You are on page 1of 4


To: Subject:

Dr. Frances L. Edwards

From: Fabio Ramos de Andrade Date: March 17, 2008

An Eval. of Los Angeless Orange Line Busway Journal of Public Transportation, Vol. 10 No. 1

BACKGROUND The Orange Line Busway runs East-West across Los Angeless San Fernando Valley (SFV), connecting it to the Warner District. The valley is a typical residential suburban area marked by large roads, low-rise commercial buildings, some college, and civic centers. According to the U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey of 2005, the SFV was home to 1.7 million people, of whom 0.7 million are foreign-born residents. About 50% of immigrants living in the valley are from Latin America. Ten percent of the SFV population is bellow the poverty line. In 2005, 0.8 million people were employed in some fashion with 12% in retail services, 17.8% in education, health care and social services, and 12.7% in professional, scientific, management, administrative, and waste management services. Workers using public transportation for commuting to work totaled 41.280. The Orange Line Busway is a 14.2-mile right-of-way bus corridor inspired by Curitibas Rede Integrada de Transporte - RIT, a pioneer bus rapid transit system in Brazil. The author does not mention Zev Yaroslasvsky, a LA County supervisor, nor Martha Welborne, a MTA architect. Welborne conducted studies in Curitiba and brought the idea of BRT to Los Angeles. Yaroslasvky was the author of legislation that made it possible for the Orange Line to be implemented. Articulated low-floor buses run end-to-end on the Orange Line in approximately 42 minutes. The Orange Lines main goal is to offer a very fast transportation service with integration into the MTA Metro system. The new line substituted a decaying railroad and brought some improvements to communities along its route. A 14-mile bike path and an 8-mile walkway were built parallel to the busway. Landscaping and art installation substituted garbage dump areas. The busway has one line in each direction and 13 stations connecting riders with several conventional bus routes and Metros Red Line. The project, first designed as a light rail line in the early 80s, was operational in 2005 using buses instead. Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and LA Department of Transport (LADOT) were responsible for the project. In 1980, LA county voters approved Proposition A, authorizing a half-cent sales tax increase to finance 13 transportation corridors in which the Orange Line was included. ANALYSIS The choice of a busway instead of a light rail was based on two different factors: MTA was legally forbidden to build any rail line above ground or use sales tax to plan or build subways (this legal aspect was omitted in the article) as a result of the MTA Reform and Accountability

2 Act of 1998, sponsored by Supervisor Yaroslasvky. A cost/benefit analysis, as explained by the author, comparing the busway to rail alternatives was used for the final decision which opted for an above ground system using buses. The cost/benefit analysis showed that it was possible to build a transportation service using a third of the costs for a light rail while serving the same number of passengers. However, a cost/benefit analysis cannot completely assess advantages or disadvantages for each mode because it does not consider certain aspects such as ride quality, travel time, and security. In order to provide the readers with a better understanding of both alternatives being weighted, the author included an impact analysis based on scenario modeling utilizing computer software and APTA (American Public Transportation Association) guidelines. The resulting scenarios compared the performance of OLB to a Light Rail and Rapid Bus services operating in the same environment. When the busway is compared to a light rail, it is evident that the ride quality and travel times are superior in the second mode. It is important to understand the assumptions the author made when comparing the different models. The board capacity was based on standard light rail cars versus articulated buses (the choice of MTA), but he could have included bi-articulated buses as used in Curitiba, Brazil, and Bogot, Colombia. Bi-articulated buses would have a similar capacity to a standard light rail car with similar impacts on operational costs. Another design aspect is the traffic signal preemption given to passenger rail cars but not to buses. If the comparison is being made based on an existing corridor which could be used by rail cars and buses, under similar operational designs, signal preemption should be considered for both vehicles. The author is right when he says that buses would run without signal preemption on a standard urban setting. However, the busway is not a standard urban settingit is a guideway with right-of-way. Assuming that bi-articulated buses were used, the signal preemption would have exactly the same effect on local crossing traffic as it would for light rail cars and the travel times would present smaller differences. A proof of payment system is mentioned but no description is offered by the author. OLB riders can purchase tickets at ticket vending machines installed in every stations. A fare checking agent randomly circulates at different times checking if passenger are holding tickets. In the Curitiba and Bogot systems, the proof of payment is more effective, resulting in no government subsidies being required. A comparison with other BRT systems would make sense in order to better understand the operational viability of the line. BUDGET IMPACT According to the World Bank, the cost per mile of BRT systems corresponds to 10% of the cost per mile of a subway and to 30% of a light rail. The implementation time is considerably shorter and adaptations are easily made. Adoption of BRT instead of subways and light rails results in immediate savings on capital budgets. For the Burbank Branch railroad to be converted into a light rail line, $925 million would be necessary, but only $290 million were used for the OLB. A light rail

3 system would cost $65 million per mile compared to $27.5 million for the busway, a savings of 52% on implementation costs. No negative long-term impacts were imposed on MTA budgets as results of OLB construction. The whole project, which includes bike and pedestrian paths, was financed by MTA, the State of California, and a federal grant for transportation. The breakdown was: Local Proposition C $150.2 million State of California $145.0 million Federal grant $17.5 million In terms of operational budget, a good comparison may be made by contrasting numbers from the MTA Gold Line (subway) with 13.7 miles and the OLB with 14.2 miles. Both lines have similar size, but the busway carries 10% more passengers and requires only 50% of the operational cost for the Gold Line. PUBLIC OUTREACH When the light rail project was first presented, there were reactions against it. Fear of property value decrease and disturbing noises put neighbors of the proposed line in opposition to the project. The author also cites a general fear of change (p. xx) as a reason for opposition. In 2000, planners decided to move from a light rail concept to a busway, but they were still facing community opposition. However, at that time, the community was in favor of some sort of improvement on the Burbank Branch retired railroad line. MTA authorized construction in 2001 and the Orange Line Busway was operational in 2005. The Citizens Organized for Smart Transit was one of the main groups opposing the construction of OLB and sponsored lawsuits that caused delays and approximately $10 million in extra costs to the project. Despite strong opposition for its implementation, the OLB has attracted riders at a surprisingly high rate. The original project expected to reach an average of 22,000 riders per day by 2020, but in March of 2007, the average daily ridership was 23,423 passengers. The author does not include more details on community outreach or community opposition to the project. Information about community involvement is important in this case due to budget impacts imposed by lawsuits and delays. CONCLUSION The author concludes that the project is currently successful and is offering an efficient means of commuting for San Fernando Valley workers that need public transportation. The ridership increase confirms that the community approves of the Orange Line. As mentioned in the background, bus rapid transit systems have been in place in many other cities, especially in South America. Further research shows that there is no perfect model that can be copied elsewhere; rather, each city needs to adjust the system to its needs. This need for adjustments is illustrated in the article, for example, when the signal preemption for buses is discussed. Bus rapid transit systems in Curitiba and Bogot have signal preemption which The US Department of Transportation, via the Transportation Research Board, has encouraged the use of BRT in many cities across the country. Strained budgets for infrastructure make BRTs more attractive than costly subway and light rail systems.

4 However, BRTs are not efficient unless fully integrated into the public transportation network and adjusted to the contexts of each city. Fabio Ramos de Andrade Program Analyst REFERENCES Los Angeles County (1998) MTA Reform and Accountability Act of 1998. Retrieved from in 3/15/08 Los Angels County MTA (2008). Ridership Graphs. Retrieved from in 3/12/2008 Los Angels County MTA (2008). FY 2008 Budget. Retrieved from in 3/12/2008 Los Angeles Times (2007) Orange Line: Sleeper LAT Online 4/11/2007. Retrieved from in McKee, B. (2001). Metro crusader. Architecture, 90, 8, p. 45. SOCATA (2004). Southern California Transit Advocates [Newsletter], 12, 11. Stanger, Richard (2007). An Evaluation of Los Angeless Orange Line Busway. Journal of Public Transportation, 10, 1. Retrieved from in 3/08/2008. Vincent, Willian; Callaghan, Lisa (2007). A Preliminary Evaluation of the Metro Orange Line Bus Rapid Transit Project. Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting 2007, Paper #07-0673.