Report by Noel T. Braymer
Los Angeles World Airports is the city agency which operates the airports owned by the City of Los Angeles including LAX. The LAWA also operates the Flyaway bus service which provides direct connections to LAX. The busiest Flyaway bus service is at Van Nuys where the LAWA has a satellite parking lot with frequent bus connections to LAX. The Flyaway bus service from Los Angeles Union Station to LAX is very successful, exceeding original projection.
As you can see from this graph the Westwood buses near UCLA and the Irvine buses haven’t done well. As of now the Irvine Flyaway service has been cancelled.
This graphic also by LAWA from September of this years shows the financial side of the Flyaway service.
As you can see the Van Nuys buses are the busiest and because of this cost the most. But notice the funny color for the Union Station buses this Fiscal Year: Black. It looks like this year the Union Station buses ran at a profit. The main purpose of the Flyaway buses is to relieve traffic at LAX not to make money. But budget issues are clearly a concern for the LAWA. So why is Union Station a more economical service than the others? The main difference is that Union Station is a Hub. Airlines learned since the 1970’s that having Hubs to pick up transferring passenger was the best way to minimize costs while serving the largest numbers of markets. At Union Station you have passengers from downtown Los Angeles as well coming from local buses, Metrorail, Metrolink and Amtrak using Flyaway to get to get to LAX. Non-stop service is usually the most expensive and least productive form of transportation service. Yet this is what Flyaway Buses do now.
So what would get more people on Flyaway buses and lower operating costs? More station stops at Hubs is the answer. Flyaway’s mission is to expand service and reduce traffic at LAX. The best way to do this is to run buses at Hubs to connect to LAX. Let’s look at a better connection to Orange County than Irvine. What Orange County station has the most trains connecting to the most cities? That would be Fullerton. For a person going to LAX from the train, Fullerton is much closer than Irvine. In terms of serving more potential transferring passengers and having a faster turnabout with less distance to LAX then Fullerton beats Irvine or any other Orange County station. What would make Fullerton Flyaway service stronger? Adding at least one extra stop before going to LAX. Where would be the best place for this stop? The station at the junction of the Blue and Green Metrorail lines. The Blue Line alone serves over 90,000 passengers during the weekday and the Green Line has over 40,000. That is almost 140,000 people a day at this junction. Stopping at this station won’t take much time since it its right on the 105 Freeway which is also the right of way for the Green Line and a HOV Lane available for buses going straight to LAX. Would a non-stop Flyaway service work from the Blue/Green Lines junction station? By itself most likely not. But combining it with a Fullerton stop will make both more productive and economical.
Another way to do this would be to combine Westwood/ Blue-Green Line and Fullerton bus stops into one bus route. The Westwood service isn’t doing very well. Having buses shuttle between Westwood and Fullerton with stops at the Blue/Green Lines Junction through LAX would be more economical than running separate bus lines from these places directly to LAX. This could create a new market for travelers going to other places beside LAX. If this were to happen this would help pay to keep fares lower and increase bus frequencies which would attract more passengers to ride the Flyaway Buses to LAX and make it possible to expand service within LAWA’s budget. Non-stop service may seem attractive but rarely does well because of high costs and low ridership due to limited markets. Successful transportation services rely on connecting several Hubs together to serve the most markets. This is how the airlines work, and will work for providing ground transportation to the airport.