Don't Laugh, the Metro Expansion to Santa Monica Is an Actual Success

Metro Train Santa Monica - Publicity - H 2016
Courtesy of Metro

Metro Train Santa Monica - Publicity - H 2016

With weekend ridership doubling, new data offers hard proof that Angelenos are leaving their cars at home and taking the train to the beach.

Back in late May, as he boarded the first rail service to connect downtown L.A. with Santa Monica since 1953, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti proclaimed that hundreds of thousands of people in this dedicated “car culture” would ride “the train connecting skyline to shoreline.”

Now, a little more than three months after the groundbreaking rail service on the expanded Expo Line began, new ridership data and surveys released this week by Metro offer strong evidence that the mayor’s hopeful pronouncements are accurate. In fact, weekend ridership on the line has nearly doubled in just the span of a few months.

“We’re literally rewriting history with this train,” Garcetti told THR at the first official preview of the Metro’s westward extension on May 9. “Anyone who’s ever been stuck in that weekend crunch on the 10 should be excited about this new service.”

Los Angeles once was interlaced with train lines — in fact, 90 years ago no fewer than three train lines connected downtown L.A. and Beverly Hills to the beaches of Santa Monica and Venice. But then came the reign of the automobile, causing rail ridership to decline and complaints about trolley traffic on Santa Monica boulevard, Venice boulevard and elsewhere to rise. The last streetcars run by Pacific Electric stopped running to the beach in 1953. The westward extension, which officially began service on May 20, includes seven new stations and 6.6 miles of light-rail track passing through Westwood, West L.A. and Santa Monica.

New data, which offers a monthly breakdown of weekday and weekend ridership through the end of August, indicates that use of the line has already surpassed predictions made in May. Overall, ridership grew more than 53 percent in the three months after the extension was launched. Between June and August, an average of 44,030 people rode the Metro line each weekday compared to 30,073 in the February-April timeframe. That’s a 33 percent jump in weekday use.

The bump in rail ridership on weekends and holidays was far more pronounced in those same time periods. This summer, use of the Expo line grew 62 percent on Saturdays. On Sundays and holidays, the jump was far greater, rising 135 percent in the June-to-August timeframe.

A rider survey conducted and recently released by the Los Angeles Country Metropolitan Transportation Authority — known to locals simply as Metro — sheds some light on the rider habits that have driven these numbers. According to that survey, which is based on interviews with riders at the seven new stations and the existing Culver City station, 70 percent of the people using the expanded Expo Line are new riders and 44 percent of them used to drive. Additionally, two thirds of the new riders who were surveyed in Culver City used the Metro Line to travel westward to Santa Monica.