Jonathan Riley / Flickr

The tradeoffs would include more crowded buses and some service cuts.

The big trend in U.S. transit bus service is to do more with less—or, in some senses, to do something different with the same. So we see cities like Houston and Omaha redesigning their bus systems, at zero additional cost, into networks that cover less territory than before but that run more frequently where they do go. That crowd may soon get a high-profile new face: Los Angeles.

At least that’s the service direction indicated by a series of recent documents posted online by L.A. Metro’s Blue Ribbon Committee, a panel tasked with suggesting a new transit vision for the city. Over the course of five meetings dating back to February, the committee has drafted a service plan that centers around an expanded network of frequent bus—those running at least every 15 minutes. Here’s the proposed map (spotted by Human Transit), with proposed expansions in red and purple:

A draft map of frequent bus service in Los Angeles. Dark blue routes already run every 15 minutes; those in red and purple are proposed frequent network expansions.  (LA Metro)

The plan would give Angelinos something closer to reliable all-day transit service. That’s a great benefit to any city: it reduces car reliance, promotes equitable mobility, and ultimately increases transit ridership. It’s also a great thing for riders, because it means they can more or less show up at a stop without consulting a schedule and know a bus will come soon.

But that sort of flexibility comes with some costs. In this case, it looks like there are three main ones (which appear to have emerged from a network analysis conducted by the American Public Transportation Association):

More crowded rush-hour buses. Right now L.A. buses have an all-day “loading standard” of 1.3—meaning they allow 1.3 passengers for every seat. The new plan would up that standard to 1.4 during rush hour. The last thing any commuter wants is a more crowded bus, but in reality we’re talking about a matter of four-to-six people per bus, depending on its size. And the move would help keep down costs, because it means Metro wouldn’t have to run as many peak buses.

Fewer bus stops. The Metro draft plan also considers consolidating bus stops—in other words, eliminating some that currently exist. That will mean a bit of a longer walk to and from the bus stop for some riders, but it also means a faster ride. So long as the pedestrian infrastructure in a city keeps up with new walking demands, getting rid of some bus stops can actually improve service for the system as a whole.

Less coverage to low-ridership corridors. Last but not least, the draft plan also calls for service cuts on some of the bus system’s lower-ridership routes. Again, that will result in lost or worse service for some Angelinos, and likely some who rely on transit to get around. But in the absence of new bus funding it’s the surest way to balance out the money going toward the increased frequency on other parts of the system.

So there it is: a faster network in exchange for a slightly smaller one. Some of the documents indicate the Blue Ribbon Committee has even grander sights; in an earlier meeting, it presented a map of an even more rapid system, complete with two tiers of bus-rapid transit running every five minutes (below, in dark red and red). A system this impressive would no doubt require an equally impressive source of funding, but it’s an encouraging glimpse into Metro’s ideal vision for the city:

A proposed strategic bus network would have two tiers of BRT service running every 5 minutes as part of a broad frequent service network. (LA Metro)

The Metro documents indicate the new draft policy will be taken to the Metro Board of Directors in July 2015. Until then it remains subject to change, and of course it also remains subject to rejection. But if nothing else it shows the city is trying to do a bit better with what it’s been given.

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