The Metro Blue Line’s Closure Couldn’t Come at a Worse Time

Next year’s overhaul of the city’s oldest light rail line happens during a record ridership drop

As Metro makes progress on the $1.8 billion Regional Connector project, the agency will shut down the currently operating Little Tokyo station next Saturday. It’ll be an inconvenience for riders shuttling between Azusa and East L.A.—but only for 24 hours. A much more significant disruption is coming for Metro riders when the Blue Line—the county’s oldest and busiest light-rail line—is out of full service for eight months in 2019.

The 22-mile Blue Line is showing its 28 years, with worn track, equipment, and stations. By overhauling a major transfer station, upgrading a junction, wires, and signals, and adding four new switches, Metro hopes to reduce future disruptions in service and shave several minutes off the hour-plus ride between Long Beach and DTLA.

Metro is doing its best to cushion the blow for riders, by shutting down the Blue Line in two sections. The southern half, from Long Beach to the Willowbrook/Rosa Parks station in Compton, closes in January for about five months; the northern end, from Rosa Parks to downtown, shutters in May. The Rosa Parks station—which connects to the Green Line—will be closed the entire time as it undergoes a $53 million refurbishment that will help it better manage crowds and improve pedestrian access.

All the work should wrap up before the Crenshaw Line begins operation the fall of 2019, opening up the entire system to Inglewood, Crenshaw, and the LAX area (the terminal-adjacent People Mover opens in 2023).

All the pain of the Blue Line construction should ultimately be worth it, but a concern of Metro’s is whether the shutdown will further depress ridership. The entire Metro system—like many throughout the country—is dealing with drops in patronage, the Blue Line included.

Weekday ridership in March 2018 was at a touch over 67,000 for the line; a year ago it was attracting 72,000 trips per day. Weekend ridership is dropping too, with Saturday’s numbers cratering: from nearly 43,000 last year to a touch over 30,000 last month. There are many theories for what’s caused the decline—the dominance of Uber/Lyft, more easily obtainable drivers’ licenses for undocumented residents, telecommuting, general dissatisfaction with the system, especially its punctuality—but whatever the reason, Metro is under pressure to reverse the trend.

During the Blue Line work, Metro will employ “bus bridges” to shuttle train riders along the Blue Line route. Of course, these buses are subject to traffic conditions, which takes away one of the most important advantage any rail line has. It’s imperative that Metro remind the public early of the changes via advertisements, social media updates, and signage at stations, including clear directions to buses at Blue Line stations. It wouldn’t hurt if maps at all rail stations—and major bus stops—were updated with the temporary change, even if it’s just a sticker affixed to the map.

Metro didn’t go nearly that far during this year’s partial closure of the Green Line, which shut down temporarily so it could be connected to the Crenshaw Line and allow trains to run along both routes next year. The good news for Metro is that, even with little media awareness and not a huge amount of advance notice, ridership didn’t dip much during the eight weeks of work (from 32,000 a day to 29,000 a day).

If Metro can keep from hemorrhaging too many customers for the next year, they should be rewarded when new riders try out the Crenshaw Line in 2019, the Regional Connector in 2021, and the LAX People Mover and subway to Beverly Hills in 2023.

RELATED: Can Metro Really Complete These 4 Rail Projects Before the ’28 Olympics?

Stay up to date with everything you need to know about L.A. by following us on Facebook.