While not every Angeleno will be ditching his or her car any time soon, many are becoming intrigued by the convenience and cost-effectiveness of various public transportation options.

In Los Angeles, the average price of a gallon of self-serve regular gasoline is $4.13, compared with $4.09 in the rest of California and $3.60 in the United States. When you pay more for gas than anyone else in the country, you’ve got a friend in public transportation.

Public transportation is the final link in a truly multimodal transportation network that our country needs. It helps motorists save money on gas and car repairs. It also helps the economy by creating jobs and lessening congestion on our roadways.

According to the American Public Transportation Association, a two-person household can save, on average, more than $10,174 a year by downsizing to one car – and presumably utilizing their city’s transit options more often. In addition, Americans took a staggering 10.7 billion trips on public transportation in 2013, the highest that number has been in 57 years. Since 1995, public transit ridership is up 37 percent, a figure swelling faster than U.S. population growth and total vehicle miles traveled, which saw 20 percent and 23 percent hikes, respectively.

Fortunately, a 2013 America Thinks survey from HNTB Corp. revealed that 76 percent of Americans are open to taking public transportation over driving — up 7 percent from when HNTB last asked that question in 2010. It seems these increases are driven by cost and convenience. According to the same survey, 41 percent of Americans who would choose public transit over driving would do so because of high gas prices. Fifty-eight percent said they would boost ridership if it was conveniently located.

With this knowledge, a question is posed: What new, convenient and cost-effective transit choices do Los Angeles commuters have?

One of the most viable options is the developing system of bus rapid transit. Bus rapid transit retains many of the features of rail-based public transit, but is much more easily implemented and cost-efficient.

One example is Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Wilshire Bus Rapid Transit Project, scheduled for completion in November. Expanding 12.5 miles along Wilshire Boulevard, it’s intended to improve bus passenger travel times, service reliability and ridership.

While providing a very practical option, bus transit alone can’t sustain the transit needs of an entire community. A strong set of multiple public transportation systems is key to bolstering economic development in Los Angeles, including regional intercity and commuter rail, high-speed rail and light rail.

Shifting gears

Metro is advancing regional rail projects that will complement the California High Speed Rail’s Blended System and encourage a shift from automobile use to public transit. In coming years, the Southern California Regional Interconnector Project will be an important part in the movement toward a statewide integrated passenger rail system. Numerous double-track rail projects are also being planned to improve passenger travel times and connections.

In addition, construction on the $2.06 billion Crenshaw-LAX Transit Project commenced in January. This 8.5-mile light-rail line will serve the Crenshaw District, Inglewood, Westchester and surrounding area with eight stations. And, in 2015, the Metro Expo Line is set to connect downtown Los Angeles to the coast.

Our city’s leaders should be commended for jumping on public transit projects that make it easier for residents to leave their cars at home. Mayor Eric Garcetti recently announced expansion of the FlyAway Bus service to Santa Monica, providing low-cost transportation directly to Los Angeles International Airport. He has also outlined a plan to make our streets and sidewalks friendlier to pedestrians and bicyclists.

When it’s all said and done, successful communities thrive when there’s a healthy mix of transportation choices. This has never been truer as the costs of commuting by car and congestion on America’s highways continue to increase. There certainly is hope, however, and it’s encouraging to see Los Angeles tackle so many public transportation endeavors.

Graham Christie is an engineer and is associate vice president and Southern California rail and transit leader for HNTB Corp. He has more than two decades of project management, design and construction management experience working with various transportation agencies throughout Southern California.

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