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U.S. Department of Transportation U.S. Department of Transportation Icon United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation

Metro Rapid Demonstration Program Evaluation Report - Operating Speed, LADOT Transit Priority System, Service Quality

Previous communications with bus riders have indicated that MTA's existing local and limited-stop bus services have been too slow and unreliable. The Metro Rapid program sought to address these shortcomings through the introduction of service that would improve operating speeds over current local service with reduced passenger wait times and load factors within Consent Decree requirements.

Operating Speed

The Metro Rapid program introduced several attributes specifically to improve service operating speeds. These included: bus signal priority, level boarding/alighting with low-floor buses, headway rather than timetable-based schedules, fewer stops, far-side intersection location of stations, and joint active management of the service operation from the Transit Operations Supervisors (TOS) in the field and the MTA Bus Operations Control Center (BOCC). Since the initial date of service, the Metro Rapid operation has achieved several major improvements in operating speeds:

Operating SpeedsWilshire/Whittier
(Line 720)
(Line 750)
Overall Improvement29%23%
Eastbound (Range)31% (18-40%)20% (11-29%)
Westbound (Range)28% (21-32%)27% (16-34%)

The City of Los Angeles conducted independent research regarding which attributes contributed to the speed improvement and found that the bus signal priority system accounted for approximately 1/3 of the improvement and the other elements accounted for the remaining 2/3 of the benefit. In support of this finding, the running time data indicates that the segments with bus signal priority operate faster than the adjacent segments, especially when ridership loads are considered. To further increase bus speeds along the Wilshire/Whittier corridor, bus signal priority should be extended to the segments in Beverly Hills, East Los Angeles, Montebello, and Santa Monica.

Metro Rapid operated faster in mixed arterial traffic than the Curitiba Express lines in exclusive lanes due to Curitiba's tighter station spacing and externally-controlled vehicle speed governors. Depending on the time-of-day and direction, Metro Rapid speeds average between 14 and 30 mph compared to Curitiba's average speed of 13.8 mph.

Several segments on both lines operated significantly more slowly due to other factors:

  • Traffic congestion caused major delays for Line 750 along Ventura Boulevard between Balboa and Van Nuys (I-405 back-ups) and between Vineland and the Universal City Station; and for Line 720 through downtown Los Angeles.
  • Very high ridership loads result in extended dwell times; thus, slowing operations between downtown Los Angeles and Western Avenue on Line 720. The higher capacity buses and multiple-door boarding in Phase II will reduce dwell times significantly, improving operating speeds.

In conclusion, MTA, in partnership with the City of Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT), has achieved results in operating speed improvements that have been noticed and appreciated by its customers with the deployment of the Phase I Demonstration Program. A Phase II Expansion Program should build on this base and continue improving operating speeds by:

  1. Complete the bus signal priority installation outside of the City of Los Angeles on demonstration Line 720 Wilshire/Whittier and establish a standard that future Metro Rapid service will be fully covered with bus signal priority.
  2. Introduce exclusive bus lanes on arterials where feasible (recognizing the likelihood of future congestion); priority should be given to arterial segments with chronic, debilitating traffic congestion delay.
  3. Reduce station dwell times by testing and introducing off-vehicle fare collection systems such as "proof of payment," and introducing high capacity buses to manage standees within standards and avoid gross aisle congestion delays.
  4. Introduce high capacity buses to allow for operation of more capacity with less frequent service during maximum peak periods. The current westbound morning peak frequency on Wilshire/Whittier is approaching 2 minutes which allows for little traffic signal recovery between bus priority overrides and is increasing the likelihood that individual Metro Rapid buses will not receive signal priority. Discussions with LADOT indicate that 5-minute intervals are a good balance between service frequency and maximum bus signal priority availability, with 3 minutes on the lower end of desirability.

LADOT Transit Priority System

The Transit Priority System (TPS) was designed and implemented by the City of Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT) to assist MTA in implementing the Metro Rapid Demonstration Program. This program has gained nationwide attention since its debut on June 24, 2000, and has significantly improved the quality of transit operations along the two Metro Rapid corridors.

The Transit Priority System was developed to provide traffic signal priority to buses operating on heavily used transit corridors, and is an enhancement to the City's Automated Traffic Surveillance and Control (ATSAC) System. This concept was embraced by the MTA and became an integral part of its Metro Rapid program. The system has been deployed at more than 211 intersections along the two Metro Rapid corridors in Los Angeles: Ventura Boulevard (16 miles) and Wilshire/Whittier Boulevards (26 miles, 14 miles in Los Angeles). During the past nine months of operation, many transportation professionals have inquired about this innovative new system, including the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) as one of the first successes in the "Bus Rapid Transit" arena.

The TPS Project also includes control of dynamic passenger information signs at selected bus shelters along the Metro Rapid routes. These highly visible Light Emitting Diode (LED) signs inform passengers of the estimated arrival times of the "next" Metro Rapid bus. The arrival time information is computed by the system based on the actual speed of the bus and is accurate to within one minute. The sophisticated algorithm which calculates the arrival time was completely developed in-house by LADOT staff.

Detailed engineering studies have been made which not only measure the effectiveness of the project, but also its impacts on general automotive traffic. The results are very promising, with total transit travel time savings of about 25% in each corridor and a reduction in delays caused by traffic signals of 33%. Overall travel speeds for the buses have increased from 11 to 14 miles-per-hour on Wilshire Boulevard and from 15 to 19 miles-per-hour on Ventura Boulevard. The impacts to cross-street traffic are minimal, typically averaging about one second of delay per vehicle. This project has clearly demonstrated that with the correct combination of technology and innovation, a creative solution to the transportation needs in Los Angeles can be met.

Service Quality

The Metro Rapid program was initiated to improve both operating speeds and service quality. The key elements of service quality that were considered important were reduction in bus bunching (headway ratios), average passenger wait times, and passenger standing loads. The two demonstration lines have differing degrees of success, largely depending upon the nature of passenger demand, with Line 750 Ventura showing excellent improvements in service quality while Line 720 Wilshire/Whittier still trying to manage the massive increase in ridership attracted to the new service.

  • Line 720 Wilshire/Whittier - headway ratios show considerable bus bunching, especially during peak periods when the buses are very frequent. Average passenger wait times are typically less than 5 minutes with the only concern during PM peak periods, especially westbound, where wait times could exceed the typical headway. High daily ridership results in high average loads for much of the day. The passenger-perceived average loads were even higher due to the variability induced by the high headway ratios (bus bunching). On September 10, 2000, an additional 23 trips were added during peak periods with a resulting 10 percent increase in ridership within just three days indicating strong latent demand still remaining.
  • Line 750 Ventura - headway ratios are excellent with almost no bus bunching, significantly better than the timepoint-based local service. Average passenger wait times are in the 4-to-6 minute range, which is excellent for service operating every 10-12 minutes. Average loads are below maximum seated levels, but are expected to continue to increase concurrent with ridership growth once the effects of the strike are shaken off.
  • The companion local services on Wilshire/Whittier and Ventura have all shown improved service quality and performance due largely to the reduced local ridership loads, making the service operate artificially faster than previously. On Wilshire/Whittier, local service levels initially operated at the same levels as Metro Rapid, while on Ventura, local service ran twice as often during peak periods and the same as Metro Rapid during the remainder of the service day. As local service levels are adjusted to reflect actual local ridership, service performance should return more closely to normal.

In summary, Metro Rapid has had considerable success. But to avoid success being the undoing of Metro Rapid, MTA and LADOT need to move forward with refinements in operating policies and upgrades to the bus signal priority system, including:

  1. Provide more capacity with less peak period frequency along Wilshire/Whittier. This will allow the TOS with help from the BOCC to better manage the service, improve the consistency of the bus signal priority system, and reduce station dwell times.
  2. Introduce and monitor refined operating practices concurrent with additional training for the BOCC, TOS, and bus operators. These will balance manual intervention by MTA staff with automatic intervention by the LADOT signal system.