Future Los Angeles Metro Investments

I just put up an article on Urbanize complaining about Los Angeles’s uniquely high operating costs on the subway and light rail. In the article, I offered a few explanations, but also said that none of them seems satisfying: high wages (wages are as high in Chicago), low frequency (frequency is as low in Atlanta), low train operator efficiency (the gap with London is too small), few lines with two different technologies (Atlanta has just two lines and Miami one).

Long-time readers may be used to my sneering at American transit operations for being primitive compared with European ones, but here, the best American system (Chicago) outperforms the four Western European systems for which I have data, and one more (Philadelphia) is within those four European systems’ range. Per car-km, Chicago spends $5 in operating costs, London/Paris/Berlin $6, Philadelphia and Madrid $7, New York $9-10, and Los Angeles $12.

So Los Angeles is special. Lisa Schweitzer suggests my discounting the frequency and system size explanations is in error, and when I brought up Atlanta on social media, she noted that Atlanta’s labor costs are lower than Los Angeles’s. Assuming this is correct (Southern California uniquely combines high nominal wages with a tiny subway network), Los Angeles should expect subway operating costs to come down as it builds its urban rail network. Some lines, like the Regional Connector, the Wilshire subway, and the Crenshaw light rail line, are already under construction. But as the system grows (especially the subway system, which is technologically incompatible with the light rail lines, even the fully grade-separated Green Line), average operating costs will fall, which suggests that marginal operating costs are low. If Los Angeles has not figured this into its calculation, this means that the finances of future subway lines are better than projected.

I drew this map of what rapid transit Los Angeles should build. The map isn’t new, but I want to use it to explain how I think cities should be building subways.

1. Every line is rapid transit, even lines built out of light rail lines today, like the Blue Line and the Expo Line. Unprotected grade crossings and street running, even in dedicated tracks, limit capacity and reliability elsewhere down the line, even though they do not reduce speed on other segments of the line. The Orange Line is replaced by a subway, not light rail.

2. Branching is rare. Only three subway lines branch. Two tunnel through Sepulveda Pass (where Let’s Go LA suggests four branches on each side of the tunnel), with each line branching into two in the north, in the Valley, where demand on each corridor is lower. The third is on Vermont, with a branch west to Torrance.

3. Many lines run elevated, in less dense areas with very wide streets. South Vermont is this south of Gage. This also includes the four north-south lines in the San Fernando Valley heading from the Sepulveda tunnel.

4. There are three distinct regional rail lines, all electrified, with two through-running; the branch to the airport is elevated. One branches, the others don’t. Local and express trains could happen, but the acceleration and reliability boosts from electrification are so great that speeds in the 70-80 km/h range are possible even with all the infill stops. The line to LAX could also host some intercity trains, provided it has four tracks. The dark blue line, labeled the I-5 line, should have four tracks at the very least on the shared segment, and likely longer, for planned high-speed rail; some of the work is already being done, but there is still going to be track sharing with freight trains.

5. The system is really a hybrid of a typical radial rail system and a grid, like the Mexico City Metro. There are fifteen lines, including commuter rail; eight, including the commuter lines, serve the CBD. Some (the Pink, Orange, and Atlantic Lines, and the southern half of the Green Line) are fully circumferential, the others (Harbor/Azure, Red, Crenshaw/Brown) serve secondary CBDs and try to avoid being too much like bad combinations of radial and circumferential transit. The reason for this structure is that Los Angeles has very strong secondary centers, including Century City, Burbank, El Segundo, Santa Monica, and Koreatown.

6. Much of the system assumes reasonable upzoning, for example the northern extension of the West Santa Ana/Lime Line to La Crescenta and Sun Valley. This includes replacing single-family zoning with multifamily zoning everywhere, and building up CBDs at major connection points such as Vermont/Wilshire and El Segundo.

7. There is a lot of service in LA County, but not much in the other counties except lines to the CBD. It’s possible to build up a fuller system in Orange County, extending the Purple Line east and also adding some grid routes, assuming extensive residential upzoning everywhere and commercial upzoning in Santa Ana, Anaheim, and the beach cities.

8. At LA construction costs (about $400-500 million per km underground), the entire map should be doable for maybe $90 billion; at reasonable costs, make it $40 billion. LA is spending comparable amounts of money on transportation out of the recent ballot measures, it just spends a lot of it on operational waste, on BRT (the current plans for Vermont are BRT, even though the corridor is busy enough to deserve a subway), or on roads.


  1. Bjorn

    For future research I’d suggest looking at the agencies’ own union contracts. Seemingly small rules like paying a guaranteed 8 hours per day, per employee, at a station open for 20 hours per day will add costs.

    As an example of little things that matter, Chicago starts their part-time “temporary” station agents at only around $12 per hour. CTA also has their yards on the residential end of lines and avoids non-revenue deadheading where feasible (from what I can tell), which lowers the hourly cost per revenue hour.

    • Alon Levy

      Yes, I’ve heard about the yard locations in Chicago. Paris sort of has that, but I don’t know to what extent this differs from New York’s situation.

  2. SC

    It seems to me that systems with longer hours of operations tend to have high costs per mile; since both NYCS and PATH run almost all of their system 24 hours a day, they have high costs for the marginal value of running low-frequency overnight service. Many other metro systems worldwide run at most limited service overnight, which provides significant maintenance cost savings.

    I would also like to see an independent study done regarding cost differences between FTA-regulated systems and FRA-regulated systems, which I would expect to be significant but not currently well enumerated. In the case of PATH, it’s the only FRA-regulated system in the country that runs service with rapid transit frequencies, There is the claim that moving PATH over to the lower FTA regulatory standards will reduce costs significantly, but I’ve never seen a breakdown of the cost savings. (There’s also the complication that the FRA refuses to allow PATH to switch to FTA regulations due to the complicated track connections PATH has to the Northeast Corridor heavy rail tracks in the area of Newark Penn Station.)

    • Alon Levy

      The costs per car-hour and car-km on PATH are high even by FRA-regulated commuter rail standards. Per-hour, the only major commuter rail system that’s worse is the LIRR, and per-km, PATH is by far the worst. SEPTA, the most modern of the systems, costs $310/hour to run and $9/km, which means it’s cheaper per km than the New York City Subway, let alone the LA clusterfuck.

  3. Michael James

    I think part of the problem here is typical of such a hardline econometric approach. I reckon you find it hard to nail causes of the perceived problem because the numbers are deeply inadequate, and probably misleading. You might say you can only work with the data available–which might be true–but perhaps it ignores more important issues. Thus in your original article:

    The data from these two sources is presented as operating expenses per car-mile (or on CoMET, per car-kilometer): this means that a six-car train traveling ten miles counts as sixty car-miles. Many costs, including energy and train maintenance, scale with the number of cars in service, and not with the number of trains. Citing costs per car-mile also means that subway networks with more crowded trains do not appear more efficient simply by packing more people into a smaller number of vehicles.

    But ultimately the number of passengers using the system is critical, and dismissing it as some kind of mathematical nuisance factor is pretty weird. I’m not saying you are wrong about LA’s high operating costs but I can’t tell how important it is. For example there must be an influence on these metrics of the relative density and compactness of the different cities. LA is not as sprawled as the SunBelt cities but it is pretty spaced out and I couldn’t believe it is not a significant factor, even comparing it with Chicago; and then comparing Chicago with say Paris: 164km of line and 250m pax pa versus >800km and 2.4bn pax pa. Just a single Paris line (M1) equals Chicago’s total pax and yet is one tenth route length; how would stats for M1 compare (especially since it is driverless); not irrelevant because the entire Paris Metro system is planned to follow M1 (&M14) technically, in time. Another huge difference is the extreme frequency of service on some of these Parisian and European lines–this has to have a very big effect on that particular metric and I couldn’t really say in which way it is significant. You even say that:

    The MTA runs infrequent service: for example, each Red Line branch runs every 10 minutes at peak hours and every 12 minutes during off-peak hours. This means that fixed costs, such as track maintenance, are spread over less service than in cities with high frequency service (for example, in Paris peak frequency is every two minutes, and off-peak frequency ranges from three-to-seven minutes depending on line and time of day).

    Exactly. Running fewer trains (fewer car-km) will make this statistic worse but it is not really a measure of low efficiency, presumably more a reflection of just not enough riders to justify the more frequent service. The thing is, on almost any metric today the LA system would shape up as poor. That is because it is still an incomplete network, particularly as it is trying to service all of its sprawled out places. This is why the second half of the article is more important, ie. what will a future LA system look like and behave? One has to hope that growth of the network will cure this problem though it may also need densification along the stations (which will need another few decades to show up). Still, LA is pioneering how to bring mass transit to car-dependent sprawltown (Atlanta shouldn’t be on that list since it is overwhelmingly bus-based with only a few rail-lines).

    • Alon Levy

      A couple points:

      1. Paris is only planning to automate half the system by midcentury. Paris also reassigned the drivers rather than laying them off, because it’s not like the city is one of the richest in Europe and has a thriving private economy that can absorb laid off train drivers.

      2. Yes, higher frequency means that fixed costs are split across more trains. But the Chicago L isn’t especially frequent. It has a lot of branching because of how the lines use the Loop, and off-peak frequency is unimpressive by Parisian standards.

      3. Having more passengers doesn’t really change efficiency on this metric. More passengers means higher fare collection costs, but unless you are punching tickets with conductors, fare collection costs are a small proportion of overall expenses (even on the New York MTA it’s 15%, and commuter rail pulls it up). More passengers also means higher frequency, which should reduce costs.

      4. My numbers are exclusively for rail, so the fact that Atlanta gets more ridership on buses than on trains (as do LA and Vancouver and as did Chicago until a few years ago) is not relevant.

      5. Yes, M1 has more ridership than the entirety of the Chicago L. And the JR stations on the Yamanote ring together have more ridership than the entire RER.

      • Michael James

        Alon, you are doing your usual thing which is to overly focus on numbers and in this case my point is that those numbers don’t really tell much of the story, especially in the relative immaturity of LA’s MTA.

        I can’t quite get your point 1. Reassigning staff makes total sense on any logic you want to find, not least because it is a painless downsizing of total workforce. People are retiring all the time and so instead of new hires–on other lines–these vacancies get filled by reassignees; same mechanism will allow Macron to downsize the French public service with minimal personal impacts. I also don’t get your point about the Paris economy: yes it is the second largest in Europe but technology and globalism is having its impact on employment everywhere in the world. Reassignment of drivers means their training is not thrown on the trash heap. There are endless stories, in the media I follow, of highly-trained people (usually middle-aged by definition) who end up unemployed for the rest of their lives because their training is not valued outside that industry, plus the ruthless age-bias.

        3. Having more passengers doesn’t really change efficiency on this metric.

        Err, that was my point! It kind of suggests that this metric is perhaps not capturing all the important factors in running a Metro service. (OTOH, just doubling the train frequency does impact the metric–positively–even without additional pax or revenue.) Just as point 4 does matter; if a city runs a tiny Metro that, by definition, will service the busiest areas, then clearly it will always appear more efficient. Spread it across an area the size and density of LA then not so much. Your point 5 is the same thing; you dismiss it but I say one might have to wait for LA’s system and city to mature before such comparisons make any sense. (BTW how does this metric compare between Paris-M1 and Tokyo-Yamanote Line (even though this is still apples-to-oranges)? Or perhaps a fairer comparison would be Paris-RER-A? Hmm, maybe not, long suburban versus circular inner-city with 27 of its 29 stations connecting to other lines.

        BTW, if your analyses could identify where this extra cost burden lay then it would be extremely worthwhile, but as you admit yourself, it doesn’t. So my takeout lesson is: worthwhile study but we shouldn’t get carried away with attaching much significance to this particular metric, or necessarily to any particular metric. The reason why this is not trivial is that it tends to promote a kind of mindless econometric approach by transport planners and public officials, which leads to very misguided approaches to building viable mass transit under the most difficult conditions (which is more or less ubiquitous). There is a strong tendency for the bean-counters to do this because it is “easy” in a field filled with complexities. For example there are serious notions put about that one should never build Metro where existing demand cannot be found–after all, every single metric you could dream of will be awful to begin with.

        • Untangled

          Re the point on immature LA County MTA, I don’t think LA’s subway system will get any bigger than this, not with Measure M money alone. Pretty much the only opportunity to expand this is the relatively short-ish Purple Line extension and maybe, just maybe, a full Sepulveda Subway instead if light rail. Everything else is light rail or light rail-based which will probably be incompatible with Purple and Red Line.

          The thing is, the Purple extension and Red Line subway pretty much only serves the busiest and densest parts of LA, the “Wilshire/Santa Monica Corridor”, not big sprawl, yet the operating costs are still high. LA will probably never have a large fully dedicated rapid transit system, this small subway system pretty much as mature as it gets for LA, realistically. If they can’t get operating costs down, they won’t be able to get it down, they have no big subway expansion to significantly mature it any more than it is now, realistically.

          (Of course, I’m assuming that the LA figures in Alon’s linked article is Red and Purple Line only, if it includes existing Expo, Blue, etc light rail, then I’ll be completely wrong. The article should have made it clear like it did for Boston.)

          • Alon Levy

            I have separate figures for the Red + Purple Lines and for the Expo + Blue + Gold + Green Lines. Those figures are very close to each other.

        • Alon Levy

          1. Drivers here, unlike in the Anglosphere, are not highly-trained people. The Metro will hire drivers straight out of high school without a Bac, and pays them accordingly. It’s not like in London or the US, where driving a train is considered a senior job, offered only as an internal promotion to more experienced workers, and paying well.

          My reference to the strong Parisian economy comes from what Japan did when it downsized the JNR workforce between 1980 and privatization. It worked with the unions to place the workers in the private economy, which was doing very well at the time. France can do the same – unemployment is higher than it was in 1980s’ Japan, but the average wage is much higher. Making it possible to actually fire employees in the first place would also help reduce unemployment, but Macron doesn’t seem to be capable of pushing his reforms.

          3. Why would this lead to a bias in favor of cities with tiny metros? Evidently it doesn’t, since in the US the most efficient subway system, Chicago, is the second largest. The big Western European systems are fairly cheap as well, and Tokyo Metro looks slightly more efficient than Chicago. The closest thing on the list to a mature city running a tiny metro that only serves the busiest areas is Boston, or maybe Philadelphia.

          As for LA’s density, you know that LA’s standard density (i.e. urban area density) is the highest in the US, right? Its weighted density is also in a near-tie with San Francisco for second in the US (New York is by far #1, even somewhat ahead of Paris). LA has a lot of sprawl, but there’s a big blob of density in the middle, with some overlap with the Metro Rail: Koreatown, Hollywood, Downtown, East LA, parts of South Central; skipping some low-density areas, you get Glendale, Long Beach, and Century City/UCLA/Santa Monica.

          • Eric

            Also, LA’s sprawl is quite dense (small houses on small lots) compared to sprawl in the US outside California.

          • Michael James

            1. Drivers here, unlike in the Anglosphere, are not highly-trained people. The Metro will hire drivers straight out of high school without a Bac, and pays them accordingly. It’s not like in London or the US, where driving a train is considered a senior job, offered only as an internal promotion to more experienced workers, and paying well.

            Do you have a reference for that? It goes against everything I experienced of the way things run in France. And frankly, it just seem so unlikely. Next you’ll tell me it’s true for TGV drivers? I also remember that there is intense competition among drivers (of long standing) to get the lines that are mostly elevated–because it is much more interesting for the driver. Given the unionisation it seems unlikely they would ever have allowed such a situation (where kids are driving trains with responsibility for hundreds or thousands of lives?).

            We’ll have to disagree about employment and terminating employees. The only reason I support driverless trains is that it is really necessary for such high-usage systems. I am hoping Macron doesn’t go the full neo-lib or even the German route on these things. Do people (as opposed to econocrats) really think the UK, USA or even Germany are really that much better (if not actually worse) than France?

            I think Atlanta’s making it to that list proves the point. The characteristic of Chicago is that it is an old system that still mostly caters to the dense parts of the city (it doesn’t include the commuter train lines, right?).

            Yes, I know that LA is more dense than most people imagine though there are a bunch of myths out there too; so no, it is not the highest in the US (those calcs use a silly definition of NYCUA; one which you acknowledge indirectly by not using it in your comparison with Paris–ie. you use the 5 boroughs of NYC.). Remember that “weighted density” is not a real density just a metric to give an idea of a type of mean versus a crude average, and to try to generate a comparative metric between very different kinds of city. But seriously when LA county has 10.2m (est. 2015) on 10,510 km2 (land) for 800/km2; while the City of SF has 852,469 on 122km2 for a density of 7,022/km2, what does it really mean? (It has to mean that LA county has an awful lot of very low density area.) However the weighted density for SF-Oakland-Fremont is marginally higher than LA. But I agree (if you are implying) that notionally this is good news for LA transit, ie. apparently it should be able to serve the majority of its residents with broadly similar sized network as these other more traditional cities (NYC, Chicago–while I seriously doubt this would be true for Atlanta, Houston, Phoenix etc). If only they would get on and build that $90bn worth of lines you guesstimated.

            I don’t want to get into arguments over Paris-v-NYC because it is pointless and is not comparing like with like (which really would be intramuros-Paris-v-NYC, ie. both precisely defined areas that exclude their associated sprawl. The problem with extra-muros Paris is what to measure (70% of Seine-St-Denis is farmland to this day). I’ve never been able to locate a pop-weighted-density for Ile de France. Let’s agree that they are both very dense for western cities.

          • Michael James

            In reply to Alon Levy 2017/09/19 – 21:54

            I don’t get it. The French newspaper article didn’t relate at all to your claim. Indeed it seemed to confirm what I said: Cedric the RER driver said: « Il y a beaucoup d’attente pour conduire le RER, ça faisait dix ans que j’avais fait la demande. » ie. “There is a lot of waiting to drive the RER, I had made the request ten years ago.”

            Your main point appears to be that while the UK driver earns a motza (£50k) Cedric earns about €25k. Which is another matter entirely. (I would note in passing that Cedric and his ilk will receive plenty of other kinds of state help especially as he is married with 3 kids. I’d also venture he and his teacher wife have good security of employment–which you would like to destroy as per your last post. We should also keep in mind that rents in SE England are at least double that of Ile de France; cost of living is lower in France but higher quality etc.) The point of the Telegraph (!) article is “In short, you may think working as a tube operator sounds great. But in order to sit in the driver’s seat, you’ll need to get in on the inside first.” It seems both French and English are saying the same thing. But it being the Terrorgraph I suppose it is an anti-union rant which for such jobs it probably is the same all over the world (I’ve been shocked at how much such people get paid in NYC-MTA).

            Germany is economically doing better than France, and inequality there is barely higher.

            I’m not quite sure where inequality was raised but ok. However, despite all the hysteria in the (Anglosphere) press about France I remain to be convinced it is anything as bad as made out. Especially compared to the Anglosphere where the inequality is becoming grotesque but increasingly hidden by more and more people in part-time work, multiple jobs and insecure work–and rents and property costs are in the stratosphere. Also, just this past weekend I saw a doco on parts of Germany that are far from the rosy picture of economic vibrancy we get bombarded with. Meanwhile Germany is slowly (or quickly) sinking into the Anglosphere habit of allowing its public infrastructure slide into benign neglect. In short, perfection lies nowhere but I’d still choose France over any other (esp. in EU). (I withhold judgement on Macron to see how his policies pan out.) One should also realize that one reason why Germany is doing better (than most) is because of the structural bias built into the Euro, a subject that exercises the economists such as this recent piece:

            Surmounting the German Surplus
            Fabrizio Coricelli, 8 Sept 2017.
            Germany’s substantial and persistent current-account surplus has divided European politicians and economic policymakers for years, because few can agree on its ultimate causes and proximate effects. But, for Europe’s sake – and Germany’s – these and other disputes will have to be resolved by the new German government that emerges from this month’s federal election.

          • Alon Levy

            Is London really twice as expensive as Paris? (I mean for locals, like train drivers, not high-income immigrants, who aren’t going to be living on the East End or in Seine-Saint-Denis.)

          • Michael James

            In reply to: Alon Levy 2017/09/20 – 00:06

            Is London really twice as expensive as Paris?

            Absolutely. This is true for inner-Paris versus inner-London (hyper-stratospheric) but even more extreme when you venture extra-muros where prices in Paris drop a factor of two the instant you cross the periphe. It’s why–gulp–even I was considering Montrouge which is just spitting distance across the Peripherique from Port d’Orleans, though I think the differential has reduced a bit since M4 opened its first extension there (another is due in the southern part in the future). Speak to any Brit, there is nowhere in the entire South-East where you can escape the rental gouge.
            Incidentally this frenzied speculation in property is yet another reason why I remain highly sceptical about comparisons between France and the Anglosphere: as I read recently, the financialisation of the UK economy makes it highly misleading: tsunamis of money (>1 trillion) sluice thru this system barely touching the walls (a tiny handful grabbing their rent) as it passes. It accounts for why people are often mystified when they see the grottiness of much of England yet the splendour of much of Paris and France. Which brings me back to Macron: it would be terrible and unspeakable if he causes France to become more like the Anglosphere in this regard. I trust he is smart enough to understand the difference.

          • Michael James

            Alon Levy 2017/09/20 – 01:35

            The rents I hear about in zone 3 of the Underground aren’t stratospheric at all, though…

            I am seriously sceptical of that as I don’t believe it is true for anywhere in the SE. Especially inside the M25 (but then there becomes a “countryside” premium outside … and then you are practically in places like Oxford which I can assure you are not inexpensive, not to mention the commuting season ticket cost). It is probably just a relative thing, ie. merely stratospheric instead of hyper-stratospheric (for London prices ordinary superlatives are inadequate). Some places in zone 3 (or 4?) like Hampstead (where the glitterati live) or Richmond (where Mick Jagger lived) are just as expensive. Then there is the commuting issue; here from a website:

            With 250 miles of lines, it won’t be hard to find a tube station near you, except if you stay in zone 3 or further away.

            And since London doesn’t (yet) have anything like the RER, commuting will take forever. And as you yourself have said, using the LU is much more expensive than Paris (or anywhere, though Paris is a travel bargain at its all-zones ticket of €1.44 @carnet de dix; of course you’d use a monthly Navigo and be under €1 per trip.). London is £4.80 (€3.05). Remember many places just extramuros–like Montrouge or Boulougne-Billancourt, heck even salubrious Villejuif (a joke but actually perfectly ok place)–are on the Metro only one or two stations out from Paris, and the same single-ticket fare applies.
            BTW, do you remember Amelie Poulain’s father’s house (with the garden gnomes who turned into world travellers)? That was in Seine-Saint-Denis, and just 3 or 4 stops on the RER to Chatelet … (I forget the locality name but I looked it up once.) Or someone not fictional, though you probably won’t know her (but she’s popular in France), the Australian performer Tina Arena who lives in Nogent-sur-Marne (ok just on the southern side of border of Seine-Saint-Denis) which is 3 stops on RER-A2 to Gare de Lyon. That’s a slightly posh locality–I have given passing thought to mooring “my peniche” at the Port de Plaisance there, which David Jefferson describes as one of the most exclusive in the Paris region. (Hint: you can buy a 30mx5m peniche with 120m2 living space–not counting 50+m2 terrace–for less than a 20m2 studio in central Paris!)
            And when it comes to purchasing property, heck if you get a bit out of Paris into Ile de France you can buy a manor house for the cost of a small worker’s terrace anywhere in the SE (never mind in zone 3 or more central!). Ask any Brit who choses to live in France and they’ll verify that it is night and day, a huge factor in that decision even before considering lifestyle and weather factors.

          • Alon Levy

            First, a monthly Navigo is €73, so it’s not €1 per trip in any circumstance.

            Second, the Underground is a lot faster than the Metro (and there’s Thameslink and stub-ending commuter lines); there’s a reason the RER was more urgent here than in London.

            Third, zone 3 of the Underground isn’t just posh western neighborhoods.

            Fourth, don’t ask Brits who move to France, ask French people who live in France and Brits who live in Britain. (Or ask immigrants to both cities, but then London has way more immigrants than Paris.)

          • Michael James

            In reply to Alon Levy 2017/09/20 – 03:13

            First, a monthly Navigo is €73, so it’s not €1 per trip in any circumstance.

            (Last time I looked it was €65 for zones; zones 1 & 2). For me, when I lived and worked in Paris it certainly would have: that requires only 73 trips per month. With a card like that you tend to use it freely. (And of course, I got the then-Carte Orange at half its cover-price.) The difference to a 5 quid ticket for a single trip in London is night-and-day. As are most things, IMO. Of course you can spend a lot and have an extravagant life in Paris if that’s your thing but the difference is, for most people Paris is not expensive, especially after accommodation, while London is unavoidably expensive for almost everything.

            Second, the Underground is a lot faster than the Metro (and there’s Thameslink and stub-ending commuter lines); there’s a reason the RER was more urgent here than in London.

            By faster you mean it covers distance more quickly because its stations are spaced further apart. But travelling within (compact) Paris the Metro system is much faster than LU, and given its density it also means you are closer to your final destination when you exit the metro. When you travel from point A to B in London you need to allow for more time than in Paris (Paris being compact is part of this but then that is what I like about the city; and its a big difference with Manhattan which is very similar in area to central Paris but it takes a looong time to go from Columbia Medical School at 168th street down to …well anywhere south of the park.) Sure, they needed the RER (though of course it used the suburban rail tracks so it wasn’t filling a total void) but today the reality is a transformation compared to living in outer London. It’s why CrossRail will be a revelation for many Londoners who are resigned to their somewhat plodding and old Underground.

            Third, zone 3 of the Underground isn’t just posh western neighborhoods.

            You should speak to some Londoners or some people (colonials like me and you) who have lived and worked in different world cities. There is no inexpensive place to live in London and if it is less expensive there will be some kind of penalty (either grunge and/or travel etc).

            Fourth, don’t ask Brits who move to France, ask French people who live in France and Brits who live in Britain. (Or ask immigrants to both cities, but then London has way more immigrants than Paris.)

            OK, how about this bloke 🙂

            Exodus sees Britain’s migration slump
            Latika Bourke, 26 Aug 2017.
            Zac Gross, a 30-year-old Australian completing a PhD at Oxford University, said the findings were no surprise given the severity of UK immigration rules. “They make it impossible to work, study or travel if you overstay,” he said. “If you do overstay you are unable to visit the rest of Europe which is a pretty big turn off. “The UK also has super strict rules regarding work, I have to bring in my visa even if I get a new teaching gig with my own university.”

            But ok, the real exodus is: “Nicole White from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) said net migration decreased by 81,000 to 246,000 in the year to March 2017, driven mainly by an exodus from EU8 nationals. The EU8 refers to the eight Eastern Europeans countries: the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia which joined the EU in 2004.”

            I don’t trust Brits opinions except those who have lived abroad (oops, I guess I wouldn’t want to ask those who live in Costa del Sol either!). Having said that polls show that, all things being equal, 50% of Brits would emigrate to somewhere else tomorrow if they could. I am also hesitant to ask those French who move to London because my impression is that they are almost exclusively in the financial industries and thus, by selection, are inclined to a particular set of values. Apparently the biggest enclave is in South Ken and Chelsea and that tells me plenty. Check out the rents there! (In some ways I say good riddance if they want to embrace that kind of money- and class-based society. They are sending their kids to very expensive private schools etc and they will grow up with the same poison in their souls.). To be French and move to London is awful and if it is solely based on making loadsa money, even worse (and what other reason would there be? well, some chefs and artists, some scientists). OTOH they are only a 3 hour fast (french) train to Paris:-) Still, funny how many of those monied financiers have second homes in France …
            What perhaps you don’t quite get about the UK is that it’s much vaunted “prosperity” is quite shallow and is extremely dependent on financialisation (skimming off rent from the trillion dollars that flows thru the City mostly not doing anything productive; and that also greases their absurd property bubble) and it exists and supports the thing I hate the most about the UK: its class system. Some Hard Brexiteers want it to go to super-low taxes which will mean worse public services (health, education) and low pay unless you are in those toxic finance industries. In addition to being ugly it’s unsustainable. And since it is most of my heritage (with some Irish) I find it a crying shame.

          • Matthew

            £5 for a London ride? Only if you’re foolish enough to buy single tickets 1 at a time instead of using the Oyster card or a contactless debit card. Underground is expensive but it’s not THAT bad!

          • Michael James

            Reply to Matthew 2017/09/20 – 09:02

            £5 for a London ride? Only if you’re foolish enough to buy single tickets 1 at a time instead of using the Oyster card or a contactless debit card.

            So, tell us how much? (The £4.80 is from zone 1 to zone 3.) The €1.44 is the cost a visitor can pay from buying a carnet of ten tickets, without investing the time, effort and money in getting a Navigo card. A full-cost ticket is €1.80 to anywhere the Metro goes.
            I don’t know what discounts the Oyster card might provide except that from experience I know Brit transport authorities rarely give one much of a discount. Nickel & Dime-ing is their usual strategy, wrapped up with time-of-day conditionality and topped off with number of stations etc.

          • Matthew

            £3.30 using an oyster card or any contactless payment method. Which everyone with a British bank account has, whether they wanted it or not.

            It’s certainly expensive but no need to exaggerate.

            Yes, the single tickets appear designed to rip off tourists who don’t know better. Much like the railcard system, which gives me 33% off certain types of journeys for an upfront cost.

          • Michael James

            Reply to Matthew 2017/09/23 – 02:49

            £3.30 using an oyster card or any contactless payment method. Which everyone with a British bank account has, whether they wanted it or not.
            It’s certainly expensive but no need to exaggerate.
            Yes, the single tickets appear designed to rip off tourists who don’t know better. Much like the railcard system, which gives me 33% off certain types of journeys for an upfront cost.

            £3.30 is €3.76 which is 2.6x the median price (€1.44) a visitor to Paris is likely to pay; but it seems it may be worth getting a Passe Navigo Découverte because visitors especially are often zipping around the city a lot so the €5 to buy the card plus the €16.80 for one week, because of the both the reduced cost and the wonderful freedom it provides (ie. unlimited travel —but they retain the curious Monday-to-Sunday validity regardless of when you buy it). I just loved having my (monthly) Carte Orange when I lived there. You never think about using the Metro.

            Just to nitpick (which I call setting the record straight), I wasn’t exaggerating, merely quoting the officially listed price (£4.80, €5.46). And yes it does rip off visitors but my main point is that it rips off everyone who uses it, just a bit less if you have an Oystercard. The thing is that, as that blogger wrote, the difference with the other major world cities is extremely noticeable. Also, IMO, it is not as good to use as Paris Metro or Berlin or Hong Kong etc. For ten years, actually closer to 16 years (for my second stint in UK I travelled back and forth a lot more than I care to remember!), I had this experience of going straight from the Paris system to the London one, and both the cost and the service in one of them was irritating. One really wants the users experience of such a critical and expensive bit of transport infrastructure to be “frictionless” and one could never describe London as that. I suspect Alon may have become accustomed to the benefits of Paris and perhaps a tad complacent–just wait until he travels to London much … (which I don’t recommend).

  4. Eric

    Do you really expect the San Fernando Valley to need six separate north-south subways? Or three east-west lines in Santa Monica? And the subway corridors like the “Atlantic Line” which bypass all the employment concentrations?

    • Untangled

      The number of north-south San Fernando Valley lines is really excessive, especially considering his goal here is to minimise branching and the 4 Sepulveda Pass branches run too close to each other anyway, so cut 2 of them off I say. Get buses to fill in the gaps.

      • Alon Levy

        It’s two branches, not four – the Green and Harbor/Azure Lines don’t share tracks.

        The problem with pruning branches is that there really is less demand per branch in the Valley than across Sepulveda Pass. Conversely, there’s no dominant north-south corridor among the four feeding the pass. So it’s better to run less frequently on branches and interline in the trunk. Even a subway-surface option with surface branches coming together in the tunnel wouldn’t be awful.

      • Untangled

        I can tell that the two lines don’t share tracks and there are 2 branches per line but it’s still a branch. Considering how close the branches parallels, it would be excessive if it was rapid transit. (wasn’t your goal to have rapid transit?) If it were a surface branch then it wouldn’t be so excessive. I do wonder what travel time, from the cut stops, would be like if there were east-west buses feeding into two north-south rapid transit lines (I would cut the Balboa and Sepulveda Branches) vs 4 north-south surface lines.

        • Alon Levy

          A cut stop saves maybe 40-60 seconds. Putting people on buses adds a lot more time than that. The stop spacing I’m using is already at the high end of actually useful metro systems (i.e. not BART or the low-ridership ST3 extensions): the Red Line’s average interstation is 1.77 km, the Green Line’s is 2.07 km (1.51 km in the Valley, with a long interstation under the mountains), the Harbor Line’s is 1.85 km (1.71 in the Valley). You can squeeze almost 50 km/h out of this.

          It’s especially hard to widen the stop spacing given the nature of LA’s bus grid. This is one of the reasons why there’s a checkerboard pattern in the Valley – the east-west bus grid is a route every half mile. (The other reason is to make sure everything gets a transfer with commuter rail.) So if you cut stops and branches, some buses have no connection, unless they divert, which wrecks the entire bus network.

          • Untangled

            Sorry, the cut stops I was talking about was on the cut branches, not the lines that were not cut. So what would travel time be like from the stops of the cut branches if there were east-west buses feeding into two north-south rapid transit lines vs 4 north-south surface lines.

            Also, I wouldn’t call ST3 low ridership when it’s projecting 700000 daily riders, on par with the Chicago L and Washington Metro. Not super high but better than a lot of American cities.

          • Alon Levy

            For $50 billion, 700,000 daily riders is low. A few of the projects on that list are good, like Ballard. The longer-range ones aren’t. New York certainly, and Chicago and Washington probably, could get this ridership increase purely out of increasing the pace of building permits to that of Seattle. (King County, population 2.2 million, permitted slightly more housing in 2016, predominantly multifamily, than New York, population 8.5 million.)

            As for the cut branches: the travel time from the stops themselves would be pretty bad, because of the checkerboard pattern. Service to the CBD would presumably involve riding north-south buses to connect with commuter rail. Looking 3 stops north of commuter rail on the Balboa Branch, at Balboa/Chatsworth, travel time by train to Balboa/Roscoe is probably 6 minutes and by a bus with dedicated lanes and decent stop spacing maybe 12. Going across Sepulveda Pass means going to the Burbank/Balboa connection point, a total of maybe 14 minutes by rail and 27 by bus, with an extra transfer imposed if there’s a bus. Sepulveda is similar – if the branch gets cut then the Harbor Line will have an extra stop at Sepulveda/El Camino Real for the bus transfer.

            For going across Sepulveda Pass, the fastest way from some of the exact station sites on Balboa, i.e. Nordhoff and Sherman, is to ride a bus east to Van Nuys, taking maybe 13 minutes if there are dedicated lanes. It saves 3.6 km and 1 station of direct service, which is around 3.5 minutes, but there’s the extra transfer, and the bus is unlikely to be as frequent as the train even with branching (lots of east-west buses). The half-mile arterials between the stations would presumably bus west to Reseda. On Sepulveda, everyone would go east – Reseda is too far, and in the opposite direction. So people would have to walk 800 meters extra, and it’s possible they’d just have to walk the 1.6-2.4 km to the station at Van Nuys.

          • Untangled

            The $50 billion price tag seems very inflated. Consider ST2, the entirely grade separated Northgate Link gets in at $271 million per km (7km at $1.9 billion) and the almost entirely grade separated East Link gets at $161 million per km ($3.7 billion at 23 km)(only a very, very short section between Bel-Red/130th and Overlake Village is street running).

    • Alon Levy

      The Atlantic Line is a circumferential, along the Green Line and Orange Line. It’s just the circumferential that doesn’t manage to hit interesting nodes like LAX, El Segundo, Santa Monica, Burbank, or UCLA.

      • Eric

        Right, I just can’t imagine there being demand for such a circumferential. Even the G in NYC wouldn’t be built as a subway nowadays, all the more so this line in suburban LA.

  5. Untangled

    Looking at your Google My Map link (I like fiddling with that too), it looks like the number of stations is really excessive. Given how big is, even within the LA basin, the number of stops will really slow the system down, you have to chop it by at least a third or halve it for it to anywhere near reasonable. I would use Seattle as a guide to what is reasonable here, it’s a sprawling metro area that’s densifying like LA (in fact, Seattle is the crane capital of America) and it’s building a massive new rail system that’s almost entirely built to rapid transit standards from their existing light rail system like what you’re proposing for LA (they called it grade separated light rail in ST3).

    Seattle has a station spacing of 10 stations on 14 miles on the East Link and Northgate Link has 3 stations on a length of 4 miles. This is sort of station spacing if you want if you want to effectively serve a large area, now, Seattle’s spacing may be a bit too wide but I think it’s better than having it very tight like your LA idea.

    Also, I noticed in the My Map description that you wrote that some former light rail lines will be low-floor, all existing Light Rail in LA is high-floor so there’ll be no need for low-floor rapid transit. All former light rail lines, when upgraded to rapid transit, will look almost like purpose built rapid transit lines with high-floors. Now in Seattle, you’ll have a low-floor rapid transit. In fact, ST3 brings low-floor rapid transit deep into the region like Everett, 40km from Seattle, or Tacoma, 50km from Seattle. (Micheal will not like this)

    From Vienna.

    • Untangled

      I should probably make it clear that East Link and Northgate Link are ST2, not ST3, I was just using them as Seattle examples.

  6. Ian Mitchell

    I think the real thing you’ve touched on here is this- if there’s no upzoning, and we don’t see increased energy costs (or carbon tax)- what’s going to justify this kind of investment?
    LA needs to balance their NIMBYs with YIMBYs, and with new residents.
    Could some variety of measure wherein LA will not build lines/open stations unless an upzononing quid pro quo, work?

    • Michael James

      Could some variety of measure wherein LA will not build lines/open stations unless an upzononing quid pro quo, work?

      I don’t understand. Isn’t it within the power of LA County to upzone whatever they want? ie. isn’t it fundamentally the same authority making both decisions? The county is expecting an extra 750,000 residents over the next decade (seems a bit low to me?) so clearly there is going to be plenty of new development. This is an opportunity to shape that development.
      What I think they should do is directly apply the Hong Kong MTRC model which was discussed on this blog very recently, ie. Land Value Capture. The MTA would purchase–at existing market rates–sufficient property around future stations and develop some of it, especially that above the station, into a mix of retail, commercial and hi-density (not necessarily hi-rise) residential. Thus catalysing the densification of the TOD around the stations and also securing a future income stream to offset the cost of building and operating the MTA.
      Is this too “socialist” for LA and California?

      • scrane

        All zoning is set by the cities, not by the county (under state law, cities have zoning authority within their borders). So the Los Angeles City Council controls the zoning in LA City, but that’s only 10% of the area and 40% of the population of the County. Each of the 88 cities that make up LA County (Long Beach, Santa Monica, San Fernando, etc) controls the zoning laws within their borders – the LA County government only controls zoning in unincorporated county areas, and those tend to be the least populated areas.

        It might make more sense to consolidate public transit and land use decisions at least under a single level of government (if not in the same agency), but that’s not how it works. Strictly speaking, even LA Metro isn’t a county agency, since it’s run by a board of governors representing the County Board of Supervisors, the Los Angeles City Government, and a few other city mayors chosen to represent the 87 LA County cities other than LA City.

        I’d definitely support regional land use decisions (county level, or even higher), or at least a requirement that cities base their land use policies on expert opinion from urban planners and civil engineers. Right now, the zoning decisions in the individual cities tend to be petty, short-sighted, and beholden to the angriest voters. City governments jealously protect their authority, and local residents are very unlikely to give that up. It would take a major shift in California law to change the current situation.

        • Michael James

          In reply to: scrane 2017/09/22 – 12:23

          Thanks for the explanation. As usual, NIMBYism and short-sighted local politics is death to any greater vision. Of course that resistance is no different to almost anywhere. Here I have thought one approach might be for the federal government–who is almost the only player above the local forces of state, regional and city, and who inevitably is providing a critical fraction of the finance for such projects–negotiates this prior to a projects design and approval. One could even attempt an “auction” for stations-with-associated-TOD as a kind of precondition for getting a station in the first place. And have a limited number on the line so “first in, first to receive the goodies” (which might include some long-term share in the value-capture). Money is the great lubricant which is why (1) it first needs to be captured by the MTA in serious value-capture, and (2) then used ruthlessly in oiling those local pollies into submission. One of our smartest PMs, Paul Keating said memorably of the annual meetings (COAG) of feds with state governments premiers (=US governors): “never get between a Premier and a bucket of money”. The corollary is if you have a spare bucket of money lying around you can almost always get what you want.

          Re Alon and his slightly curious Anglo/London-philia: Uber has run into a brick wall and may be deceased in London where it has been found to not be a “fit and proper” private car hire operator. Or maybe not, as money speaks very loudly in that city (it can and will appeal this decision not to renew its license).
          It is true that the dilemma for London and Londoners is that black cabs have a terrible rep. and are a typical closed-shop whereby it costs a fortune to buy a license and this creates commercial pressures on owners and drivers who don’t have a good rep either. As in:

          In the past, taxi fares that were relatively higher than most other major world cities allowed black cab drivers to steadily scrape back their investment, though they have long faced some degree of competition from minicabs, as private hire taxis are called in Britain.

          I had one experience early in my ten years in the UK after which I swore I would walk rather than ever use a taxi there again. However that doesn’t mean Uber and their “race to the bottom when it came to drivers’ pay and conditions” is the solution. Then I had a similar attitude–if not the bad experience–in Paris which actually seemed quite reasonable in costs (and regulated so you the passenger knew what was going on–those different coloured lights on top signalling various things).
          Trawling the blogs the morning after this news I also found this (especially for Alon; and no, I am not citing myself as plausible as that could be):

          And anyone who thinks London public transport is amazing needs to travel a bit. It is by far the most expensive model that I have ever encountered and compared to Paris, Berlin, Hong Kong or New York is an absolute disgrace.

          Londoners are caught between a rock and a hard place; and that is one of things that makes one come to hate the place because there really is no escape from this feeling (of oppression by nameless entities, none of whom seem to have your interests in mind). There is some vicious whingeing on the blogs by people whose lives apparently revolve around using Uber to get to impenetrable parts of London at 2am though I see that some LU lines now operate throughout the night on Fri-Sat. Equally it seems London doesn’t have the equivalent of Paris’ Noctilien buses that get you way out in the banlieu at any time of night/early morning. I suppose for Londoner’s spending a fortune on drinking & eating on the town late at night what is another £20 or £50 on a cab home? In my experience there is no such thing as a cheap night out in London (or UK).

          I notice that Matthew (2017/09/20 – 09:02) has not replied to provide his claimed “real” cost of the £4.80 (€5.47) published Tube fare. Which I will take as conceding the argument (it may be less, perhaps only 2x or 3x instead of 3.8x the equivalent Paris Metro fare!).

    • Michael James

      On this issue here is an extract from a story today:

      DC Metro needs $15.5B to keep trains running, officials say
      Kim Slowey, Sept. 19, 2017

      Late last year, The Post reported that real estate developers building around Metro stations in 2015 saw big returns on about $50 billion worth of projects, leading them to benefit from the system but requiring them to do little to maintain or improve it. At the time, there was a push to increase sales and property taxes around Metro stations, with the extra money going to fund rail upkeep.

      Critics said such measures would stymie development, but some investors have offered to provide extra money for the rail to safeguard their investments nearby. Even though the Metro is struggling with a dip in ridership and other system and security problems, developments that are a short walk to stations continue to draw more investment than those within driving distance.

      A successful TOD is high-density in nature, and thus not always a welcome development. Activists in Los Angeles protested a spate of high-density city projects but lost a vote in March that would have prevented the rezoning necessary for most of those developments to move forward.

  7. Joseph

    Well, you got me going on fantasy map creation again, Alon. Thanks a lot.
    4 Phase long-range plan for Los Angeles Metro / Metrolink transit:

    I made a new map that adopts a couple of ideas from Alon, especially the new north-south subway thru Downtown LA with transfers at Bunker Hill and Pershing Square, and a second north-south line for the Sepulveda pass. However, I reduced the number of north-south branches in the San Fernando Valley, and instead added more service to central Los Angeles. I have also selected the phases to keep new lines balanced in between different districts of the county; I believe this map has a better chance of passing the LA County supervisors and voters. The 4th phase adds even more transit, especially in central and SE LA, but would be over and above the level of Alon’s plan.

    (See a map of the 5 districts: http://egpnews.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/2Redist2011_BoardAdoptedPlan_LACounty-copy.jpg; also consider this alternative district map, which may be adopted in the future: http://egpnews.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/Mark-Ridley-Thomas-Map-copy.png)

    Compared to Alon’s map, mine has more service in the densely-populated areas of central Los Angeles, and does not require as much new development or up-zoning to be feasible. However, it should allow the population of LA to increase by 50% over the next 35 years (a little over 1% a year), with the majority of new trips via transit (and most of the rest via walking and bikes), without new freeways. See projected population density in 2030: http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3640/3357514809_45ff61df99.jpg

    Considering that the Seattle metro area voted for a 35 billion dollar transit plan, mainly consiting of suburban light rail extensions (though there is also a new downtown subway thru Seattle), it’s not unreasonable to think that LA, with a metro population 4 or 5 times larger than that of Seattle, would vote for a 90 billion dollar system. Hopefully half the cost would be funded by the State and Federal government, with the local half covered by another 1/2 cent sales tax, plus a gas tax, motor vehicle licensing fee, and de-congestion charges on freeways and downtown LA, plus funded from the City of LA for a couple of the central-LA focused subways.

    I don’t entirely agree with Alon’s idea that every line needs to be fully grade-separated. The Metrolink lines and the some of the more suburban light rail lines could continue to have grade crossings, with quad-gates and preemption of cross-traffic; this may also be necessary to keep the cost within your estimates. However, there could be a long-term plan to eliminate grade-crossings, and all new routes through the central city will need to be grade-separated (likely subways).

    I do think LA Metro needs to take a hard look a the greater Downtown Los Angeles area in the new Long Range Transportation Plan currently underway, and carefully consider future additional transit lines. The currently planned system (see map: ) will quickly put the Purple Line over capacity between Koreatown and Westwood and the Regional Connector will not allow frequent enough service for the Expo and Blue Lines (which will have to share tracks thru downtown). The 2009 long-range plan underserves central Los Angeles while requiring too many transfers at Union Station, especially if Metrolink is electrified and High Speed Rail reaches Union Station.


    BTW, here’s a map with Metro’s current plans: https://drive.google.com/open?id=1j0x6IeMWwDsf3YoaRJq76Zg7-jI&usp=sharing

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.