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Comparative Performance Of Los Angeles' Transit Modes

New ways of using bus transit have evolved in the United States over that past decade. Los Angeles’ Metro is unique in that it now operates all fixed-route urban bus and rail transit modes. This allows us, for the first time, to compare how these modes perform without the differences in labor costs, operating practices, and other externalities that can easily confuse modal comparisons.

The on-going building of Los Angeles’ Metro rail and busway system has greatly increased the speed, capacity, and productivity of transit services within critical travel corridors. The continuing addition of enhanced bus (Rapid Bus) services has increased bus speeds and productivity in many more corridors. Together, although accounting for a small fraction of Metro’s overall transit mileage, these few rail lines and bus routes carry over half its passenger-miles of travel.

The analysis confirms that Rapid Bus routes are faster and more cost-efficient than local bus routes and that busways are better yet. L.A.’s rail lines are at least 36% faster than any bus mode and have already shown they can carry well over twice the probable capacity of the busways. The analysis also indicates that unit operating costs and subsidies drop as one moves from local bus services to full rapid transit. Capital costs, of course, rise in the same direction.

One conclusion from this analysis is that bus and rail transit speed improvements benefit the public and the agency by decreasing travel times, operating costs, and operating subsidies. They should be implemented in all cities. Another conclusion is that bus transit provides a range of service options if high speeds and capacities are not needed, but only rail provides truly high speeds and capacities. Busways are not equivalent to light rail. A good transit system uses the strengths of all modes working together.