Tuesday, October 13, 2020

NextGen’s Not The Same After Service Cuts

For millions of Angelenos, seismic changes are coming to the bus lines that criss-cross their neighborhoods starting in December. Far from the usual tinkering that Metro does with its timetables in June and December of each year, the service changes implemented between December 2020 and December 2021 will not go unnoticed. Hundreds of stops are set for consolidation. The limited stop rapid network will cease to exist. Familiar route numbers will twist in unfamiliar directions. Some routes will disappear completely.

All these changes, with more planned in the future, are part of the NextGen plan to revitalize Los Angeles’s bus network. Buses in LA are slow, infrequent, and unreliable. NextGen was introduced as the radical shake-up that needed to be made in order to reverse years of ridership declines and sinking service quality.

Part of NextGen’s appeal was that in its first phase it was purely a “reorganization,” which is to say that it more efficiently used the total number of hours that buses were already in service and better distributed them to create a frequent all-day network. In doing so, the reorganization meant that the same amount of operations monies could be used to send buses down busy corridors much more often.

The highest tier of the NextGen network was defined as buses running every 7.5 minutes or more often during peak hours, with substantially shorter headways during midday and evening hours as well. The next-highest tier would comprise buses running every 10 minutes or less during peak hours. Between these top two tiers, Metro would be operating frequent service of a kind that Los Angeles hasn’t seen in decades across its most successful corridors.

This month, Metro’s Operations Committee and Board of Directors are both expected to approve the plan, which has now been finalized after years of development and analysis. Public outreach was conducted during the summer, albeit before Metro voted to continue service cuts on the bus network indefinitely.

And therein lies the problem. Transit advocates can’t help but note the toll that has been taken on this ambitious plan by Metro’s unfortunate and self-defeating decision to cut bus service by 20% compared with the pre-Covid baseline. Those cuts preclude the NextGen reorganization plan from being implemented as written. There simply are not enough bus service hours left to be redistributed to create that frequent all-day network. The likely result is that Tier 1 and Tier 2 routes will be operating at lower frequencies from the first day onward.

According to Metro: 

“The routing and bus stop changes would be completed within the Revenue Service Hours (RSH) allocated to Metro bus within the FY21 adopted budget.  Additional frequency increases based on the service plan would be phased in based on prudent financial management, considering ridership trends, revenues, resources including workforce availability, and service performance.”

In two sentences, Metro has given itself a huge list of excuses and offramps. If service cuts are the new normal, there is no guarantee in here that Metro will ever proceed to the full service changes intended by NextGen.

And so, we want to be absolutely clear: this is not an auspicious start for the NextGen era in Los Angeles. What will be called NextGen by Metro leaders when it is implemented is actually something less than the plan that is being presented to the Board this month. Due to service cuts, we do not know when (or if) we will ever see the highest service tiers implemented as planned on Los Angeles’s busiest corridors.

As it stands, we remain deeply concerned that NextGen could end up being a slow-rolling bait-and-switch: that the frequent bus network on busy city streets will never materialize, and that the institutional willpower to implement this plan will gradually fade before the finish line is reached.

As we repeatedly highlighted in the lead-up to Metro’s budget vote in September, Metro has taken a fully funded reorganization plan and defunded it with bone-deep service cuts. We do not consider that Metro has lived up to its responsibility to implement NextGen by adopting this plan without a concrete commitment to fully implement NextGen.

We renew our call for Metro to fully fund the NextGen plan and provide service to bus lines in accordance with the tiers in the final NextGen plan.

To find out more on how to get involved, please email jessica@investinginplace.org


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