Pulling Away from the Station: The New Face of the Los Angeles Metro
By Kyra Hudson
Before this summer, I had only ridden the Metro (Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority) to get to the Women’s March. I never really had a need to ride it before, since I always had car rides or Ubers available to me. This summer, however, I found myself needing to travel to Downtown every day for an internship; so, for six weeks, I rode the Metro.
Every morning and every evening, I took the same Red Line Train. The best thing by far was going Downtown during rush hour without having to angrily sit in traffic thinking of how I could better use my time; I would even say it was a luxury. The lack of WiFi on the train, while seen as an issue for many others, gave me 35 minutes every day to read the “Crazy Rich Asian” series and listen to the entirety of my Spotify playlists. In short, I loved my time on the Metro.
Despite my pleasant personal experience, I was also upset about my previous lack of knowledge of the Los Angeles transit system. Why had I never used this incredibly useful resource available to me for only $1.75 a ride? The reality is that the Metro’s reputation had proceeded itself: from friends and family I had heard that it was ineffective, unsafe, and not worth the hassle.
In fact, I heard many complaints about the lack of geographical coverage and organization of the system. Metro currently has lines going to areas such as Downtown, Azusa, Santa Monica, and Long Beach. While these lines do cover some of Los Angeles, many riders say it does not cover enough of the city to be a viable option for getting around. Additionally, riders bring up the concern that the delays can be up to 20 minutes without announcement and the number of transfers makes even driving in rush hour more timely.
“The delay times are insane,” Jessica*, who rides the metro four to five times a week, said. “I’ve had my trains be delayed more than 20 minutes. Sometimes, it would make more sense to drive in rush hour than wait for the train.”
According to the Los Angeles Times, ridership of the Metro dropped to an all-time low in 2017 to 100,000 riders. In comparison, the New York subway had upwards of 1.7 billion riders in 2017. The rise of ride-share alternatives like Uber and Lyft, along with their convenience, is one of the main reasons for this million person decrease, the article said.
However, according to the Los Angeles Times, riders bring up another concern: their safety on the Metro. In a 2016 survey, 29 percent of former riders told Metro they stopped taking transit because they felt unsafe.
“The low ridership is due to the disparity of wealth,” Noah*, a frequent Metro rider, said. “Most folks who live in the more affluent neighborhoods of Los Angeles will not ride the metro regardless of how practical it may be in terms of cost and efficiency because most law-abiding and working people don’t want to be exposed to potentially dangerous and mentally ill people.”
Despite the decrease in riders, Metro has started many projects to transform Los Angeles’ entire transit system to reduce traffic and solve mobility problems. Metro aims to complete 28 transportation projects in time for the 2028 Olympics and Paralympics, which will be held in Los Angeles. These projects have aptly been the titled “Twenty-Eight by ’28”.
“Winning the 2028 Olympic Games gives us the chance to re-imagine Los Angeles and ask ourselves what legacy we will create for generations to come,” Mayor Eric Garcetti ’88 said in an email. “Twenty-Eight by ’28 will help us frame the progress we’re striving to make in the years leading up to the Games. This initiative is our opportunity to harness the unifying power of the Olympic Movement to transform our transportation future.”
The plan consists of major road, transit and bicycle projects. 17 of these projects were already scheduled to be completed, eight are deemed aspirational and have not been started and the last three require obtaining additional resources before breaking ground. For example, I-405 South Bay Curve improvements had been scheduled to be completed in 2047 but were pushed to be completed by 2028. While all of the projects were scheduled to before the plan was introduced, the plan requires them to be completed in a much shorter time frame.
These projects aim to provide the necessary expansions to the Metro system in order to make it a high-capacity transit network long after the games conclude, according to the Metro Board Report. Despite these efforts, however, many Los Angeles citizens said that they are still concerned about the lack of safety on the train, not the technological improvements.
The polls, however, told a different story. Voters approved both Measure M and Measure R, setting the plan to expand and improve the Metro system in motion. Measure M imposes a retail tax of .5 percent within Los Angeles County in order to raise funds for improving the transit system in Los Angeles. Measure R is a half-cent sales tax for Los Angeles County to finance transportation projects.
Senior Transportation Planner in the Office of Extraordinary Innovation at the Los Angeles Metro Nolan Borgman said this project can be split into two categories- projects that were scheduled to be completed before 2028 prior to the announcement of “Twenty-Eight by ’28” and those scheduled to be completed after. While “Twenty-Eight by ’28 has been helpful in pushing along the projects scheduled to finish before2028, Borgman said, there has been speculation amongst many Metro employees, including himself, that the others are too ambitious and may be difficult to complete.
In order to financially support this project, Metro’s budget was increased to $6.6 billion for the 2018-2019 fiscal year, increasing an additional $281 million from 2017-2018 according to the Metro Board Report.
For every dollar that is spent in Los Angeles, 2 cents goes to the Metro budget, making this the Metro’s largest budget ever.
Despite these budget increases, the Metro still doesn’t have enough money to fund these projects, Borgman said.
“We haven’t identified all the funding for some of these projects yet,” Borgman said. “The funding of projects is very complex, as is the financing.”
According to Measure M, Metro is unable to take funding from one project in order to finance another, meaning that they need to have a large amount of money on hand in order to start a project. Due to the large number of projects being funded right now, it is difficult to have such a large amount of money in reserve, and borrowing is not a sustainable option, Borgman said.
While the expansion and improvement of the Metro will help solve problems like the prevalent mobility problem, other issues arise. For years, the Metro stations have served as a refuge and shelter for the homeless Service Authority. As the homeless population has continued to increase in Los Angeles County, reaching a record high of 58,000 homeless individuals, this use of the Metro as a shelter has quickly become both a safety and sanitation issue, according to the Los Angeles Times.
In order to combat this growing crisis, Los Angeles has dedicated $430 million to aid the homeless for the 2018-2019 fiscal year according to the Los Angeles City’s Budget. While this is a seemingly large budget, it is billions less than Metro’s budget for this year alone.
Due to a surge of complainants, the Metro Transportation Authority has increased the budget for law enforcement and security by 37 percent, but they do not have any more public plans about increasing the security on the Metro, according to the Los Angeles Times. Furthermore, none of the projects in “Twenty-Eight by ’28” attempt to increase the safety of the Los Angeles Metro users.
According to recent surveys facilitated by the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, these complaints are driving many riders away.
“My family doesn’t like me riding the Metro because they think that it isn’t the safest option,” Sabina Yampolski ’20 said. “There are really large amounts of people clumped together in one location and there is very limited security.”
Another way Metro is trying to tackle the homeless crisis is by implementing a new social worker program.
This is the first program of its kind in a major public transit system and has a $1.2 million budget for a one-year trial run, according to the Metro Board Report.
The outreach workers will spend time trying to help the homeless population throughout the Los Angeles area.
While Los Angeles is making an effort to improve the safety of the different people using the transportation system, it is still unclear if it will be enough to raise ridership to a sufficient level after the number of funds, time and energy being spent on “Twenty-Eight by ’28” according to Metro riders.
“The closest stop to my house is a mile away, so I would have to drive there in order to actually get on,” Kerry Neil ’19. “So, for me, it’s not about safety, it’s about convenience. Even though they are putting a bunch of funds in, I would only use it if it was easy for me to get to from my house. Twenty Eight by ’28 alone is not enough.”