The fourth accident on the Orange Line in five weeks left three bus passengers with moderate injuries Thursday, but that hasn't stopped transit officials from considering reductions in some of the safety measures imposed after the previous crashes.
Despite the accident, officials at the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority said they believed the busway was safe and blamed all four accidents on motorists. In the Thursday morning crash, the driver of a pickup truck ran a red light and hit the bus, according to the Los Angeles Police Department.
Before that, the MTA was considering increasing the speed limits for buses traveling through intersections by 15 mph. After a previous accident left 14 people injured, the MTA reduced the speed from roughly 25 mph to 10 mph. MTA Chief Executive Roger Snoble said Thursday he would still like to increase speeds back to 25 mph to improve travel times on the Orange Line, which runs between Woodland Hills and North Hollywood. A final decision has not been made.
Another safety measure taken after the third Orange Line accident has already disappeared: the traffic officers who were placed at key intersections along the route to help direct traffic. They were pulled by city officials.
Snoble and others point to other safety measures the MTA is trying, including attaching strobe lights to buses to increase their visibility and lowering safety signs to motorists' eye level.
Officials also downplayed the accidents, saying there is little they can do to prevent drivers from running red lights and driving dangerously.
"People run red lights all over town, unfortunately, every day," said MTA board member and county Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky. "If somebody runs a red light, it's their fault. It's not the MTA's fault. It's not the Orange Line's fault. It's not the bus driver's fault."
Critics said the MTA must do more to make the busway safer. Community activist John Walsh called on the MTA to shut down what he called the "Black and Blue Line" for 72 hours to perform a full safety review.
Walsh said he's concerned that the gray buses are difficult to see, especially because they seem to blend into the busway's sound wall.
MTA officials disagree, noting that one of the four accidents involved a bright red bus that was on loan from the Metro Rapid program.
The pickup in Thursday's accident was traveling southbound on Kester Avenue when it hit the bus, which was moving west at about 10 mph, said MTA spokesman Dave Sotero.
The pickup hit the front end of the bus, causing only minor damage, Sotero said. The truck was towed away and the driver, who was described by a witness as a man in his 50s, was not hurt.
The accident occurred in a working-class, commercial neighborhood of auto body and mechanic shops and a liquor store. People who work in the neighborhood said that overall the busway is safe. But some say bus drivers fail to slow down through intersections.
"They drive too fast instead of slowing down," said Armando Castillo, 47, a manager at Bob's Body and Fender Repair on Kester Avenue. Castillo said he has seen buses blow through the intersection at up to 45 mph.
So has Eduardo Carbajal, a mechanic at Euro Motors Foreign Car Service on the southeast corner of the busway and Kester. "The bus is too fast," said Carbajal, who believed the larger road signs and new traffic signals have been positive improvements. "Sometimes they're going 50 mph. They're coming by too fast."
Snoble denied that the bus was crossing Kester at more than 10 mph.
"There's no indication of that bus going fast," he said.
Even before the Orange Line opened Oct. 29, some had expressed concerns about how the buses would interact with cars. The buses travel on a dedicated roadway where no cars are allowed. But the buses must cross 36 intersections.
Snoble said he was pleased with the Orange Line's ridership, estimated at between 10,000 and 12,000 passenger boardings a day.
The MTA does not plan to introduce any more safety measures in response to Thursday's accident, Snoble said, but it will continue to equip Orange Line buses with strobe lights "as they come in." Currently, two buses have strobes. Officials also were considering installing cameras to catch scofflaws running red lights.
Some have suggested placing railroad-style crossing gates at Orange Line intersections. But Snoble said that would not ensure against accidents. Since the Pasadena Gold Line light rail opened more than two years ago, there have been three auto collisions, all of them involving motorists who crashed through crossing gates, he said.
Councilwoman Wendy Greuel, chairwoman of the city's transportation committee, said the MTA and the city "are doing everything to make the Orange Line safe."
"Today's accident was an individual who ran a red light," she said. "We cannot express more strongly that people have to be aware and not ignore the law."