The Expo Line Is LA Metro's Gateway Drug

It came to me as I rode the Expo Line home after a business meeting in Santa Monica.

The Expo Line is L.A. Metro's gateway drug.

And, if we know what's good for us we should all keep experimenting to find our favorite rail or bus line. We should also all vote for Measure R2 in November.

A gateway Metro drug and powerful ad for Measure R2 is what L.A. has in its newest line. The hard fought for Expo Line has, and will continue to capture, the imagination, and TAP fare, of existing and new Metro riders alike. Why? Because it works, is comfortable and goes where riders have always wanted to go. And with any luck it will introduce new riders to the other rail and bus lines that connect with Expo at all of the stations along the way.

You already have the TAP card and the transfer is free. So why waste money on Lyft and Uber when Metro often gets you steps from your door almost as fast.

I know, I know, you hate waiting for the bus, right? So now that you are a Metro rider, get yourself a real time transit app like Citymapper or ask the guy standing there playing with his phone when the next bus is arriving.

You mean I have to talk to someone? Yes, and it won't hurt a bit.

Of course Expo is not Metro's first modern rail line. Metro's trains dates back over 25 years to the opening of the Blue Line from downtown Los Angeles to Long Beach. Since then the agency has added Green, Red, Purple and Gold as well as bus rapid transit (BRT) lines in Orange and Silver to its pallet. Put those lines together with Metro's extensive local and Rapid bus routes that go practically everywhere and we are talking a major regional transportation provider. Of course transit geeks and transit dependent Metro customers have known that for a long time.

Still, it took a line without a color in its name to hook many native Angelenos as well as transplants on transit. Many of these riders never thought they would give Metro a try. But Expo to Santa Monica is special. Sometimes we get it right and that is what L.A. has done with this gateway Metro drug. Who doesn't like going to the Beach? And who doesn't like looking out the window at our mountains and sky while someone else drives?

Those are rhetorical questions.

It's only June but the push to get voters on board with Measure R2 is well underway. Last week it was Move LA's chance to turn up the gas. What the business-labor-environmental coalition does best is put up a big tent with various constituencies singing together for better transportation. Last week's conference was no exception with presenters focused on detailing the importance of securing the blessings and votes of seniors, the disabled and students.

Move LA's conference though was just the beginning. Continuing the Better Los Angeles Through Expanded Transit theme, on Friday I made my monthly pilgrimage to the Westside Urban Forum for a program entitled, "A $120 Billion Decision for L.A. County." The strong panel presented a focused discussion on what the November ballot initiative will mean for voters.

Kicking things off and betraying his unbridled enthusiasm for Expo, event moderator Bill Parent, Associate Dean of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, said of the line, "It feels like I live in a real city,"

My takeaway from riding Expo a lot and participating in both of last week's events, Expo's opening demonstrates for voters that Metro can be trusted with their tax dollars.

Metro has shown, again actually, that if you built it, they will ride.

Measure R2 is polling well. Which makes sense as Metro is also showing steady progress on the Crenshaw Line, the Purple Line extension and the Regional Connector.

The Initiative isn't perfect. I understand the need to sell the plan to both transit riders and drivers to secure the votes needed for passage but to spend so much on freeways sends a mixed message about our commitment to weaning ourselves off of the steering wheel.

On paper, the current initiative also contains just two percent for active transportation, a far cry from the desired 10 percent sought by active transportation advocates. Still, as Eric Bruins of Bruins Policy Solutions explained, the actual percentage for active transportation is around five and a half percent as some of the improvements like first mile last mile solutions bleed into one another. "You can't do a pie chart anymore as so many of the projects are interconnected."

A couple of other takeaways:

  • The County's 88 cities want to see more money for local return.
  • Like any political deal, it's critical that everyone get something out of the initiative.
  • Funding the Northern extension of the Crenshaw Line to Hollywood is a critical piece of our transit infrastructure puzzle. The options for the line include a route up San Vicente Blvd, Fairfax or La Brea. The fact that there is an existing Metro bus depot on San Vicente at Santa Monica is one arrow in quiver of the current mayor of West Hollywood's for the San Vicente route. Given the greater density on Fairfax and La Brea, I'd rather see it there.

Metro's Chief Communications Officer Pauletta Tonilas described Metro's outreach about the Initiative, including 10 public meetings and 14 telephone townhalls, that garnered over 1,500 comments. Some 68 percent of those reached by phone support the initiative while 73 percent of those attending the public meetings support Measure R2.

Panelist Steve Lantz, Transportation Director for the South Bay Cities Council of Governments stressed the importance of regional connectivity arguing for a single transfer ride from the South Bay to North Hollywood in the San Fernando Valley. He added that the north and south extensions of the Crenshaw Line are more important to the South Bay than a rail line through the Sepulveda Pass. That's a South Bay perspective.

All of the panelists concurred that they are concerned about clutter on the November ballot with 18 or so statewide initiatives and lots more local ballot measures vying for votes.

Denny Zane of Move LA reiterated his concerns that the plan speaks too little to specific constituencies include seniors, the disabled, students and breathers (all of us I guess). "Who votes in greater numbers than seniors?" At that point, Bill Parent added that with marijuana legislation on the ballot a "high" student turnout can also be expected.

Long Beach's going for its own one cent transportation sales tax in June is unfortunate as it could drive Long Beach voters away from Measure R2 in November.

It has been a big month for transit riders in Los Angeles. Let's be sure to tout the success of the Gold and Expo Line extensions to November voters.

And finally, let's stop deluding ourselves. Reports of transit's death are premature and autonomous vehicles are not going to challenge that proven model of transportation anytime soon.

Yours in transit,
Joel