The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the region's largest carrier, lost more than 10% of its boardings from 2006 to 2015, a decline that appears to be accelerating. Despite a $9-billion investment in new light rail and subway lines, Metro now has fewer boardings than it did three decades ago, when buses were the county's only transit option.
"It's a bit perverse," said USC engineering professor James E. Moore II, who has been a critic of rail transit. "You're spending all this money and you're driving ridership down. If you're investing heavily in transit, you'd hope ridership would increase."
The longer immigrants live in the U.S., the less likely they are to take the bus or train, either because they begin to drive or move to suburbs with less transit service. After two decades in the United States, about 6% of immigrants ride transit, only slightly higher than native-born residents, [USC professor Evelyn] Blumenberg said.
After a surge in immigration in the 1980s, which significantly bolstered bus and rail ridership, the influx of foreign-born people peaked in California in 1991 and has been declining since, she said.
A new avenue for driving also might have opened up for immigrants who are in the country illegally. A law that took effect last year allows them to obtain California driver's licenses. So far, the Department of Motor Vehicles has issued more than 605,000 such licenses, a spokesman said.
In addition, some transit officials say the recovering economy has helped transit riders find at least partial access to cars. During the last five years, the number of former OCTA bus riders who gained access to cars almost doubled, agency surveys show.
"It's not the dream of every bus rider to arrive in a bus that was on time, air conditioned and clean, where a seat was available," said Moore of USC. "It's the dream of every bus rider to own a car. And as soon as they can afford one, that's the first purchase they'll make."