El Monte Busway

The El Monte Busway is a separated high occupancy vehicle lane running from Los Angeles to El Monte, California planned and constructed as a project of the Southern California Rapid Transit District.

Groundbreaking for the Busway took place on January 21, 1972.  The Busway opened in 1974 to buses only, then became open to carpools in 1976.

The eastern terminus of the busway was near El Monte Bus Station in El Monte at Baldwin Avenue, until it was extended 2 miles (3.2 km) in 2005 to I-605.

The busway runs largely parallel to the San Bernardino Freeway, part of Interstate 10 in California, where it occupies the space between the eastbound and westbound lanes of Interstate 10.

The tracks for Metrolink commuter rail’s San Bernardino Line lie in between the eastbound and westbound lanes of the busway. The western terminus of the busway is at Alameda Street near Union Station.

Bus ridership is approximately 18,000, and in addition to the 100 buses an hour along the busway during peak periods, the roadway carries 1,600 carpools and vanpools during peak hours.

The roadway was originally intended for buses only but was opened to vehicles with three or more occupants during the 68 day 1974 Southern California Rapid Transit District strike.

In 1976, carpools with three or more occupants were permitted during peak hours only, which was extended to weekends in 1977 and 24 hours a day in 1981.

In 1999, then state senator Hilda Solis authored a bill, Senate Bill 63, to drop the carpool limitation from three occupants to two, which passed both the state Assembly and Senate and was signed by Governor Gray Davis on July 12, 1999.

The bill was opposed by both Caltrans and Foothill Transit, as well as the Southern California Transit Advocates, a transit users’ organization. It received support from many cities hoping that carpool rates would increase. SB 63 took into effect on January 1, 2000. As a compromise, the bill was designated an experiment which would sunset in 24 months.

In fact, the actual number of people moved on the busway dropped, meaning that the lowered requirements did not attract new carpoolers. Instead, many carpoolers previously forced to triple up moved to two-person carpools, which increased the vehicle volume on the roadway and consequently resulted in severe congestion.

As a result of the congestion, many individuals abandoned carpooling and decided to drive alone. Speeds on the busway dropped markedly from 65 mph (105 km/h) before the experiment to 20 mph (32 km/h) during the experiment, where speeds in the regular lanes did not change significantly (as a result of 2 person carpoolers moving to the busway), and actually dropped from 25 mph (40 km/h) to 23 mph (37 km/h), paradoxically making the busway slower than the regular lanes.

Accident rates on the busway increased significantly from zero in the six months before the experiment to five during the experiment. Travel times along the busway increased by 20–30 minutes in each direction, generating over 1,000 complaints to government agencies, and requiring Foothill Transit to hire more drivers and stage more buses to provide busway service.

As a result of public outrage, Assembly Bill 769 was passed in July 2000 that was an emergency measure to terminate the experiment during peak hours.

For her part, Hilda Solis won a primary election to the United States House of Representatives in March 2000 (before the effects of the change were fully known), and won election to the U. S. Congress in November 2000. She did vote for AB 769, effectively admitting that her idea was a failure.

As a result of AB 769, effective July 23, 2000, the occupancy required to use the busway was changed to three occupants or more between the hours of 5 a.m. and 9 a.m. and from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, in both directions. On weekends and at other times, the two occupant rule remains.

Motorcycles, clean fueled vehicles, hybrid vehicles (with the appropriate sticker), and buses (with or without passengers) are allowed on the busway at all times. As a result of the continuing increase in population, the busway is now often congested during peak hours despite the occupancy restrictions. Conditions at the “shoulders” of the peak period, especially the 2 and 3 p.m. hours, remain at stop and go levels, since the occupancy changes were not lifted. Drivers remaining on the busway when the occupancy rules change are allowed enough time to exit the busway at the next legal exit.

Bus service

Bus service is provided with a mix of Foothill Transit and Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority buses. There are two classes of bus service on the busway: Metro Express and Foothill Transit’s Silver Streak and Line 481 service make all busway stops and allow boarding and alighting at all stops along the route, while Foothill Transit’s Commuter Express service only drops off passengers heading westbound during the morning rush hour and only boards passengers heading eastbound during the afternoon rush hour; Commuter Express buses do not stop at El Monte Bus Station, continuing along the HOV lanes of I-10.

Bus service operates from various points in the San Gabriel Valley and Pomona Valley, as well as the San Bernardino County cities of Chino and Montclair, for those going to and from Downtown Los Angeles; Foothill Transit Line 481 continues to Koreatown to the Wilshire/Western station of the Metro Red Line.

The El Monte Bus Station is believed to be the busiest bus terminal west of the Mississippi River, although the San Francisco Transbay Terminal may be busier.

The fare structure differs between Metro Express, Foothill Transit’s Silver Streak and Line 481, and Foothill Transit’s Commuter Express, causing some confusion. Fares vary based on the destination. Metro Express trips on the busway to and from El Monte Station are $2.45, however the base fare of $1.25 is applied for passengers not traveling east of Cal State L.A. Station except on the Silver Line which charges $2.45 regardless of trip length. The fare for the Silver Streak and Line 481 is $2.50, regardless of trip length. Commuter Express fares are $4.40.

Foothill Transit’s Silver Streak operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week; all other Foothill Transit routes operate weekdays only in the peak direction. Metro Express Line 489 operates weekdays only in the peak direction; Lines 485, 487, and the Silver Line operate seven days a week. Hours vary for each line.

Starting in December 2009, the Metro Silver Line began service on the El Monte Busway, linking El Monte Station to the Artesia Transit Center via downtown Los Angeles and the Harbor Transitway.

Entrances and exits

The carpool lanes of the El Monte Busway can only be entered and exited at a few points. The segment from El Monte to I-710 is demarcated not only with two ‘double-yellow’ lines which are typical of Southern California HOV lanes, but also an approximately 12′ (3.7m) wide asphalt median. The segment west of I-710 into Downtown Los Angeles is on an alignment separate from the regular lanes of the I-10.

Westbound entrances are at I-605, Baldwin Ave. in El Monte, El Monte Bus Station (for buses only), Del Mar Ave. (where motorists take a ramp from street level), and I-710 (for buses only). Westbound exits are at Baldwin Ave., Fremont Ave., I-710, I-5, Vignes St., and Alameda St. Eastbound entrances are at Alameda St., Patsaouras Transit Plaza at Union Station, I-710, and Baldwin Ave. Eastbound exits are at Patsaouras Transit Plaza, I-710 (for buses only), Del Mar Ave. (where motorists take a ramp to street level), Baldwin Ave., and I-605.