Review of the New El Monte Bus Station
On Sunday, October 14, 2012, the newly renovated El Monte Bus Station opened in the eastern suburb of Los Angeles. At a cost of $60 million, the new station replaces the original 1970's-era station and continues to be, with twenty-eight bus bays, the largest bus-only transit center west of the Mississippi. Because the twenty-eight bus bays are more than what is currently needed, the El Monte Bus Station is well positioned for future expansion of bus service.
The El Monte Station is the eastern terminus of the successful BRT Silver Line, and is served by over twenty bus routes operated both by Metro and Foothill Transit. Unfortunately, poor inter-agency fare (and schedule) integration between Metro and Foothill Transit means that despite the robust level of service both agencies offer at the station travel opportunities remain more limited than they should be. It also has information centers available, but these centers are open weekdays and Saturday mornings only. Each of the twenty-eight bus bays has an electronic sign announcing what bus serves each stop, and has layover facilities around the edges of the two-level station. A direct connection is provided from the station to Metro Division Nine, making deadhead time practically nothing. In addition to the station, a Metro office building, parking structure, and two surface lots are present.
There are two basic things I did not like about the station. First, in order to access the upper level - which is on street level - from the street you have to go down and then up. While this prohibition on crossing the bus roadway is due to safety reasons, it is inconvenient for the passengers. Second, there are no Ticket Vending Machines at the station. While not strictly necessary because there are no turnstiles, Ticket Vending Machines would be useful in order to buy fare media such as Tap Cards that are not available on buses.
The ends of the Metro Silver Line - El Monte Station and the Artesia Transit Center - are rife for transit-oriented development . Currently, there are no destinations within walking distance of either of the above two termini, one of which is located in a low-density residential area while the other one is located in a low-density industrial area adjacent to a major freeway interchange. Indeed, the El Monte Metrolink Station is about 3/4 of a mile away El Monte Station with no convenient way of accessing it; as a result, what could potentially be a major intermodal transfer opportunity is lost. Overall, the lack of trip generators accessible by walking means that the ridership of both stations is attributable almost entirely to park-and-riders - a huge missed opportunity for Metro to capitalize on their investment with increased ridership (a planned transit-oriented development called El Monte Transit village has been shelved due to a variety of legal problems).
While the bus-versus-rail argument continues to loom large in American transit expansion (most notably in November 2012 in the Honolulu mayoral election between pro-rail Caldwell and pro-bus (really anti-rail) Cayetano), Los Angeles Metro continues to improve the region's transit network by pursuing both rail and bus rapid transit expansion. Recent bus network improvements in terms of the Silver Line and the Orange Line extension to Chatsworth have been balanced by the opening of Expo Line Phase I and the ongoing construction of Expo Line Phase II with other lines waiting to follow. As a result, the Metro weekday average ridership of 360,000 is approaching that of BART in the San Francisco Bay area, which has a daily average ridership of 379,000.