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When you talk about BRT in the United States, Los Angeles and their Metro Rapid program is often brought up as a success story for the operation of BRT. This despite the fact that it is not true BRT and Los Angeles already had examples of BRT: The El Monte Busway, the poor performing Harbor Freeway Transitway, and now the Orange Line.
Metro Rapid started with two lines in June of 2000, the 720 and the 750 that traveled along two of LA's busy corridors Wilshire Blvd and Ventura Blvd. Since then 26 other Rapid lines have been implemented that covers most of Metro's operating area. In addition, Santa Monica Municipal bus lines has its own Rapid Line that runs from Santa Monica to the LAX bus station. Just a couple of months ago Metro introduced its most recent rapid line the 733 between Los Angeles and Santa Monica via Venice Blvd and the Venice area.
When Metro Rapid started there was promises of special bus stops including next bus indicators but only the first two stops received these special bus stops. In addition Metro only had an agreement with the city of Los Angeles for signal priority, so other routes were still stopped by traffic lights although Metro was working on agreements with other cities.
One thing that Metro in Los Angeles did get right is branding. They created a separate brand that differentiated Rapid from other bus routes in the area. In fact Metro created several different brands that each featured its own colors: Orange for every day local routes, Red for Metro Rapid, Blue for express routes (only a couple of these are left), and Silver for Rail services, the Orange Line busway and the new Silver Line connecting the Harbor Freeway and El Monte transitways.
Like every other transit system across the nation that depends on sales tax revenue, Los Angeles is facing making cuts to bus service because of declining sales tax revenue. In addition, Los Angeles is also facing cuts from the state as the Govenator continues to raid transit funds to put into his own pet projects and to shore up California's horrible fiscal situation. Therefore Metro is being forced to cut 4% of its bus service. What is interesting is that several Rapid Lines will be among the casualties.
Even one of the original Rapid lines the 750 will loose weekend service with the cuts. In addition the areas south of downtown Los Angeles will loose several of their Rapid routes outright.
So why, if Metro Rapid is so successful would several routes be on the chopping block?
First of all if you look at the Metro Rapid maps you will notice that except for a couple of exceptions, all Metro Rapid routes follow the same route as the local routes. So in other words the Rapid lines did not create any new markets for bus service. Instead of taking a blank slate and saying where would be the most effective markets to create new markets, they either replaced already existing limited stop service or routed the rapid lines down the same streets as the local lines.
The one route that truly created new markets plus serving existing markets is the 720. This route overlapped two bus corridors creating new opportunities for riders for a through ride.
The other problem with following existing bus service when creating these Metro Rapid routes is that local bus service was cut to provide the Rapid service. This assumes that a majority of the market is looking for the faster ride and the bus stops in between are of no importance. The problem with using is philosophy is not understanding your market. How many of your customers need the local service as opposed to the new Rapid line.
The Utah Transit Authority found this out when they implemented their MAX service. UTA severally cut route 35 that parallels the new MAX route down to hourly service during the day. However, after only a short time UTA increased service to every 30-minutes due to demand for the existing 35.
In fact Metro in Los Angeles is planning to beef up local service when the rapids are cut.
While the Rapid service made since with the length of many Metro routes travel, it is important to determine the market the line is going to go after and not just follow your existing bus routes. When you create a new service clean the slate and look for new markets.
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