no more impact on customers  than MTA will see with its current cuts.

The Bus Riders Union is right: If rich people took the bus MTA wouldn't dare make these cuts. Then again, rich people don't take the train either; they just like knowing it's there.