Monday, February 28, 2011

What to do with Route 176

South Pasadena City HallImage via Wikipedia
In previous entries I did a short history of LA Metro's route 176 and a brief description of route. As promised today I am going to look at the 176 from a marketing prespective, look at some alternatives to make the line more successful and finally look at some alternatives for the western end of the line to keep some bus service in the section of route that has no announced replacements.

First of all, there is two things that is currently hurting route 176.

The first is the current schedule of the 176. Right now the buses run every 70 minutes.You could basically call this a bean counter schedule. The present route requires a 55-minute running time so with layovers you can run the service with only two buses. While a bean counter may like being able to run the route with only two buses, it will not attract any choice riders because of the lack of frequency.

While a 60-minute frequency still would not be enough to attract a large number of choice riders, at least the buses would be running at a schedule to remember. Having the ability to know that a bus should always come at six after the hour makes riding the bus simple compared to the bus comes at different times at every hour of the day.

Another item that hurts the 176 from a marketing perspective is the lack of major destinations along the route. As I mentioned in the route description the route does service a major industrial park but they have their own built in limitations. The bus also serves a major tourist destination in the San Gabriel Mission but very few tourist will venture onto Metro buses, especially in the suburban areas that bus service is extremely sparse.

The route does not service any major shopping centers either. Alhambra has a small 20 year old minor mall, but it has no regional draw. Except for the downtown South Pasadena area, most of the retail along the route is aging grocery store centers and strip malls which are not conducive to riding the bus.

One of the problems faced by many Metro routes is the long held philosophy of Metro's predecessor RTD and Metro itself. Their concept was to run a bus as far as it could in the same corridor creating extremely straight but long routes. The problem with the 176 is that there is not a lot of through streets in the area that do not go into NIMBY land, so the route was always one of compromise.

What the 176 is a community feeder line that the RTD turned into an extremely long route that did not work. Sadly, RTD's successor has also done a poor job of designing routes that are not major corridor routes or designing any routes at all. There has been few changes to the bus routes outside the ones that were forced on Metro by the Bus Riders Union Consent Degree.

What can be done to change the route?

While none of these proposals would be acted on, here are some ideas to create a more successful route 176.

Idea one would actually restore a portion of the route to Glassell Park but avoid the section of Division Street which caused all the NIMBY issues due to worn out 70+ year old concrete with its sub base worn down by erosion.

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Not only would restore service on a portion of Avenue 50 and El Paso that loss service a couple of years ago, but it would also add service along a portion of York Blvd that has never had bus service and add service to the biggest regional mall in the area.

However, the potential customers who would travel to the mall would be residents of South Pasadena who would most likely not be willing to ride a bus through Highland Park. The route would also duplicate part of one of the Glendale Beeline routes and MTA Route 183 which could be seen as a negative.

Idea two is a variation of Idea One.

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Back in the 1980 period, RTD proposed major changes to transit service in order to change routes so that they did not look anything like the streetcar routes that once existed. In the vain attempt to eliminate anything that resembled old streetcar routes, RTD proposed to replace service on then route 6 (now 83) on York Blvd with a reroute of Route 430 (176) along York.

The downside of this is that the frequency of the 83 along York is every 25 minutes so the present frequency of the 176 would not satisfy riders along that portion of York Blvd. However, it would also have the benefit of creating new service on the section of York Blvd north of Eagle Rock Blvd that has never had bus service before.

Here is a third idea that adds service not only to the Glendale Galleria area but also serves the Glendale Metrolink station and provide connections to Bee Line.

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The benefits that all these proposals have in common is to increase the number of major destinations served by the route (although they would still be on the extreme end of the line), add service to areas that do not presently have any, and provide new connection opportunities that do not presently exist with the 176.

The question is would the increased ridership justify the increased cost? The present scheduling of the route would nulify any improvements to the destinations served due to the lack of service frequency.

Since Metro is planning to save the eastern portion of the route, here is an idea to save service on the western portion of the route. Now this would have been easier if Metro still operated route 262, however that route is now Montebello Bus Lines Route 30. The route could be extended from its present terminus at Garfield/Atlantic/Huntington Drive triangle to replace the portion of Route 176 to Highland Park. This would eliminate that evil duplication that occurs in Alhambra and save service through South Pasadena to Highland Park.

The ultimate issue with the route is something that cannot be resolved and that is the economic and social divide that separates South Pasadena from the other communities the 176 travel through. The best solution which is Metro has no concept in operating, will be to work with the city of South Pasadena and set up a Call N ' Ride operation for the city providing every half hour connecting service to the Gold Line. This would provide service to those that need it in the area plus provide convenient connections to other services.

When push comes to shove, there is few people who will probably notice when the 176 disappears from the landscape. After 35 years of being ignored except to cut service to the bones, there is few riders left to really care what happens to the western portion of the route.

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