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Improving Bus Service Vital

June 23, 2002

Costly commuter train lines and expensive freeway-widening projects necessarily must be a part of Orange County's effort to keep commuter traffic from grinding to a halt. But the Orange County Transportation Authority also owes it to commuters to focus on smaller pieces of the transportation puzzle.

A case in point is the proposed Bus Rapid Transit system that promises to trim up to 18 minutes per ride for bus riders on Harbor Boulevard and Westminster Avenue, two of OCTA's busiest corridors. OCTA will review a project proposal in July for the two lines that would cost $11 million to create and about $4.8 million annually to operate.

The proposed express lines would allow bus drivers to toggle switches that trigger green lights as buses approach intersections. Electronic devices in bus shelters would give commuters real-time schedule updates, and passengers would purchase tickets through vending machines.

The Bus Rapid Transit plan is based upon the express buses that have been crisscrossing cities nationwide for decades. The closest example is Los Angeles' wildly popular new Metro Rapid buses. Some cities have been adding dedicated bus lanes to make service even swifter; OCTA's routes will make do with existing concrete along Westminster and Harbor.

OCTA clearly has to continue working on big projects, including the widening of a two-mile stretch of the Santa Ana Freeway leading into Los Angeles County and the long-awaited reconstruction of the Garden Grove Freeway. OCTA also should continue to research the expensive and controversial CenterLine light rail proposal that would run through Irvine, Santa Ana and Costa Mesa.

But OCTA shouldn't expect county residents to keep supporting the big projects if the authority isn't perceived as paying attention to local transportation knots as well. Bus Rapid Transit proponents believe 10,000 to 16,000 additional riders would use OCTA buses on Harbor and Westminster. That's welcome news for anyone traveling those busy roads.

The Bus Rapid Transit routes also are part of OCTA's recognition that transportation doesn't just mean more freeway lanes. Bus ridership slipped during the late 1990s, in part because of ill-advised route changes and fare increases. The buses that soon could be rolling would only boost ridership by a small fraction. But the proposal shows that OCTA recognizes that incremental improvements are necessary to keep public transit use growing.

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