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September 21, 2012

Bus and rail riders: Same system, separate worlds?

by Nicole Schlosser

The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) released the numbers from its annual customer survey. The agency received more than 20,000 responses. Overall, riders reported general satisfaction with the service, at over 80% for both those taking the bus and rail.

Riders also responded that they feel safe waiting at the stops and on the vehicles, and that their bus or train is on-time and clean most of the time. What was interesting, as Nate Berg, staff writer at The Atlantic Cities pointed out, was a marked divide between rail riders and bus riders.

Berg takes a closer look at the survey findings, and concludes that “Bus riders tend to have lower incomes and fewer transportation options. Train riders are richer and whiter.” He also notes that more women tend to be bus riders.

We have come across studies and reports in the past that say that passengers tend to have a better perception of rail than bus. It does seem, based on the Metro survey results, at least for this year, that there is a distinct divide between people either being bus-only or rail-only transit users. Survey findings show that nearly half of Metro bus riders and a little more than 40% of rail riders usually don't transfer, and many people take single-segment trips.

I thought the results were pretty accurate, at least compared with my own experience. Being a Los Angeles County resident, if I had received and filled out the survey, I would fall into the bus-only category, simply because that mode is much more convenient to where I live and need or want to go. I also, honestly, think of the buses as safer than rail, though my perception of the rail is also based mostly on stories from friends. Most people I know, who live in all different parts of L.A., are also bus-only out of convenience, except for a few friends who live a few steps from a stop on the new Expo light rail line.

The survey results made me wonder what the divide is like in other metropolitan areas. What would you say is the breakdown in your city? Has your transit system recently gathered any data on your riders? Is it as segmented?

In case you missed it...

Read our METRO blog, "'Reach out and touch" here.

Nicole Schlosser

Senior Editor


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  • Charles Trainor[ September 21th, 2012 @ 12:30pm ]

    The results should not be surprising given the typical pattern for rail services, and their connection between suburban communities and the urban cores. I lived in Denver prior to the LRT system there and found the commuter bus services (over the road coaches) served the same suburban markets. I lived near downtown Denver and found getting to jobs in the suburban fringe was a much more difficult proposition--in fact nearly impossible. As I recall, LA was in court years ago on this very issue--that the resources put into the rail system came at the disadvantage of the urban (often minority) residents who relied upon bus services.

  • Bill Vigrass[ September 28th, 2012 @ 1:03pm ]

    The survey has rediscovered something that has been in effect for many years. Discretionary riders tend to choose rail as being more comfortable and usually faster. Bus riders tend to be lower income who must reach a bus stop on foot as they do not have access to a car (or do not care to use a car). In several surveys I have seen the average income for suburban rail riders is substantially higher than suburban bus. Bill Vigrass, Asst.G.M. PATCO, retired.

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