RANDAL O’TOOLE, CATO INSTITUTE
An article in the Los Angeles Times last week frets that Los Angeles transit buses are “hemorrhaging riders,” which is supposedly “worsening traffic and hurting climate goals.” In fact, the decline of bus transit is actually helping California achieve its climate goals.
In 2017, Los Angeles Metro buses used 4,223 BTUs and emitted 349 grams of greenhouse gases per passenger mile. By comparison, the average light truck used only 3,900 BTUs and the average car just 2,900, with light trucks emitting 253 grams and cars 209 grams per passenger mile. By raising bus fares and reducing bus service, L.A. Metro is getting people out of dirty buses and into clean cars.
Of course, L.A. Metro officials probably don’t realize they are doing that. They are so bone-headed that they want to convert a dedicated bus route into a light-rail line in order to “increase its capacity.” At present, they run a maximum of 15 buses an hour on the dedicated bus lanes, which is less than 6 percent of its capacity.
Dedicated bus lines in other parts of the world move as many as 30,000 people per hour in each direction. By comparison, no light-rail line can move more than about 12,000 people per hour. As one study concluded, “there are currently no cases in the US where LRT [light rail transit] should be favored over BRT [bus-rapid transit].”
Los Angeles Metro’s CEO is currently paid well over $300,000 a year, which is almost twice as much as the governor of California and far more than the director of the state Department of Transportation, whose agency moves far more people and ton-miles of freight per day than Metro moves in a month. Yet Metro’s CEO is not being paid to move people, but to separate people from their tax dollars, and so far he is doing that very well.
For more information about the future of public transit, see my recent article about LA Metro’s climate strategy.
Randal O’Toole is a Cato Institute Senior Fellow working on urban growth, public land, and transportation issues. O’Toole’s research on national forest management, culminating in his 1988 book, Reforming the Forest Service, has had a major influence on Forest Service policy and on-the-ground management. His analysis of urban land-use and transportation issues, brought together in his 2001 book, The Vanishing Automobile and Other Urban Myths, has influenced decisions in cities across the country. In his book The Best-Laid Plans, O’Toole calls for repealing federal, state, and local planning laws and proposes reforms that can help solve social and environmental problems without heavy-handed government regulation. O’Toole’s latest book is American Nightmare: How Government Undermines The Dream of Homeownership. O’Toole is the author of numerous Cato papers. He has also written for Regulation magazine as well as op-eds and articles for numerous other national journals and newspapers. O’Toole travels extensively and has spoken about free-market environmental issues in dozens of cities. An Oregon native, O’Toole was educated in forestry at Oregon State University and in economics at the University of Oregon. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org