By Alfredo Santana
LOS ANGELES — A program to speed up bus rides near Long Beach (710) Freeway intersections on five main thoroughfares would be deployed by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority as a measure to improve transportation and combat air pollution.
The announcement came at the monthly 710 freeway task force meeting last week as part of a presentation for the countywide NextGen Bus Plan, which aims to simplify routes to better link riders to their final destinations.
Joseph Forgiarini, the MTA’s senior executive officer for service development, said that the program is tailored with new technologies to extend green lights for buses nearing intersections on Long Beach Boulevard, Slauson Avenue, Florence Avenue, Firestone Boulevard and Atlantic Avenue and Boulevard.
Five bus routes would save time and make the service more reliable, with up to a 10% time improvement, he said. The targeted bus lines are 60, 108, 111, 115 and 260.
“The transit experience should be as quick as possible,” Forgiarini said at the Zoom gathering. “Eighty-three percent of riders want frequent services all day.”
The program was unveiled in response to recent criticism leveled from passengers and elected officials who have called for timetable improvements throughout Southeast Los Angeles communities.
Local leaders and activists have long complained of environmental ailments induced on blue-collar and first-generation immigrant communities from diesel-spewing trucks moving goods from the twin ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, coupled with deficient transportation alternatives to quash carbon emissions.
Public transportation changes in the freeway corridor would include redrawing of traffic lanes for cars on streets to assign bus only lanes and the installation of Wi-Fi signals at intersections to detect approaching buses.
The Bus Speed and Reliability Program would be funded with $25 million awarded by the California Transportation Commission.
Forgiarini indicated that speed improvements along with more reliable routes will provide a winning formula for the agency and its customers, and that savings would be reinvested to offer better services.
“We look forward for the opportunity in a few years to reconnect with the green lights,” he said. “But we must find other options to fund the NextGen Bus Plan.”
The transit signal priority plan is one element in a series of logistic and infrastructural changes the MTA, popularly known as Metro, plans to phase in at different stages to improve the quality of bus services and encourage drivers to switch to public cleaner transportation.
None of the NextGen Bus proposals interfere with, or pulls money from the nearly $1 billion the MTA saved for air quality, transportation or environmental improvements the task force and other groups within the 710 freeway corridor would consider starting next year.
At previous task force meetings, the agency unveiled a series of guidelines for work considerations that include more accessible bus stops and layover redesigns that offer amenities such as green spaces, trash bins, shaded canopies with benches and on-demand arrival signs.
At a recent meeting it was announced that 100 bus stops would be equipped with shelters and solar panels will feed lighting and arrival displays on busy streets connecting communities east and west of the freeway such as Gage Avenue, Florence Avenue, Firestone Boulevard and Century and Tweedy boulevards.
Allocations to fund the latter would arrive in part from the $29.5 million Southeast LA Transit Improvement Program recently approved. That program will tap state and federal grants earmarked to improve public transportation.
Longer-term work calls for expansions at terminal and layover hubs at the Norwalk C Line Station, formerly known as Green Line, and at Artesia and Compton A Line stations, on the previously named Blue Line.
Those stations would be retrofitted with up to 10 zero-emissions charging masts to recharge portions of the 2,200-bus fleet the MTA expects to make zero emissions by 2030.
And to comply with an environmental impact report and study of the 710 corridor, Forgiarini said three new express bus routes were pitched to meet high frequency bus service within the area.
Those would be route 51, departing from Cal State Long Beach with last destination at Cal State L.A.; route 52 starting at the Lakewood Center Mall with a final stop at Cal State L.A.; and route 7, a rapid line connecting Cal State Long Beach to Cal State L.A.
To fund the three faster lines, the MTA may be forced to reduce or eliminate existing routes with low ridership, including existing express routes identified for low productivity in communities nested along the 1.5-mile radius of the 19-mile freeway from Long Beach to East Los Angeles.
Luke Klipp, senior transportation director for Supervisor Janice Hahn, criticized Forgiarini for ushering plans allegedly without input from a myriad of local jurisdictions and ignoring what passengers want at arrival and drop off sites.
“Metro needs to show that this is important for bus riders,” Klipp said. “It needs to be able to work with these constituencies.”
Forgiarini replied that he looks forward to working with local leaders to develop better public transportation strategies, adding that the agency has learned riders want buses to run every 15 minutes on weekdays in Gateway Cities despite a severe ridership drop incurred during the pandemic.
For example, data compiled in October 2021 from the daily average of riders on 23 bus lines indicate that the routes lost between 20% and 50% of passengers compared to October 2019.
Line 260, slated to benefit from the extended green light technologies, has run frequencies every 12 minutes on weekdays and 20 minutes on weekends, but lost 3,678 passengers a day in the initial two years of COVID-19, from 14,385 to 10,707, or the equivalent of 26% less users.
Line 260 runs along Atlantic Boulevard from Artesia Boulevard to East Los Angeles, with boarding stops in South Gate, Cudahy, Bell, Maywood and Commerce with a final destination in Pasadena.
Another bus route targeted for faster times, Line 60 also experienced a big drop in passengers during the two-year period, averaging 6,077 less daily riders from 20,198 to 14,121.
Line 60 connects communities along Long Beach Boulevard from Compton and Lynwood to downtown Los Angeles.