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Metro moves to reverse falling ridership on buses and trains

The Los Angeles County transit agency this week plans to discuss strategies to reverse the trend of falling ridership — a problem that, if not addressed, could have serious implications for the future of the region's transit.

According to a Metro staff report, the number of people riding buses and trains in L.A. county has dropped by about 9 percent, from 1.49 million average weekday boardings in 2014 to 1.36 million in the second quarter of fiscal year 2016.

A report on the issue will be presented to the Metro board Thursday along with recommended steps to reverse the declining ridership.

"It doesn’t surprise me because it’s completely in line with national trends," said Juan Matute, associate director of UCLA's Institute of Transportation Studies, commenting on the decline.

Matute said the recovery of the economy coupled with low gas prices and the rise of ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft have drawn people away from public transit nationwide.

Metro's ridership has gone down across the system about 9 percent since 2014.
Metro's ridership has gone down across the system about 9 percent since 2014.

Metro's ridership losses on bus lines have actually been less acute than the national average, he said. However, unlike many other regions with more established transit networks, L.A. county is spending billions to build five new rail lines.

"So it is a bit concerning that we’re expanding the system at the same time ridership’s declining," said Matute.

In its analysis of ridership trends, Metro found employment and car purchases were among the biggest factors affecting ridership, followed by service disruptions due to maintenance on the Blue Line.

The Metro board will vote on several recommendations to reverse the ridership decline, including new marketing tactics and increasing service frequency in certain areas near employment centers and on highly used lines.

However, Matute notes, the largest factors affecting ridership may be out of the agency's control: until the cost of driving goes up, it will be tough to get people out from behind the wheel.

Even Gov. Jerry Brown's proposal to charge drivers in California about $100 more a year in taxes and fees may not dissuade drivers to get out of their cars and jump on public transit.

Metro staff report on ridership