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To fix L.A.'s traffic, we need tolls (latimes.com)
329 points by awiesenhofer on March 7, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 667 comments



LA doesn't have a traffic problem. People just have overly high expectations.

As someone who has also lived and commuted in lots of cities around the world, LA just doesn't have that much of a problem.

What other major city in the world would you expect to be able to drive 15 miles through the centre at rush hour and get to your destination in under an hour (I'm using as reference Downtown LA to Santa Monica at 9am, typically takes 35 to 1h 5min according to google maps). Good luck in London, Paris, NYC or Tokyo never mind Delhi or Beijing.

The line made famous by clueless that everywhere in LA takes 20 minutes is completely true, with the caveat being, so long as you don't drive during traffic. This reality is what people are comparing their rush hour commute to, they know that if they are lucky enough to avoid traffic they will get there in 20 minutes, but when they hit bad traffic it takes an hour. (Obviously I'm ignoring stuck on the 405 for 5 hour nightmare stories here, I'm just talking about day to day driving.)

LA is a victim of having too good a car infrastructure, it allows people to make ridiculous commuting decisions and get away with it the majority of the time. Adding more traffic infrastructure just makes the problem worse. People can drive from further away and save money on their housing and they will. They'll also work in places that are further away, the problem is as much about where businesses are located as it is about where people live.


I don't know. I am from europe and visited a few north american cities in the past, including LA. No or bad public transport was the norm but LA was a whole other level. You get out of the airport and there is a endless line of car rental places after each other. That makes it clear to you that you won't get far without a car. Going into the city or out takes you on a ridiculous wide highway which is basically a permanent traffic jam. And in general it seems like a car is a first class citizen in this city. (As you said, so much car infrastructure.) So wierd. If it isn't for work I would not go there ever again I guess.


Yes car is king in LA. In recent years though Lyft/Uber have changed the game a lot. I'd say it's cost effective to not have a car at this stage, especially when you add in the cost of parking.


It depends on what you mean by LA. LA itself actually has fairly decent public transit (by US standards, not NYC, but by nearly every other city) -- the RapidBus busses are actually fairly rapid (they can control stoplights so they always hit green) and the Metro is quite nice where it goes.


I'd rather be anywhere in Seattle or Portland trying to use mass transit rather than in LA, its so spread out due to zoning (requiring abundant, unused parking, and limiting building height) and all of my past experiences there have been piss poor with mass transit in LA. San Diego is slightly better, but it has the same issue as LA with zoning.

I do not think I could reliably take the bus to work in LA or San Diego, whereas in Seattle or Portland I grew up riding it and I know I'll get there reliably.


Interesting that you mention San Diego. I used to live there and actually took the bus to work. But I'd say mass transit is actually better in LA (which I would use while visiting) than SD. In San Diego, busses came generally only once an hour and most stopped running after 7:30pm making it impossible to use them to go somewhere after work. LA buses generally ran all day and every 15-30 minutes. which made them much more convenient.


If it runs less often than every 15 minutes, then its not a major bus line, and your in a suburban slum. Or, possibly your local transit agency has decided lifeline service to the suburban slums/gricklegrass is more important than urban transit, in which case its time to get the management canned.

Serving suburban slums with mass transit will never provide effective transit, nor is it financially feasible for most of these areas to maintain their infrastructure long term, usually they are underwater 5x to 6x in terms of maintenance funds needed to keep the current level of infrastructure afloat.

Richer areas may be able to make it work past the 50 year mark for a few decades more, but poorer areas (Detroit, Flint, and good chunks of Texas) are literally letting their infrastructure fall to bits as the tax base can't support it.

https://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2017/1/9/the-real-reason...


San Diego itself (where I lived, near UCSD) is a "suburban slum" in terms of density. I now live in an actual suburb of Washington DC and it is far more dense than San Diego (as well as being on both the DC Metro and commuter rail lines)


> has fairly decent public transit (by US standards)

If LA has public transport like SF, I'd expect rapid transit to downtown, Santa Monica, Venice and Hollywood straight from LAX [1].

[1] With everything covered in human poop because LA is now SF.


> Yes car is king in LA. In recent years though Lyft/Uber have changed the game a lot.

Do Lyft/Uber not operate with cars as well?


Why go through the complexity and expense of setting up a toll system when LA could simply raise gas taxes?


LA is actually very suitable for public transit: it's a city with multiple, reasonably dense urban centers. The greater LA as a whole is also pretty dense, denser than NY metro area. And the city is investing like crazy in new transit infrastructure. Give it 20 years and, at least in the central parts of LA metro, it will be much more convenient to move by transit.


> The greater LA as a whole is also pretty dense, denser than NY metro area.

Sorry, this is not even close. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_United_States_cities_b...

There are many ranking areas in NYC in the top 25, and only a few from LA. NYC overall is ranked #6! Los Angeles doesn't even place in the top 130.


I said greater LA, whereby, to be precise, I meant Los Angeles metro area. The density of LA metro is 2,702.5ppl/km2, compared to 2,053.6ppl/km2 for NY metro. LA metro is denser by a good margin.

NY metro area includes a lot of very sparse suburbs. LA is mildly dense all over.

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_United_States_urban_ar...

http://www2.census.gov/geo/docs/reference/ua/ua_list_all.txt


You're not really looking at the right information there. Your top 5 cities are in single-digit km^2. For comparison, Yorkville, at 1.29 km^2, in the Upper East Side of Manhattan, has 60,349 persons/km^2.


Could you provide a source which backs LA's metro area being denser than NYC's?

I've yet to see any sort of metric (certainly not the US Census) that supports that claim.


Whenever I go to LA, it seems like an urban slum with no significant development of note (above 6 story) in most of LA. Its as though the land is worthless, even Oceanside has taller buildings than Long Beach or Riverside, and Oceanside is literally the middle of nowhere California!

With that low density style of development, your not going to be able to justify a rail line that can move 20k people an hour, as there aren't enough people who can get to a station to feed it.

I blame LA's zoning that keeps it as an urban slum. Dezone the city and you'd see areas around existing mass transit densify over the next decade.


Bit unfair to Oceanside there, we are closer to San Diego (or to Orange County) than Santa Monica is to Long Beach.

Plus we are sat on the SoCal coast, not exactly middle of no-where...


Its an hour from anywhere (about even time wise in my experience, whether heading to San Diego or Long Beach), has a beautiful coastline, but there is a gang war currently raging there and it is a rural small town, and that is how it operates (alongside the county gov't in North County).

Hell, there was a murder last week not a block from where I walked daily when I was there a few weeks ago. Had a window get smashed there too a few months back. IMO, Seattle is safer (just gotta keep the crack heads from breaking my windows in Chinatown :P).


Yes, the US Census supports that. See this table on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_United_States_urban_ar...

This table is directly extracted from census data: http://www2.census.gov/geo/docs/reference/ua/ua_list_all.txt


LA county alone has a higher population than 42 states in the Union.


Compare to Long Island which has ~70% of the population in about 1/3 of the area.

If LA County is a metro area, I think Long Island is in the comparable NYC metro area.


Every large city has car rental places by the airport. That is where they are. It doesn't signify. I'm sure there are people who wouldn't like to visit your home town either.


I travel a lot for work and LA/OC is consistently the only city where I bother to get a rental car. Most places I'd want to go are far away from each other and public transit is often stigmatized and underdeveloped. I went to high school in orange county and the public bus took about an hour and a half to go about 10 miles. I live in San Francisco and gave my car to my family after a year or so of rarely driving it. Two years later and I can't really justify purchasing another.


London, Paris, NYC and Tokyo all have a comprehensive subway system and light rail covering the extended metro area. For many parts of LA, driving (or taking a bus through terrible traffic) is the only option.


New York's public transit commuters have some of the worst commute times in the country, at 7.5-11 hours/week (45 minutes each way on the low end).

For LA's drivers, even 37 minutes is pretty bad. [1]

Public transit mitigates the environmental and public safety effects of traffic, but the "wasting your life in a slow-moving vehicle" problem is much worse with public transit (even rail).

And no, that time is not reusable for reading, working, etc. unless you're so far out on the line (or your system is so "wastefully" overprovisioned) that getting a seat at rush hour is a realistic possibility. It's just as "gone" as it is for drivers in gridlock. So I'd rather lose less time, and that means driving (or making more money to afford higher rent closer to the center).

If we want to design cities for ideological gratification (like SF) anything goes. If we want to design cities for low housing prices and low commute times, well, the worst case for freeway sprawl (LA) is beating the best case for walkable subway utopia (NY) by 20 minutes/day.

[0] http://origin-states.politico.com.s3-website-us-east-1.amazo...

[1] http://la.curbed.com/2014/10/8/10037514/mapping-the-average-...


I completely disagree about the reusability of time. I live in Boston and my commute on the train is only about 20 minutes, but that's plenty of time to read a few pages or catch up on the news. I see plenty of commuters reading books as well, so I'm definitely not a special case. Reading a book while standing on a crowded train is not that hard...


It's not hard, and I see 10-20 people per train car on the R going between Brooklyn and Manhattan. I've seen people standing and reading kindles in body-to-body crammed trains.


I do that every day when commuting to work :). The tram I take is sometimes pretty crammed, and yet we figure out how to use a Kindle in these conditions without being a problem to other passengers.


I must live on another planet, because the idea of "getting in a few pages" while standing in a crowded train is not appealing. I guess it's better than staring into space for 30 minutes, but I'd hardly call it recaptured time. AudioBook in my own car while in traffic is miles more appealing.


I spend about 15 minutes every morning and evening on the tube (London). I usually get a seat, but if not it's a non-sardine style standing journey with tolerable personal space levels.

Apart from the odd occasion when I miss my stop because distracted, reading is perfect for making the journey fly by. I wouldn't want to try anything serious because the block of time is too small, but "mere" fiction is wonderful.

Sometimes I'll play on my phone instead, or just close my eyes and semi-snooze listening to music. If I could park in central London and the traffic was light I still probably wouldn't choose to take my car there and back. Which is a pretty cool place to be imo


It certainly depends. In LA's metro system, they play a constant stream of announcements (often at ear-splitting volume). Even reading is difficult unless you get lucky and the system's broken.


They do this on the T as well - I wear headphones.


> Reading a book while standing on a crowded train is not that hard...

I can read a book or a newspaper while in a tramway or a bus only if I'm standing up, otherwise I get car sickness. I very rarely choose to sit down when using public transport for exactly this reason (strangely enough I can read while sitting down when riding the train).


A train ride is much smoother than a shaky bus ride, I'm in the same boat as you there.

It's particularly bad in the top of double decker buses, can't read there but still like to got there for the extra space and the view.


I took the commenter to mean getting work done. Like, your long commute isn't made up by the fact you can sit and code on the train ... because odds are you can't sit. I actually now live outside Boston and good luck getting a seat on the commuter rail to do real work, unless you live far out on an early stop.


I'm going to have to disagree with the "wasting your life in a slow-moving vehicle" comment. I'd rather spend an hour and a half on a bus to work where I can take calls and work from my laptop/read a book/nap or whatever, than spend 45 minutes sitting in and/or dodging traffic where I am getting NOTHING done.

Granted, if the bus is packed it can be difficult or impossible to get anything useful done also.


There's a special circle in hell for people taking calls in a crowded bus. Though to be fair it's several layers above the circle for people taking calls in a bathroom stall.


I'd hardly call my calls intrusive, a simple "What's the problem" followed by an explanation and a cursory "I'm on it." is usually all that the rest of the bus hears. Are you all really that precious?

People shouting in to their phones however... I feel like it's the kind of person with zero self awareness or care for their external, social impact that ruin it for the rest of us :P


I get motion sickness, and have a hyper-sensitive sense of smell.. I'd rather be in my car enjoying music and/or taking calls. Also, I happen to like about a half hour or so of driving, as it is enough distraction to let work thoughts fall away.


A half hour isn't so bad, 45 minutes (more with traffic) both ways was getting pretty stale. As for the motion sickness, I'm certainly not implying the bus is for everyone, just wanted to speak up for those of us who have a role for it to fill in their commute :)


I understand... I'm just not able to do productive things (looking at a phone/laptop/book) in a moving vehicle, so I would much rather be driving.


I'd absolutely take sitting for an hour in my own car over sitting on a bus. I get to control my own temperature, volume and smell - plus I get to listen to loads of audiobooks.


I never said it was for everyone but since you mentioned it, public transport where I live very rarely smells but I will agree that it can get too cold under some of the air con vents and having visited New York recently (I'm assuming you're American, apologies if you aren't) I totally understand not wanting to partake in the stank lottery.

Also, you don't have a pair of headphones? :P


As a tall person, I can't drive more than 30 minutes without needing a break for my legs. Stop-and-go traffic is especially hellish because I have to keep my feet on the brakes the whole time. Not a pleasant experience by any means.


Some manufacturers solved this problem as well - in my car(Mercedes) you can tap the brake with your foot when stopped and the car will hold the brakes until you press the accelerator again. So in stop and go traffic you don't have to keep your feet on the brakes. But yeah, I can see being uncomfortable as an issue.


Try doing it with a manual transmission.


New Yorkers can commute via public transit from much further; I have friends who take NJ transit up to NYC from philly. LA transit is a joke, so commute times naturally bound at its tiny reach.

Or to put it another way, at least you have the option of commutes. I much prefer my 7 hour a week commute from Oakland into SF to a slightly shorter drive. And although the bay bridge is a joke during rush hour, you can still grab the bus and read the whole time.


Good point, but keep in mind that New York's subway is old and antiquated. Inefficient connections, overcrowded lines, and a lack of maintenance are a major part of longer commute times.

Also remember that New York is a set of islands. This already puts it at an efficiency disadvantage.

Berlin and Munich are two cities that come to mind with excellent public transport and great commute times. Most people commute in less than 30 minutes even from less central areas.


> For LA's drivers, even 37 minutes is pretty bad. [1]

This data is from 2014 at best. I would wager the situation is a lot worse now especially given the construction that has happened or is happening (e.g. widening the 405 or the new metro line being built by the airport).


Sure, but travelling on those systems takes a long time. When I lived in London a 1 hour commute was seen as totally normal. That was by train and I had a very direct single overground train to take (Kentish town to Chiswick if I remember).


An hour reading, sleeping or just zoned out on a train is a lot less fatigue than an hour operating a car in stop-and-go traffic.


20 minutes standing on a violently accelerating and decelerating train while strangers' bodies are touching you is much more fatiguing than 2 hours at a standstill in a car (BART is far and away the worst part of every workday, while even the slowest trips to Monterey or Tahoe are a blast, but maybe that's just me).


> BART is far and away the worst part of every workday

BART is loud, rattly, screechy, wobbly, and generally feels like it could fall apart any moment. I wonder if even third world countries are able to produce trains that bad. But in developed parts of the world, trains are quiet and clean and run smoothly.

In general when Americans say they don't like public transit, they mean they don't like American public transit, because it is so badly done in America.


Sure, public transit can be done well. You can also offer guaranteed seating for a price, which changes the experience entirely. I'd love to spend the first and last hour of my workday on an Amtrak-like train (assuming it had reasonable on-time performance).

The proposal here isn't to do public transit better, though. It's to get more people to use the existing, shitty public transit by pricing them out of driving.


Comparing the mental fatigue of your work commute versus vacation travel is like comparing apples and oranges.


Two hours at a standstill makes my head explode. I appreciate the biodiversity here. Also if you can possibly take a transbay bus they are usually better for me than Bart during rush hour. Just as fast and more comfortable.


That's definitely not the London commuter experience. Almost every train is crowded, and there's a very low chance that you'll get to sit on many trains. At some stations it's difficult to even board a train. Plus most trains don't have air conditioning. It's far from comfortable, but most of the time it does the job.


There is a wider variety to the London commuter experience than that experienced by people who don't actually live in London; sorry that you seem to be stuck on what I guess to be Southern, but if you are taking the tube it is not bad and on some lines can be quite pleasant. There is also a great bus system where you can almost always find a seat. London commuting is a dream compared to my prior one-hour each way drive via 85 & 101 in the valley.


Interesting to have that comparison. I've never done a regular drive to work (I currently take the tube). My journey right now is ok, but I've commuted in London for over 10 years, and experienced some very uncomfortable journeys. Try changing lines at a major station, and you experience the worst of it.


>What other major city in the world would you expect to be able to drive 15 miles through the centre at rush hour and get to your destination in under an hour

It takes thirty minutes to go a mile in traffic where I'm at (West LA, near Brentwood and Santa Monica).

Then an hour to go 5 miles in any direction on the 10 or 405.

It's really bad.


I just moved to LA (westwood) from Beijing last August. The traffic here is so light in LA compared to Beijing, and the air is really clean as well. In Beijing, it could take me a couple of hours to get home on 4th ring, 3rd ring was worse! And the traffic didn't disappear at 7PM, maybe 8 or 9.


Which direction? I live near you and regularly commute to the South Bay. It usually takes under half an hour to go 20 miles on 405. If you live and work on the wrong traffic pattern (ex. live in South Bay, commute north) then yes, you're going to have a bad time. If you move somewhere where your commute is against traffic then it's really not bad at all.


I drove SF to San Diego last year. Taking 710 from I-5 to CA-91 took well over an hour. Absolute insanity.


I think a half hour for 1 mile is definitely the exception not the rule. I could see it happening if there was a major accident blocking all of the lanes of the freeway but thats about it. For surface streets I think traffic dissipates much quicker unless you are talking about a specific choke point like crossing the 405 or getting on the freeway.


Can confirm. Would take me ~15 minutes to go from 405/Santa Monica to go get coffee in Brentwood at that Starbucks that's by all those italy like shops(it's been over a year and half since I moved so spacing on the street)


Delhi is a bad example. I'm not saying Delhi's traffic is any better. You have an alternative to driving. Delhi has some respectable public transit. The Delhi metro is rapidly growing and expanding to cover every facet of the city.

If you want to truly experience terrible traffic please come to Bangalore. It'll take an hour to cover just 5 miles, if you are lucky. One of the absolute worst cities to commute. The public transit is laughable at best. The Bangalore Metro, once it becomes fully operational sometime in March-April 2017 might do some good.

I'll sit in LA traffic for an hour any day, as compared to sitting in Bangalore traffic even for 15 mins. The road rage is unfathomable.


Starting 2011,I used to go to Bangalore once a year. The number of trees cut down, the number of new cars on the road, and the terrific traffic all boggled my mind. Car after car of software engineers, probably perfectly pleasant to work with, would just lay on the horns despite knowing perfectly well that the first car was stopped at a red light. If I ever go back to India, Bangalore is the first city that's off my list of places to live in.


That is just plain stupid, short of being a giant asshole, you don't lay on the horn cause someone respected a light/stop sign. Sounds like a city to avoid.


It's clear you have not been to most Asian cities.


Depends on whether you consider respecting the light a hindrance to traffic or not.

But I did think Bangalore was a little worse than where I'm from, probably because there were more entitled folks.


> The line made famous by clueless that everywhere in LA takes 20 minutes is completely true, with the caveat being, so long as you don't drive during traffic.

Another way to interpret this is: nowhere you want to go is ever < 20 min. from your current location. This includes places like grocery stores or other neighborhood locales because even though they are close, traffic can still make a half-mile commute take 20 min.


If you have a half-mile commute that takes 20 minutes by car and you regularly do that commute by car, I don't think that traffic is the biggest problem in your life.


You can walk a half mile in 20 minutes, never mind biking. Why do people drive that short of distances in CA? Even if it's for groceries, bring a backpack and shop more frequently.


Seriously, there are worse cities than LA. Toronto has arguably the worst traffic in North America [0]

[0] - http://oppositelock.kinja.com/the-busiest-highway-in-north-a...


Also has that 18-lane monstrosity.


I've lived in LA my whole life, its only been in the last 4 years or so I haven't had to have a car. I live by the redline and just use the train system. With the expo line the reach of the train system is really amazing if you remember what it was like to drive through brutal traffic to get from say hollywood to santa monica.


> Downtown LA to Santa Monica at 9am

That's against traffic. What does Santa Monica to Downtown LA at 9am take?

A big problem in LA is that many people drive much longer distances than that, 30, 50, 70 miles one way in their commute.


I think my record was 3.5 hours from Brentwood to Long Beach on a Friday evening. I got a job in OC and then they kept giving me assignments on the west side. (How is there no train parallel to 405?)

I guess that's the difference that the OP isn't accounting for; It's not that downtown is crowded at rush hour - It's like a billion square miles of solid cars from 6am-10am and 1:30pm to 7pm. (The freeway might be OK at lunch time, but streets sure aren't)

The guy talking about Beijing... What a dystopia. How many years until LA is like that?


I don't think so actually. In my experience eastbound 10 backs up about half an hour after westbound 10.

In my experience the morning commute is not as bad as the evening. SM to DT in the evening is easily 2 hours. Heck, it can take an hour to get out of SM. This is because commuting traffic mixes with beach/tourism/other.

The other problem is there is no "rush hour" as the grandparent implies. LA is constantly bad, whereas places like the Bay Area have distinct rush hours.


Measurably false, LA has the worst traffic in the world.

>The average [LA] driver wasted 104 hours sitting in gridlock.... New York motorists spent 89 hours on average...San Francisco...83 hours on average in 2016.

http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/2017/02/20/los-angeles-n...


Not sure this is measuring the same thing.

For example, if I moved to NYC I wouldn't even bother buying a car because the traffic is so bad. I'd spend 0 hours in gridlock per year, but the traffic is still terrible.


Not if you're driving over a bridge during rush hour. There's plenty of gridlock in NYC. It's on this list.

Owning a car in NYC is mostly prohibited by cost (including parking), vs taking the subway


You then proceed to list only US cities to back up your claim, disregading GP's point that other countries have much, much worse traffic in their biggest cities.


>in the world

The article mentions Moscow as the second-worst city for traffic


According to Google Maps[0], driving 15 miles through Tokyo (going through several high-traffic areas) seems to take 1h15.

Agreed that if businesses aren't properly spread out, then rush hour traffic will always be bad. What else can you expect if your city effectively shrinks to 1/10th its size every day at 9 AM and 6 PM?

[0]:https://goo.gl/maps/YSwaooCWK3y


So strange enough that route made no sense (it made a Y). What options did you pick? Switched to the train and it said 36 minutes. Switched back to car and it was 35 minutes (18.5km) and the route had corrected itself. You did something wrong. I lived in Tokyo and the routine in the link you shared is not correct.


I made a multi-point route from Ikebukuro to.... iidabashi, then akihabara, then roppongi area, then down to shinagawa. It was mainly to get the 15 mile requirement while driving through downtown areas.


Or half an hour with public transport (your route).


So it's a half an hour for this start and end point, but that's mainly because they're both on the border of the "city center" (Yamanote line).

I live just outside the center (to the north, Ouji-Kamiya), and my workplace is just outside the city center (to the south, Naka-meguro), and it takes me about an hour door-to-door to cut across the city (50 minutes station to station), with 2 transits.

This is probably the longest possible way to cut across the city in public transportation, but I think you can expect 45 minutes to cut across in general, given transits.

The other problem is that the center is less than 15 miles in diameter, so a bit hard to get the same "feel" as LA for the comparison.


I just got back from my first trip to LA and my impression is the same. I stayed with a relative in Venice, met a friend in Silver Lake, and went downtown the next day. The amount of travel was pretty crazy. I'm from Chicago and traveling 15 miles is pretty much going from the far North Side to the far South Side, a trip that no one would make just for brunch.

An analogous LA day in Chicago feels like it would be brunch in Schaumburg, coffee with a friend in Gary, Indiana and dinner in Winnetka.

Maybe I'm way off, I was only there for three days, but that was what I took away from the trip.


if you constantly travel while in LA, you're going to feel like you're constantly traveling.


Maybe I wasn't clear enough: my impression of LA is that what is considered a "normal" commute/travel time there is actually quite large and more that what might be considered normal in other cities.


residents don't cross the county 3-4x in a single day, only visitors do. it's not normal.


"LA is a victim of having too good a car infrastructure"

I live in the area. I guess you've not seen the potholes lining Ventura. The infrastructure, bridges included, are garbage.


Not the best maintained, but extremely extensive, is what they were going for


If it were truly extensive we'd not have the constant traffic problems on the 5, 15, 10, 57, 71, and 134.


The true solution to LA traffic will never happen. And that solution is buses. But not the current underfunded system that barely limps along. A massive number of buses, like 5x the current number. And combined with tolls for cars to get cars off the road. The large number of buses is critical because it greatly reduces wait time between transfers. It also allows adding express bus lines between major areas. But buses have a really bad reputation in LA. They are trying to build more rail which doesn't have the bad reputation, but that will always have the last mile issue.

Since the bad reputation of buses will likely never go away, it seems rail + uber pool/lyft line might be an alternative. It won't be as good, but could be good enough. I wish there was a company other than uber/lyft which focused on just this first/last mile issue for rail. Or maybe the metro here could just start a service like that themselves. Something like Rail Pool to get people from/to the rail stations. It combines the best of both transports (the rail covers 90% of the trip, the extensive road network is used for the first and last miles).


There's a middle ground between buses and rail: building defacto rail lines by transforming far-left lanes and middle dividers into dedicated bus tracks and semipermanent bus stations.

Urbanized (Gary Hustwit, 2011) highlights the TransMilenio bus system, which serves the city of Bogota. It specifically covers elevating the experience and status of taking the bus by adopting positive aspects of rail systems: covered waiting areas, dedicated transit lanes, more reliable service. Except it's less expensive to implement and more flexible.

TransMilenio bus and station: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Av_Am%C3%A9ricas_Transmil...

Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TransMilenio

With so much road already laid, LA is a perfect candidate for a system like this!


Bus themed solutions would definitely be an improvement over LA's status quo.

However a better idea would be to reduce the need to travel long distances by building denser. LA roads are super wide right now, so the easiest way to raise density would be by putting buildings in the middle of the road, leaving a Really Narrow Street (tm) along either side. Ground floors of new buildings could be commercial, upper floors residential. (Some LA roads are so wide we could put 2 or more blocks of Really Narrow Streets in the space consumed by a single car-oriented surface street).

This would reduce housing prices by bringing a crazy amount of inventory online, and would greatly lower maintenance expenses by severely curtailing the number of square feet of publicly-funded roads, traffic lights, signage etc. If we structured this correctly, the city could make a giant pile of money in both land sales and new real estate taxes. Maybe they could then use the surplus money to build a real train system or just reduce taxes. Lastly, there would obviously also be large environmental benefits such as smog reduction, CO2 emission reductions etc.

Yes, I realize this will never happen, and yes, I realize I'm proposing turning LA into old Paris. Old Paris is great, we should copy it more.

I stole these ideas from [0].

[0] http://newworldeconomics.com/the-eco-metropolis/


By old Paris, I assume you mean the area inside the Peripherique? Apart from Montparnasse Tower the building heights inside the Peripherique are limited to seven floors. This has the same effect as San Fran on restricting the density of the inner city, which means most people can't afford to live there and put up with....long commutes.

I spent three months working in Paris and many of the younger people lived further out and had a 45min - 1hr commute by public transport or driving.

The link you posted talks about narrow streets, this is true in some areas of the city, but Paris also has many wide boulevards.

The traffic during peak hour was pretty bad - the French driving on the footpath meme has some truth to it.

Also old Paris can be like it is because the CBD is located just outside the Peripherique at La Defense.


Bus Rapid Transit expansion is a near-term fix that can happen in a year or two. Rezones and construction to densify a city take longer. I don't think these two solutions are incompatible - they address the problem at different time scales.


Zoning is inherently racist, designed to keep the poor and working class out of areas of the city. It stunts economic growth to boot, and should be done away with entirely.

That being said, the roadways are public property, and should be redesigned to be on a road diet, but building structures in the middle is perhaps not the best idea. Parkifying some sections, expanding others into plazas (while infilling parking to densify) and selling the edges of the roadway to new development so it may be denser would be better approaches.


Not sure where you're going with the "zoning is racist" comment - I'm not talking about redlining here. In places like Seattle, much of the city is still zoned single-family, which is exclusionary to the poor and working class.

The rezones happening in our city boost the building density permitted in most of the city while requiring that some of that extra capacity be dedicated to low-income units. It's net positive for those in need of affordable housing and lets developers build bigger, which hardly hurts the economy.


Dedicating units to low income housing means you've failed to build enough units despite demand, and zoning is likely at fault. Whether it be height caps or parking minimums jacking up the price, they need to go.


Agreed that lack of units is at fault. This kind of mandatory affordable housing is an attempt to mitigate displacement within neighborhoods dealing with gentrification. In my case, this is Seattle, which has no parking minimums, but has suffered from too many single-family zones and not enough dense zoning. The rezones are an attempt to correct these issues.


Seattle needs to dezone MLK, Interbay and other major transit corridors and allow these areas to densify. The transit is there, and the property is either empty parking lots or 1 story slum commercial as the zoning restricts the area to a certain use. These areas should be replaced with dense, mixed use development.

We can have $800 apartments inside the city if we so choose, but with zoning forcing developers to build skinny dual towers and similar, we are forcing the minimum apartment price skywards.



No, the areas will still have restrictive height caps that will stave off tall buildings per that HALA overview doc, we need these areas de-zoned, not rezoned.


I feel like you're letting great be the enemy of good, but we can agree to disagree. With few exceptions, all cities have zoning to keep some consistency and continuity within neighborhoods. Within that frame, I'm happy the city is pursuing "larger than normal" upzones and converting some SF zoning to mixed-use.


Its a temporary bandaid though, that is the issue. With a lack of zoning, like we had not even 100 years ago, we'd have much more core development, and it'd prevent much of the extremely destructive single family home infill that is occurring.

Zoning adds risk to projects and creates an overheated housing market, where the cost of housing is land cost, construction costs, & zoning cost plus whatever the seller can get thanks to the artificially constrained supply.

"They aren't making more land" is entirely due to zoning ensuring most of the city is underdeveloped.


Here's hoping that NY, LA, and other major US cities adopt "Old Parisian" urban planning methods. Wishful thinking.


Because housing is so cheap in Paris.


It doesn't have to be perfect to be better.

Paris has a set of issues like any major city but when it comes to managing urban density it does it broadly better than LA, for that matter so does New York.


My impression is that yes, housing in Paris is cheaper than in LA.

https://www.numbeo.com/cost-of-living/compare_cities.jsp?cou...


Those numbers are really outdated for LA.


LA already has some BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) lines like you describe: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Los_Angeles_Metro_Busway

These systems operate mostly in dedicated right-of-way. There are more planned. I think they have been quite successful, for the reasons you describe.


They are not ideal though. Travel times can be close to double using the orange line.

It's something I imagine people using only they're not in a hurry or can't drive for whatever reason.


Ditto for Quito, Ecuador: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trolleybuses_in_Quito

I'm now back in Australia, and despairing because my small city is putting in a light rail solution when a bus rapid transit option would be so much cheaper, given our low ridership. But buses aren't cool. :(


Which city is doing LRT? These can be more cost-effective in the long run at certain ridership levels, plus they're usually a better experience for the passenger.

Busses just plain suck.


Given the mention of "small city", I presume this is referring to Canberra: https://www.transport.act.gov.au/light-rail-project

I don't think it's a bad idea as such, particularly if you consider it planning ahead for projected growth, but there are a lot of much larger cities in Australia that could use the same money more usefully.

Building a BRT in Canberra now would be kind of pointless, since traffic jams are essentially non-existent, making ordinary buses rapid enough already.


When I lived in Canberra a year ago I noticed some backed up traffic in peak time near EPIC - however I realised there was only one car lane in each direction, and one bus lane in each direction.

I don't agree that we should always build more roads if there is traffic, but building a light rail solution when the bottleneck is one congested car lane each way seems a bit unusual.



Yes, Toronto, Australia. Obviously.


Is it even still on any rail network? I know it use to be way at the top on the Cityrail posters but a quick check now and it looks like it's been replaced with a coach service.


Sydney is doing them, and it seems okay.

Newcastle is doing a 4km line...


It could well be the Gold Coast, too, which has just finished its light rail in preparation for the Commonwealth Games next year.


Salt Lake City, Utah, has had very good success with light rail.


I'm sitting right next to where they've been drilling on Devonshire street for the past 4 months to move a power cable to central station!

I've taken busses through Sydney for years, and to be honest, I'm really hoping the LRS does what they promise it will, because the bus system here is so bad.


According to the Sydney Morning Herald, one-third of buses will still be required when the light rail starts operating in 2019 due to insufficient capacity, rising to 80% of current buses by 2031!

http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/sydney-cbd-and-south-east-light-ra...


I never really thought that light rail would replace buses completely.

One can't help but imagine how many more buses we would need without light rail, no?


True, but if we built any other sort of infrastructure (water, sewage, electicity) that operated at above over 100% capacity from day one, wouldn't we consider a solution with more capacity?

With the light rail already blowing out as of November last year from $1.6bn to $2.1bn [1] I can't help but think of the merit of heavy rail.

My understanding is heavy rail is very expensive, but how much more? I haven't been able to find a comparison of a heavy rail design on this route.

[1]: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/nation/sydney-cbd-and-e...


I think it'll be fine for Sydney, but I'm in Newcastle and it seems so daft...


Maybe future capacity planning?


O-Bahn might work quite well - combining benefits of rail and buses...

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/O-Bahn_Busway

It's fast, comfortable and those buses are able to collect passengers in suburbia.


The general idea (open-access busway) works well, but guided buses specifically do not, since you combine all the disadvantages of rail (expensive, compatible vehicles) with the disadvantages of the bus (much lower capacity, much higher labor requirement, etc.) Brisbane is a much better example of this: http://humantransit.org/2009/05/brisbane-a-short-tour-of-the...


This has been done in the York Region adjacent to metro Toronto. Unfortunately, transit fares are quite high there and usage is low because of infrequent service. The lesson here, I guess, is that if you build it, there really isn't any guarantee that they will come. IE, there's still a cultural shift involved in convincing a car-centric culture to adopt transit en masse.


If you enjoy urban plannning docs like 'Urbanized', check out 'The Pruitt Igoe Myth' https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Pruitt-Igoe_Myth


They have the same thing in Istanbul: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metrobus_(Istanbul)


If you need statistics for the maximum people this system can take, you can ask the municipality of Istanbul. They also can't increase the number of buses because of congestion. Here is a well-known joke about it: http://imgur.com/5ZFMoMZ


I disagree that the reputation of buses is the reason why more people don't take them in LA. Driving in traffic might be bad, but taking a bus in that same traffic is usually even more inconvenient, efficient and less economically viable.

Taking a bus within the same city has never been a problem and these routes are typically pretty full. However, once you're going from one city to another, within LA county, the added time of transfers and making dozens of stops on city streets really starts to add up. A trip that might take 45 minutes by car sitting in traffic could easily take 2+ hours by bus. Nobody who values their time would choose the bus option if they can afford a car.

People don't avoid the bus because many of the passengers are downtrodden. Many of the passengers are downtrodden simply because anyone who isn't chooses the quicker more efficient option of driving.

The buildout of rail and the addition of more express buses I agree will help alleviate a lot of traffic issues. Buses can be the solution to the last mile issues. But like you said, there needs to be a lot more of them to cut down on waiting time.


How often do you take the Big Blue Bus? People really do drive so they do not have to deal with the bums. Those guys can be really violent and smelly some days.


Perhaps have a society without insane inequality whilst we are drawing up a wish list...


Ha, yes. Still, many of the bums have severe untreated mental issues; no matter the money they will still be badly off, but maybe not as smelly.


Buses in the LA region have a bad reputation because of other bus passengers. If you ride the bus you might have to sit next to someone who smells bad or plays loud music or acts out in inappropriate ways. That's why everyone who can afford it drives their own car: to be alone. The reputation would improve if they could get more "regular" people riding, but it's kind of a chicken-or-the-egg problem.


Have you seen the central line at rush hour in London? It's horrendous[1]. We are talking >7people per sqm, plus significant waits to even get on the trains. But yet, 100k+s use it every day of all socioeconomic backgrounds. I'd imagine mostly middle class/upper middle class professionals.

Why?

1) Traffic is terrible. It will take 1hr+ to do a journey the central line does in 15-20m.

2) Even if you want to drive, parking costs around $1500/month in the square mile.

3) On top of that, you have the congestion charge for entering central London (£11.50/day - soon to be £25/day if you have a particularly polluting vehicle).

You're looking at about $2000/month if you want to drive, which takes 4x as long and costs about 15x more than the train.

This is what happens when you price effectively for the externalities of traffic congestion. People will switch to transit en masse, and 'loud music' will not be seen as a problem.

[1]this also means there is the political will to build massive transit infrastructure, like crossrail, which will relieve the central line at a cost of around $20bn.


London sounds terrible to live in, way too many people.


Commuting at rush hour can be pretty awful in just about every major city--New York, London, Paris, Tokyo... I wouldn't call any of those places terrible but, yes, there are a lot of people and it can be pretty mobbed if you try to travel at peak times.


How about extra pay for distributed commuters? Start your day early, end it early, start late, end it late and receive a bonus?


Many cities (including London) have peak fares for transit, trains, etc. The problem is that if you're a typical commuter you probably don't have a lot of control over your schedule. If you're asking why don't companies do this, why would they? If anything, they probably prefer people to be in the office at the same time.


Nobody goes there anymore. It's too crowded, as they say.

Actually it's not so bad - the central line at rush hour is abnormal.


It's much nicer when you cycle to work. Many parts of London are not built that densely, at least compared to other European cities.


London isn't very dense, which is part of why traffic is so bad.


London hasn't adequately priced the externalities of traffic congestion. Air quality is still rather poor by European standards! The more recent changes are well overdue, but still don't go far enough.


Air quality is poor because the UK government gave tax breaks to diesel vehicles in an attempt to cut carbon emissions. But they didn't realize at the time how harmful diesel particulate emissions are.


That's mostly caused by buses though, not private cars. Eg Oxford Street is one of the worst but has no cars on it.

Not sure how productive it is taxing buses...


Oxford Street is packed with black cabs, they always seemed smellier to me. I used to work in Zone 4, and there'd be lines of them outside the station, with engines idling all day, next to the "Buses must switch off engines while on stand" signs.

The new taxi regulations are a welcome improvement [1], but they're weaker than they should be. Why are Euro IV cars still allowed as new taxis? Why is it only voluntary for >10 year old vehicles to be replaced? No doubt it was the best deal Kahn etc could get, but it's disappointing that London/Britain can't do better.

The buses[2] at least, are all Euro 4 standard or better, with the majority Euro 5 or better, i.e. made since 2010.

[1] https://tfl.gov.uk/modes/driving/ultra-low-emission-zone/tax...

[2] https://tfl.gov.uk/corporate/publications-and-reports/bus-fl...


While I do empathise that people are making a living, I look forward to the day when the black cabs are gone. The amount of pollution they put out is awful.


They are working on improving the busses, replacing them with hybrids and the like. Taxis too. https://www.london.gov.uk/what-we-do/environment/pollution-a...


Pedestrianisation of Oxford Street seems to be inching up the agenda. One of the big political objections is that buses are the only disabled-accessible public transport to that area but once Crossrail is operational that will no longer be true.

The buses still have to go somewhere though - the huge number of routes along Oxford Street is not about serving Oxford Street per se so much as about getting them across town. Honestly I'd be surprised if buses were the big source of pollution though - the fleet is quite modern and many of them are hybrids that deliberately run electric-only through the most polluted areas.


Electric buses then.


Already started, several lines run on electric buses. But you'll only see improvements once black cabs are electric, too.


Yes I've seen it as a tourist several years ago. Nice place to visit but I wouldn't want to live there: too crowded.


I have sat next to plenty of people who "smell bad or play loud music or act out in inappropriate ways" in London or NYC. The differentiating factor (for me at least) is that those cities provide a legitimate service level with public transit that can get me to almost any place in their city in a reasonable time frame. That allows more "regular" people to forgo cars completely in favor of public transit. In LA it is much more difficult to live without a car and rely totally on public transit. Therefore many have already invested in a car. This makes the choice between using that car over public transit for any individual trip much more slanted in favor of using your car.


Seriously? You see more awful things in a single day in a SF or LA bus than 6 months in London


Am I horrible person to want higher end trains again (like there used to be)? So I can pay double but have the confidence that my fellow passengers have jobs and families they care about and don't have voices in their head. Does this make me a bad human to want this?


if you seek reassurance that your wants are shared by millions of other people, look out the window of your car at all the other folks who buy and fuel their own, expensive private cars so that they can sit in traffic in LA rather than sit in traffic in buses in LA.


Everyone is selfish to some extent. Your view probably makes you more selfish than people who would be happy to ride a train with every class - but still less selfish than people who insist on a private car. Up to you what level of selfishness makes someone a bad person.


Bad is subjective. Implicitly in this, you want to pay money to avoid seeing the problems of other people instead of seeking to fix them. That might be worth thinking about.


There's no easy fix. Americans pay more than enough money in taxes alone for the problems to be handled better. The issue is political, legal, and cultural; and it's systemic. There are plenty of countries that treat their mentally ill populations more humanely while also maintaining much cleaner and more comfortable public spaces.

I don't see what's wrong in pointing out the obvious. If public transit organizations are prevented from even recognizing the issue because of misguided shaming, they sure as heck won't lure more drivers to public transit. And we can't expect people to fix all the world's problems before we allow them to address their immediate issues.


In my opinion the best long-term solution to poverty and mental health (which are often related) is technology. I could quit my job and dedicate my life to being a social worker or to working for charities, and those would be good and noble things to do. But I firmly believe that an affluent global society where the essentials in life are so cheap that they are essentially (if not literally) free is the best way to fix those problems.

So, I think by being a technology working I am doing my small part in helping, and I don't think not wanting to feel threatened on my commute contradicts that.


I think the long term vision for the future free of these problems is an interesting conversation to have. The challenge inherent in getting there is being aware there is a problem and working towards fixing it.

By advocating for legislators and public administrators to hide the problem from their constituents, you create a situation where "out of sight, out of mind" takes the pressure off the government to solve the problem at all.

This is independent of personal occupation or hobbies. I'm not impugning your goals of solving the problem through your career in technology. It's about enforcing the accountability of the people who have the ability to make the changes to solve the problems at scale.


How is he, personally, going to fix those problems? Those problems are only "fixable" (or ameliorated) by societal action, which basically means you need government social services.

As far as we know, he might vote for candidates who promote such social services at every election. But there's nothing he can do if the politicians don't do what they promise, or other voters vote for politicians who work against this goal.


If it's a 20 minute commute by bus, or a 1hr commute by car then it's easy. You don't care what the next guy smells like.

Or if the first 2h pay of your day is used to pay for parking, then a bus ticket is attractive.


Problem is, in LA at least, the bus and the car are about the same amount of time. Maybe a smidge longer for the bus. So most people that can afford to will take a car to avoid the cranksters, shockingly rude bus patrons, and the chance of a 'piss bus' on their way home.


A bus anyway in LA is substantially longer than driving. LA traffic is so annoying that a lot of people would likely take the bus if it was faster.

If there were 10x more busses, and I could pay $10 for an all day pass, I'd take the bus every other day. Especially if the higher cost limited those who unfortunately use mass transit as temporary shelter. (And find some alternative temporary no strings attached shelter for them.)


Depending on traffic, the bus is typically about the same, maybe 5 minutes more on the hour long ride I took for 2 years under the 405 everyday. You have to add in the time it takes to find parking for your car, which a bus does not do. Yes, some days are worse, some are better, but for me it was about the same for a hour+ commute.


According to Google maps, taking the bus to my job would increase my travel time by at least 50 minutes each way.


Well then don't take the bus


That is only true if you don't have a transfer.


Something needs to be done about the bus lanes then. Buses should drive in dedicated lanes, that's the whole point. If you are stuck in traffic on a bus then something isn't right.


In LA, there are little to no bus lanes. Trying to introduce them is nonsense. You'd have to rip up the sidewalk too make the room. If you try to convert the street into having just one bus lane each way you have now converted 2/6 lanes into bus lanes, sometimes 2/4 lanes. The car traffic already extends for blocks/miles if you are trying to get onto the 405 from the Westside, bus lanes would extend it to a third to twice as long as it is. People would flat ignore the bus lane too, probably a Beemer driver. And if you think that the cops are going to ticket anyone, you have never driven in LA traffic at rush hour. You could kill 10 people in broad daylight, as long as you did not cause gridlock, and the LAPD could care less. LA is just plain super messed up with traffic from a structural level. New developments can be more dense, and many are. But if your job, your kids' schools, your spouse's job, and your grocery stores are not within walking distance (and are suuuuper stable) then you must have a car as the system currently is. These problems are not going to go away anytime in the next decade to half century.


> you have now converted 2/6 lanes into bus lanes

Which only works if you can reduce traffic by an equivalent amount. Hence the congestion fees. The fee should clear up the lane AND pay for the bus to drive in the lane. Obviously, if there is no (reasonable) tariff that would actually make people not drive or change commute hours, then all you did was make it expensive to live in LA, while the public transit didn't improve. There is always a risk of that in the case of LA. But it might be worth trying at least.

> These problems are not going to go away anytime in the next decade to half century.

I completely agree - I think cities that are structurally messed up like LA have a long way to go, but that doesn't mean there aren't things that can be done. The question is what drives these changes. I think tolls, new zoning regulation, expanded public transit etc all have to be done, and no one action will solve the problem.


The problem is bus lanes are hopelessly inefficient, because there aren't enough buses to fully utilize them. And if you are stuck in traffic in anything then something isn't right.

If you want to spend resources to make buses more attractive, start by eliminating fares.


> The problem is bus lanes are hopelessly inefficient, because there aren't enough buses to fully utilize them

That means there is a lot of capacity to add buses without causing congestion in the bus lanes. That's good.

Obviously it might be tempting to say "look we can't sacrifice one lane of 4 here to buses when cars are jammed bumper to bumper in the other 3 lanes" but that's how bus lanes work. With too few buses, they are just an ineficcient demonstration to the people in cars that they really should be riding the bus.

> If you want to spend resources to make buses more attractive, start by eliminating fares.

If petrol taxes, parking and tolls are high enough, then the buses are already almost free in comparison. Whether it costs $0 or $4 to ride the bus to work shouldn't matter - if parking, gas and tolls are 10 times that for one day of driving. Eliminating fares is one way of making the bus relatively cheaper compared to cars - but there is very little room there. The room to increase the cost of driving is almost infinite and it can be tweaked with gas taxes, congestion fees and parking costs.

Btw: do people in US metro areas usually pay to park at work in inner cities? If metro area parking is a taxable comp then that's also a cost (e.g. if my marginal tax rate is 50% and free parking would be valued at $100 so I'd be taxed $50 per day for that benefit).


> That means there is a lot of capacity to add buses without causing congestion in the bus lanes. That's good.

Only if you actually add the buses, and people actually ride them, neither of which is a given.

> Obviously it might be tempting to say "look we can't sacrifice one lane of 4 here to buses when cars are jammed bumper to bumper in the other 3 lanes" but that's how bus lanes work.

That's the problem.

> With too few buses, they are just an ineficcient demonstration to the people in cars that they really should be riding the bus.

That only works if they can ride the bus.

The problem in most of the US is that you have a big congested highway, and then you get off the highway and drive another five or ten minutes on side streets to your destination.

You can't just tell those people to ride the bus, there aren't regular buses on the side streets because there isn't enough traffic there to justify them. And a bus that only takes you to the edge of the congested highway and then leaves you with an hour walk to your destination is useless.

> Whether it costs $0 or $4 to ride the bus to work shouldn't matter

It does matter to the tune of $4, and eliminating fares increases efficiency because you don't have to pay for a fare collection infrastructure, as opposed to bus lanes which dramatically decrease it because you're paying the full cost of a lane and then wasting most of it.

> if parking, gas and tolls are 10 times that for one day of driving

Stop trying to make driving worse. First you have to make the alternatives to driving better, and as soon as you do that, you don't need anything else.

Nobody actually likes driving to work, the only reason anybody does is that the alternatives are broken and terrible.

In order to make driving as bad as the alternatives without making the alternatives better, you would literally end up causing people and companies to move out of the city to avoid the expense. It's the same logic as arguing that burning down the city will reduce traffic congestion. Even if it does, that doesn't make it a good idea.


> The problem in most of the US is that you have a big congested highway, and then you get off the highway and drive another five or ten minutes on side streets to your destination.

> there aren't regular buses on the side streets because there isn't enough traffic there to justify them

That is the usual problem. But it's usually possible to have freeway buses connect to local buses that drive around an area. Driving around nearly empty buses might seem like a bad idea - but it's the best idea there is when people aren't in a car (because they just jumped off the train or freeway bus). A second solution is having people drive a short distance on local roads from their home to a public transit hub such as a train station, if there is no bus to take them near their homes - The problem is that once you get off a train or freeway bus you might not be at your destination. But that's where public transit can't solve the problem. Zoning and building also needs to change. Without that, people might still have to walk 30 minutes to the office.

The situation where a company puts up an office with a large parking in an "office park" (or whatever it's called) which might be 15 minutes from the closest public transit is the root of the problem. Since people have to use the car to their office anyway, they wouldn't be using the bus even if it existed, as you point out. So the solutuion has to be in both ends: offices and housing needs to be in denser, more walkable areas, for example. I don't think the traffic problems in LA can be solved without fundamentally changing how and where people live and work.


> But that's where public transit can't solve the problem. Zoning and building also needs to change. Without that, people might still have to walk 30 minutes to the office.

This is my point. There is no amount you can add to the cost of driving that will get people to take a bus to a place the bus doesn't go.

And once you build high density office space next to a train station, people will take the train all on their own without any need to waste resources collecting regressive and privacy-invasive road tolls.


> the chance of a 'piss bus'

Oh my. Is this a regular enough occurrence that there's a name for it?


Then it is the problem with the society that such people are allowed to ride on a bus and disturb other people.


yes. i agree. and transit policing to enforce basic regulations (like not trashing, vandalizing, noise polluting the space) is too expensive. police are just too expensive. so we don't have enough of that sort of regulatory enforcement.


They also often take considerably compared to driving.


Do you really think this only happens in LA?


> the bad reputation of buses

Buses have a bad reputation compared to other modes of transit because they're so easily re-routable. A political whim could shut down a whole bus route in a day, leaving commuters stranded. Rail signals long-term investment, and neighborhoods will grow around rail because they can guarantee it'll be there for years to come.


It's more than that. At a personal level buses offer you all the disadvantages of mass transit with a side benefit of all the disadvantages of automobile travel. The only reason you would take a bus in Los Angeles is because you don't own a car.

Much of that could be fixed with enough investment, but we're talking a huge investment.


Don't forget that rail (usually) has its own right-of-way.A badly planned bus system is never faster than driving; you're stuck in the exact same traffic. Rail (especially subway or Rapid Transit) though, automatically has the benefits of BRT... it doesn't get stuck in traffic.

Also when looking at e.g. Light Rail that goes on the road (like Muni's LRVs) you should consider the socioeconomic factors - the bus is looked down as for poor people in a way rail transit isn'. (Which is why, for instance, the NX is a thing; people wanted and got a specially painted bus while the N was undergoing renovations so they wouldn't be on the "common people" bus.)

Remember - a "regular" bus is never faster than driving.


> Buses have a bad reputation compared to other modes of transit because they're so easily re-routable.

I've always thought that was an advantage for buses. With rail, you have to plan it to go through areas that are not only popular now, but will be popular in 30 years. If some neighborhood suddenly becomes the happening place 10 years from now, you have to build a whole new, expensive line. But with buses, you can just add a new route.


> With rail, you have to plan it to go through areas that are not only popular now, but will be popular in 30 years

It's more like, with rail, you build the line, and if it's a useful line then the neighborhood around it will become popular. In NYC throughout the late 1800s and early 1900s, they built rail lines through farmland and the (medium/high density) neighborhoods followed. In LA, we're seeing better rail access revitalize areas like DTLA (or at least contribute to it). It's always a hard sell building rail lines through areas already connected by highways/roads, but if we watch LA over the next few decades we'll see what happens.

If you build a bus route into the middle of somewhere, even a good/reliable one, it probably wont change the neighborhood or stimulate nearly as much development. But hey, now you have a bus line. I used to ride one from my suburban high school in upstate NY into the small city's downtown, and it was fine.


It's an advantage for the transit agency. It's a disincentive for people who wish to structure their daily life around public transit over the long term. Thus, a rail line will usually bump your property value much higher than a bus line.


Any data to back up that theory? The alternative theory that busses are undependable and low-status is more plausible to me.


This article[1] has some info and citations and makes my point a bit more clearly.

> Several scholars have described Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) as an attractive modal transit option (R. B. Diaz and Schneck 2000; Levinson et al. 2002; Polzin and Baltes 2002; Vuchic 2002). The attributes favoring BRT are its lower capital cost relative to other modes (such as fixed rail) (US GAO 2001) as well as its implementation and operational flexibility (Jarzab, Lightbody, and Maeda 2002).

> There is limited evidence about the relationship between land values and BRT (Rodriguez and Targa 2004; Johnson 2003). Similarly, traditional bus service is rarely considered when discussing the impact of transit on housing costs. In their review of the literature, Hess and Almeida (2007, p. 1043) explain that “…property values near bus routes have only modest gains, if any, from transit proximity, because most bus routes lack the permanence of fixed infrastructure.”

...

> In North America, the relationship between accessibility to BRT and land values is only examined by a handful of studies focusing on bus priority treatments (high-occupancy vehicle (HOV)-bus lanes) and transit ways. In an early study, (Knight and Trygg 1977) examined HOV-bus lanes in Washington, DC, California, Seattle, and Florida. They relied on previously published reports, interviews, aerial photographs, and other secondary sources available at the time to conclude that exclusive bus lanes incorporated into highways appear to have no impact on either residential or commercial development. A later study by Mullins, Washington, and Stokes (1990) found that the BRT in Ottawa, Canada, appeared to have some effect on land development in areas surrounding stations. A review of studies from Houston, Texas, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and San Francisco, California conducted by Rodriguez and Targa (2004), revealed that bus transit had no impact on either residential or commercial development. A hedonic analysis applied to Los Angeles’s BRT, one year after its initiation, did not detect any evidence of benefits to nearby multi-family parcels (Cervero and Duncan 2002a). Recent work by a UCLA student, however, found that Los Angeles’ Orange Line (BRT) had an effect on the neighborhood real estate market. In between 2000 and 2012, areas near the Orange Line (BRT) fixed-guideway saw median rent increase by 25% compared to 15% in the control area, renter occupied units increased by 9% compared to 0% in the control area, and home value increase by 47% compared to 34% in the control area (Brown 2014). No significant differences in median income or household vehicle ownership were found, however other demographic characteristics (growth, education, and race) were found to significantly change.

> Rodriquez and Targa (2004) suggest that these mixed results could be partially explained by the BRT’s lack of fixed guideways, as well as the cross-sectional research design and the newness of the service. Indeed, a study of a 25-year old bus rapid transit (BRT) system in Pittsburgh found a significant price premium for homes selling near the BRT line (Perk and Catala 2009). The implication is that where a BRT system can bring lasting improvements in accessibility on par with a fixed rail transit system housing markets may respond accordingly.

1: http://iurd.berkeley.edu/uploads/Displacement_Lit_Review_Fin...


That land values don't increase as much near impermanent infrastructure isn't surprising; this still doesn't explain why people would use it less while it's there. And in any case, this data doesn't distinguish between your theory and the theory that buses are less desirable for other reasons.


I should've prefaced my post with "from an urban planner or potential [permanent] resident's perspective." The opinions of current residents are likely formed by the set of different reasons mentioned in other posts.


Any data to back up that theory? The alternative theory that rail drives neighbourhood growth and has better long-term political safety is more plausible to me.

Not that I disagree but it's no less backed up than the theory you support.


Yes of course. Sometimes people ask for data because they would generally like to learn, not as a tactic to win an argument.


Do you have any experience with busses? Was that experience "great"? For example, have you lived in Hong Kong, which I understand is a Bus city? I live in Prague, and the trams are great. It is a 100% better experience than driving. Smooth, quiet, usually plenty of leg room. Doesn't smell. The busses, however, are hell. That low key vibration of the motor, the smell of the gass, the cramped spaces, the steps, all add up to a horrible experience.

I think a lot of people in the US associate mass transit with sociallism and associate socialism with "everyone should live like the dirt poor live". But come to Prague and ride the trams, and you will find that mass transit can be a luxury item.


> I think a lot of people in the US associate mass transit with sociallism and associate soccialism with "everyone should live like the dirt poor live".

No, it's because busses in the US are actually full of dirt poor people. I know it sounds cruel, but given the choice, most Americans would rather drive than sit next to dirty, smelly homeless people and also have to listen to shouting matches, sit in close proximity to fist fights, etc. Oh, and did I mention that they're rarely on time? Busses in the US are legitimately not a pleasant experience, it's really that simple.


I'm not saying they are. I am simply giving an example, Prague, where things are very different. Here, you don't have to suffer to be eco, you choose to go by tram because it is legitimately better.


I've had some good bus experiences, in Mexico City and KunMing I've ridden in nice clean busses with dedicated lanes and raised platforms for easy entry/exit[1]. It's near as nice as rail and from what I understand quite a bit cheaper to build

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Estaci%C3%B3n_SetDomingue...


It may be cheeper to build, though that is questionable. It is cheeper only because it takes advantage of existing roadway, but if you factor in the root cost of all of the existing infrastructure it uses than there's not much of a difference in cost between steel+gravel and concrete is there?

In any case, over time the price of the busses goes up steeply. You need to replace a bus after 20 years, where-as trams last 50-60 years. Prague is replacing their Tatra T3 [1] trams from the 60s, not because they are worn out (they still run like new) but because they are more dangerous in accidents for the driver (they have no crumple zone and worse brakes) and because they don't have wheel chair access. Other, poorer cities have even older trams that still run fine. When they upgrade, those old machines aren't scrapped, but are sold to more eastern ex-soviet contries as working vehicles and actually put into service there. When was the last time you road in a 50 year old bus?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tatra_T3


> there's not much of a difference in cost between steel+gravel and concrete is there?

There is a difference, because a pure asphalt track is easy to lay, and especially easy to rework.

Train tracks, especially those running in asphalt (shared road between cars and trams), have a host of problems:

1) It's really expensive to build them - trains weigh a LOT and the rails need adequate foundations

2) It's really expensive to maintain them - you can't just go with a miller over the asphalt, because there are, obviously, the rails themselves but also delicate wiring for positioning/switch controls, signalling etc.; also, in most cases there are no alternate routes, which means you have two weeks of no service at all where a bus might just be re-routed one parallel street away.

3) It's really expensive to keep them operational: unlike with rised rails, street-level sunk rails act as sinks for everything from ordinary dirt from leaves to stones idiots place in the rail or stuff that falls into the rail from improperly secured vehicles.

4) They're friggin' dangerous hazards for bicyclists! I can't count the number of falls and crashes I had due to being forced to escape into a sunken rail.

5) Idiots with huge trucks or who are not careful when operating stuff like lifters or excavators near the overhead wiring. Happens surprisingly often that someone accidentally damages or destroys overhead wiring.


One real problem with Pragues tram system though, is that we use island stops (stops that are in the middle of the street, so you have to cross a lane to get to the tram stop). You can see why this is bad in this map of pedestrian collisions and deaths https://samizdat.maps.arcgis.com/apps/MapSeries/index.html?a... The blue and yellow bubbles are pedestrian injuries, the red ones deaths. You see that along the grey lines (tram lines) there are clumps of injuries and deaths, those are where the tram stops are. So far, we haven't found a great way to solve this, except to put fencing up to discourage people from jumping out into the street to catch the tram...


On 2) you say "which means you have two weeks of no service at all". Well in Prague, we just use busses when the tram line is being repaired. Its like a downgrade. "Oh, tracks are being worked on, I'll have to take the x6 bus rather than the 6 tram." It sucks, but its far better than using busses all the time ;). And of course, you might think that it is wastefull to have a host of busses just waiting around to be turned into "replacement lines" for metro and tram and other busses that break down, but it is really usefull. And when there is a big event at the convention center at the edge of the city, those busses get used then too. So its not wasteful at all.

3) I know that they have to sweep the tracks, (Modern trams actually have brushes installed in the front) but when you have tram lines with a tram comming through once every two minutes at rush hour, carying thousands of people in a day it hardly seems like a large expense to have an old man in red overalls come in at night sometimes an polish and sweep out the tracks.

4) I know, this sucks. Especially when there is an illegally parked car, forcing you to lane change.


> Well in Prague, we just use busses when the tram line is being repaired. Its like a downgrade.

Yeah, we do that in Munich too, but it sucks real hard. Especially when the replacement buses are also in the same traffic jam created by the construction site... and all the replacement buses cost big money these days, given that there are nowhere near enough bus drivers to serve the demand.

ad 3) Yeah of course, but it's still a huge cost factor ;)

ad 4) I know someone who carries self-made stickers with penis stencils. He places these on idiot car owners' cars.


We made paper stickers reminding people that they are illegally parked and we place them on the wind sheild. If it rains, then the person will spend a good 15 minutes getting the gunk off.


Reminds me of Russia's "Stop a Douchebag" (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCMrKscEv_Ri1pvlRsLxsqJQ). Except those stickers are intentionally very sticky.


This is great!


Taken the bus occasionally in Melbourne and Brisbane. Brisbane went hard core for buses even giving them separate roads/overpasses to take in some sections and it was very efficient and also heavily used. Melbourne is more mixed and the trains and trams are definitely used more than buses. The bus system wasn't scary, but it is underutilized in the suburbs and just as crowded in the inner city as other options. But with much longer wait times.

The biggest problem with mass transit in most of the US isn't "socialism" it's that everything is so spread out that it's impossible to make it economical. The attitude is kind of a way to help people ignore the fact that alot of people can't drive and have trouble getting around to where they need to go with the way the cities are set up. I think the best solution I've seen is for the city to contract for minibuses or other transport to help pickup some of the people. But that only works because they are often disabled and get special funding to get transport that can pick them up.


I agree and dissagree. I lived in Kirkland(outside of Seattle) and spent time in LA. LA would really benefit from a real tram system. It is not too spread out for it, and it is a great candidate, because so much of it is just shitty strip mall and parking lot, that simply bulldozing half the city and building something decent along with a tram line would be a good idea. Kirkland, not so much. Too much suburb, you are right. But despite the spread of many american cities, there is still a hole lot of urban core, which is desparately lacking any sort of real mass transport infrastructure, and too often I hear eletist sentiments as being the reason not to build real infrastructure.

Ironically, a kind of anticapitalism, unionism, plays a big role in this. Unions in the construction industry have played a big role in making prices in the US higher than they should be, though even this cannot be the entire explanation. Prague has its corruption, I like to think of it as being a %20 tax on all government projects, but still we manage to do things for prices that are reasonable, even within the context of our economy. And the price of concrete aint any cheeper here than it is anywhere else, and the Czech Republic is far less wealthy than America. Somehow, America has learned to oscify itself to the point where it is less capable of building real infrastructure than the average eastern european deap state protodemocracy, it is really strange.


Pragues transit system is very good.

I used to code on a bus-commute in germany, i honestly must say i liked it more then driving around in a car. Its quiet, you can focus, and its the perfect length to create a feature.

The problem with buses is they attract those who are no longer allowed to drive (alcoholics, drug-addicts) - but overall.

Maybe something like the african Matatu system for comuters would be ideal? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matatu


Kinda related to what you talk about, one problem is that lots of buses are just old. In Massachusetts, over the past year or so the MBTA has been rolling out new buses that are comfortable, smoother, rather quiet, and more energy efficient than the older buses. I'd actually argue that our bus system is far better than our train system.

I wonder if it's a feedback loop sort of issue. The buses are old and crummy -> people avoid the bus -> bus modernization is deprioritized -> buses get older and crummier. If a city invests in buses that don't feel like an afterthought, then perhaps more people would use them.


But a new tram is EVEN BETTER than a new bus, and Prague has 50-60 year old trams that are as good as a new bus.


Yeah, I hear you, and agree. My point is more just that buses nowadays don't have to be a miserable experience if cities are willing/able to pay for it.

There are wayyyyy too many problems with public transportation in the US that stem from decades of car-centric urban and suburban growth. It seems like nobody wants to pay for public transit development and maintenance around here.


Sorry, but what makes a tram better than a bus? I'm genuinely curious.

As far as I can tell they're much more expensive per mile, have difficulty on hills, and make the street more dangerous for cyclists. The only advantage trams seem to have is that they don't have the stigma of busses.


There are several reasons. I'll devide them into to groups.

Fundamental reasons:

  1) The tram is a heavy vehicle running on rails and uses heavy spring shocks with one degree of freedom of movement (to tilt side to side). The bus is a light vehical with softer shock springs which have 360 degrees of freedom of movement. That is, that the bus can shake up/down, side to side, forwards/backwards and anything inbetween. This is the biggest difference. It is much more comfortable to be in a stable vehicle than one that rocks like a boat. You can read much more easilly on a tram than on a bus.

  2) Related to the first reason, the tram has no rocking caused by breaking, as the forward/backwards up/down rocking motions are impossible due to the restriction of movement caused by the rails and the weight of the vehicle

  3) The fact that the wheels are hard means that it is much more efficient.

  4) Tram cars are significantly wider than busses and therefore have much more comfortable inside spaces.

  5) Since the rails are always in the same place, you can design a tram with almost no gap between the platform and the floor of the tram, so that a person in a wheel chair/with a stroller can ride in without any ramp!!!!

  6) Due to the heavy build of the tram, and the fact that there is no internal combustion engine or batteries that would wear out, trams last cca 3x longer than busses. This will always be the case. It is like the difference in lifespan between a brick house and one made of mud.

  7) The wheel wells of the tram are shorter, making for a much more open, less awquard space.

  8) Due to the width, stability, and length of the tram, it is possible to walk to the other side of a non-crouded tram to get away from an alcholic person.
Non-fundamental reasons:

  1) Electric is better than deisel. Deisel busses are noisy, vibrate, and make toxic fumes which give many people nausia. (this isn't fundamental to busses, you can have trolley busses, or electric ones)

  2) Trams have much larger windows/more window space making for a less claustrophobic ride.

  3) Trams use a cellphone based tracking software for determining which stop they are at, which makes for very very smooth audio indications of where you are. The anouncment system on busses is manually controlled and sometimes the bus driver forgets to announce a stop. We even have digital reader boards with the amount of time it will take the tram to arrive, and those numbers are accurate. For busses this system also exists, but it is worse.

  4) On rainy days, the bus comming into the bus stop may splash you with mud, trams never do that.

  5) The trams have closed cabins for the drivers, meaning that stupid tourists cannot be tempted to ask the drivers for directions, thus delaying the journey and causing everyone stress.


Please don't use code blocks with long paragraphs like this. It requires horizontal scrolling which makes it really hard to read.


Thanks for the thoughtful response! I definitely agree that trams offer a better rider experience.

However, I'd argue that these benefits are outweighed by their prohibitive cost. According to the American Public Transportation Association it's roughly $30-$70m per mile, as opposed to $3-$30m per mile for busses. For example, with the $133m spent on Cincinnati's 3.6 mile tram line, you could have purchased about 300 electric busses.

Additionally, trams in the U.S. usually end up running in lanes that are also occupied by traffic, which means that they have to start/stop much more frequently and can't achieve the speed/efficiency that many european trams can.


Non-code-block for easy reading:

There are several reasons. I'll devide them into to groups. Fundamental reasons:

1) The tram is a heavy vehicle running on rails and uses heavy spring shocks with one degree of freedom of movement (to tilt side to side). The bus is a light vehical with softer shock springs which have 360 degrees of freedom of movement. That is, that the bus can shake up/down, side to side, forwards/backwards and anything inbetween. This is the biggest difference. It is much more comfortable to be in a stable vehicle than one that rocks like a boat. You can read much more easilly on a tram than on a bus.

2) Related to the first reason, the tram has no rocking caused by breaking, as the forward/backwards up/down rocking motions are impossible due to the restriction of movement caused by the rails and the weight of the vehicle

3) The fact that the wheels are hard means that it is much more efficient.

4) Tram cars are significantly wider than busses and therefore have much more comfortable inside spaces.

5) Since the rails are always in the same place, you can design a tram with almost no gap between the platform and the floor of the tram, so that a person in a wheel chair/with a stroller can ride in without any ramp!!!!

6) Due to the heavy build of the tram, and the fact that there is no internal combustion engine or batteries that would wear out, trams last cca 3x longer than busses. This will always be the case. It is like the difference in lifespan between a brick house and one made of mud.

7) The wheel wells of the tram are shorter, making for a much more open, less awquard space.

8) Due to the width, stability, and length of the tram, it is possible to walk to the other side of a non-crouded tram to get away from an alcholic person.

Non-fundamental reasons:

1) Electric is better than deisel. Deisel busses are noisy, vibrate, and make toxic fumes which give many people nausia. (this isn't fundamental to busses, you can have trolley busses, or electric ones)

2) Trams have much larger windows/more window space making for a less claustrophobic ride.

3) Trams use a cellphone based tracking software for determining which stop they are at, which makes for very very smooth audio indications of where you are. The anouncment system on busses is manually controlled and sometimes the bus driver forgets to announce a stop. We even have digital reader boards with the amount of time it will take the tram to arrive, and those numbers are accurate. For busses this system also exists, but it is worse.

4) On rainy days, the bus comming into the bus stop may splash you with mud, trams never do that.

5) The trams have closed cabins for the drivers, meaning that stupid tourists cannot be tempted to ask the drivers for directions, thus delaying the journey and causing everyone stress. reply


Difficulty on hills is just a matter of going cheap.

Putting a motor on each axle or wheel normally solves the problem.

For more extreme situations: cable car, cog railway, linear motor... all of which can actually go vertical but then we call it an elevator.


I think you live in a different Prague than I do, or you don't travel near the city centre often. When I tried to use trams in summer, they were full of people, so much I couldn't move, smelling and incredibly hot. I was very happy when my car finally got fixed. Yes, there are a lot of problems with driving (parking, one-way roads, ...), but it's much more comfortable, so much, that the discomfort caused by traffic is next to none.


Sometimes the trams are full, yes. And sometimes there is trafic on the roads.


It's not about traffic, it's about comfort. In car, I'm comfortable even when I'm stuck in a traffic jam.

Also, it takes 39 minutes to go to my office using public transit, and 18 by car, and that's the worst case.


It is only so fast, because the rest of us are in the tram though.


Nope. It's fast because the local government decided to support individual transport for once and built the tunnel complex.


LA has far more highways and roads. They support individual transport far more than Prague does. But they don't seem to be doing so well do they...


IMO, because of other regulations and taxes. Prague used to be mostly unregulated.


[flagged]


Sure, except 100,000s of people catch buses every single day and are fine.

What happens when you crash your car, are you going to buy a plane?


> [rail] will always have the last mile issue

That is true only for heavy rail (commuter trains). But light rail (trams, or perhaps called streetcars in American English) can have stops as often as buses.

Here is a tram in Karlsruhe, Germany: http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3470/3906930335_f3b2e209c2.jp...

Here are some in Helsinki, Finland: http://static.panoramio.com/photos/large/47004637.jpg https://i.ytimg.com/vi/_jhbBeEkiyc/maxresdefault.jpg


> But light rail (trams, or perhaps called streetcars in American English) can have stops as often as buses.

I have a hard time justifying trams/streetcars over buses. They largely seem equivalent except that buses are more flexible since they're not bound to a set of tracks. For example, if a car crash or other obstacle blocks the tram tracks, the trams have to wait for the obstacle to be cleared. A bus can just go around it.

Buses can (and do, in some places) carry transponders to give them signal priority, just like trams. They can even be given dedicated lanes. And trams don't really carry more passengers per square meter than buses do. The one advantage trams have that I can see is that they avoid the weird cultural stigma that buses tend to carry here in the US.


It mostly depends on the number of passengers.

If you have less than 1000-1500 passengers per hour, buses can work fine. You cannot stuff much more than 100 passenger per bus, and you cannot run buses much more frequently than once per 5 minutes, otherwise the buses tend to cluster and not stay on schedule. (The first bus stops at all stops to pick up all passengers, and the next bus gets less passengers and starts to catch up on the first.)

You can stuff 200-300 passengers into a tram, and a single driver can also drive two linked units, so we're up to 500 passengers. So a single line with 5 minutes intervals can serve up to 6000 passengers per hour.


Trams are more comfortable for the passenger, as the ride is smoother. It's on rails, so no bumps, and acceleration/deceleration generally doesn't have abrupt jerks.

On the other hand, buses are far more flexible; a minor glitch like an accident or someone unloading their moving goods stops a tram on the street totally, because it absolutely doesn't go round any obstacle. Buses do.


Also, no diesel fumes on an electric street car make the journey much more pleasant for many.


True, although buses are going hybrid/electric, for instance in my town electric buses started on one line over a year ago:

https://www.hsl.fi/en/news/2015/first-fast-charging-electric...

Then neighbouring Helsinki:

https://www.hsl.fi/en/news/2017/helsinkis-first-fully-electr...

It's very small still, of course, but seems to progress without major problems. (They make a point about the exceptional arrangement for the risky investment, i.e. the municipal company bought and operates these buses themselves; normally they just organize the procurement of transport services from private companies who own the buses and hire drivers.)


I would say building out a comprehensive subway/commuter rail network will make a much bigger difference. Being able to park your car at the nearest suburban station's parking garage and taking the train from there will make it so that cars/buses are only a "last mile" mode of transport.

Not to mention, trains are a way more space efficient way to move people, and aren't at the mercy of traffic jams caused by car accidents, construction, and bottlenecks. Granted, this hasn't completely solved the traffic problem in the NYC metro area, but without it, traffic would be a nightmare, and having the option to bypass it is great.

The fact that I can take a 15 min walk to my suburban town's train station, take it to Jamaica, Queens, transfer to the Airtrain and arrive at JFK airport without ever stepping foot in a car is something every city needs. Also, buses are notoriously unreliable schedule-wise, and people dont like having to wait in bad weather (not as much of a problem in LA) for it to arrive.


I really like that idea. The last mile issue in LA really is a problem, trying to cross streets is like playing Frogger and that would help a lot.

I actually rode the buses in LA for about 2 years (Westside to UCLA). Adding more buses, and I mean a LOT more buses (10x), may actually work. However, the issue with LA buses is not the frequency or the timing of transfers, it is the city and the people themselves. LA is not meant for buses, it is meant for cars. That means you'll have to tear up a lot of road-way to get the proper street design for 10x the buses. Anyone that has lived in LA knows that major road construction is nearly unending and yet is horrific at the same time. Doing that kind of work will not be just 'normal' expensive, but you'll also have to pay for the massive corruption issues along with it. There exists no political willpower to do so and it is unlikely to come about anytime soon as voter participation in LA is abysmal (1 voter for ~50k residents).

Also, have you ridden the Big Blue Bus on an August Tuesday in 90+ degree heat at 5 pm? You will discover the surprisingly rank nature of the human body's ability to produce truly nauseous smells and leave them on the seats. The bums man, they are just plain smelly and stabby and awful. The bums prevent most unaccompanied women from even considering taking the bus, they really are that bad. LAPD gives exactly 0 shits about the bums as long as they don't actually try to kill you. You ever make the mistake of getting onto a piss bus? Whatever is left of that dying human being in the far back seat just makes for horrific smells that will not come out of your clothes, you really have to throw them out. I learned that lesson only once. I was not late to work, but I should have been. You just have to skip that bus and be an hour late or come in smelling of death itself.

So most single women just take their cars. It is a far safer way to get about town.


> have you ridden the Big Blue Bus on an August Tuesday in 90+ degree heat at 5 pm?

So the buses in LA don't have air conditioning?

> The bums

It seems a bit uneconomical, if a population 10k smelly homeless prevents a population of 1+ million people getting to their work comfortably and efficiently.


> It seems a bit uneconomical, if a population 10k smelly homeless prevents a population of 1+ million people getting to their work comfortably and efficiently.

It is indeed. Clearly something has broken down somewhere. But do you have any proposal for a politically-acceptable way to resolve it?


i agree with much of what you're saying, but -- 1 voter for ~50k residents? huh?

there are about 4 million residents in LA. 1 voter per 50k residents amounts to 80 voters. i must be misunderstanding your comment...


You are right. I messed up here. The voter turn out in LA is typically ~10% of the population. Garcetti got ~6% of the population to vote for him in '13.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Los_Angeles_mayoral_election,_...


100% agreed. Coming to LA from Toronto, the biggest disappointment was the bus frequency. Toronto transit has some big problems, but on most routes you can get a transfer within 5-10 minutes.

When you need to transfer on the LA Metro, it's normal to wait up to half an hour for the connecting bus. If you have to transfer multiple times, it's not feasible to make that part of your daily routine so you are forced to take your car.


That'd be ideal... But while the data says "more public transport", ideology is pushing the other way, and nowadays I feel like people adhere more to ideology than data.


I think there's some good signs here in LA. People know the situation is bad and we need more public transport. During the last election, a new measure passed to increase sales tax to fund more rail. Tax measures here require 66% to pass and it's kind of incredible that many people want to increase their taxes. It shows how dire the situation is and people here recognize it.

The direction for the metro here is massive investment in more rail. But to really fully utilize that, they need to fix the first/last mile issue. They are trying with bike sharing, more dense housing, etc. But those are too slow and just don't have enough impact. LA doesn't have to be a car city, but it will always be a road city. We need to work on connecting that road network to the rail. Buses could've been the solution, but won't happen due to bad reputation. Uber/Lyft could try with their car pooling service, but there's a conflict of interest working with rail because it decreases revenue for them since rail would take a big chunk of the distance traveled. Short distance carpooling is a potential good solution and I hope some startup here or the metro does something about this. This kind of first/last mile carpool + rail solution also has potential in other cities that are investing in rail (like Seattle, Denver, etc.). If it works well, it could become the model for transportation in US cities.


Well, buses and rail attack the congestion problem on the demand side, while tolls attack the problem on the supply side. So they're really complementary.


There's not a lot of point to instituting tolls unless you have an viable alternative for people to use, which isn't the case in Southern California. Well, unless the point is to raise money.


That is a very interesting point and it sounds like a similar situation occurs in parts of Texas. Without an efficient urban grid (walkable, cycleable), or a practical car alternative, like rail, buses, the outcome may be you can set prices however high, but people will still pay because there is no other option.

I would still argue that prices should be set however high whereas to eliminate congestion, even it is seems "too high", simply because there is a limit to how many lanes can be constructed and no amount of lanes can eliminate congestion, and then we must allow market forces to occur such that development and lifestyle patterns change, which takes time.


You might like Sao Paulo. Its like LA but smelly-er and full of buses. In Sao Paulo there's no need to hurry to hop on your bus before it leaves the stop because another one will arrive immediately. Same deal with the metro. Trains arrive and depart every 90 seconds during rush hour.

Do an image search for tráfego em sao paulo site:.br if you're curious how that's working out for them.

I like this one: http://f.i.uol.com.br/folha/cotidiano/images/13164124.jpeg


This applies only to more or less "central" locations. Buses to the city outskirts are still infrequent and, during rush hour, will still be stuck in traffic.

Metro is good, but it is nowhere near 90 seconds - specially with the long stops in between stations.


Hmmm ... given the current state of the government in Brazil https://www.ft.com/content/17bd7ffa-3944-11e6-9a05-82a9b15a8...), I wonder how much longer the government can sustain a mass transit system that runs that frequently?


The São Paulo city and state government are doing relatively fine (compared with the rest of the country)


Those aren't mutually exclusive: tolls are a way to force a lot of people to economize at once, which can create the critical mass needed for a functioning bus ecosystem, which could even include private buses.


Yes, tolls make only sense when there is an alternative to driving. When people have no other choice than to drive nothing will change with tolls. Tolls are basically an artificial added cost to driving. However ideally the public transport system should be designed in such a superior way that people would switch without artificial punishment for driving.


If that's so, then fares on public transport are basically an "artificial added cost".

Roads are enormously expensive both for construction and maintenance, and in most places AFAIK fuel taxes and vehicle registrations do not cover that cost, so they are being subsidised by the general taxpayer.


I didn't meant the actual cost (as in Dollars) for the infrastructure but the associated disincentive. Collecting toll would certainly increase tax justice by relieving the general taxpayer. But that wouldn't solve the traffic problem because people will still need to travel somehow.


As a frequent LA bus rider, I agree that the biggest problem is simply the infrequency of service. I can deal with the ride being bumpy, or sitting next to crazy people on occasion. Even the slowness and frequent stops don't bother me. When you subtract time for parking, your trip takes not much longer than driving, especially when traffic is slow.

But 20 minutes between each bus during rush hour is just indefensible. It's not a viable transit system, it's just a last ditch option. When two buses get bunched together, now it's suddenly 40 minutes. Throw in a transfer and things can get ridiculous.

The Red Line train comes every 13 minutes but at least it actually comes when it says it will (most of the time). The bus is scheduled to come every 15-20 but in practice it's more like two come five minutes apart and then you wait 25-30 for the next one.


> They are trying to build more rail which doesn't have the bad reputation, but that will always have the last mile issue.

I'm not convinced. I live in Berlin and hardly ever have to take the bus to get anywhere. In the city center, there is usually a subway or S-Bahn station within 500m.


Buses are the worst form of public transport due to low capacity, low efficiency and large exposure to delays from individual transport (no personal car can hold up rail) with the resulting scheduling issues and low customer satisfaction.

Light rail blows buses away.


Buses are one of those solutions that look great on paper. Proponents of buses point to flexibility of routing, lack of new infrastructure installation, cost, etc. It's very difficult to argue with any of their points.

And yet, bus transit is invariably a dismal experience, simply the worst. I think it's because a bus gives you the worst of both worlds — the stop and go headaches of personal automobiles, and the forced interaction with strangers on trains. (This isn't a real problem on a train, however, because one can usually simply walk away from an unwanted interaction.)


This interpretation assumes that buses don't have their own right-of-way. Give buses their own lane, and suddenly they start looking like very cheap, quick-to-implement light-rail substitutes...


No, they still have terrible capacity. Does nobody do basic math anymore?

And having bus lanes, which can still be blocked, does not make them cheap light-rail. You also need to upgrade all lights at intersections to allow the bus to override the current signal.


Great suggestion! Add light timing to the list.

I'm not sure I understand the "terrible capacity" argument. An articulated bus can seat 50-60 people without standing passengers. Are you suggesting that a light rail train holds more? This seems like a solvable problem - just run buses at twice the frequency, no? The point is the right-of-way prevents them from getting stuck in traffic without having to lay expensive off-grade track.


Until some bum sits on the rails lines just on the other side of where it crosses the surface road throwing god-knows-what about at 4:30pm as they have taken to recently at the Bundy crossing. This causes massive gridlock and has made the westside much worse in terms of traffic since the light-rail went in.


I had envisioned a van-based system for the last-mile rail problem. It's a more comfortable ride than a bus, and since you're focusing on short routes you should have pretty low latency with the vans, which fixes the "transfer issue" where transferring between two transit lines can add 15+ minutes to your commute. Van drivers are significantly cheaper than bus drivers, since a normal drivers' license can be used for up to 15 passengers in most states (you probably still want to vet them).

I've been semi-expecting to see UberVAN pop up actually. It doesn't seem like the kind of idea strange enough that nobody else would think of it.


> And that solution is buses. But not the current underfunded system that barely limps along

That's why a good toll system should fund the public transit. The higher you set the tolls, the more buses you can offer to those who find it too expensive.


If you think that money from tolls is actually going to go to buses and improved public transit and not just into some Bel-Air businessman's brother's pocket, I have a bridge to sell you in Brooklyn.


I know things are done differently in America, but the profit from London's congestion charge is invested in public transport by law. For at least the first few years, it was entirely spent on improvements to buses -- giving much more capacity, and faster journeys due to the reduced congestion.

* Schedule 23 of the Greater London Authority Act 1999, to be precise, but the whole act is a 500 page PDF, so my curiosity ended there: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1999/29/pdfs/ukpga_19990...


This is also true here, but someone has to build or design those improvements to buses. The contract will typically go to someone's brother's shell company or something, especially in California. The approach to the Golden Gate Bridge cost a million dollars per foot of road. Yes, seismic this-and-that, environmental reports, noise studies, etc, but the corruption is just rampant in Cali.


Won't happen in the EU. It's forbidden for any public entity to give a contract such as this one without tendering it. Certainly not a perfect system, but it counteracts corruption pretty well.


Same in Stockholm. I can't see how being funded by tolls vs being funded by tax money would change the corruption problem?


> And that solution is buses.

At once the singularly most politically and practically incorrect assessment of LA traffic issues. How did this get top comment?

I'll agree with you in one key way: it's less ridiculous than Elon Musk's obsession with tunnels. It's a lot less ridiculous than Nolan Bushnell's obsession with self driving cars. Both fundamentally don't get how far away those solutions are from meaningful implementation. More busses, critically, could be added tomorrow, if we wanted to.

Yet others have already pointed out that buses have a bad reputation. It's only partly because of poor performance like you say. I'll put it more plainly: Los Angeles is a deeply racially segregated city, in ways that the bourgeois in California rarely admit. It's a travesty but it's also reality.

And some people characterize bus reputation as a chicken and egg problem: good riders improve the reputation, but they won't get on board when the reputation is bad. Those commenters don't understand how deeply entrenched racial segregation is in Los Angeles and how naive they sound. They're comparing Los Angeles to cities like London and New York, with huge metro systems, repeating popular whataboutist memes. They don't realize that London and New York have merely had more time to develop segregation underground.

Busses have fundamental inefficiencies, like slow patrons, that are basically uncorrelated with the number of busses on the road. And like any transport, capacity tends to get filled. And then we've all seen simulations of how bus transport falls apart due to one vehicle on a line getting behind—called bunching up[1].

I wrote to LA Dept. of Transportation years ago[2], and they characterized the problem then (and now) as fundamentally political: "Such issues require legislation." California and Los Angeles have voting systems that are good for solving many kinds of issues, but transportation is not one of them.

In my opinion, increasing licensing requirements, like disqualifying many current drivers from using freeways or vehicles entirely, would at least reduce deaths on the road. [3, 4, 5] Fewer accidents, as a side effect, could reduce congestion.

[1] E.g. http://setosa.io/bus/ [2] https://gist.github.com/doctorpangloss/a71db50d371e914a5d4f5... [3] http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/118/1/56.short [4] http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/198945 [5] http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022437502...


Buses just make it easier for you to be uncomfortable. We need to eliminate the need for long commutes not make long commutes more sustainable. We should not be spending 10+ hours a week just on commuting.



Can someone comment on how well buses work in Seoul? It struck me that it's a major form of transit there with a ton of buses passing by the stops.


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