February ridership numbers for the Expo Line were the best ever for the five-year-old light rail, with over 55,300 daily riders. Since Expo’s extension opened from Culver City to Santa Monica last summer, the line has been on a major upswing and the recent arrival of rush-hour trains every six minutes is attracting even more converts.
Metro is is need of good news like this; ridership for the whole system is on the decline, with the bus lines especially struggling in the days of Uber and Lyft. To encourage more riders, the transit agency will need to constantly innovate, just as the aforementioned rideshare companies often do. Here are some ways Metro can keep up the momentum:
Real-time arrival signs at all stations: The newer stations on the Westside have screens announcing when the next trains arrive (their accuracy is decent, though not perfect), as well as messages about delays or broken elevators. Time to add those to all Metro stations, including the eastern Expo stops. If every crappy sports bar can have flat-screens on every wall, so can one of the nation’s biggest transit agencies.
Walkability at stations needs improvement: This is a huge issue. Crossing Olympic to get to the Bundy stop is frightening; Metro and LADOT need to widen sidewalks or give drivers red arrows so pedestrians don’t fear for their lives every time they head to the station. Exiting the La Brea station on the east side and heading north to Baldwin Village requires a blind crossing at Exposition Boulevard; there is no way to see drivers turning right. Metro could just prune some bushes to address this. There are numerous problems like this at stations.
Further, the wait for pedestrian crossings at stations is often unreasonably long. Why does it take five minutes for the walk signal at Westwood Boulevard? Why is there only one crosswalk across Olympic to reach the Bergamot station?
Sustenance: Metro needs to encourage food trucks and street vendors to set up shop near some of the stations. Yes, we know Metro has a silly rule about not eating or drinking on the train, but no one abides by it. Let’s allow coffee and snack purveyors to sell their goods near the stops, and pretend everyone will finish their latte before the train arrives. There are really no stations on the Expo Line where a cup of coffee is easily obtainable (except maybe 7th/Metro, but that’s a stretch).
More parking information: Yes, we want to encourage people to bike, bus, walk, or get dropped off at the stations, but the reality is some people will drive. The giant parking lot at the Culver City station is closed as we await construction of a mixed-use project—so where’s the big sign directing drivers to other parking lots? Where are the posters at the stations? Los Angeles, Culver City, and Santa Monica also need to step up and help drivers find places to ditch their cars.
Speed up the trains: The trains are just too slow around DTLA. Part of it is the bunching of trains at 7th/Metro, the current terminus. This problem will be addressed when the Regional Connector opens in about three years, but until then, Metro needs to stay vigilant on traffic light synchronization so trains are not sitting at red lights at Western, Normandie, Vermont, 23rd Street, etc. It’s super frustrating and you can often hear riders fuming. Also, is the slowdown near the Farmdale station—where the train creeps by at 10 mph—still necessary?