FlyAway on the Blue Line
Metro is currently evaluating short-term and long-term improvements to the Blue Line including express service between Long Beach and Downtown Los Angeles, signal optimization, grade separations, and "the feasibility for a full grade separation and/or station relocation including additional parking at Wardlow Station." While these are all great ideas, I propose that the improvements to Wardlow Station should also study a relocation of the Downtown Long Beach FlyAway service to Wardlow Station.
LAX FlyAway service from Downtown Long Beach to Los Angeles International Airport began on December 30, 2015. However, Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA) placed the station in the wrong location. Downtown Long Beach will suffer low ridership similar to the Westwood service and the cancelled Santa Monica service. LAWA planned both Santa Monica and Long Beach as transfer points between public transportation and FlyAway in popular downtown areas. However, in 2015, 88% of LAX passengers arrived by door-to-door private transportation, while only 1% arrived via public transportation. Any service designed around serving 1% of potential customers will fail.
LAWA should build great (frequent, fast, comfortable) FlyAway services that cater to drivers and also integrate them with public transportation as much as possible. The most successful FlyAway service (based on frequency of service) is Van Nuys which operates as an off-airport parking lot. The other frequent service is Union Station which offers parking and great public transportation connections. Both of these stations are close to freeways and have large catchment areas of potential customers. Long Beach, like Santa Monica was, is located far from potential customers by being next to the ocean. Northbound drivers from Orange County (14% of LAX passengers) will not detour to Long Beach to ride FlyAway. Blue Line riders will not detour south either. However, Wardlow Station is located directly off I-405 and people could still easily transfer for the 15 minute ride to Downtown Long Beach. Last, parking matters. Parking at Van Nuys and Union Station is cheap compared to LAX and provided by LAWA and Metro respectively. Parking in Long Beach could be cheap, but non-residents will not necessarily know where to find cheap parking. With Metro looking into building additional parking at Wardlow, this parking could also be used for FlyAway customers.
Customers can (and do) take public transportation from Union Station or Long Beach. However, FlyAway offers a premium experience through faster, direct service that does not require a transfer to an airport shuttle bus. FlyAway should pursue fare integration strategies with transportation providers. Currently I only know of ticketing integration with Metrolink, but this does not include any fare integration. FlyAway should work with Metro, Metrolink, and local bus services to offer free transfers similar to Metrolink to Metro transfers.
Overall, this is a simple situation that can be explained by the equation Utility = Travel Time + Cost. If FlyAway is quicker and cheaper than parking at LAX, people will take FlyAway. If not, people will drive. FlyAway can provide great value to LAX passengers from Long Beach, South Los Angeles County, and Orange County. A stop in Downtown Long Beach, however, is setup for failure.
|Station||Frequency||Distance to LAX||Distance to Closest Freeway Exit||Public Transportation Travel Time to LAX Shuttle Bus|
|Van Nuys||55 trips/day||22 miles||1 mile||-|
|Union Station||48 trips/day||19 miles||adjacent||48 minutes|
|Westwood||17 trips/day||11 miles||adjacent||39 minutes|
|Downtown Long Beach||17 trips/day||21 miles||3.5 miles*||55 minutes|
|Wardlow Station||Proposed||17 miles||adjacent||36 minutes|
|Santa Monica||canceled||9 miles||4 miles*||53 minutes|