DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES - Downtown Los Angeles is the transit heart of the county, the place where the region’s rail lines and major bus services converge.
One of the most important pieces of that puzzle is the city Department of Transportation’s DASH service, intended for short trips within neighborhoods. It offers nine routes in Downtown and around USC, and also services 27 other communities in Los Angeles. Rides are 50 cents.
The city is now reviewing DASH and other LADOT bus systems, including the Commuter Express and the Cityride service for people 65 and older or with disabilities. The impacts may be bigger in Downtown than anywhere else, thanks to the rapidly changing community.
Phil Aker, a transportation planner at LADOT, said the department aims to do a comprehensive review every three to five years.
“We did one in 2010, but at the time we focused on efficiencies, service reductions and fare increases because we were looking at a potential Prop. A shortfall,” said Aker, referring to the half-cent sales tax for transportation projects.
DOT also conducted a DASH-specific study in 2005, using ridership data and demographic information to predict what new routes would be most successful. That resulted in a list of the top 22 potential routes, but the economic downturn meant the agency couldn’t implement them. Instead, it had to reduce Sunday and late-night services, said Executive Officer for Transit Service Jim Lefton.
The agency aims to add services this time, Lefton said, and is courting suggestions from communities in addition to using data analysis. Seven workshops have taken place so far and another round of public meetings will occur in the fall. Information is at ladottransit.com/movingforwardtogether.
DOT hopes to finish the study and present recommendations to the City Council by early 2016. Then it will begin determining what investments to make, the biggest of which would be the purchasing of new buses.
The budget for DASH is about $50 million a year, while the entire DOT budget for transit services is about $100 million, with $40 million coming from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and $60 million from Prop. A tax funds, according to Lefton.
“The budget for our services do not come from the city’s general fund, which is good news,” Lefton said. “It means we have a dedicated funding source.”
The analysis is about halfway complete, according to Aker, meaning the agency has few concrete ideas yet for how it could change DASH in Downtown. One of the most pressing issues, however, is how DASH should integrate with existing and future rail services, especially Metro’s Regional Connector.
The 1.9-mile track will connect the Little Tokyo Gold Line station to the Seventh Street Metro Center with three new stations, streamlining cross-county travel and reducing the need for transfers. The $1.4 billion project is expected to be complete in 2020. It could make some DASH routes or stops redundant, Aker said.
“One thing that occurs to me is that [two DASH routes] run through the Financial District and the Civic Center but they’re basically a block apart. Meanwhile, the Regional Connector will be nearby at two locations on Second Street,” Aker noted. “We have to recognize that Downtown is evolving as a series of neighborhoods. Do we want to carry someone all the way across Downtown if they could be on rail?”
The burst of residential development also means that previously under-activated corridor or stops could become more useful to riders, Lefton added. That includes the Arts District, where Metro has broached ideas for a light rail stop or two near its existing tracks adjacent to the L.A. River.
Another option for increased activity is South Park, which doesn’t have enough DASH routes to serve a swell of residents and businesses, said Jessica Lall, executive director of the South Park Business Improvement District.
“A lot of residents in South Park still have cars and want one or two parking spaces. But what we hear consistently as a reason for that is there’s no easy bus they can hop on to get around,” Lall said. “If DASH had longer hours and more consistent services in our neighborhood, we would really see transit be more desirable for the people that live here.”
DOT has already started upgrading the DASH fleet, converting its propane-powered vehicles to run on compressed natural gas. The agency also received nearly $3 million to purchase four fully electric buses from Chinese vehicle manufacturer BYD, which could debut in Downtown in early 2016, Lefton said.
DOT has also introduced new tech features such as mobile ticketing and real-time arrival info at DASH stops, and bike racks will be affixed to all DASH buses. The agency is experimenting with onboard Wi-Fi on its Commuter Express buses, with the goal of expanding it across all fleets, Lefton added.
© Los Angeles Downtown News 2015