Bus Rider Defections Less Severe In Pasadena Than Rest of County

Published : Monday, July 8, 2019 | 5:13 AM

As was the case with homelessness, Pasadena’s public transportation system is bucking the County trend and is not experiencing the steep ridership decline felt by the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transit Authority (Metro).

Metro has seen an average 2.5 percent decrease in ridership over each of the past 10 years, the most severe drop among the busiest bus systems in the United States, according to the Los Angeles Times.

By contrast, Pasadena Transit has seen just a 2.5 percent decrease over entire past four years, a far cry from Metro’s disappointing countywide numbers.

In 2015, the City’s Department of Transportation had a ridership of 1.58 million, according to City spokeswoman Lisa Derderian.

That number increased to 1.6 million in 2016 and again to 1.68 million the next year. In 2018, the decrease to 1.54 million was not insignificant at 4.7 percent, and could be attributed to the drop in overall regional transit trips, according to Derderian.

Pasadena, though not as afflicted as the overall Metro system, is not alone in seeing a decline.  According to the Times, independent systems such as Santa Monica, Antelope Valley, Orange County, and San Gabriel Valley have all been affected by the national slump in bus ridership.

Believe it or not, falling immigration rates are one of the reasons cited for the reduced number of bus riders. A stronger economy facilitating car purchases is another.

According to a 2018 University of California/Los Angeles research document, the number of households with no access to a car fell 30 percent between 2000 and 2015.

The same study put the drop in immigrant households with no access to a private vehicle at 42 percent. A driver’s license program for undocumented immigrants might be one reason behind that figure.

There are the more familiar, quotidian concerns about the door-to-door service a car offers when compared to waiting at a bus stop to be picked up, only to be deposited at a long walk from a final destination.

Pasadena’s relative success in holding onto to its 1.5 million to 1.6 million annual bus riders may simply be a matter of size.

After all, when it comes to the homeless question, it may be easier for Pasadena, with a roofless population that oscillates between 500 and 600 people, to reduce the number, than for county, or city of Los Angeles officials grappling with a population in the tens of thousands.

City Councilmember Margaret McAustin, who also serves as a board member of the Foothill Transit Bus Company, certainly thinks so.

“I would say that because we operate our own service within our own city limits, we are able to be more nimble in being responsive to our riders’ needs,” said McAustin.

Fewer riders, less needs, but ask any bus rider their primary need and they would say speed, which starts with less waiting time or what McAustin calls “headways.”

“Those are the times between bus arrivals,” said McAustin, “and in order to shorten them we need to enlarge our fleet, and to do that we have to have a bus maintenance and storage facility, something we’ve been looking for, for years.”

McAustin said finding a place to build such a facility has been “a problem,” but that recent talks with Pasadena Unified School District regarding one of its properties may offer a way out.

“It’s just another kind of demonstration of how the City and school district are finding new ways to work together,” said the Councilmember.

Metro’s plan is to redesign its network, which consists of 165 bus lines and 14,000 stops. That would impact lines running through Pasadena, too, said McAustin.

Metro may not find the sledding easy.

In plotting a bus rapid transit route from North Hollywood to Pasadena City College, Metro proposed dedicated lanes on which buses could whoosh through stalled traffic in adjacent lanes.

The idea got up the nose of Pasadenans who did not want to see the number of lanes along Colorado Boulevard’s reduced. Mayor Terry Tornek went to the Metro board, expressed his concerns, secured a delay and, ultimately, a junking of the idea.

The lanes may be saved, but the desirability of taking a bus rapid transit route may also take a hit.  Ironically, it could end with former bus riders stuck in traffic behind the wheel of their new car.