Future of public transit is the bus, not the train, says USC professor

The bus lane at the empty LAX airport, May 14, 2020. Public transit ridership in LA has been down during the coronavirus pandemic. What will the future of public transportation look like? Photo by Amy Ta.

Many Angelenos aren’t driving or taking public transportation as much anymore during the coronavirus pandemic. Ridership on LA trains and buses has dropped about 65%. LA has reduced service, closed entrances to stations, and started sanitizing vehicles and public spaces a lot more.

But once this is all over, will riders come back? What will public transportation look like then?

KCRW speaks with James Moore, engineering and public policy professor at USC who studies public transportation. 

He says transit revenue will drop due to lower tax and sales revenue, which heavily fund public transit in LA. 

But he says LA’s drop in ridership is lower than in New York and the Bay Area. Ridership has dropped some 85% there. 

“It's a testament to the fact of how important transit is to the low-income households. … That number says to me that transit in Los Angeles really is a very essential service.”

When it comes to safety and future ridership, Moore says it depends on whether there will be more services, and how users will behave on buses and trains.

“If we're conscious and careful and thoughtful [and] really intentional about what we're doing, we can ride transit and be relatively safe,” he says.

What should LA build less of?

Moore suggests LA should stop building more trains, and that’s key to a successful public transit agency here. He says LA County has spent $26 billion on new construction, but total ridership has dropped since 1985. 

“We want to believe that rail is a solution, but it's really a solution looking for a problem,” Moore says. “It's expensive enough that if you do what LA does and shift resources from bus service to providing rail facilities, you wind up reducing the total opportunities to travel and the total transit ridership.”

Instead, he thinks buses should be at the center of transit expansion and should cover longer trips with fewer transfers.

— Written by Danielle Chiriguayo and Amy Ta, produced by Brian Hardzinski

Credits

Guest:
James E. Moore - University of Southern California

Host:
Madeleine Brand

Producers:
Sarah Sweeney, Michell Eloy, Amy Ta, Rosalie Atkinson, Brian Hardzinski, Angie Perrin, Caleigh Wells