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Transit in LA's walkable neighborhoods more likely to succeed, report suggests

File: Members of the Metro board of directors take a sneak peek ride from the Culver City to Downtown Santa Monica Stations on the Expo Line extension on Monday morning, May 9, 2016.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
Transit that serves walkable communities, such as the Culver City to downtown Santa Monica Expo Line extension, has the best chance for attracting riders, a new report says.

As ridership on buses and trains declines as part of a nationwide trend, a new report offers some lessons for transit agencies like Los Angeles' hoping to attract more customers.

Dropping ridership is particularly troubling in L.A. County, where the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is spending billions of dollars to build new trains and transportation projects.

In November, Metro will ask voters to approve a sales tax increase that would live on indefinitely to fund billions more in transportation projects and services.

The report released Tuesday by the New York-based think tank Transit Center looked at ways transportation agencies can get the most return for their investments in transportation. 

"I think the most important lesson for Los Angeles from this report is investing in transit in walkable neighborhoods," said Stephen Higashide, one of the report's authors.

The study of transit users nationwide found about 80 percent of the most frequent riders reached transit on foot.

Higashide said transit agencies that want more riders should prioritize projects serving walkable neighborhoods, such as Hollywood and downtown L.A., with more frequent and faster transit options, rather than build out to non-urban, further flung areas where most people drive and park.

He said future development around stations could also encourage higher ridership, with denser, more walkable neighborhoods favoring higher transit use. 

The study also showed bus shelters are important because they improve the waiting experience for riders by offering information on routes and arrival times and comfort.

"We find that bus shelters have a significant impact on transit riders satisfaction," said Higashide.

A KPCC investigation earlier this year found the city of L.A. has lagged in installing hundreds of bus shelters that were contracted for over the last 15 years.