ExpressLanes: Metro Needs a Comprehensive Approach
Today I used the Harbor Transitway in South Los Angeles. Suffice to say, I am not a happy customer. My trip from the Harbor Freeway/105 Station back to USC campus was quick and relatively comfortable but for two glaring problems: I waited 30 minutes for a bus during the AM peak, and the freeway-level platform is possibly the least inviting, most unpleasant transit facility I have ever used. Metro plans to seriously change service on the Silver Line and change the HOV lanes on the Harbor and San Bernardino Freeways to HOT lanes. The Harbor Transitway, already considered an abject failure in transit circles, could be the make-or-break facility for the ExpressLanes project.
ExpressLanes is a pilot project for HOT (high occupancy toll) lanes in Los Angeles County. Metro will begin charging demand-based tolls to single occupancy motorists who wish to use the Harbor Transitway and El Monte Busway HOV facilities. High occupancy vehicles will still be allowed to use the lanes free on the Harbor Transitway, but on the El Monte Busway, carpools will have to pay during peak periods. All vehicles on the facility will need a FasTrak transponder. Much of the extra revenue raised by ExpressLanes will go to increasing the frequency of the Metro Silver Line to 5 minute headways during peak periods. The purpose of ExpressLanes is to reduce congestion and improve mobility along these two corridors by improving the throughput of the current HOV lanes and providing monetary and time saving incentives for freeway users to take transit.
These principles are all good in my book. Making the best use of current transportation infrastructure is far more effective per dollar than increasing capacity when you have an urban area like Los Angeles which has nearly infinite latent demand. Unfortunately, the current proposal for ExpressLanes will likely not achieve its goals. People who take transit by choice weigh the costs and benefits of transit and driving. Positives for transit on the Harbor and El Monte corridors include travel time, cost, and lack of parking costs. Granted, all three of these depend on having a destination in Downtown Los Angeles. Nonetheless these positives are strong on these two corridors. Negatives are wait time and general attractiveness of the service. These two issues were the defining factors for my trip today – Metro needs to make sure that they do not provide these disincentives for future riders on the Silver Lane with the implementation of ExpressLanes.
Really, it’s easy to increase the general attractiveness of transit, especially on confined corridors like I-110 and I-10, and on a specific set of vehicles, the small-ish bus fleet used to operate the Silver Line. First, Metro must build sound walls around the Harbor Transitway platforms, like WMATA in Washington DC. Next, Metro really needs to up it’s cleaning budget, install public art, and redesign wayfinding at these busway platforms. Metro has done a great job at wayfinding in their newer stations on the Gold Line and the (future) Expo Line.
A little bit of love and elbow grease could massively improve the attractiveness of the Harbor Transitway and fulfill Metro’s goal of improving transit mode share along the Metro Silver Line corridor. It is critical that the ExpressLanes project does not end up like many other transit-highway programs that are essentially greenwashed – like the Harbor Transitway in its original iteration. A little bit of money can go a long way in improving the ghastly Harbor Transitway and making ExpressLanes a success for both motorists and transit riders. Make it happen Metro!
Also, the Metro podium signs are up on some of the Expo Line. I’m getting excited for Expo, are you?