Scheduled Delays

Worsening Congestion Takes Its Toll on Public Transportation

By Jutta Hoegmander

The chronic congestion in Los Angeles is poisonous for buses. Metro’s most delayed bus routes in the Los Angeles County all suffer from the same problem: traffic.

According to a new report by Metro, the on-time rates of its buses have increased 13 percent since 2008. During the past couple of years, the rates have, however, been slowly declining.

Three of the top five lines running most behind the schedule shuttle between Downtown and Santa Monica. Of those the 720 continues all the way to East Los Angeles.

“The Westside traffic problems are our biggest concern,” says Robert Holland, the Sr. Executive Officer of Bus Operations at Metro Los Angeles, adding, “You can’t get around in Santa Monica.”

Holland says that some of the longest lines, especially the 720, which runs for 20 miles between Santa Monica and East Los Angeles, could be cut to half next summer. That would improve their on-time performance and also increase the safety of the bus drivers. The drivers of the 720, for example, would not have to drive for two hours before having a breather.

The other two of the five worst bus routes in terms of delays are the 105 that runs from South Central along Vernon and up La Cienega to West Hollywood, and the 794 that begins its journey from Downtown and travels north to the San Fernando Valley.

“We have to fight all the traffic. It’s tough,” Holland says.

Downtown has its own set of problems. There is a lot of traffic during rush hour and construction work, such as building the new regional connector, further worsens the situation.

The best performer of all the Metro buses is the Orange line that runs according to schedule 92 percent of time. The reason is clear: it has its own dedicated lane, like trains.

“That just tells you, if you keep the cars away from the buses we could run. But it's awful tough to do so,” Holland says.

To separate the buses from the congested car traffic, the transportation authority has implemented designated bus lanes where possible. Holland says they work as long as they are clear. Unfortunately, the lanes are often clogged up by passenger cars. Holland says Metro tries to get the Los Angeles County Sheriffs Department, which is in charge of bus security, to be more aggressive in ticketing motorists who interfere with bus lanes.

According to Metro’s own statistics, the on-time performance of its buses has been slowly declining during the past couple of years. The official target is for 78 percent of the buses to run on time. Based on Metro’s own statistics, the on-time performance was nearly 76 percent in 2013 and a year later 74.5 percent. In 2015, the most recent full year for which statistics are available, 73 percent of the buses reached the goal. The reality may be even worse: According to Metro, a bus is considered on time if it leaves a stop a minute early or up to five minutes late in relation to the schedule.