T3 Webinar Question and Answer Transcript

Is Your Region Ready for BRT? A Los Angeles/New York ITS Peer-to-Peer Exchange (April 16, 2008)

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Q. Are bus speeds still the most pressing issue for LACMTA bus riders? If not, then what is the most pressing issue?

A.  Rex Gephart: Yes, I would say bus speeds are still the most pressing issue in Los Angeles. We are experiencing traffic congestion that we're not used to. Because bus speeds are so important to us, the mayor of Los Angeles and the city council of Los Angeles have approved bus only lanes, where six or seven years ago we would have never had those approved. So yes, bus speeds are a very pressing issue in moving people in Los Angeles and essentially maintain mobility throughout Los Angeles.

Q. Are transit command centers and DOT Transportation Management Centers (TMCs ) directly linked?

A.  Chun Wong: Yes, we do have our ATSAC control center. The ATSAC control center is responsible for monitoring not just the transit, but all of the signal operation. So our main focus in the City of LA is transportation and the signals operating correctly. It's also important that the MTA, the transit agency, should be able to monitor their specific interest. In this case, yes the signal is working, but are the buses bunching or not? I think that's what the MTA currently has a connection with us so they can see the locations of the buses to see if they're bunching or not. From then on, they can respond back to the operators to speed up or slow down. On the other side, maybe there's something on the traffic where there are some problems. We also do this. Hope that answers the question.

Q. How important has vehicle station branding been to the success of the system?

A. Rex Gephart: That's a good question. We believe that it's very important, but we don't have stations on most of our corridors today. We only have stations on two corridors today. Those also happen to be some corridors that we have a very, very high ridership. So in our opinion, station branding is very important, although we don't have it everywhere. If you read the characteristics of bus rapid transit, that FTA document, you'll see that branding of bus stations and buses are very important. In a document how important they are, we can't quantify it, but we just believe that they are. We also believe that they are because we try to get real time information out there to the public, like when the next bus is going to be arriving. We think that's important as well. You need stations to do that. So yes, we think that branding and real time information is important.

Q. How soon before you get a dedicated bus only lane on Wilshire Boulevard for the Metro Rapid and local services?

A.  Rex Gephart: We applied to the FTA through the very small starts program for funding in 2009. We're waiting to hear from the federal government if we get that funding. If we do, which would be approved this October, we would like to break ground between October 2008 and October 2009. It will be about a year and a half after that before the bus only lane is actually constructed. It's about 12 miles long, which is why it will take a little time. At this point, if everything goes fine, we'll have a bus only lane out there in probably about 2 years from end to end downtown Los Angeles to downtown Santa Monica.

Q. Without a published schedule, does LA provide an estimated time of arrival information for riders at stops, such as next bus in two minutes?

A.  Rex Gephart: Yes. We do have next bus arrival information at the stations. For those stops that we don't have stations though, we do not have information at the station. We do have on the public timetable, it says a bus will arrive between four and six minutes or three and five minutes at this time period and maybe four to six minutes at that time period. So, on the timetable it tells you the range of minutes that you would have to wait for the bus.

 Chun Wong: This is Chun. Can I also add that as part of the bus arrival information, in addition to the bus shelter with a display sign, we also provide bus arrival information on your cell phone with Internet-enabled features. So you can actually retrieve those other non-bus shelter bus arrival times on your cell phone.

 Rex Gephart: By the way, that's www.rapidbus.net. But if you'd like to dial in, it's very easy. You can do it online right now.

Q. Why the decision to use loops instead of another technology detection method for TSP, transit signal priority, or [as] you called it transit priority system?

A. Chun Wong: When we first started the project, we looked at all different detection systems. Loop was one of them, wireless and some radio frequency. We also use that, too. One of the criteria that we looked at is that to us, it's a juggling act in terms of signal timing. Basically, when we give signal priority, we are taking it from somewhere else. So, the less time you take from somewhere else, the less impact on the cross street, in this case. We need something that pretty accurately detects the vehicle location. As part of the evaluation criteria for a detection system was that we found most of the other systems vary. It seems like the weather or the building locations, how the signal bounced back and forth, you get detections differently. So your required time varies. Sometimes it may be long; sometimes it may be short. If it's short in this case, the signal would cut out before the bus gets there. That's not what we want. Through the evaluation, we determined that loop is the most accurate. Typically, when the bus is approaching within a foot or two, that's what the system can trigger. That's pretty accurate for what we need. That's something that we required for our system.

Q. How is the Metro Rapid program structured, such as planning and operations? Is it different from the rest of the LA Metro system?

A.  Rex Gephart: Well, yes, because frankly, it takes quite a bit of effort to put a bus rapid transit system together. In our case in Los Angeles, we don't own the streets or the sidewalks. We have to get permission to do quite a few of the things that we want to do from other cities, meaning signal priority and construction of stations. It takes a lot of negotiations, a lot of field work to get a bus rapid transit system going, which you don't have to do for the other bus systems, like the local bus. Yes, I think it takes quite a bit more effort. Not a lot of money, but a lot of effort. You have a huge positive impact when you get your buses going 25% faster. If your buses are going 25% faster, you have 25% more capacity or seats for essentially not a lot of increase in operating expense. You don't add buses. You don't add operators, but you have 25% more seats out there. That's really important and it's significant. It's worth the effort.

Q. How reliable has arrival prediction been at a bus stop?

 Chun Wong: I don't think we ever did a study, but we have been out to the bus stop before. Most of the time, as the bus approaches the intersection, it gets more accurate, because when it's further away, there are fluctuations and various factors. The way the algorithm works is based on the actual bus detection, bus movement. The further you are away, there are, like I said, fluctuations. But as you get closer, you get better. Sometimes an issue is that maybe the transponder that we have on the bus may not be working because it goes off or maybe it's malfunctioning or whatever. In some cases, we may miss one or two. In general, we do see the buses come and the bus arrival time starts to count down. It does work.

 Rex Gephart: Let me add that when you're out there on the street watching that next bus arrival, it says next bus in six minutes and then four and maybe three and then one. When it says one, if you look to your left, you're going to see a red bus every single time.

 Venkat Prindiprolu: Very good. I don't know who, between you two, Chun and Rex, said that 10 seconds maximum green extension for signals, but what happens if that is just missed?

 Chun Wong: I'd like to add that the system has some intelligence built into it. Yes, a bus is coming. The system knows that we've only got 10 seconds, but the bus will take 11 seconds to get there. So it would not give you the extended green, because we know it's going to miss it. We try to give you the early green instead.

 Venkat Prindiprolu: Does it affect the next cycle in any way?

 Chun Wong: . You borrowed the time from the next cycle.

Q. Why the huge differences with regard to ridership increases by Metro Rapid lines? Are there any reasons?

A.  Rex Gephart: Yes. When we designed this program back between 2000 and 2002, we assumed that everybody would be happy with the same eight attributes of the system. We started building all of our lines with all those same attributes and doing the same thing everywhere. But we found out that not everybody out there wants really fast bus service. Not all clientele is the same. Not all corridors run through the same neighborhoods. Some neighborhoods would prefer to have stops closer to their home, meaning more stops, meaning slower bus travel times, because they don't want to walk a long distance at night to get home. We've had to compensate a bit on some corridors where we've had to shorten the distance between stations, which essentially slows the system down, but it's what the public wanted. Not all corridors should be treated equal is the answer here.

Q. In your system, would the bus be the first vehicle to stop on the red for near side stops and the last vehicle to pass on the green for a far side stop? Would this strategy be beneficial?

A.  Chun Wong: I'm a little bit fuzzy on the question. But normally, I think the question is more of a near side/far side bus stop issue. It sounds that way. I'm not sure. If it is, normally in the near side bus stop, because usually with a near side bus stop, it's where you let the passenger on and off, there's no way we'd know how long that takes. In those cases, instead of just actual priority and let the green be wasted, in those cases normally for near side, we do not offer priority, because there's no benefit to it at all. Typically, we offer transit priority for far side bus stops. In this case, normally there's a loop ahead of the bus, after the bus zone. As soon as the bus starts to move, it will trip the downstream intersection into priority. That's where the benefit comes in. I hope that answers the question.

Q. What was the total capital cost for the Orange Line? Did you build the system in the prospect?

A.  Rex Gephart: It was a little over $300 million for 14 miles.

 Venkat Prindiprolu: Do you think that is too much investment now, after some years of experience? Could you have spent less and achieved the same results?

 Rex Gephart: . Well, let me make a comparison here. The Metro Rapid system, the arterial-based system is about $200,000, maybe $300,000 in today's money per mile. Light rail is probably $50 to $60 million a mile. Heavy rail is $200 to $300 million a mile. So BRT, running it on arterials, is a very, very cost effective way to move the public. But as soon as you get on a dedicated right-of-way, you have to purchase that land. By the way, the $300 million dollars does not include the real estate. If you're going to build it like a light rail system, it's going to begin to cost the same as a light rail system. Basically, that's what we did with the Orange Line. We built it like a light rail system. It has expensive stations and 4,000 trees and a lot of other things that are quite nice out there that makes it very expensive. Is it the most cost effective thing? No. I think Metro Rapid buses running on arterials, hopefully with dedicated right-of-ways or dedicated lanes is the most cost effective thing to do.

Q. Was there any consideration of crossing gates for the Orange Line?

A.  Chun Wong:  Typically, a crossing gate is similar to a railroad. In reality, the Orange Line is not a rail system, so it's not really applicable in that case. I know there will be talk, but that did not go through.

 Rex Gephart: . Right. The discussions right now is that there will not be crossing gates for the Orange Line.

Q. Who built the buses? Are they diesel? You'll have to explain both for Metro Rapid and Orange Line separately.

A.   Rex Gephart:   North American Bus Industry built all of our buses. They're all CNG. The Orange Line has 60' buses. On the Metro Rapid we use 40', 45', and 60' buses, all CNG, all NABI [ph?].

Q. In Los Angeles, what criteria are used to determine a need for a short segment and what is the total distance of a short segment?

A.   Rex Gephart:   Chun, I'll try this one. A short segment means for the Metro Rapid, again this is for Los Angeles, where we have very long trip distances and very long lines, sometimes 20-mile lines. No Metro Rapid line is less than 10 miles long. We felt that we had to have a bus line longer than 10 miles to make a significant difference in reducing passengers' travel time. Otherwise, our trip distances would be too short and by the time they waited for a Metro Rapid bus, they could have taken the local bus and been to the same point. A short segment for us is 10 miles or less. We do not make those into Metro Rapid corridors.

Q. What standard for TSP is LA County using? Is it NTCIP?

A.  Chun Wong   I think probably the question is more of LA City, not LA County. As I mentioned earlier, TPS or transit priority system is built upon ATSAC infrastructure. All of our standards are based on ATSAC. I know in our department we have individuals who oversee the NTCIP for ATSAC. Without knowing the specifics, I believe it should be part of the NTCIP.

Q. Does New York have a planning guide for implementing BRT on state highways?

A.  Jim Davis:   We don't have anything like that presently. This visit and follow up with the transit operators in our own regional offices and design manual, that's the kind of thing I think we would definitely look to develop.

Q. How were representatives of the disabled community involved in planning processes, and how were the issues of accessibility addressed?

A.  Naomi Klein:  We're in the planning phases right now, but we have had an extensive outreach process. Part of that is reaching out to the disability community and finding out what their issues are. Of course, whatever we design will have to be ADA compliant. All our buses have lifts as part of them. We're reaching out to the people in the disabled community as much as we can.

  Gerry Flood:  Okay, thank you. Venkat, I'm going to turn the question-answer back over to you.

Q. When you talk about applying BRT to areas that are less dense in population, [is it] more of a commuter approach initially until the density is there?

A.   Naomi Klein:   That's an interesting question. It not only applies to BRT, it applies to the issue of transit in general, having mass transit where you don't have the mass. I think right now we certainly in this region are focusing on areas where we already feel there's a market. It really is a major investment and we want to do what we can to work with communities. We're a very home rule state when it comes to land use. We want to work with the communities to encourage them and get their buy-in on promoting the types of land uses that support transit. For now, we're really focusing on areas where we already have bus service, where we think there's potential to enhance that through BRT.

 Jim Davis:  This is from New York City DOT. The way that the Tappan Zee Bridge EIS is being investigated, we're looking off into the future. The west of Hudson portion of that corridor is expected to essentially double in population. The service on the west of Hudson is really looking to support and guide development that is not presently there. There are dense areas of development on that side, but when I mentioned the suburb nature of that corridor, there are a constellation of small pockets of density on either side of the river that we'd basically be looking to connect. It's a network of services that are being looked at that would feed a hub route. It might be more akin to what the questioner is asking about. We are definitely looking or BRT to support and induce more concentrated land use.

 Rex Gephart: In Los Angeles we will not be-- I forgot the exact question, but we will not be constructing-- we have minimum thresholds for constructing BRT. One of them is it has to be 10 miles long. The second one is it has to have 500 boardings per route mile or greater. If it doesn't meet each one of those, it's not a candidate for a BRT corridor. Then we have additional criteria beyond those two to help us narrow down the most cost effective corridors. So to put a BRT route as a kind of commuter route would never make our short list in Los Angeles. We have too many other corridors that we need this type of service on.

Q. Have you experienced any negative impacts on cross street traffic at TSP intersections?

A.  Chun Wong:   We did an evaluation of the transit priority system when it was completed back in early 2000. We did an extensive evaluation of the travel time, as well as the cross street. The way our transit priority works is borrowing cross street time. It looks like that potentially could be an issue. We did an analysis of about 1,000 buses. It turned out that there was a delay of one second per cycle. So you talk about is there an impact? Yes, there's one second. Is it significant? I don't think it's that much. I think at this time, we believe it's still acceptable.

Q. Is the transit priority manager software available for distribution to other agencies, probably free of cost?

A.  Chun Wong:   This particular software was developed using MTA's public dollars. So this money is to be available for the public agency. Our department has made this software through what is that, the State of Florida, McTrans? Any agency who is interested can purchase this software through McTrans. That is very, very inexpensive compared to the overall development cost.

Q. What are the minimum headways for routes operating on a headway basis? Are there any guidelines?

A.  Rex Gephart:  In Los Angeles, minimum headway, meaning the shortest headway is 10 minutes or less in the peak, 12 minute or less in the off peak. We have headways down to two minutes on Wilshire Boulevard, for example. By the way, while you're portion of that corridor is expected to essentially double in population. The service on the west of Hudson is really looking to support and guide development that is not presently there. There are dense areas of development on that side, but when I mentioned the suburb nature of that corridor, there are a constellation of small pockets of density on either side of the river that we'd basically be looking to connect. It's a network of services that are being looked at that would feed a hub route. It might be more akin to what the questioner is asking about. We are definitely looking or BRT to support and induce more concentrated land use.

In Los Angeles we will not be-- I forgot the exact question, but we will not be constructing-- we have minimum thresholds for constructing BRT. One of them is it has to be 10 miles long. The second one is it has to have 500 boardings per route mile or greater. If it doesn't meet each one of those, it's not a candidate for a BRT corridor. Then we have additional criteria beyond those two to help us narrow down the most cost effective corridors. So to put a BRT route as a kind of commuter route would never make our short list in Los Angeles. We have too many other corridors that we need this type of service on.

Q. Have you experienced any negative impacts on cross street traffic at TSP intersections?

A.  Chun Wong:   Chun Wong: We did an evaluation of the transit priority system when it was completed back in early 2000. We did an extensive evaluation of the travel time, as well as the cross street. The way our transit priority works is borrowing cross street time. It looks like that potentially could be an issue. We did an analysis of about 1,000 buses. It turned out that there was a delay of one second per cycle. So you talk about is there an impact? Yes, there's one second. Is it significant? I don't think it's that much. I think at this time, we believe it's still acceptable.

Q. Is the transit priority manager software available for distribution to other agencies, probably free of cost?

A.  Chun Wong:   This particular software was developed using MTA's public dollars. So this money is to be available for the public agency. Our department has made this software through what is that, the State of Florida, McTrans? Any agency who is interested can purchase this software through McTrans. That is very, very inexpensive compared to the overall development cost.

Q. What are the minimum headways for routes operating on a headway basis? Are there any guidelines?

A.  Rex Gephart:  In Los Angeles, minimum headway, meaning the shortest headway is 10 minutes or less in the peak, 12 minute or less in the off peak. We have headways down to two minutes on Wilshire Boulevard, for example. By the way, while you're thinking about that, let me add the short 10-minute headway, you need a short headway if you're going to implement headway-based schedules. Headway-based schedules don't work without short headways. I think that's key to BRT. But the key to getting people to ride public transit is speed and frequency. That's what we're trying to do here in Los Angeles.

Q. In BRT, working lanes of mixed traffic use [referring to your Metro Rapid]?

A.  Rex Gephart:  It works here in Los Angeles. At least it works up to the point where the cars aren't moving. But in Los Angeles, basically we've found that our traffic is consistently moving. Maybe sometimes it's moving slowly, but it's moving consistently and the signal priority and fewer stops and a lot of these other things help move our buses. Do arterial-based BRT systems work effectively? They have in LA and the average speed improvement is 25%.

Q. With the defeat of congestion pricing in New York City, what are the impacts on the BRT program in Westchester County?

A.  Naomi Klein: Really very little. The funding that the city was supposed to receive through the Urban Partnership Agreement was for New York City, so we're really not affected by that here.

Q. Did the headway-based scheduling in Los Angeles really result in as much running time improvement as transit signal priority and stop consolidation?

A.  Rex Gephart: Yes. It's about one-third of that 25% bus speed improvement is associated with signal priority, one-third with fewer stops, and one-third with headway-based schedules. Specifically, on those headway-based schedules, it depends a lot on your scheduling department. If your scheduling department puts schedules out there that are let's say tight, meaning that your operators, when they get to time points they're not always ahead of time, the majority of the time they're behind time, then going to a headway-based system may not help as much. In Los Angeles, our schedules weren't as, let's say, tight as you would have liked them to have been. Therefore, headway-based scheduling helped out a lot.

 Chun Wong:   I'd like to add that also as part of that evaluation that we talked about earlier, that 25% savings, the technique how we go about obtaining that number is that our system has the ability to log every trip of the bus, as I mentioned, using our iTrack application. How we do it is we have a group of buses with priority running through the corridor and then randomly they pick up another group that runs on the same corridor, but we turn off the priority. So by comparing two trips with similar times of day, that's how we determine the travel time savings from end to end.

Q. Are there any safety statistics of the BRT operation?

A.  Rex Gephart: Well, there was some thought that there were more accidents with the BRT buses than with local buses. I think that initially the reason that people thought that was because the BRT buses were so visible. They were red and everybody saw them and everybody knew what they were. It seemed like there were more accidents. But in fact, after we did a little research, the accident rate for the buses, meaning the accidents per mile per buses per miles of service, were consistently less for the BRT buses than they were for the local buses on the same corridor. The reason for that is there are fewer stops. With fewer stops, you generally have fewer accidents.

Q. How is the issue of removal of parking for the bus lane addressed or how was it reviewed by the public? Is the bus lane full time or peak time only? What kind of striping, signing, or enforcement is used?

A.  Rex Gephart: Los Angeles doesn't have a bus lane yet. We're working on it. But it is peak period only. There are very few parking spaces that we are taking. That's one reason that it is peak period only. We are generally taking a lane from existing traffic, not adding a lane. In some cases, we're widening the corridor and adding a lane. But 90% of the corridor is taking an existing traffic lane in both directions during the peak and very few parking spaces.

 Naomi Klein: In Westchester County, we've identified a two mile segment that has some parking where we want to have a dedicated lane. I think what's critical and what we've just done is a parking utilization study. I think it's really critical to have empirical data on how much the parking is actually utilized so that when you go to the public and make a case for reducing it, at least you have empirical data to back up what you want to do. Right now, we want to have the bus lane for the peak hours, but again, our peak is really midday. It has more of a retail orientation. The peak is really about 4:00 in the afternoon. We would recommend having the bus lane maybe from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Again, I think the key to trying to reduce parking is to really have the data available to backup your argument and try to find replacement parking. A lot of the areas, especially where there are strip malls, have a lot of off-street parking. It's generally in those areas where we don't expect an issue.

Q. Are there major metro areas in the country with a sophisticated BRT similar to that of Los Angeles--if not in scale, then as a part of a larger public transportation system, one that integrates light rail, commuter rail, and bus?

A.  Rex Gephart: I don't know the answer to that one. They're asking if there are other systems in the United States. I'm not familiar.

 Venkat Prindiprolu: Did anybody copy you and pay you a compliment that way?

 Rex Gephart:  Pardon? If you're asking– I don't know the exact answer to that question. We've had I'd say 100 different cities come out and visit Los Angeles and do a lot of the same things that we're doing here, which is a compliment to Los Angeles. Again, it's not too expensive. You can build what we have relatively quickly and it is a relatively high impact kind of system. I don't know which ones are exactly like ours.

 Venkat Prindiprolu: Let me ask Naomi and Jim. You did say that you learned a lot from Los Angeles in your presentations, both of you. Are there some attributes of the system or in total that you'd like to see happen in New York State or Westchester County?

 Naomi Klein: Yes. I tried to point out certain things. Certainly some of the real basic BRT elements, like the limited stop and transit signal priority, having check-in check-out capability for accuracy and real time arrival information at the stops. Certainly, branding is really important to distinguish it from other kinds of service. There were certain things that we learned. LA is just a very different operating environment. The loop TSP system probably wouldn't be ideal here, because of the colder climate and everything. That was probably one of the criteria that we wouldn't have. We'd have probably some kind of wireless. We're looking to a GPS type system.

 Jim Davis: I think from my perspective, it reinforced a lot of what the operators are-- like CDTA's approach to this is very similar. They're not fully implemented yet, but I think they're looking to apply the same general principles. I think it validated the approach that they're taking. I think as far as technology, it's also interesting the fact that at stop information was based upon the system that was developed by LA, as opposed to a vendor system, was kind of interesting. That's the kind of thing that could be shared around through McTrans or whatever. That might be an interesting application. Naomi was talking about the ability to do check-in check-out as a more common, flexible technology deployment. Los Angeles was saying to us while we were out there was that a lot of that was enabled by the investment in fiber optics that they made earlier on. They benefited from having one municipal organization doing that. We're in a multi-jurisdictional environment, so other alternatives that don't require that level of infrastructure investment would be interesting for the feds to explore and share.

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