As Bus Ridership Declines Across County, Perhaps It’s Time to Re-Map Long Beach Transit

We’re having a bus issue—and by that, I mean that the region is seeing a decline in bus ridership. And it’s prompting Metro to take a look at how it buses folks, possibly overhauling the entire system.

And a big question arises: should Long Beach Transit (LBT) perhaps do the same in the name of efficiency, considering it has seen nearly a 5% fall year-over-year from 2015 to 2016? And perhaps this can be linked to their LBT Star program?

Let’s be frank, Long Beach: anyone who rides the LBT buses, there is one glaring admission that supersedes the fact that we have a transit system which caters to some 28 million riders per year with the use of 228 buses and that is that the system is not particularly efficient.

By efficiency, it is not a discussion of getting from Point A to Point B; that is actually well-done—and the “well-done” is part of the major issue. When talking of efficiency, the fact that buses stop practically every 600 feet becomes not only frustrating, but immensely inefficient. In the name of public transit, one should be able to get to places quickly. It should make one want to avoid their car (should they be lucky enough to have one) rather than crave its use.

Enter Laurence Francis Harrison, a Belmont Shore resident so obsessed with transit, trains, and all things mappable, that he re-mapped the entire LBT system into 9 lines. LBT currently has 34 regular service lines with 2,000 bus stops.

Laurence Harrison's revisioning of the Long Beach Transit System.

Laurence Harrison’s revisioning of the Long Beach Transit System.

“I grew up in Yorkshire—a very transit-oriented lifestyle,” Harrison said. “I don’t drive, so transit, walking, and biking are my modes of transportation. As with almost every British city, it has a greenbelt, so there is limited suburban sprawl. But, what is most important is as-easy and as-quick-as-possible access to commercial districts and other neighborhoods—and that is through efficient public transit, especially in a city as large as Long Beach.”

Generally speaking, England—and European cities overall—is zoned differently: commercial and residential mixes are common, making neighborhoods walkable or using transit not only common but practical.

At 50 square miles, Harrison believes there needs to be a “third way” since biking or walking the entire city is not reasonable nor practical for the common citizen. However, using transit can be time consuming: taking the 51 from the Downtown Transit Mall to the Artesia Station at the Blue Line takes 35 to 40 minutes.

“As far as urban transit goes,” Harrison said, “the reason so many people glorify trains isn’t because they are significantly faster moving—most of the time they run as fast as cars—but because they don’t stop and start all the time. They go places; they aren’t rigidly defined by a system of blocks. Rather, they are oriented to meaningful places that people travel: neighborhoods, commercial areas, and so on. And in a city without trains, it is really the obligation of the bus to do that job.”

Harrison’s own bus plotting is thoughtful: according to his map, all current travel times on LBT would be quicker or remain the same, with most major routes (e.g. Long Beach Boulevard, 7th Street, et cetera) being significantly quicker. Buses would not be limited to predetermined corridors, but bus stops, meaning they can travel around accidents, traffic, and closed streets easily. With less stopping, comes less energy consumption. Centralized bus stations make transfers easier.

“The reason so many people glorify trains… They go places; they aren’t rigidly defined by a system of blocks. Rather, they are oriented to meaningful places that people travel: neighborhoods, commercial areas, and so on. And in a city without trains, it is really the obligation of the bus to do that job.”

But here’s the kicker in regard to efficiency: with LBT’s current 220+ bus fleet, if the system was serving at full capacity and distributed evenly throughout Harrison’s plan, each of the nine lines’ bus stops would be served every five minutes. And that’s any route via any station on his map, northbound or southbound, eastbound or westbound. That means the stop at Cal State Long Beach, where three of his lines meet, would be served every 45 seconds.

And for those worried about the walking distance to a stop, fear not: Harrison looked at the minimal amount of stops while accounting for a no-more-than 10-minute walk to any single stop.

“I think having the option of traveling around your city efficiently—making everything closer and cheaper—will create destinations within the city,” Harrison said. “People will want to try that new coffee shop in Lakewood Village or check out the house where they filmed Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”

Harrison notes the implementation of this project won’t be a walk in the park. The success of altering—particularly so radically—a major city’s entire transit system would depend on how well you want to do it, which basically means more dollar signs in the form of new benches and stops. But Harrison notes that his plan doesn’t ask for more than it asks for better.

“It really would be what public transit is supposed to be: a bridge between walking and getting a taxi,” Harrison said. “Because if your city is better than all the others, why would you want to leave?”

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Brian Addison has been a writer, editor, and photographer for more than a decade, covering everything from food and culture to transportation and housing. In 2015, he was named Journalist of the Year by the Los Angeles Press Club and has since garnered 16 nominations and two additional wins for Best Political Commentary for his work at KCET and Best Blog for Longbeachize, a section of the Long Beach Post. Brian currently serves as a columnist and editor for the Long Beach Post.