Expo Line station in Culver City. LA Observed photo.
We now have some clarity on when this spring the new Metro light rail lines will open for riders. Both the Gold Line extension to Azusa and the Expo Line phase two out to Santa Monica are now in the hands of Metro and testing of trains is becoming more frequent.
March 5 is the official start date for 11.5 miles of new Gold Line, east from the current terminus at the Sierra Madre Villa station in Pasadena. The extension includes stations in downtown Arcadia, Monrovia, Duarte/City of Hope, Irwindale, Azusa and APU/Citrus College.
The exact date is still uncertain for the Expo Line, but Metro CEO Phil Washington disclosed at the VerdeXchange conference downtown that the trains would begin running in May. The Expo Line Construction Authority recently turned over the tracks to Metro, while the formal hand over of a maintenance facility is still pending. The Expo Line currently runs from downtown to Culver City, and the coming extension will feature stations in Palms, at Westwood Boulevard, Sepulveda Boulevard and Bundy Drive on the Westside of Los Angeles, and in Santa Monica at Bergamot Station, 17th Street and the terminus at 4th Street.
Will anyone ride? LOL, I think they will, from day one. But guess what: ridership on Metro has dropped 9 percent since April 2014, including 4.3 percent in the recent quarter. Ridership is dropping on transit lines nationally, due mainly to economic factors, but in Los Angeles there are other things working. Metro says the Gold Line is the only rail line where ridership has steadily grown; even the Expo Line started dropping. On the Red and Orange lines, finally closing the turnstile gates and requiring passengers to pay cut into ridership [I know, hard to believe-ed.] Service disruptions and construction on the Blue and Green lines has hurt.
Metro also acknowledges that, despite the agency's marketing push to make riding transit seem like the hip thing that everyone is doing, many Angelenos will only ride if it's comfortable and feels safe. "Several past customers commented on using the system less, or leaving the system entirely, due to people not feeling comfortable on the buses and trains (e.g.harassment, loud music, vendors, rider discourtesy)," Metro's report says. Steps are being taken to increase security. But if the city's crime rate keeps going up, that won't be good for rail ridership.
For almost a decade, transit ridership has declined across Southern California despite enormous and costly efforts by top transportation officials to entice people out of their cars and onto buses and trains.
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.
Officials say ridership is cyclical and customers will return as traffic congestion worsens, bus service improves, new rail lines open and more of the region's population moves to walkable neighborhoods near transit stops.
But some experts say the downturn could represent a permanent shift in how people get around, propelled by a changing job market, falling gas prices, fare increases, declining immigration and the growing popularity of other transportation options, including bicycling and ride-hailing companies such as Uber and Lyft.
Noted: LA Weekly wrote about the dip in ridership back in October.